Robin balances her unicycle on her chin surrounded by a huge crowd in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Tour Diary: Part 2

Robin Lara writes about breaking the ice with kids, even when you stand out like “chingua” (white bread). 

September 18, 2019

We have been singing songs in Shona, the native language here. It’s so different from what I’m used to that it takes me a long time to remember the words. I learned new types of sounds in order to get the pronunciation right.

When we show up at a school today, the kids are singing a song to keep them occupied until everyone is seated. One of our clown acts is about a dad and a mom (the two male clowns in our group) carrying water and babies. We use it to talk about gender roles, which are very cemented here.

In fact, a lot of things are strict. We spent the last two days at the immigration office because we found out that even if we’re volunteering, we still need to pay $500 for a temporary work permit. That’s a lot of money. And since you can’t get cash here (there’s a shortage and none of the ATMs work), or use a credit card in most places, I have my fingers crossed I was sent with enough cash for the rest of the tour.

September 21, 2019

Part of my pre-show routine involves putting a black dot above, outside, and below each eye. Today, I’m preparing to perform at a refugee camp with 13,000 residents. I’m so exhausted in the very best way! Recently, we had a ton of time between shows so I played with the kids nonstop. We did nothing and everything. Sorry-not-sorry for starting to teach them how to juggle their own shoes! I’m going to sleep well, with the sounds of their giggles still bouncing around my head.

Later…

We’re having so much fun today! There’s a huge population of folks in this camp, and it’s very spread out. I’m actually surprised by the amount of open space. To adapt, we move around and do shows in lots of new spots in order to reach as many people as possible.

One of the camp leaders heard people talking about how they’re going to follow the show around, since they’re having so much fun. And one very old man told her, “I never thought this could happen in this camp. I’ve only ever seen this on TV!” Word spreads and the audience fills up well before showtime.

I’m having a lot of fun pushing myself to be a pre-show clown for an uncomfortably long time. A core tenet of clowning is to see what’s around you and find the game in it. I’m getting a lot of practice in a place where there’s an overwhelming amount of plain old dirt. This means that I’ve made up a lot of “magic” tricks for the kids, which prompts them to invent their own. I’ve learned hand-clap games and traditional dances from them, improvised new juggling routines, and balanced just about everything on my face. It’s wonderful to have such an engaged audience. I feel like they’re truly with me. It doesn’t hurt that I’m an inherently weird and interesting person to them, since I’m the only white person in town.

September 27, 2019

Right before leaving the rural areas of Zimbabwe most damaged by Cyclone Idai, we perform at an elementary school. Often, kids here are timid about seeing me and unsure how to react. Understandable! These kids are especially jumpy, so I make it into a game and spin through their playground until they scream, giggle, and scatter. Once I break the ice, they follow me everywhere, touching my hair, my tattoos, and asking me questions in Shona—the same things kids do anywhere. I’m so happy and grateful to bring a bit of clown magic to these little ones.

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