Rwanda 3

Ministry of Youth

A meeting room with tables placed in a square, advisors to the Minister behind their laptops (which they frequently attend to) and us (Clowns without Borders, Sweden) promoting the Gisenyi Acrobats, so that their organisation may get a higher formal status as official partner to the ministry. (The Minister herself attends a cabinet meeting with the President, at Hotel Serena in Gisenyi, where we had breakfast last week.)

The meeting seems to be a successful starting point for work on a higher level, for our friends. At the same time, the Rwandan administration is slowly starting to value sport and cultural activities for it’s youth as important for the development of a country. My amateur opinion is that economic growth in this country, to lead to anything for the individual citizens, must be accompanied by cultural development, even if that will create bumps in the road for the politicians. Freedom of speech and mind, expressions of individuality with solidarity, not patriotism, is what builds a sustainable Rwanda.

Gihembe and Nyabiheke

My teacher-college Nalle leads the tour to two more refugee camps for Congolese people, Gihembe and Nyabiheke. I stay behind for meetings and curing sun-stroke.

The group, I am told, is met by thousands of kids, immediately surrounding them as they exit the bus. The first show is chaotic, with the usual upsetting scenes of grownups with sticks, beating small children to control the crowd. But at the same time there is enough positive excitement in the crowd to give them positive memories and inspiration for months to come. Months, by the way, where the camp most likely will have no visitors, except from the people working there.

For the show in the second camp, the group is better prepared and has adjusted the show to fit this kind of crowd. The students are happy and I think a little bit proud of their accomplishments of the day. Nalle reminds them that we are sometimes attempting the impossible, when performing in these situations, with the small resources we have. The attempt, the mere being there, the caring, is a lot of the times half the accomplishment.

Huge dams of frustration are building up in camps like this, around the world. We are but a safety valve of laughter.

Rwanda 2

Kiziba Camp for Congolese refugees sits on a hill just below one ofRwanda’s highest points. It overlooks lake Kiwu, shining like silver far below. This is one of the more stunningly beautiful camp locations I’ve seen, for children with an unusually good primary school education, a little bit of food, some healthcare, and no hope for the future.

Beyond Lake Kiwu, the “Democratic” Republic of Congo, where this very day there was an attempt to shoot President Kabila. No one knows how these developments of the Congolese crisis will affect the future of the children in our audience.

We set up stage at a muddy football field, just below the nursery school, and place the rented generator far away enough not to let it’s noise disturb the show. A big blue snake of 3-5 year-olds crawls down the hillside. The children orderly but playfully march with exaggerated, military arm movements, and are carefully seated on the ground around our roped-off playing area. These kids are amazed and puzzled more that entertained, and the clowns are struggling to get the kind of laughing response they are trying to get used to. But during and after the show there is a feeling of comfort and cosiness in and around the audience, and there are many meetings and touches and curious smiles. Some poor and really dirty kids from the neighbouring Rwandan village drop in and sit next to the uniformed refugees. They share language, as all these children are born here, but there are strong outside forces dividing them, when it comes to legal status. Who is better off? That’s a difficult one. Poverty doesn’t allow for more freedom than the freedom attained in a refugee camp. Anyway, some freedom of mind may be reached, and hopefully our visit is an aid to such development of young minds.

After lunch we perform another show at the same place; this time for 6-7 year-olds, who come tumbling onto the field, some yelling “Circus!” and doing cartwheels. These are about 800, but we manage to seat them well on three sides of a big square. I walk around and pull kids who sit on their heals, to a butt-sitting position, which makes it more difficult for them to suddenly stand up and block the view for the ones behind. If that happens, the audience will most definitely start to move forward and especially with larger and older audiences, you’ll be in a potentially dangerous situation. But this show goes really well, with “Ahhhh!”s and “Ohhh!”s and clapping. Especially older kids who drop in after school, laugh at the clown-skits and magic-tricks. The Gisenyi Acrobats, as always, do a great job and bring down applause after applause.

Today I do the same mistake as always, and get carried away by playing with kids, after the shows. I run in the sun on high altitude, and meet and greet hundreds of kids and youth. I do “stupid human tricks” and partner acrobatics, I let them touch my skin in amazement, I have conversations about the world and nothing, I chase the ones who want to be chased and hug the hugy ones. In the evening I collapse in my bed, feeling nauseous and realise this was but one day in a camp-environment – the only place these kids know. But the work that is offered to me in these places is obviously very important, as it is given to me directly by some of the most vulnerable children in the world. I feel incredible privilidged and grateful to be able to perform such tasks, litterally on top of the world.