Now in our second week of the project, we are beginning to get a bit more settled, we are getting to know our way around the steep sloped roads and little step shortcuts that make up our journey, down to the  towns markets, cafes and restaurants and of course to the Edith Wilkins Street  Children Trust building.  I think this second week is one of the best times for the project, we have got to know the kids better and even mastered a few names, the kid who I could only remember as colander in week one, I now know by his real name, I think. Anke knows nearly everyone’s name now which I think is incredible. This week has been all about learning and playing, we have had time to introduce each prop and skill. The public show is not yet occupying our minds and everyone is just having a go and finding their place! As a team we have been working together now for 4 months and things are running smoother than ever, our meetings are precise and to the point, we know what each of us is capable of and can set up a curriculum in no time, we are getting sensitive to each other’s needs and we know when to give a little space, like we know when to take some. We have got to know each other quite well, we have become like a little family of circus folk.

After a crazy weekend doing workshops for EWSCT’s full house of 90 kids (weekends are busy, as many kids go to school in the week), we get a day off and the chance to be entertained by the kids, me and Andy head down the hill to the foundation day, a celebration of  10 years since the charity began. There are grey clouds in the sky, we had seen rain already, we pass students of the St Pauls School who are wearing shirts, ties and blazers carrying umbrellas, they remind me of England. Everyone was in the courtyard when we arrived. We sit at the back and before long we have tea in our hands, the PWB team ladies arrive and join us, the weather is ominous and low grumbles of thunder echoes in the hills. There is a couple of minutes silence, we hear that a girl from another home has recently committed suicide, the mood reflects the weather, and one of the girls is reciting a prayer as we process the information.  A violin recital from some of the boys follows and it bring us back, an all-girls hip-hop dance routine brings up the energy thurther! They all really love to do slow motion walks and body popping, it’s great because that’s something I’m well into, a workshop in dance is in order for later in the week! There is some more dances and comedy sketches while the thunder grows, a group of the boys of mixed ages sing songs… one of which sings;

“Give me some sunshine, give me some rain, give me another chance to grow up once again.”

They all sing along, so many smiles, I can see what tight bonds there are here. This lot really are like family to each other, it’s a beautiful moment. Lunch time comes and so does the rain, it comes hard and with lightning and hail – an epic storm.  It lasts all of the afternoon, the rest of the event is cancelled, and all the kids return to the rooms and we are stranded inside for the afternoon, thankfully we have all the toys to play with.

The sessions in the week are a much different story to the weekend, more than half the amount of kids and there is the music and games teacher around to help keep order and translate. We form circles and make fun for all, communicating using the universal language of movement, sound and expression. We lead funny warm-ups, act a bit silly and play games; we set an example that it’s ok to be yourself!  The kids start showing us who they really are, their characters are coming out! Paul leads to grove armada, Anke to gangman style, Andy is a child again, Chez has a way of facilitating us through a world of magic hidden just under the level of the ordinary and mundane. I play a game, it’s a test of skill and wit where the smallest may win over the tallest and the weakest over the strongest (it’s just knocking a flower stick off the opponents head, but it’s so much more). Paul leads a game of ‘Marco Polo’ while everyone has a turn there is lots of laughter.  Abi’s got all the hoops out but they are not just hoops, they are islands and we need to work together to stop an intruder talking one!  We have sessions in Poi, flower stick, contact juggling, hoop, diablo, staff, ribbon, dance, hip-hop dance, beatboxing/singing, theatre, yo-yo, acro, unycicle, slack line, rola-bola. So many sessions and so many conga lines of excited kids going between sessions. We are running a tight ship, mostly.

Highlights for me include teaching slack line (they are so determined to get it), passing a diablo with Susmita (she’s pretty good at it but I kept dropping it), making and teaching a PWB rap beatbox song with Chez and leading a hip-hop dance class with Paul, making some shapes and jamming!

A moment that stood out for us was seeing Sapna , who is one of the quiet and shy girls, Shine! She was showing some dance she learnt from Anke, for a moment she was transformed and appeared more confident after.  Brilliant! It’s about showing kids that they can do it, whatever it is, they just need to want to do it and then focus, practice and they will prove to themselves that they are capable and once they know that, they will know they are capable of more!!

We eat lunch with the kids, nice dal n rice, there is always a prayer before, and I can’t understand it except for one word “Danyebad” which means thank you. This trip has been such a journey I have seen some in India who don’t get enough food, don’t have cloths or a roof over their heads. So I appreciate what I have now, much more and give thanks, and give thanks to be free to choose what I’m doing in life and thanks to all the wonderful friends and family who support me to do it!

I’m noticing lots of duality, differences and contrast. Here the weather can change in an instant, it rains lots but we have to ration our water as there is a shortage.  The wealth gap is so blatant I often see people looking through rubbish, and men breaking their backs carrying goods, furniture and even fridges up and down the hills, while there is no shortage of luxury hotels and decadent outlets to spend big money on well dressed tat!  In our group we are such different people all with different ways of looking at things, doing things, it can be hard, but ultimately it helps us be diverse and capable of more, variety is the spice of life.

We get told on Friday, that the next day all the kids are going down the hill to another school to take part in a sports day. We are asked to do a show. The next day comes and there is a torrential downpour as we are contemplating going, text messages are sent back and forth, is it raining down there? Is it outdoors?  Is it still happening?  We are dubious after the foundation day washout. It’s indoors, they send a taxi, off we go! We are greeted be Naverata, Cath and the music teacher, the space is a big upstairs halls with a flooded sand yard outside, there are kids hanging over the balcony with looks of anticipation on their faces! We enter the hall, it’s massive with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and sports tracking painted on the floor, SPACE! We get to warming up, hooping and joggling up and down. Faces watching, there is a stage at one end with a couple of rows of seats. They also have a fairly nice P.A system; I get excited about beatboxing through it! We need a little group talk to form a plan; we are one down because Livvy is ill.  Ok big space, let’s play it a bit different. We are ushered onto the stage and I’m invited to sit down next to a well-dressed man in a Napoli hat, he introduces himself to me as Chairman of the Darjeeling Municipality, there are other councillors and heads of NGOs sitting with us, all the kids are outside on the balcony , there are about 30 people sat around the edge of the hall and a man is giving a speech, I can’t understand, then another speaker and another, is this a sports day or political conference? A though dawns on me, what if they ask me to speak? Anything can and does happen in India. The thought turns to reality, I’m down in the middle of the hall holding the microphone giving a speech, talking about the weather, saying what a good job EWSTC does, introducing us and singing a big happy birthday to Paul!( ITS HIS BIRTHDAY, he is the only one of us to have a birthday on the tour) The show begins, I’m beatboxing the tetris song as the birthday boy is getting technical with his yo-yo. We do poi, hoops, juggling, diablo, dance we play we enjoy the space and we improvise, we have a whole umbrella act, twirling spinning and it’s so much fun we forget it’s a show we are just in our element.  After our show the sports day got into full swing lots of classic games, sack races, egg and spoon type jobs and football!! We cheer on our team COME ON EWSCT!! It’s a very surreal experience, even after so long out here I still find it odd being here!

One clear morning shows us the jagged cliffs off the HimalayanMountains, reminding us of the bigger picture of our surroundings. Talk is on plans and ideas for after the tour, reminding us of the bigger picture of our lives back home. It feels like the end of the project is looming, but it is not over yet! We agree we should be making the most of the time we have left here; we still have more performances and lots to teach the kids before their big performance at Chowrasta!

Simon Abel, April 2013.

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