Team Nica. Final Blog: A Gift by Valentina Martin
Categorised in: Nicaragua 2014
By Performers Without Borders
We wake up in our hammocks. Half a dozen palm trees ripe with coconuts sway in the wind overhead. Between the trees I can see patches of blue sky and hear the birds chirping away. Sometimes, the sound of the birds and a few neighborhood dogs are the only things that wake us up. On a few occasions however, a full marching band will start to play on the other side of our wall at about 7am. They also set off fireworks quite close to our sleeping heads and the buses that go to Managua (Nicaragua’s capital) wail on their horns as they speed down our street. These are the sounds of our mornings. Bags and I have gotten into the habit of telling each other our dreams as soon as we wake up. Everyday I feel more and more gratitude to be experiencing this project with him.
We have been in San Marcos for almost 4 weeks. We only have a few more days with the kids at Los Quinchos until their final show and then we’re off to Granada for a week. After that Bags and I will be traveling by land to Mexico to teach workshops. That’s right, 5 buses over about 4 days from Nicaragua to Guadalajara! 1,621 miles! Should be quite the adventure.
I can’t believe how fast we are approaching the end of the project. Los Quinchos is an amazing organization in which Zelinda, an Italian woman started about 20 years ago. She came to Nicaragua as a tourist and was greatly effected by the state of children on the streets. Over time, the few kids she took in to feed has grown to 60+! There is a filter house in Managua in which some of the original street kids that Zelinda took in, now work at. They go to the street to find kids and tell them about Los Quinchos. If the kids stay at the filter house every day for a certain period of time, they get taken into the organization. They have to quit sniffing glue and any other drugs. Once they’ve stayed there and are cleaned up completely, they get taken to where we are now in San Marcos. Here there is a farm “la finca” that the boys live on and the girls home is called “la yahouskas” (princesses). When the boys grow to a certain age, they are moved to Casa Largo which is a lake house in Granada. All of them are put into the local schools and taught career-based skills like hammock or bread making. To think that Zelinda is a mother of sorts to so many children blows my mind. She is absolutely amazing. She dresses in beautiful, brightly colored embroidered Nicaragua garb and always has a smile for us PWB volunteers. The change she has instigated here in Nicaragua, where children living on the street is a real issue, cannot be put into words. She is a massive inspiration!
The kids here at Los Quinchos have impressed PWB with their enthusiasm, focus and skills in circus! I can’t imagine them going through some of the experiences that they might have faced: addiction, abandonment, prostitution, starvation, abuse, rape…the list goes on. Each one of these kids is special, beautiful, bright and full of life. They no doubt have blossomed in the care of this organization; they are clean, clothed, fed, active, healthy, happy – like every child should be. No one deserves to go through what some of them have. It makes me feel a range of emotions to think about how or why the world is this way – anger, hopelessness, confusion?
Then there’s this concept of fate that I have been contemplating lately. It first hit me while walking through the barrios of Leon. Whole families live in shacks with dirt floors made from scraps of metal and plastic coverings (for the roof or windows). Who decides who ends up in which life? How is it fair? To think you are just born and there you are, in whatever situation it is you ended up in. Most of the time you can’t really change it drastically until adulthood and even then it’s not an easy task. I understand that most people don’t necessarily want to change their situation, because they’re happy just the way it is. But I still can’t comprehend it.
The realization of my life’s truth, full of pure privilege and opportunity has me dumbfounded. Not only have I been born into a loving and caring family in Southern California, I am blessed to be in the alternative circus-dancing-expressing-art making-performing-festival going-hooping-Burning Man community. I can make my life look however I want it to. I don’t have to have a 9-5, I don’t have to have a husband, family, house or desk job to be fulfilled. I have learned about the other side of life – the one of traveling, performing, teaching, hooping, dancing, making art, dreaming and fulfilling my biggest aspirations. How can I share this with these kids who’s mindset fits into the box that having kids well before the age of 20 is normal?
When the little Nicaraguan girls find out that I am 28 and I don’t have kids, they are shocked! “Why don’t you have kids?” they ask, “Don’t you want them?” And I do. I do want to have a family and a house and a husband one day, but why rush it? The traveling-gypsy-nomad lifestyle can only feel glamorous for so long, and once the glimmer has faded, I would love nothing more then to share my life with a family. But there is more to my life then just that. I have other purposes, and one of them, apparently was to come here to Nicaragua to teach, inspire, play and share with these wonderful bright souls.
Now I am sitting on the second story porch of our house watching thirteen year old Belen fire hoop while a small group of her peers and the PWB team are making music for her while she spins. They are executing the body percussion that Justin taught them for their show in a couple days. Belen is one of the older girls in Los Quinchos who has displayed a high aptitude for circus skills.
Since PWB visited Los Quinchos last year, the kids have created their own circus show that they perform in various places all around Nicaragua! We got to see it one day when they performed in a “lost village” of sorts. It was 10 kilometers down an unpaved dirt road, flanked by a beautiful jungle-forest and the occasional farm animal grazing. The PWB team piled into the back of a truck that kicked up mountains of dust as it drove down the bumpy track. When we arrived at the school, it was completely deserted. We all had a good laugh about that, so Nicaragua! (Where almost nothing happens on time). Eventually a whole event showed up: snacks, chairs, a sound system, an audience; all of it! Los Quinchos performed their circus show involving lots of colorful circusy costumes, stilt walking, clowning, juggling, unicycling and acrobatics. Jake and Emily from our team also joined in the show with hooping and slack-rope walking. Belen performs an acrobatic duet in the show with Miguel, both who have now learned how to spin fire this week! They have learned fire poi, hooping, staff and club juggling. All of the tools have been made here in Nicaragua by PWB! Except for the hoops – the tubing for which was graciously donated by Hoopologie and the wicks from Bendy Wicks. I have also been making dozens of hoops to be left here for the kids with the tubing and shiny tape donated by Hoopologie.
Watching Daniyuska fire hoop to one of her favorite techno pop songs was incredibly powerful. She was getting down! DANCING as that fire hoop spun around her waist, having FUN, grinning from ear to ear, exuding empowerment, confidence, sexiness – all the things I feel when I hoop. It really struck home that we have imparted an invaluable gift with them. Their potential is endless and we have lifted them up to higher heights of infinite possibility!
During this project in San Marcos I have had the pleasure of being a Curriculum Co-Coordinator with Aileen Lawlor from the Bay Area. We have been deciding the classes that will be taught each day, where and by whom. It is a really important part of the project, which was a little intimidating at first (and still continues to be – we’ll see how our final show turns out!) But I am proud of our work. Neither one of us have ever done this kind of thing before, but luckily we have some excellent team members who have! The amount of experience I feel like I’ve gained from this project is beyond explanation.
After we first showed up here to do our show for the kids (about a month ago) there was a free-play session with all of our circus toys and bumpin’ music. It was immediately obvious that these kids have skill! I remember seeing 10-year Rafa getting down with hoops, Elliot juggling 4 balls, Daniyuska asking me to teach her hoop tricks and nailing every new one within seconds. I was blown away. Now after working with them for a month their skills have soared through the roof! I have witnessed solid foot hooping, multi-hooping, juggling (with clubs, balls and passing), diabolo tricks, wand flow, badass dancing, contact staff suaveness and stellar acrobatic achievements. Some of them literally have talent seeping out of every pore. I believe we have facilitated the realization of some of this natural talent; provided a boost in confidence, a connection between them and a healthy active hobby to be passionate about.
On the Friday before our project finished, we did a joint show with the PWB team and the kids. We were performing for a brigade of other volunteers from the states. It was like a dry run for the BIG show on Sunday to conclude our project. If that was a dry run, I can’t even imagine how amazing the final show will be! I helped facilitate the large group dance battle between the boys and the girls, the younger boys’ routine, an amazing acrobatic duet between two of the older girls (Maria & Diana), a veil belly dance piece with 6 girls which concluded in group veil origami AND a hoop piece with Belen, Daniyuska, Maria and me! I am so proud of them! Their hard work has really paid off and I can see how pleased they are with themselves. Another act that stands out from Friday was a group acrobatic number including about half a dozen of the older boys. They created a lot of their own moves and pulled off some seriously challenging group acro-balance shapes. I was taken aback by their strength, confidence, trust in each other and fearlessness.
We did the big group show last night! There were about 20 acts showcasing all of the skills learned over the last month. Many of the kids really came into their own power on that stage. It was quite emotional. Lots of us (both the Quinchos and PWB team members) were in tears as we said “Adios” over and over again. I tried to explain to each kid how wonderful they did in the show. It was difficult in my broken Spanish to get the point across but I hope they know just how proud of them I am!
We have now finished a week in Granada to end our entire project! Everyday we ran informal workshops with local kids from the barrios around La Escuela de Comedia y Mimo. We played games with them and taught them some of our favorite circus skills. We also ran advanced workshops with the kids who are already performing with La Escuela. Our main initiative though was to raise money for the non-profit organization, La Escuela. We did fundraising and promotional street shows on the main “calle” in Granada – the one with lots of restaurants and tourists hanging about. Then we did 2 big cabaret shows on Friday and Saturday night in the Cafe Mimo y Comedia. Bags and I had the opportunity to create and perform our new 2014 hoop act that we will be touring all of the world this year! This week was really satisfying because it allowed us to both work on, and perform new material in a really supportive space. Justin also took advantage of this opportunity and performed his first solo contact juggling routine!
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with PWB in Nicaragua this year. It hasn’t been perfect 100% of the time but nothing is. The ups, the downs – all of it is part of the process. Going into this I knew that it would be hard at times. But I have always been up for a challenge. I love to learn. I want to take those life lesson moments and grow from them. Doing this project gave me plenty to work with! On levels of self-improvement, language and circus skills, team building, teaching and performing skills, cultural differences; I can say I have put in hard work, gained insight, experience, satisfaction and pride. I highly recommend this type of experience to anyone who is considering it.
Thank you Bags, Emily, Jake, Aileen and Justin. Thank you PWB.