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Clowns In Sri Lanka (June 7, 2006)

I work for the Hong Kong Red Cross in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. My title is Volunteer Construction Delegate. Way back in February I wrote about arranging to have Clowns Without Borders do a show in the rebel held territory. I'm not supposed to do this — it's not part of my job description, but I saw them in Trinco town and thought how great it would be to bring them to the area where I work, three hours from the town and through government and rebel checkpoints.

Luciano Ramiro and Kike are professionals. Two Spaniards and an Argentinean whose mother is a psychologist and father a lawyer, I like that in a clown. All of them work in the Spanish circus. Theirs is a very physical type of clowning that would play anywhere in the world, though Ramiro had learned some Tamil which added another connection with our audience. Timing was critical. They were leaving on a Sunday and could add just one more show on the Saturday before. I did not have time to go through normal channels.

Actually I didn't know what normal channels were. But I did know that whatever they were, the clowns would be long gone before the channels were normalized. One thing I was sure of — I had to gain permission from both the government, the military and the rebel leaders. Principal among the documents to be submitted to the administrator or assistant administrator was a list of materials to be brought in. If I didn't submit a full list the army might turn us away. So dutifully I submitted such items as: six juggling balls, clown uniforms and two clown noses.

I hope that's on record somewhere.

The rebels didn't care so much about clown noses and juggling balls. What they wanted was names, IDs, passports and such. The clowns had hooked up with a local non-governmental organization whose work involved theater and events that promoted peace and understanding. They wanted to come along too. Have you ever tried to get names, passports, and IDs from a bunch of clowns and theater people who barely speak your language? I'm telling you: it ain't easy. Finally, I submitted my data to both sides and hoped for the best.

The other thing I had to do was figure out a venue. The natural spot was a school. I visited a couple and it became clear that the larger of the two had a decent area to perform and even some shade for the audience. 

There was something else. Hong Kong Red Cross didn't like the idea of transporting clowns or locals in our Land Cruiser. Excuse me? Holy Ganesha! OK, so now I gotta find a vehicle. The local Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC) seemed willing if they could process the paperwork in time.

Early Saturday morning we begin collecting people. My guys, Vasee and Shantun, were there, but where's the driver of the SLRC van? Frantic calls. An hour later the clowns were still waiting. Finally the SLRC driver appears, a bit sleepy. It's early in the day. But we were an hour behind schedule and I was ready to strangle someone. After all the radio security checks we were on the road.

It's not until we arrived at the army checkpoint that I found the clowns had forgotten their passports. Shit. All we needed was some tin-horn lieutenant whose having a bad day to check IDs. I guess he got lucky the night before. They didn't even check the equipment list. I was a little miffed about that, but we were through.

On to the school where the locals and the clowns setup their show. It was the hottest part of the day and it was particularly hot. The principal brought us warm soda pop. The kids started gathering. But where were the kids from the other school?

At last a tractor arrived pulling a big flatbed trailer. After we lifted about 40 squirming little guys to the ground the show could begin. I watched the kids. They were pretty well transfixed as Kike and Luciano, sweating mightily, did their gymnastics. Ramiro charmed them with his juggling. The three came out together and did a bunch of business with the audience. I don't know what it was about. Fart jokes? I don’t know. But they work in any language. Something that really impressed me about these clowns was after the show we were breaking down the gear. The metal poles used in the balancing act were too hot to even pick up. Yet these guys asked if they could do another show — just go to some temporary camp and begin. Oh yeah, my kind of guys. The answer unfortunately had to be no. I was in enough trouble already by not following procedures, and we would get back to Trinco after 6 — big no-no.

Clowns Without Borders funds itself. The show was free to the audience and the Red Cross. There were some expenses incurred however. The tractor driver wanted about the equivalent of 20 US dollars, and we bought the clowns lunch. Oops. I didn't submit the paperwork for this. (Didn't matter that I didn't know about the tractor earlier.) You must submit the proper paperwork before expenditures can be approved, preferably submitting three quotes. I did not act in a properly submissive manner and was reprimanded for this. I also got in trouble for not writing a proposal for this “project.” If I had we could claim the clown show as a psycho-social program and would have been able to get some brownie points with headquarters. Well golly gee whiz. I had four days to put this together, no one had ever briefed me on procedures and it never would have happened had I not just done it.

I count the clown show as perhaps my most positive contribution to the people of Eachilampatai. The kids had a good time, the clowns had a good time, Vasee and Shantun had a good time. It was good exposure for both the kids and Hong Kong Red Cross. I think it also sealed my fate as a delegate to this Red Cross. I was the reckless outlaw who doesn't follow the rules. Y'know, guess I'm a bit too proud of that. Yvonne, who understands the game, asked me: “Do you really want to help these people? Or just make yourself feel good?” Well um uh I uh… She continued, “If you get yourself fired you won't be able to help them.” 

Damn, I hate it when she's right — and she almost always is.

As I get time I'll write more. Believe me there's more.

Thanks for being out there.

One Comment

  1. Mark W. Laszlo August 26, 2020

    You did good!

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