I just washed 48 hours of red clay dust off my body.
we rose in the early hours, packed up the 'cave', tucked all the sequins and feathers away and swept the floor. The sadness of the end of a chapter was beginning to set in but with little time to dwell on it we packed our own bags and gear. This; along with approximately 60 hula hoops, 45 staffs, 20 pairs of poi, 50 juggling balls, 30 sets of flower sticks and a bag of puppets; was then strapped to the roofs of 3 rickety sontaos ready for the journey. The blankets and cushions we planned to sleep on and donate were stuffed in the back with us...and there we were.... A giggle of 20 clowns, contortionists, jugglers, spinners, hoopers and magicians on our way to a refugee camp.
The journey was a winding, ascending and decending dust storm of a trip and we arrived that evening lungs full of red dust and smoke. Its burning season here in Northern Thailand... all the crops and forrest land is aflame and the air is thick with smog and wood smoke, the nights hold no stars and the days very few views. The scenery we did get though was tremendous, ascending to higher land and seeing thick forrest land spanning across the hills and valleys fading into the grey. There is a magic point driving to high lands when the fauna begins to change, suddenly the wide tropical banana and papaya leaves are joined by a different breed of plant. The thin spindly pins of the mountain pines remind me of those long train days across siberia and they add an element of green to the dry and charred landscapes here. Its magic.
We slept the night in a guesthouse and continued our ride for another hour and a half out into the thicks of our nowhere, and some-bodies somewhere. We had been invited by the camp leader to spend an extra day inside the camp grounds, an honor and a rarity.
The camp itself is a magical labyrinth of small, intricate bamboo dwellings. Each raised from the ground a good meter or so in preperation for the monsoons and each unique and beautiful in its own right. Some have a sort of double layer effect, others had balconies of bamboo teetering out supporting the faces of curious small children peeking through the slats. One even had beautiful hearts and stars carved out of the wood which edged the upper floor. Every where i looked there were children, some staring with wide curious eyes, some laughing and running behind us as we walked. A main shopping "street" held shops containing everything from sandles and snacked to mp3 speakers and TV's... each on built of the same humble bamboo and earth floors. It was pointed out to me that just because these people were refugees it didnt mean they came here with no money. Many, yes, are very poor but some were driven from their lives and homes and entered the camps with enough to support them, or parhaps had uncles or aunts who had been given asylum in the US or other richer countries who were sending money back. the main thing that stood out to me was the open hearted people in the camps. They consist of many different tribal races all living in the same place and each with their own individual languages, traditions, foods. But without fail we were always greeted with curiosity or joy.
We performed our day show on the football fields amongst a large pile of rubbish on a raised mud area. the kids sat around on the floor, fallen trees, some even climbing the sheer rock faces beside us to get a clearer view. As the day we'nt on and more bubble were blown and the hoops came out even the shyest of kids were opening up, running to us to show us their new tricks and abilities. The sence of play and laughter was adorable and yes its an intimidating prospect bringing out a limited supply of toys to a very unlimited number of children who really have very little to play with. But little mobbing happened this year and soon all the hoops were spinning and the balls were flying and laughter was everywhere. There was one small girl who refused to smile... she sat inside a hula hoop in the mud and watched stern faced the action about her. Many times i tried to reach out and get her to join in to no avail...and many times other kids tried to make use of her hoop again to no avail. No one was moving her out of her safe little circle she had made for herself, and she sat there and philosophised on the whole affair until the time came to pack away the toys. I figured she got what ever she needed out of that experience. A few kids did do runners with some hoops...but really who can blame them? And they were spied later down small back alleys perfecting their new tricks and sharing their skills with their friends.
The fire show that night had between two and three thousand people in the audience. We had a support team of students from a school within the camp to translate and help with crowd control and as the night went on and the finale drew closer and closer the realisation of how big an event this was to them... and how this was our last show together as a group began to settle in.
When i was a kid my dad took me to the circus a few times. It stayed with me, the smell of the pop corn, the buzz of the crowd the sence of magic which oozed from all of the performers. It was other worldly. So different from anything i knew. I saw that in the eyes of all the children we met over this last month and more so in the camp.
The next morning we bashed out a final impromptu show outside the place we were sleeping. The kids gathered and laughed and ran away giggling when we tried to get them on stage. However by the end of the show they staged rushed us as we opened it up into a short dance party and celebrated life all together.
As the first truck of early departing Spark members drove away the realisation of change was all over all of us. Tears. Laughter. Team "Stay" (as creatively we named ourself) set about our plans for our one day in the camp. Firstly, lunch. Off we trundled with hoops, Eukeleles, and flow wands and soon enough we had a band of kids alongside us. We marched out to the shopping street and shared food at a small eatery before heading out to the football field. Here we sat in the shade at the edge of a graveyard. Johnny played football with the kids. Lukas Played basket ball. The rest of us played anything we could. Kids flocked, rushing across the fields to watch us practicing and singing and they soon too lost themselves in games of the imagination.
There was two kids which stood out to me that i saw often. One was a boy blind in one eye who lived by where we were sleeping. He would always be around with his arm around the shoulder of one of his mates and after befriending Johnny spent the day with us as his sidekick. The other was a small girl in a dirty white night dress. She was cross eyes and had six toes. She became known as our Six Toed Ninja for she was always there. That night we ate dinner and she appeared at the door, after playing a bit with Jo she was invited to the table and she inhaled a plate of food in silence. After every mouthful she grabbed a new napkin (with the help of one of us to rip it out the pot) and wiped the sticky sweet chilly sauce from her fingers. She said nothing in any language, just ate and stared and occasionally smiled.
We left the next morning after an early rise to the market for Breakfast. It suprised me how much of a town it is inside the camp. Many people were born and lived their whole lives within these camp walls and so i guess it makes sence that there would be shops, restaurants and schools... but i had just never imagined it. That morning we gifted all the hoops and toys as well as all our felt over fuel, feather boas and random bits and bobs (including the huge sound system we had bought) to the school of the gentleman who had helped us to get into the camps. A European man who'd lived in camps for years teaching. He had helped get us permission from the camp leader to come in and helped us with every aspect of camp life. He was then going to ensure the donations were distributed fairly amongst the camp. A wonderful person.
As we drove to the gate our Six Toed Ninja appeared behind the truck. She ran behind us down the streets, pushing past anyone or thing that got in her way...when we slowed...she slowed...as we sped up so did she. Past the school. Through the market. Past registration. We held our breath as we reached the gates telling her to go back. The memories of being that small girl who wanted so so badly for the circus to know me, to see my potential and take me with them came back. We drove out the gates...and still she ran. We drove down the road and she ran and she ran. As we crossed a bridge and our speed increased she stopped and watched. Silent as ever. She got smaller and smaller and the dust cloud behind us got thicker and thicker until she was no longer in our sight.
I just washed 48 hours of red dust and clay off my body... and yet its all still with me.