Project Indonesia 2010
Anna Zastrow joins Dan Roberts and D’dy Soker (Indonesia based Hidung Merah artists) in Sumatra.
I have now been in Indonesia almost two weeks and it is time to report in! I am here joining Dan Roberts and his Hidung Merah (Red Nose) Circus and together we will bring clown joy to children living in disadvantaged or distressed conditions.
We are visiting poor villages around Jakarta, as well as the earthquake victims of Padang, and will possibly venture to Aceh, still recovering from the 2004 tsunami and civil unrest, or Sulawesi, where communities are caught up in religious conflict.
Volunteer Artist: Anna Zastrow (CWB USA), D’dy Soker and Dan Roberts (Hidung Merah)
In collaboration with Hidung Merah and Save the Children for project in Padang, and with Hidung Merah for Jakarta.
Anna’s Journal: (See Anna’s Blog)
Arrival in Jakarta
Finally, after a prolonged journey of over 40 hours, I arrive in Jakarta around 10:30 pm on Tuesday, January 12, 2009.
Driving into the city from the airport, Jakarta looks like it could be any American city. A highway sidelined by modern office buildings and shopping plazas. Little by little, however – after a day or two – the extremes that are the city of Jakarta become evident. The extremes of excessive wealth and tremendous poverty, existing side by side and simultaneously. It is a city of contrasts and contradictions.
However, before I get a chance to take in all that is Jakarta – and it is a lot to take in!, an overwhelmingly large sprawling megalopolis – we head out to the neighboring island of Sumatra, where we will clown for victims of the October/November 2009 earthquake.
Padang earthquake area, Sumatra
Thursday, January 14 we fly Garuda Air to Padang on the island of Sumatra (Jakarta is in Java). My partner Dan has arranged with Save The Children to have us come perform and do workshops with the children affected by the earthquake that happened last fall, October/November 2009.
As we drive to the small town of Pariaman and onward to the surrounding villages where we will play with the children, we begin to see the extent of the damage. Every other house is either completely collapsed or has cracks or gaping holes in the walls. Barely any buildings have been repaired or rebuilt thus far. We are informed that the Indonesian government will not allow foreign aid organizations to help rebuild, as the government wants to take care of that itself, but so far nothing has been done. In the meantime, people have no homes and are living in tents or temporary shelters.
Our mission feels somewhat overshadowed by the disastrous earthquake that has just happened in Haiti. Certainly the earthquake did not hit as hard here in Padang. But whether a 1,000 or 100,000 people died matters little to those who lost loved ones or their homes.
We visit an area where a mountain side collapsed and buried a whole village. On the way we drive through a makeshift road dodging gaping holes. It looks like the earth has been turned upside down and inside out. We arrive by a hillside overlooking a valley, which is where the village was swallowed up. As we stand there contemplating the outcome, an older man approaches and begins to talk to us. Luckily, Dan understands Indonesian. He proceeds to tell us what happened to his village. It had been raining for a day and a half when suddenly without warning the earthquake hit, causing an immense landslide. Forty children died in the school and thirty in the mosque. He gives us gruesome details of bodies found, which I do not need to describe here. It seems he feels a great need to share, as one of the only survivors.
Playing with the Padang children
The first place we go to is called Kota Pariaman and is located further up in the mountains about forty minutes away. We drive through narrow roads surrounded by jungle, the vegetation is lush and green. On the way we pass damaged or demolished houses. Eventually I spy children ahead of us veering off in droves to the side. Aha, we must have reached our destination. We arrive to about 200 children seated on the steps of a mosque.
The troupe consists of Dan Roberts, D’dy (and Renny Antoni, photographer) – all of Hidung Merah Circus – and then myself. Dan, D’dy and I will perform together as a clown trio. We came up with a scenario for a show, brainstorming and practicing the day before, that we will improvise on in the moment. The show is about an hour and afterwards we do a workshop for another hour with the kids.
To give you an idea of the show: I barge in on the scene as an American tourist with my big camera and map looking for Bali and the beach, and instead finding myself in the jungle of Sumatra – tigers and elephants and orangutans, oh my! Various silly antics ensue. Dan pokes fun at me being a foreigner, a bule as it’s called (and the joke, of course, is that he is a bule too), and translates for me, incorrectly of course, making it as if I’m saying wacky things, which the kids find hilarious. Normally we wouldn’t use much language, relying solely on physical humor, but since Dan speaks Indonesian, he and Deddy can make funny jokes with the kids! And we can play with the fact that I don’t speak the language. It’s great to have Deddy on board making for a multi-cultural show, with funny foreigners as well as homegrown ‘baduts’ (clowns). As a musician, Deddy brings in a musical element, playing songs on guitar, that we accompany with ukulele and tambourine – or, alternatively, goof off to and mess him up. Deddy plays a couple of popular Indonesian songs and it’s amazing: all the kids know all the lyrics and sing along at the top of their lungs! It’s awesome! We were asked to incorporate some much needed social messages, and that is how I end up pooping on stage. Well, not really, of course. Dan tells me to go use the toilet. You can’t just go anywhere! Afterwards, I’m hungry so I say let’s eat! Well, wait a minute, you have to go wash your hands first. Right, kids? All the children yell, “yeah, wash your hands, wash your hands!” Hygiene and sanitation are actual issues for these populations. We also play with the theme of friendship and working together. After poking fun at each other and making things difficult, we come to the conclusion that things will work much better if we do it together. Let’s be friends! So we juggle together and play music together. And have lots of fun! And the kids do too. The show is a big hit. The kids are so great, they’re so excited and it’s so wonderful to hear their laughter and see their smiling faces.
First day I go there, it has started raining. It is the wet season in Indonesia now. You need an ATV [all-terrain vehicle] to navigate the gigantic pot holes flooded with water that make up the village road (or as Dan suggested, a monster truck).
The community we’re going to lives down by the shipping dock, past an industrial area of cranes, rusting barrels, gigantic anchor chains, et cetera, where the children run about and play, and goats wander. Chickens and cats, too. The community lives off the sea, harvesting small fish and cockerels. We pass rows of wooden boards where the fish are placed to dry. At the end we come upon a maze of ramshackle wooden and cement houses. Dan leads the way through tiny meandering alley-ways to a small house that has the biggest space he could find for the children to have their circus workshop. It is about 16’ x 14.’ An old woman, whose children are now grown-up and out of the house, lets the circus use her home. Where they used to practice got flooded out.
Because it’s pouring rain, we only have a few students today. I learned some of the names (but didn’t catch them all yet) – Misno, Ino, Ipul, Rais, Dedi, Jajat. For the first hour they practice the circus skills they have already been working on with Dan – juggling balls, clubs and rings. Then it is time for clowning and I do a workshop with them focusing on creative movement and expression. We do silly dancing, funny walks and goofy faces. The kids are game to play and are having a blast.
This is a very poor village and many of the children don’t go to school because the family can’t afford it, they need the kids to work. The mother of one little girl refuses to let her daughter go, because, as she claims, it is a “waste of time.” Sometimes the youngsters themselves have lost the motivation to bother with an education. They are not given much guidance and support in that area, having sometimes to beg their parents to let them go to school. And they struggle with self-esteem, feeling they have no prospects and no possibilities.
Learning to juggle is great for these children, therefore, because through the accomplishment of this acquired skill, they build a sense of possibility, confidence, self-esteem and discipline. To learn how to juggle, you have to keep practicing. It is something concrete they can focus on. In a while, they experience the results of their diligence. They can juggle three balls, and then four, and maybe five. Then they learn rings and clubs, and how to pass to each other. And, of course, it is fun! The idea is then for them to transfer this experience to other areas in their lives—to the pursuit of an education and the possibility of a better future.
This is not just circus but social circus. Dan has really taken on the task of improving these children’s lives in every area that he can positively impact – through the vehicle of circus. He provides guidance and encouragement for their study and their relationships in the community. He works towards creating the possibility for them to go to school, talking to both the kids and their parents about its importance; or if they are enrolled, making sure they go. He intervenes when a child is having trouble and provides a forum for communication and problem-solving. Dan has a really good way that he communicates with and relates to the kids. He teaches them social responsibility—to be responsible for your actions and your choices. To be kind to one another and work together. When you are here at the circus, this is a safe place, and no one will make fun of you or put you down.
When we arrive again the following Wednesday, smoke lies in a thick haze across the village. The fires are already burning. Fish are laid out to dry. The men are out in the boats fishing and gathering mussels. Kids bop up and down in the water next to them – and wave to me excitedly as I take a picture. The water is very dirty and full of garbage.
The people in this little village are very friendly. Well, they know Dan by now and why he is here – to help their kids towards a better future. And I’m with Dan, so they need not wonder what this “bule” (foreigner) is doing there. (Normally, would not be much reason for a foreigner to wander into this poor little fishing community way on the outskirts of Jakarta.) (Nonetheless, Indonesian people are generally pretty friendly.)
Dan had a meeting today with the parents of the children involved — to talk about fighting that has occurred between these kids and kids from the neighboring community (an ongoing issue), and to talk about the program in general, the progress the kids are making – with circus practice as well as school, and about possibly building a community center with expanded learning opportunities. As I have mentioned, Dan has really engaged himself in social outreach circus, in its fullest meaning. That is, going beyond just juggling balls to juggling the issues of education and work to survive, which to many parents seem incompatible (they need their kids working to help the family). Juggling the many various issues of life in this community.
SHOW TIME in CILINCING!
In the afternoon, we do a show at the local middle school, which is a religious (muslim) school. All the girls wear a school uniform consisting of a white “jilbab” (head-covering) and long blue skirt. The boys wear a white short-sleeved shirt and blue pants. When I appear in the courtyard, the kids stare at me and start laughing. Well, it’s not just for the fact that I’m a foreigner. It’s because I’ve already done my clown hair and it’s sticking out of my head in all directions. I pass a classroom and all the kids inside burst out laughing—the teacher looks up at them wondering ‘what in the world is going on?!’, and then she sees me, and laughs too.
By the time we start the show in the courtyard, we are surrounded by about 300 students and neighborhood kids. The response is fantastic, they are really riled up, laughing and screaming at our antics. At the same time, though, as they are older kids (early-mid teens—it’s the same all over the world, at that age you’re too “cool” for some things), and as they are also dressed in uniform, they are a bit shy when it comes to any audience participation and don’t jump in singing and dancing with us when we play music (such as happened with the younger kids in Padang). When we go towards them they start backing up and running away. You can’t be too safe with a bunch of clowns around. Especially ‘bule’ clowns. I guess! At the end I start playing with that, with the littler kids, running towards them on purpose so they scream and run off – then they come back, so that I’ll do it again! Indonesian kids, I find, more than any other I’ve come across, love to play this “game.” Funny!
When we’re done we hang out in the courtyard for a little while, to chat with the principal (well, Dan does, I just sit there as I can’t really chat in Indonesian except to say ‘hello, how are you, I’m from New York, great, thanks’) and enjoy some refreshing ice-tea. Aaaahh, just what’s needed at that moment—we are hot and drenched with sweat! Some kids gather around to see what’s going on and start to imitate our clown reactions from the show. They ask my name and as we leave, they’re shouting it behind me running after us and swarming our car. We have to be careful we don’t run them over!
Clowning around Jakarta
The past two weeks (Jan. 25 to Feb. 6), Dan and I have been going to various kampungs to do our show and workshop. On occasion I go by myself. Dan’s organization Hidung Merah Circus is growing a lot, so he has to do administrative work too. I, on the other hand, can just get out there and play with the kids!
So on Monday, January 25, off I go to entertain poor kids in an afterschool program. I’m not sure where exactly I went, don’t have all the details yet [tba]. It’s in a regular little house in a neighborhood in south Jakarta. I improvise a little show playing a “cleaning woman” goofing around with a broom and duster and various other props. Always a good gag. Enter sweeping, don’t see audience, singing to myself sillily, take out my yellow feather duster and start dusting about, including myself (under arms, brushing teeth, whatnot) and then start dusting the director of the afterschool program — always good to goof around with the kids’ teacher or director, ha! And then suddenly I realize what I’m doing and I see the audience and all the kids — aaaaahh! Oh, hello! Since I see I have an audience I better perform, so I sing into the duster as a mic, do a little Michael Jackson and moonwalk (MJ is huge over here!), and various other goofy antics. It’s funny, I really don’t have to do much — when I arrive in beginning and I go to change in another room, I close the door and open it again to peek out, repeating this several times: the kids erupt in giggles and guffaws. Doesn’t take much sometimes! ;o] Well, I’m a funny-looking foreigner with crazy hair and big shoes, that’s enough to make ‘em laugh! Afterwards, I do a workshop and we play and have fun together.
On Tuesday, January 26, we go to Bintaro Lama kampung in southern Jakarta. This is a poor garbage-picking community. That is, they pick garbage for a living. Their occupation is to collect garbage from around the area and process it. Meaning it all ends up in a field behind their collection of shacks. Some of it it does get recycled and reused. Plastics may get passed on to someone who deals with recycling and reuse. I am not quite clear yet on how it all works. There is no official garbage pick-up that I know of in Jakarta. But garbage does get picked up. At Dan’s house, he hangs a bag of garbage on the fence and by morning it’s mysteriously gone. He pays someone a few dollars a month to take care of it. Someone such as these garbage-pickers, presumably. Sometimes, plastic containers and bags get cleaned and then used to create new items, such as purses, shopping bags, bathroom mats, etc., to then be sold for profit. This, for example, is a project that’s been developed in Cilincing as an opportunity for the community to gain additional income (more on that later).
In the garbage field, a gaggle of geese pick about with their ducklings (or should that be gooslings?). Cats and chickens wander everywhere, including in the middle of our show. We had already gone there last week to do a show for the kids, and now are back to do a workshop.
As we drive up, a kid hanging by the road sees us and bursts out “Badut! Badut!!!” (That is, clown, clown!) He’s about to burst with excitement. He and a few others run after our car as we drive further into the village.
I walk through the main path-way (can’t really call it a street) past houses, past people, past chickens and say hello as I go. The kids see me coming and run up. Time to play! Even some adults join in and try to spin a plate or two. I goof with the kids and we do a little clown parade through down the walkway through the village. Again, when we’re done and leaving, they follow us and run behind our car, laughing and waving. They’re so excited! Great kids!
We also go to the kampung of Taluk Gong, northern Jakarta.
Saturday February 6
Sampai jumpa, Indonesia!
Well, another great adventure has come to an end! A month of clowning around with kids so full of excitement and joy at our special visit. This is what makes it all so worth it — seeing the excited joyful faces of the children jumping up and down upon seeing us arrive and running after us as we leave, and, of course, laughing during our play. Then there are some children who are shy and even apprehensive but after a little while they start to smile and laugh and want to play and wear a clown nose, too! This is so heart-warming to see. The joy is to share an experience together and make a connection. Even if only for a brief moment. I hope that I have contributed a little to these children’s lives.
Over the course of a month, we have all together reached out to over two thousand children.
Here are some of them: