The last few weeks have been difficult, disappointing and eye opening. As many of you may know, I had a trip planned to tour through northern Sumatra and perform for children affected by the 2004 tsunami and displaced children due to the civil unrest in Indonesia’s province of Aceh. Our trip was planned, tickets were bought, visas were renewed and we were ready to go. On Thursday, March 5th, Deddy and I boarded the early bird plane to Banda Aceh from Jakarta. About a week before we left, I was informed that it would be a “good idea” to get a letter from the Jakarta police, stating we were residents of Jakarta, traveling to Aceh on a Social project. I went to several different police stations in Jakarta and they all told me that I would have to get such a letter in Aceh. When I informed my organizer in Aceh about this, he suggested that I go directly to the police station in Aceh, after I arrived. So we did. Straight from the Banda Aceh Airport to the Banda Aceh Police Station.
When we told the police officer what we were there to do and where we were from, he asked us to come into his office and have a seat. He then proceeded to tell us a list of permission slips, progress reports and letters of invitation that you needed to travel to Banda Aceh. We were all shocked. Is Banda Aceh still a province of Indonesia? Yes. But it is the one province in the whole country that you need special paper work to travel to. Unbeknownst to any of the people who organized my trip or any of my expat friends who just returned from Aceh doing similar work, with similar organizations. The police officer informed me that I was to return to Jakarta, get my paper work and then “try” again. After many hours of calling people who knew people and trying to sort this all out, I was introduced to someone who finally knew everything that needed to happen. His advice was to go to Jakarta and plan another trip to Aceh in June or July. He said that with the elections in full swing, it is possible for me to return to Jakarta, get my paper work and still be turned around upon returning to Aceh. So… That’s what we’ll do. I’m not giving up on Aceh and the surrounding towns, but I’m going to wait until after the elections are finished, because the last thing I want to do is get turned away a second time.
As frustrating as the bureaucracy of developing nation’s politics can be, there is a silver lining to this story. Two extra weeks to work with my students in Jakarta! And that’s exactly what I did. It wasn’t possible to schedule a lot of shows or visits to new locations, but what was possible was to schedule classes with my regular students from Cilincing, Bekasi, SD Unwanul and our Sunday Circus classes.
In the last three weekends our Sunday classes have really started kicking off. There are about 35 regular students from the Cilincing fishing village, a homeless shelter in Bekasi and expatriot JIS students. They have all begun the journey of making friends with other kids from completely different backgrounds than their own.
The first weekend there was very little interaction between the three groups unless I specifically partnered two kids together. However, there was a very nice moment when, Neng, a 12-year old from Cilincing, decided to help out one of the older boys from Bekasi and teach him how to spin a plate. Really cool to watch her filled with so much pride that she knew how to do something a 17-year old boy didn’t. The older boy was very friendly and receptive and when he finally learned how to spin the plate, Neng gave him a big high-five and told him how great he was doing. After class I organized a pool party for the kids and the kids had an absolute blast! Thanks to the supervision of a JIS teacher, Kathy Nestroff, the kids were able to jump off the diving board, play water basketball and water polo, and float around in inner tubes. They had so much fun and so did I!
The next two weekends of Sunday Circus were filled with more great relationship building, new skills and more after circus activities. One afternoon I booked JIS’s little theater and we turned it into a movie theater with a video projector. I brought a few Charlie Chaplin films and a few Cirque du Soleil videos and the kids were absolutely amazed. I think their favorite act was the juggling act from Corteo, because ever since watching it, they’ve all been trying to learn some of the tricks from the video.
I made my second visit to one of Emmanuel’s tutoring centers, SD Unwanul. The kids were super excited to have me back again and I was happy to be there. We split up into four groups this time, one for each of the basic circus skills and one group for me to play theater games with the kids. I wanted to begin learning their names, since I’ll be returning every two weeks to work with these kids. We had a great lesson and its really nice to see the kids get so excited about doing such a simple thing, like spin a plate.
Cilincing classes are going better than ever. The students are excited, disciplined and really beginning to move to the next level of skills. As my relationship with these kids grows and gets stronger, they are beginning to open up about their personal lives to me. I spoke with one girl, who told me that she is very hopeful that she will be allowed to finish high school. She told me that her real dream is to go to college and get a degree in management or marketing. When I ask her why she chose those two majors, she told me, that was what she was interested in. I was impressed. She is 14, has learned how to speak a decent amount of English with a friend and a dictionary, and she really has a dream of becoming the first child from her village to get a college degree.
I got to thinking after this conversation about how I could help these kids. Some of the middle school aged boys have already dropped out of school and some of the kids don’t know how to read or write. I’m in the process of creating an educational program for these kids, where they will learn circus for an hour or two and then they’ll be given lessons in reading, writing, English and math. This idea isn’t completely mine. I’ve taken two programs that I’ve seen work successfully in the past and combined them. The first is from a circus I worked for in Chicago when I first started teaching called, CircEsteem. They tutor their students after each circus class, and the kids have gone on to get full scholarships to college and become straight A students. The second is from Emmanuel’s tutoring centers where, he works with his orphans in these four categories, because they are essential to a child’s education. I’d like to start this work as soon as possible and I just need to get my hands on some workbooks or other educational material. In the long run I’d like to hire tutors, who have experience doing this type of work, but for its going to be me.
Next week looks a lot busier than the past few, which is exciting! Stayed tuned for more!