Today I looked down at my crossed legs to see the crust still on my sneakers. A red clay that had coated the whole Northern landscape was a souvenir I had not anticipated taking home.
We had a few more schools to attend. Again, all of them were fun, all of us were tired, many of us sick and all of us really on the edge of burn out. We had one last destination which we all looked forward to: Nu Po refugee camp. This camp is an 8 hour drive from our Mae Sot locations, up the same roads we took on the ride to Burma. I slept a good chunk of the way.
We stopped 2/3’s of the way up at a small hotel, so we could get to the camp in the morning. All of the hoopers had received their new LED hoops and were rocking out with their new toys. I was on my computer, editing photos and videos to go online.
After one hour of leaving our hotel the next morning, we arrive, dusty and motion sick at the gate of the camp. Everyone at the gates stare, our response is to blow bubbles through the “windows” as Jo takes care of the details. We drive our truck in way past the point where we stayed last year, and the people stand and stare at the clown cars. What freaks we must be! So white, yet so colorful as a group. I cannot imagine what they think of us. NeelaGay (good afternoon in Karen) is all we know how to say. We smile, wave, say hello. They are shyly waving back as we drive through.
Our site is reached. We will stay segregated, boys in one room, girls in the other. Even the husband and wife are split up! We set up our sleeping gear; we put on our clown face and prepare for the day show, the night show and lunch and dinner. We have a big day ahead!
We walk as a large group through the camps. We walk through windy hard packed dirt paths behind the houses on wooden stilts. We immediately attract a large following of children whom walk with us. The path meets the larger road we came in on, and our host leads us to a cafe near to where we came in. Our crew takes over nearly the whole cafe and we sit on baby chairs at a small table on a dirt floor. The hosts are very happy to see us, and we order a slew of very foreign deep fried foods. I eat very little and try to take in my surroundings.
Everything is covered in dust. There are old posters of kittens in baskets on the bamboo walls, and this place has no doors or window coverings. The roof is thatched with brush. I am reminded of my grandmother’s barn, where she held all the old items from my mom’s childhood. This is not unlike the dust covered 60’s memorabilia I found as a child. We are certainly the shiniest thing found in the camp.
We take a walk from the cafe to the sight which we performed last year. It’s a large open soccer field, with mountainous walls and huge trees surrounding it. There are 2 stages. One is to the right, its cement and had a back drop of a bamboo wall. The other is a dirt mound to the left, next to the mountain. We use the dirt for our day show. Unlike last year, our area is surrounded by garbage, broken down plastic and glass. It looks although this area has had a few camp fires. It is rumored that this area is where people go to party/cause fights at night, and the look of the site reflects this. The children whom have followed us seem to have no trouble playing in it, shoeless and all. So we continue to play as safe as we can as Andrea and Jo make the next decision on when to start the show.
I am sent onto the dirt stage to start warming up the kids. I give them everything I have got in the form of the Chicken Dance, Americano and cotton eye Jo. I teach them these dances and try to break them out of the shell. We have a very small audience compared to the year before, only a hundred. That’s about when a goat herder went through the field and crossed over our audience with 100 goats!
The actual show begins with Garret and Fleasy doing a strange version of a native style of hooping. The stage is in the round, but most of our audience is on the side facing the mountains, and many of the children are climbing the hills to get the best view. Off and on again on stage, I am breathless and filled with joy. I laugh backstage to myself. I enjoyed watching the kids enjoy the show.
We split the kids into groups, I begin in the juggling workshop, but because of the lack of kids I am able then to get up on my stilts with Ariel. I LOVE Stilting! It’s super fun. I went to each and every workshop and played with each toy while on stilts. This is about when a herd of cows came through the workshops! They really don’t like devil sticks. They had their backs up at us, but seemed to find their way through the new found maze we’d given them to the other side. The kids thought the stilting was be great and took great pleasure in throwing as many balls as they could up so I could catch them, or not. At nearly 4pm, our call had come, it’s time to pack up and go to get ready to spin some fire! WOOT.
This show was our longest, most fun and most beautiful show met with thousands of new faces. I had many parts in it because of MCing with Jonny. It was great working with him, hyping up the crowd, trying to get them to make noise. We had a translator too, which is always fun. This one in particular was very helpful in the fact that he joined us in our excitement, yelling with us, helping us to get them all to chant the word for fire! There were a few confusions, but everyone was super happy to be performing on the team, and everyone was super happy to watch the crazy people with fire. The people were so far back that apparently and they were asking how they found such tall women to be a part of their circus!
Here is a video of our finale which shows how grand our show became.
We jammed for many hours on that stage, as it is a safe place to play, we have the fuel and we are still pumped and ready for action. We play and play until we can’t any longer. We pack up and head back to our bunker for the night.
About half of us stayed in the camp for a few days. We played music and hooped and danced and played. Approx 30 children followed us everywhere. In particular, we befriended a little six toed girl whom shadowed our every move. One walk with Ariel through the camps and she followed us the whole way! We tried to suggest she stay behind, but language barriers do not bode well for this type of situation. She was super sweet, and when we returned she disappeared! Oh wait, no, there is her mother scolding her for wandering. Oops.
She found us again at dinner and we gave her some food. She was ravishing! She ate all she could, and we gave her all our leftovers for later. She had 2 shirts she wore the time we were there, both ragged and dirty. They got cleaner, but it didn’t last long. She was the sweetest girl. She stood by the gates of where we stayed waiting for us in the morning or at night. She tried to come in many times. She was fully obsessed with us.
Once we had woken up on our last day, packed our trucks, donated the remainder of our items and began to drive away she followed. She followed through the winding roads to the gate. She waited for us to check out. She followed us past the gate, a bunch of stickers in hand, starting to run towards the car as it got faster. We got to the paved road and she ran and stopped then ran again as she became tired. We passed the last check point as she tried to follow. She was swallowed by a dust cloud and you could see her submit to defeat. We were gone. I swear we broke that child’s heart.
The drive home again, windy, but not as long as I had expected. I listened to old school jungle tracks all the way home. There was an after party at the bar next door. We drank and cheered. We played and watched videos of our acts. Most of the crew left at 8am the next morning to go to Chiang Mai. Fleasy, Jonny, and Team family were left with me until the night to go to Bangkok. Again, listening to music on the bus, I watched the burning forests pass by all night. We all arrived at a hotel at 6am and slept for days.