Jordan ’14

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Jordan 2014 Tour

Since the beginning of Syria’s civil war more than 2 million of its citizens have fled to neighboring countries with more fleeing every day. In Jordan alone there are more than 550,000 Syrians, over half of them children.

Clowns Without Borders International have a programme of projects for Syrian refugees in many countries including Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria (itself), Kurdistan, Iraq and Jordon.

9th January 2014

The 4 lovely fools played their debut show to an audience of 30 kids and adults in the studio of the Town Hall Theatre in Galway to shrieks and hoots of laughter, a very rewarding sound after an intense rehearsal period. The original score from Donal supported the comedy and stupidity to great effect. Reports back from the parents said that the kids where singing the brand new call and response song ‘Rig a dig dig’ all the way home in the car.

10th January 2014

The talented quartet of Jonathan Gunning, Sandra González-Bandera, Daniel Guinnane and Donal McConnon took off for Amman.

11th Jan

What’s the collective noun for a group of clowns? A giggle of us (4) are performing for Syrian Refugees in Jordan.
Saturday our first day saw us performing for over 400 people, a mix of Syrians and Jordanians at the Community Centre Association in Amman: a centre in a deprived area of the capital. These shows, our first, were a guide to do’s and don’ts of clowning in the Middle East.
Do: play gentle at first.
Do: use puppets
Do: use magic. Good and bad

Don’t: touch Sandra.

We are delighted with how it went. We’ve never posed for so many photos.

Monday January 13th, Amman Jordan.

East Amman Community Centre, high up on a plateau within view of the worlds largest flag, waving proudly at an impressive 375 square meters.
The International Relief and Development project director Ghada hosted us for a great full day of activities, 2 shows and a workshop for Syrian, Iraqi and Somalian refugees. Large numbers flocked to the centre to see one of the highlights of the UN program.
The highlight of our day was meeting little Iman, a 4 year old Somalian refugee who packed a lot of personality into his 2 foot frame. During our break, He introduced himself by strutting towards our table and attempting to intimidate us with two balloons. It worked. And we loved him more for it.
Our workshop was a huge success. We worked with a mix of 18 Syrian and Iraqi teenagers with little Iman playing a free roll.
It’s amazing what you can teach with a vocabulary that consists of the words “cat” “mouse” “1,2,3” and “everybody together”.

The clowns rotated teaching with Jonathan leading with a warm up and some technical tomfoolery. Daniel followed with his incredible expanding mouse jump before Sandra captivated all with her cat and mouse chase (see that limited vocab went a long way).  Donal was a very boisterous team captain and little Iman surprised all by doing a pratfall half a second after Jonathan did one and then milking it for as much drama as he could.

We clowns try our best to face taboos head on and deal with them through humour. One cultural taboo is that of boys and girls mixing.  The natural inclination of the teenagers was to go into an Irish school disco formation: boys on one side, girls on the other.  Gas!  Luckily we dug deep into our bag of tricks and found games that encouraged interaction without focusing on it. Haneen and Sufyan were a great support and everybody left smiling. Job well done.

We had a bonus adventure in the evening when Abdullh, our driver invited us to his home where we met his wife and children. It was a very special evening with Abdullh’s children prooving themselves to be fine tricksters.

14th  Aqaba

The show in the Prince Rashid Club went well.  Both children and adults looked thoroughly entertained, although I must admit, we all found the show stodgy and difficult. A large group of kids unsupervised gathered right in front of the stage forming a mini lake of pointing arms and smiling faces.

Wednesday 15th Jan. Irbid, Jordan.

Today we brought the funny.
Crammed into a smallish hall in the IRD centre in Irbid, we played to a joyous crowd of Iraqi and Syrian families.
We set up in record time and threw on our costumes while Donal did Trojan work creating a soundscape of children’s voices on the loop pedal.
The crowd we’re cheering their approval before we clowns entered the stage.
The little boys and girls took to Sandra straight away. They happily let her wade through their flailing arms. Jonathan had the mamas grinning and waving while Daniel rolled in slow motion up the aisle.
Every thing worked today with the clowns tuned in to each other and the audience more than ever before. Michelle, our photographer, integrated herself brilliantly, clicking away invisibly like a ninja.

Our best day yet, and to top it all off, we were serenaded by a local beat box crew on our departure.

Thursday Jan 16th. Sakrah, Jordan.
The people here in Jordan speak 2 distinct languages. Arabic is the primary tongue with slight differences in pronunciation between The Syrian, Iraqi, and Jordanian versions. This can cause us clowns a bit of hassle when we try to speak to an all Syrian crowd using a phrase taught to us by an Iraqi.
Daniel knocks great mileage out of this in the show. When calling out the word SAHER (magic), the kids shout out corrections to him. “Sehaar” “Zerhair” “Zahar”.

The second language is more universal. It is an Arabic sign
language used in everyday speech. Eyes blinked closed for “Yes”, eyebrows up for “No”. One hand stroking the chin in a downward motion means “I will punish you” as does bringing your thumb and index finger together and extending the other three fingers like a western “Ok” sign. Sandra use this the most, as the the other clowns really need to cop on.
The sign Jonathan uses most is when he brings together the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and pulls it down in a vertical motion. This means “wait”. “Wait there and I’ll get a translation” “Wait a minute and we’ll start the show” “Wait there while I make this red ball disappear”.

On Thursday near Ajloun in the village of Sakrah we saw hundreds of repetitions of a universal sign: Smiling, laughing, clapping and cheering. We had 2 raucous shows to a total of 4 hundred people, Syrians with a smattering of Jordanians.
Dan and Jon (Momo and Bobo) nailed the box routine, while Sandra (Mimi) had the little ones cheering her name. (All the children love Mimi and are overjoyed when she gets one over on the boys.)
Donal had so much fun that he did a second show on his own outside to a crowd of rapscallions boys.

What was particularly nice about these shows was how engaged the adults were. Michelle, our photographer remarked afterwards how the older women, wrapped in their black hijab, were laughing heavily throughout.
At one point an older woman threw up her arms and said “I am happier than the children”

16th Jan – Zatari

Clowns without borders crew, woke up early the morning of the 16th, with the honking melody of Amman’s city streets. Accompanied by a beautiful sunny day as well as our faithful driver Abdullah, we went to find adventure in Zatari Camp, the second largest refugee camp on the planet, 150.000 Syrian people in a make shift city in the desert, 17km from the Syrian border.
Once we arrived at Zatari we had to wait 45 minutes to get permission to enter the camp.  Michelle was told to put her camera away as photos are forbidden on the outskirts of the camp.
During our call and response opening, the 100 or so children roared back at us, their eyes bulging. The thick rows of little children rose and fell in waves as they took turns to sit tall and crane their necks to see more. They took particular pleasure in roaring for our sheep Roberta, or taking sides against Dan or Jon.
With no electricity in the tent Donal was scurrying about in his corner trying to fix technical issues with the sound. After a quick scratch of his head, he soildered on and just strummed louder.

As for the rest of us, when the IRD field officers struggled to contain the the over exuberance of the crowd, we soildered on and clowned louder.

17th Jan – Zatari

After a tiring first day in Zataari, we returned again to do two more shows and a workshop. This time entry was smooth and swift. We approached now familiar gate with greater confidence than before and were admitted directly to our community centre in District 9.

The kids came in running in a tornado of sand much earlier than expected and we had to get things moving. Donal held the ground with his music while his fellow clowns got their props in order. We had played in exactly the same spot the previous day and there were a few familiar faces among the kids urging us to question how they decided which kids got in to see a show. No sooner had we started into our show than about 60 more kids came in from outside chanting and added themselves to the 100 or so in our original audience. From then on, the crowd were a little unsettled, but it contained through to the very end. Minor punch-ups broke out over a coveted place near the front where they could observe everything.

At the end of the show we were quickly shuffled on to District 6 for our second show. When we arrived at the community centre we were greeted by a group of men in the community. While we were setting up they planted themselves right in front of the stage on some plastic chairs. They patiently awaited the show from their prime real estate as eager as any child who´d come running in. When they did come, the kids were obliged to assemble around this cluster of complacent grown-ups and we got on with our show.

One of the more noticeable things about the crowd was that there were a lot of younger kids in the company of slightly older brothers or sisters. One 3 three-year-old found herself right in front of the action but without a guardian and started bawling at the top of her voice. She had to be carried to the back in the middle of the performance.

Participating in our workshop, we had 15 teenagers, all boys. Another flock of older men assembled in groups and observed. Sandra and Daniel took charge and had the kids chanting their own names and charging electricity with their bodies. Mohamed proved a great help in keeping the boys cooperative and concentrated. At one point during a game, there was a kickboxing demonstration happening at the back of the tent among some of the men who were present.

With all our work behind us we strolled outside our enclosure one last time in search of some kind of diversion in order to use up our last remaining sparks of energy. If someone was flying over Zataari camp in a helicopter on the 18th of the 1st 2014 at exactly 5.02 local time, somewhere amidst the ocean of tents, in among the tangle of human resilience and barbed-wire fences, one might have been able to pick out a giant circle in sand. A circle made up of children of all ages with hands joined collapsing and reforming like a lung filling and emptying itself with air. Had you been near enough to listen you would´ve heard rising above the clapping and laughing the sound of a cheery trumpet which could only be squeezed from the fine, healing lips of Danny Guinnane. And at the helm of it all, one would have been able to pick out an abnormally tall Catalonian woman, a bespectacled Madre Teresa if you will. The kids copying her movements with joy and admiration and the rest of us looking on in awe.

Sunday Jan 19th, Jordan. KAP
Today the Clowns journeyed north to a camp called KAP (King Abdullah Park). On approach we could see the Syrian border marked across the low lying hills a few kilometres ahead. The large plumes of dark smoke were a reminder of the continuing bloody conflict.
This camp was built in April 2012, four months prior to Zatari. It houses 1000 people; although 60,000 have passed through its gates so far, mainly on their way to Zatari.
The kids were very excited when we arrived, and as we walked around to find a location to perform they followed, singing for us and doing dance routines while holding Sandra and Michelle’s hands as if they were Mother Theresa. But their joy turned a bit rowdy with playful stone throwing and shoving. So we decided to take our performance indoors.

The show started very promisingly, but soon the girls invaded the stage and started dismantling the set while Donal’s instruments were being grabbed by the boys. Jonathan met the Syrian reincarnation of a childhood bully who plagued him in his 1980’s primary school.
The aid workers failed to resolve the mayhem. The boys were removed and we were to continue for the girls alone, but the boycotted masses showed their disapproval by shaking and throwing themselves at the walls of the building.
After a few aborted attempts to continue the show we had to call it a day before the finale.
A disappointing day for all of us and a single strike in an otherwise successful project. Regrettably, of all the children we have worked with so far, these were the ones who needed our attention, interaction and animation the most.

Monday 20th Tafilah

Clowns are obliged to be early risers on these projects. Up at 6.30am, in the car for 7.30am and on stage for 11am. Phew!

Today our host was the Princess Basma Centre in Tafilah, 183km southwest of Amman. A lovely centre that organises events to encourage the local community and the Syrian refugees to mix. Today we brought them closer than usual as almost 300 people crammed together in a small room to see our show. We were clearly the hottest ticket in town and we didn’t let them down.

Starting gently we soon had the 70% Syrians and 30% Jordanians rocking with 100% laughter.  A young boy was a willing substitute seat for Jonathan before Daniel pulled flowers out of the air and Sandra swooned her approval.

Donal’s clarinet solo soared as Sandra levitated before disbelieving eyes and Dan and Jon frolicked lightly to distract the crowd from seeing past the illusion.

A little girl, plucked from the audience made Jonathan’s red ball magic routine zing with playfulness as she blew in the air to make the balls appear and disappear.

For every child we called up to volunteer, 40 little hands sprung up in the air and 80 eyes widened with anticipation.

Our workshop was really sweet, with the 13 Syrian, and 7 Jordanian children racing around after Sandra as she brought them on an adventure of the imagination. The children mimed swimming and fishing, some being the fishermen, others wriggling their little bodies to become fish caught on a line. Daniel had all the children moving dynamically across the room to the melody of his trumpet while Michelle pivoted around us catching the beautiful movements on her camera.

Those children that didn’t join the workshop had a little treat as Jonathan joined them in the olive grove with the little puppet boy. The children twisted their heads to look at the puppet and stretched out their hands to greet him. One boy got so excited that he showered the puppet with kisses, one on the right cheek and 3 on the left, one on the right cheek and 3 more on the left.

Tuesday 21st January, Mafraq, Jordan.

Our last day in Jordan was filled to the brim with adventure. (All our days here have tended to be long which is why these 13 days have felt like a month.)

Today began with an hour drive to the busy little city of Mafraq in the north.

We poured out of the van and dragged our bags into the Al Baraka Hall where we set up our stage for the last time. With growing sentimentality we popped up our cardboard set and prepared all our tricks and routines. Balloons were inflated, flowers and plungers concealed, puppets set and instruments warmed up.

The audience were invited from the Jordanian Association for Orphans and Widows Care, and they filled up every available seat in no time.

Donal warmed up the audience by inviting children to add their sounds to a looping orchestra. Behind a curtain, Daniel, Jonathan, and Sandra, putting on their costumes and makeup, could hear the audience bellow their approval of Donal’s growing wall of sound.

Our last two shows, running back to back were a fitting finale to a wonderful tour.

All of the tricks and routines got a roaring response which encouraged us clowns to add a little more to the mix. Sandra shared her bemusement with the crowd as they all watched Jonathan fail repeatedly to bring his hands together in a clap, the kiddies screaming with laughter as his hands swung around him in a missing motion.

Daniel came to the rescue to fill an unscheduled gap in the show, doing an impromptu dance for the children while Sandra and Jonathan scurried behind the scenes.

We finished with a deafening call and response with the children shouting out Donal’s original song, “Rig-a-dig-dig”.

Post show was a whirl of multi tasking as we threw silly faces at the children while packing up the show and reorganising our bags for our flight home.

Jonathan and Sandra led our last workshop to a noisy group of children and adults, picking through our toolbox of games to keep the group moving.

As a treat, one of our contacts from IRD, International Relief and Development, brought us shopping in an area of Mafraq more noisy and cluttered than Moore street in Dublin. We stocked up on spices and scarves and made our way back to our Driver Abdullh’s house where his family had prepared a feast for us.


This has been a wonderfull trip for all of us.

We have reached 2, 520 children through our shows and a further 93 children have benefited from our workshops. It would not have been possible without our wonderful team, Daniel, Donal, Jonathan, Michelle and Sandra and the brilliant Margot and Colm in Ireland. (Colm was with us even when he wasn’t with us).

Thanks to Tommy Baker for a lend of his beautiful puppets.  The costumes which Macnas generously lent to us for the tour made a huge difference to the show as you can see from the photos.  Thank you.

We would also like to thank our partners at the UN, with a special thanks to Dana and Haneen.

International Relief and Development have also been a great help, especially Sufyan in Amman and Mohammad Doubi at Zatari Camp.

We are indebted to our wonderful driver Abu Josef (Abdullh) and his fantastic family for the warmth and welcome afforded to us. Thank you Anil, Reham, Mohammad, Ahmad, and Ba’ha for being brilliant.

We would also like to thank Hend at our apartment, all of the onion (basal) sellers in Amman and the people of Jordan for being so welcoming. A big booming thank you also to the security offical at Jordan International airport who played a trick on Daniel and convinced him that Sandra was arrested for smuggling. You should have seen Daniel’s face!

Finally, a big thank you to Culture Ireland for supporting us.

 Supported by Culture Ireland

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Jordan ’14