Greece Tour report, Nov. 2018

Read the reports written while on the tour! 

Day 1, Clowns on Tour: 

“You made a lot of people very happy today”.
Our second 4am start in as many days in Metaxourgeio, (too many vowels for that hour of the morning) Athens. A quick twin prop flight across the Aegean’s choppy waters to Mytilini airport in Lesbos – an easy journey for us, but an impossibly difficult one for so many who we will meet in the coming days.
A tech run through of the show & off like the wind up the coast in our clown van (driving the wrong way up a few streets) out of town to the One Happy Family Day centre where around 800 people a day come to get relief from the overcrowded Moria camp across the windy mountains.
We did 2 beautiful shows in the communal eating area. First for mostly teenage boys who bet their knees with laughter throughout. The second for about 60 young kids, their teddy bears & their teachers, all of whom come from a refugee background themselves. 
When we finished, took our bow & said our thank you’s, one, two, then suddenly dozens of tiny people ran at us full force arms open, diving into our arms for long strong hugs & kisses. Just before the second show a little boy around 6 years old sat in the front row with a very elaborate gun he had made of paper shouting bang & mock shooting all around him. At the end of the show, he ran to me & gave me the gun & a long hug. A laying down of weapons after laughing together for an hour….

Day 2, Clowns on Tour
METAdrasi educational centre, Lesbos

We started the day well rested, a real boon after two days of travel and waking in the wee hours. Following a somewhat choclatey breakfast (strange to find it in our Greek muesli) we headed off with sat nav Sam in the driving seat. The sun shone bright and the Aegean surrounding the island reflected a deep, rich blue to turquoise light, but despite it’s beauty I couldn’t help think that the refugees we will meet had to cross it and that for too many it was impassable.

Our destination, METAdrasi education centre, is a Greek NGO organisation that provides safe places away from the overcrowded and intensely stressful Moria refugee camp. Here young refugees, mainly unaccompanied minors, can come to learn Greek, English, Mathematics and Geography. 

We performed two shows to groups of about 30 teenagers, one at 10.30, the other at 3.00. They were mostly young men, with 5 girls in the first group and 2 in the second.

Teenagers seem to really appreciate the more skilled elements of the show, their eyes literally lit up to see Sam do his magic with the contact ball, and they couldn’t take their eyes off the juggling clubs. When Kim stood on Jimmy’s shoulders, they were gob smacked. We feel there is real virtue in them seeing women take a leading role, that for the girls amongst them, it is hopefully inspiring. The girls tend to be more reticent, their reactions not so easy gauge. However, their desire to have selfies with us afterwards, let us know that our work is appreciated.

All in all, the responses we received were extremely heart warming. What a privilege it is to be here!

Day 3, Clowns on tour. 

Last night we were kept up at night by a serious thunderstorm bashing down on the roof of our house, which made us appreciate even more the difficult sleeping conditions of those living in tents in and around the nearby Moria Refugee Camp (or those that perhaps might be making the journey across the rough waters that separate Lesbos and the EU from nearby Turkey).

We performed in Safe Zone B in Moria camp, a protected part of the sprawling refugee camp with extra security measures to protect the unaccompanied minors who are staying there. We sheltered from the pouring rain with about 35 kids and put on a compacted version of our show in an Isobox, a standard living quarters and faculties in refugee camps. About the size of a shipping container it was a challenge to adjust our show but it was great to be able to bring our show to these children, who are living in particularly challenging situations. 

Later that day we went to a home in the town where 16 young unaccompanied boys have been housed, we had been invited that morning by an NGO worker in Moria to perform our show but arrived after to see our potential performance space even was smaller then our mornings space! Not all the residents were home but we spent the afternoon with some of the boys teaching magic tricks, juggling, swapping games and hanging out. One 12 years old from Iraq spoke great English and was delighted to lead us in some games and reassured us he would find some time to practice his juggling after we left.

Day 4, Clowns on Tour.

We woke up this morning with a Clown birthday, Rosie O’Regan’s! So we started the day with silly hats, lots of coffee and a song (which was a theme that would be continued throughout the day).

We were back to the Moria Camp in the morning – safe zone A this time. This is a protected part within the Moria camp, the biggest refugee camp in Lesbos, which currently holds over 8,000 refugees. Safe zone A is for unaccompanied minors – children that arrived to Europe without parents or older siblings. At first getting into the safe zone was proving difficult – the previous night some sleeping containers had been set on fire and it wasn’t clear if we would be allowed in. But after some sweet talking to the security guards by the amazing Vicky (from the NGO Iliaktida), we were let in and 15 minutes later we were suddenly performing! It was definitely a strange feeling to perform behind so much barbed wire and fences, but the children really enjoyed the show! 

Once we finished, we were straight to the Gekko kids, a school for unaccompanied minors and adults in the centre of Mytiline where Greek, Mathematics and English is taught. We moved all the chairs and tables and performed in the classroom, trying to juggle clubs in tiny spaces while all the children clapped along with us! 

Finally, after a super quick bite to eat and some extra doses of strong Greek coffee, we drove to Pikpa Camp just outside Mytiline, run by Lesvos Solidarity and which provides humanitarian support to families with children, refugees with disabilities and to victims of disasters at sea. Pikpa has some amazing facilities (some of the best we’ve seen) and we got to perform in a geodesic dome with wooden floors! After performing the day before in a small sleeping container, this was quite the change. Lots of very small children were brought to the dome by the lovely volunteers at Pikpa and got to see magic tricks by Sam, Kim and Jimmy’s two-high routine, and Rosie’s tongue wagging tricks, among many other things! 

4 very tired and very joyful clowns then got back into our temporary clown van and drove home.

Day 5, Clowns on tour.

Over 200 laughs on the road to Turkey… 
The road to the infamous Moria Camp along a hillside on the eastern edge of Lesbos is so close to Turkey (6km’s across the water) that our phones change to Turkish time & networks. The Tapuat Centre is an education & support centre for women & children in a former car show room. Run by the aptly named Better Days (& Iliaktida, another NGO) by a myriad of kind, dedicated & patient teachers from all over the world, this is where our scene is set for the day. A whopping four full shows, each in a different classroom, drained us to our funny bones, but the sweet affection of the teenagers (mostly unaccompanied boys here alone from Afghanistan or Syria) & the gentle hugs of the little ones after each show truly make it all worth while. These perfectly innocent, kind & resilient children all currently live in Moria Camp which Google maps has pixelated out of digital existence. A bus collects them to bring them up the road to school in the morning, and in the evening, after our final bow, we are almost dragged onto the bus by little hands holding ours wanting to bring us to this place of leaking iso box container houses, tents & barbed wire that they must, for now, call home.

Day 6, Clowns on tour.

Yesterday we left Lesbos and today awoke in our Athens home. Doukeni, our lovely Greek guide and Harris our driver met us promptly at 9.30. We loaded up our big black rental van and set off with Nina Simone singing.

Our first destination was Malakasa refugee camp, an hours drive away and we arrived with plenty of time to check out and prepare our performance space, a large hall, usually used to distribute hot tea and food.

Malakasa is home to over 1000 refugees, the majority coming from Afghanistan. 
Again, it is very touching how open both adults and children are to us, nearly everyone says hello with a smile. Immediately children were curious, connecting to us with questions about where we come from and our families. One young girl looked up at Jimmy sincerely and said “You have beautiful eyes”, which to be fair is true. I’m realising that this generosity of spirit is not unusual amongst the children we are meeting.

There was a real sense of anticipation as we set up to perform to our largest audience yet. There were about 75 children of all ages and about 30 adults present. They really entered the spirit of the show. We always invite two volunteers on stage but could have chosen many more, they were so eager. Again Sam’s solo moment drew audible gasps, with one young girl exclaiming ‘magic’ repeatedly, her eyes wide with wonder.

We would have liked to spend more time here but had to leave straight away so as to make it to Ritsona refugee camp for our second show. Ritsona camp is home to 600 refugees and run by several NGOs who work with Greek authorities. 

Jimmy had been to this camp on another tour a year ago, and on our arrival a girl of about ten came up to us immediately. She recognised our green hoodies and on closer inspection, Jimmy of the blue eyes, reminding us that our work is memorable and worthwhile.

We had a little time to spare, so following a recce of the area we indulged in some delicious arabic coffee made in a cosy make-shift hut by a friendly man from Syria. After this we went walk about, gathering children in follow the leader style. They were full of beans and mischief so we needed to be hyper aware of our props and wasted little time starting the show. Around 55 children and 35 adults were present.

It is hard to witness the inherent tiredness in the eyes of many of the children we meet, to see that cynicism has crept into their young faces, but all the more uplifting when they crack a smile or laugh as the show plays out. Today, when we took our bow a small girl of about 4 years old ran onto the stage and hugged Rosie and Kim with all her mite, an intensely hearty moment for us and the audience.

We then needed to pack up quick smart so as to remove the temptation of our props. While this was happening it was beautiful to look back and see Kim surrounded by little ones, all wanting her playful attention and swamping her with hugs. The love these children have to give is tremendous.

In both camps we were struck by the amazing art work throughout. Despite the overwhelming and difficult circumstances these people face it is incredible to see their resilience, to witness how art and creativity can empower and help make tough situations a bit more bearable.

Day 7, Clowns on Tour

We performed two shows in occupied buildings in the centre of Athens. The first space was occupied by a Greek group and handed over to the refugees who lived there. Our show was staged on a large courtyard between apartment buildings. We performed a fun filled show to a ring side audience of amazed smallies, teenage boys playing it cool and giggling along on the side line as well as smiling adults in the courtyard and up in windows of the apartments. 

Our show finished just before Athenian dusk and we made our way to City Plaza, another occupied space housing refugees, this time an abandoned hotel managed by a team of Greek and other international volunteers. 

We climbed the grand stairs of the old hotel to the 2nd floor to what was called the kids space. We performed to an audience of about 25 kids and 15 curious adults. 

Sam’s magic worked a treat, when our brave volunteer opened his hand his jaw dropped, and stayed dropped, and stayed dropped. Wide eyed, we led him back to his seat. Sharing this moment with one another we carried on with the show. 
After we finished one little girl approached Kim and asked her why hadn’t we come earlier. Kim explained we had been performing for other kids during the day. But why earlier, Kim asked. 
“Because if you had come in the morning we could have played all day!” she replied.

(Due to the sensitive nature of where we were performing, we did not take any photographs today).

Day 8, Clowns on Tour

In the morning we visited the Skaramagas refugee camp in Athens. The camp is beside a large port that ships out hundreds of containers. The same size containers, directly opposite the shipping yard but separated by high fences and barbed wire, also form a concrete hellhole that houses about 3,200 refugees (two families per container). Of all the camps we have visited in the last two weeks, Skaramagas is easily one of the most depressing.

Since the loudspeaker was broken, we did a small walk-about throughout the camp to gather the children. The children quickly multiplied as word spread throughout the camp that the clowns had arrived!

In the afternoon we visited Schisto refugee camp. Normal population was 800 – but the previous night a baby had been born in the local hospital – population was now officially 801. We did a show for about 140 children and adults and it was a whopper! Children clapping and adults laughing as us 4 clowns bobbled around on stage performing various acts of silliness, circus, magic and singing!

The video we post is us driving into the Schisto refugee camp.

Day 9. Shows 19 & 20. Our final day of this tour.

Elesfina Camp in an old port building outside Athens for our first show is the shockingly grim home for about 140 refugees, mostly Syrian & Afghani. About 70 children & teenagers live here with their families. It’s clear these kids don’t get many visitors or treats as they bounce off the walls with excitement before, during and after the show. One particularly excited little boy decides to try & tickle Jimmy while Kim is standing on his shoulders…We survived it 🙂 As we left, two little girls blow us kisses through the huge high metal fencing. 
Our final show of the tour, at Eleonas Camp in another suburb of sprawling Athens, had a beautiful giggling crowd of about 140 kids. President Michael D Higgins had visited this camp a short while ago & we were joined by two lovely ladies from the Irish Embassy in Greece who do the best that they possibly can to support the children in this camp with Project Elea. We were lit by 2 floodlights, bathed in raucous laughter throughout, swamped by hugs at the end & joined on stage by half the crowd for our final bow as the kids wanted to take a bow too. We think they are the ones who really deserve the standing ovation.
Photo below of our one of our stages…

Greece Tour report, Nov. 2018