Patch said” Don’t come on this tour because of me. Come because you want to find and spend your clown self. Come because you truly want to experience the disparity between rich and poor. Come because you want to make at least one Russian friend”
And so the most profound journey of my life began! A journey visiting 2-3 orphanages a day, in Moscow and St Petersburgh, 36 of us in Compassionate Clown persona, bringing joy into barren environments !
A story of paradox and synchronicity; of stark poverty and excessive wealth unfolded as the tour began. Two to three facilities a day were visited. All buildings were in poor condition and some had dirt floors in some areas. Interestingly every facility had a hat check area! There was no soap. There was no toilet paper or handtowel. There were light bulbs only in key areas. Children ate soup they called Borsch; to us it looked remarkably like water with 3 carrot sticks and a sliver of spinach.
Defining moment number 1
My experience of their poverty was sadder and more poignant than their experience of it.
I came as the observer and looked into their world and felt such sorrow at their plight. Yet in that sorrow was such joy and wonderment as we connected at both heart and soul level, creating joy by simply being present to it all.
In some facilities the care-givers were kind compassionate and committed to their roles. In many the caregivers demonstrated mans inhumanity to man over and over, ruling with a severe countenance and controlling authority. One facility allowed us only one hour ( we usually had two) saying the children had to have their injections! It was as the children were starting to really enjoy the clowning experience that they were denied further contact.
At Sergiev Posad, the deaf dumb and blind school we saw great love and compassion. Poor though the facility was the children wanted for nothing in the way of developmental material and a caring environment. Most equipment had been made or sourced by the caregivers and was astounding in its ingenuity and creativity. Children were clean, dressed in worn but carefully pressed clothes. 36 clowns and 10 children painted a mural with rainbows, castles and butterflies. I sat with a child with autism who was also deaf, ans she and I hummed for 45 minutes as she examined my left ear and we both experienced moments of joy and connection as we filled the gaps created in the humming sequence. ( See picture )
Defining moment number 2
In the face of stark poverty, both material and often of spirit, I sat with with this child and for 45 minutes there were no stray thoughts. We were totally present and no language was required. The photo shows the pure joy!!
At one institution for the intellectually challenged we came face to face with stark post war conditions. Rolled barbed wire fences surrounded the building that no-one inside ever left. All 200 “inmates” were sedated with the same foul smelling drug. They were awake only 5 hours a day. This was the first year Patch had been allowed to visit this facility. Half of those we saw wore crude, torn and tattered straightjackets. Though denied access I feigned ignorance and insisted on helping with the meal. I fed and gave children fluids in one area and as I did the caregiver threw scraps of food and bread into the mouth of a boy who was straight-jacketed. As he opened his mouth to catch the bread I found myself dumbstruck with the inhumanity of this moment. When I looked into the eyes of this boy, aged about 14, I knew he was aware and my heart cried out for his plight. Photos were not allowed in this facility.
Defining moment number 3
My next thought about this caregiver was” what has her life been like that she thinks this is ok?” The content of the lives of others is not always known to us and when we can consider from that perspective we begin to perceive our real humanity!
I returned from that tour more vital and alive than I have ever felt in my whole life!!
I experienced and was present to it all….experiences both sad and glad !!!!