To Russia with Love 2

I’ve got a friend (honest, I really have). In fact I’ve several friends, but there’s this one particular friend that has done something amazing, something that I want to thank them for. But to truly understand what’s so amazing about what he done,

I first need to tell you a little story. It’s called

TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE 2

(The sequel)

PROLOGUE

There’s this rather cool dude called Simon. As a child Simon, like all children, dreamed of running away to join the circus and becoming a clown. But, as happens all to often in the real world, silly little things like reality got in the way, and so it was that Simon grew up to be a Russian speaking Englishman (with an American accent) working and living in downtown London.

Then Simon came into an inheritance and, being the rather cool type of dude that he is, he decided to spend some of it on “giving something back”. Which is how comes, in 2005; Simon took a clown called PABLITO, a magician by the name of ROBIN FOX, and a certain red and yellow fool to perform in and around the town of Beslan, Russia.

Beslan is quite literally, just down the road from Chechnya and over the lumpy bits from Georgia. This whole mountainous area is a hot spot for conflict and ethnic tensions which often overspill into the surrounding areas. One such case resulted in a school in Beslan being taken over by terrorist. Over 360 people, mainly innocent children, died in the following massacre, a massacre that left the survivors, both adult and child, severely traumatised

It was a strange and very funny trip. In Moscow the hotel manager made a speech as we ate breakfast, telling us that we are heroes as he wouldn’t dare go to such a dangerous place! A statement that nearly put robin off his cornflakes. In Beslan we were adopted by the local mafia. “We have booked a private room in the best restaurant just to honour you. It is 12 miles out of town, but don’t worry. We will drive you!” Said a mafia man, in an area known for its kidnappings. (It must be said here that the mafia treated us like royalty, and he only pulled the gun out and started shooting once, and that was just because he’d drunk cha-cha).

In the graveyard, the one almost exclusively full of children and teachers, there, amongst the gravestones and teddies, we stood, looked, and cried. And in the schools, we played and performed, bringing not just laugher to  around 2000 children of conflict, but also solidarity to the bereaved parents, teachers, and school chums of those who died.

It was a good trip, so good that in December 2006 we went back again.

THE CAST

SWISS AIR and SIBERIAN AIRLINES gave us free flights, THE KATRINA HOTEL in Moscow and THE VLADAKAVKAZ HOTEL in Vladakavkaz gave us free board, THE ANNE HARRIS CHILDREN’S FUND supplied us with two play parachutes, KENT CIRCUS SCHOOL gave us juggling workshop kit, MADINA, despite being pregnant, spent ages arranging this trip and getting all the relevant permissions etc, and SIMON (bless his little cotton socks) again offered to cover all the other costs (excluding my rooms mini bar). Along with us 4 there was also KUSHTER CARTUSHKER, a young Spanish clown friend of pableto’s, MADINA, whose patience ways were invaluable in sorting out the logistics of moving several mad clowns around a strange country, and my good friend Zarzar, a surgeon living in Moscow but brought up in Beslan. If his as good a surgeon as he is clown, then he should be working in Harley street.

BESLAN

From Moscow we turned right and flew down to the provincial capital of Vladakavkaz. The man checking the passports remembered us from last year, but let us in anyway. Outside the airport the locals had arranged a bus to take us to hotel Vladakavkaz. “Wicked”, I thought, “our own tour bus”.

I like this hotel. It might not be as posh as the Katrina, but each floor has a floor manager. They are always middle aged women who mother and fuss over us, not minding if its 4 a.m. and they’d just found some of us sitting on the floor in the corridor, trying to get the carpet to fly! It was one of those “you-had-to-be-there”  moments, the type that is only ever induced by copious amounts of cha-cha (In “the Encyclopaedia of foolish littertour” cha-cha is accredited the following description:

Cha-Cha; Used by Hannibal to tranquilize battle crazed war elephants this clear, innocent looking liquid has not so much a “kick like a mule”, but more of a “head butt reminiscent of a Glaswegian handshake”. A light little number that should only be used for arm to arm combat.).

The shows went well, very well. Simon and Zarzar took a more active role this time, playing clowning compeers and kushter, who only pablito had worked with before, fitted in like a cork in a bottle and done a great little escapology routine to a fast blues number called think, and a silly love thingy with pableto that went down well with all kids from 5-80.

What a lot of people don’t realize (and until I came here that was true of me as well), is the ethnic tensions here. The attack on the school wasn’t just an attack on the Russian people; it was also an attack on the Ossetian people. Also there is trouble between the two ethnic groups here, I.E. the Ossetian and the Ingush. This is one of the many reasons we don’t just work in the town, but also in the outlaying regions around the area.

Last year Madina and her husband spent several months running acting clubs for kids from both sides, getting them to realise that they aint so different after all. She helped get kids from all over the area to write and put on plays together, radio 4 even made a play about it.

It sounds silly and trivial in the great, violent scheme of things, getting mere children to laugh and play together. But by facing, and overcoming problems like writing a play, by acting together and being a success together, they will realize that maybe they aint so different after all. Like I say, it sounds like a silly, hippy type idea, but if you can think of a better way of stopping the ethnic conflicts here then tell me, because I can’t.

MY BIRTHDAY

I don’t have birthday parties. No real reason, I just don’t. But this year I was spending my birthday in ossia, land of snow capped mountains, beautiful woman, and a certain alcohol called cha-cha.

We were in a restaurant in Vladakavkaz (or bloody couscous as we call it). At just gone midnight, my birthday began with singing and dancing. Not being that good at either I opted for amusing a child at a table with some magic. Then, 5 minutes latter, as we returned to our table, the boy turned up with a present from his father, an extremely well crafted knife. Nothing fancy looking, for it’s not the sort of knife you see until it’s to late, but well made and sharper than my ex’s tongue. I was truly touched and thanked the child. Then, as I sat there wondering what sort of man takes something like that on a family meal, so the child reappeared, this time with daddy’s pistol. He wanted a photo of us (and the gun) together!!!

Then his father appeared and thanked me in person (all I done was a couple of basic tricks, nothing fancy). He asked what we are doing here and told us if we have any problems to call him, he has power. He then proved it by ordering me a birthday cake. It was well after midnight but this man is used to getting what he wants, so the waiter takes a taxi, wakes up the cake shop owner, mentions who’s ordered the cake, and 20 minutes latter I’m blowing out the candles. We ask the waitress what he does for a living, she looks worried and says “I know but I can’t tell you”. The truth is she doesn’t need to, we can guess. After the cake we head home and grab some sleep before the days work.

I awake and go for breakfast. On my return 3 floor managers come running up to us and speak in excited Russian. We don’t understand the words but don’t need to, the rest of the group all point to me. The ladies drag me off to a little side room and sing happy birthday as they pour us all vodka’s. It’s only 9;30 a.m. and already I get the feeling it’s going to be a long day. Several vodka’s latter I escape their clutches and bump into Madina; she wishes me a happy birthday and hands me a really nice bottle of Armenian brandy. (I drank it at Xmass, it was wonderful).

Our second show that day is in the centre for culture in Beslan, we’re working with a local children’s dance troupe. They have loads of energy and perform traditional dances to a professional standard, a real treat to watch as they spin and whirl, arms folded, legs a kicking, like a demented spinning top on cha-cha. Afterwards I’m called on stage and the whole theatre (450 seats, plus, staff, performers, and armed guards), sing happy birthday to me in bad English, it was so wonderfully cute, and children appear with flowers for me, one of them is the child from the night before, and I sense that daddy has pulled a few strings to make it so.

I know it’s silly of me, but I aint ever been given flowers on stage before, and I found it very touching.

Backstage a man I’ve never met before calls me over, looks over his shoulder in a guilty manner then, from under his coat, he pulls out and hands me a bottle of vodka “happy birthday” he says and disappears backi down the corridor. I watch the back of his head as he leaves and tell myself off for being paranoid, when he reached under his coat a small part of me wondered if he was going to pull a gun or knife or something. This time it was me that was nearly found touching…

That night Zarzar, our very own Russian Patch Adams, has arranged a meal in a wonderful restaurant with a medieval theme. I ask him if he choose it for its theme?

“This birthday” I think to myself, as Zarzar tells me that he chose it for me not because of its theme, but because its part of the local brewery, “just keeps getting better and better”.

Both the food and the beer (made with local mountain water) are superb. Afterwards we step outside and from that moment onwards my mind is a blank, can’t remember a thing. I’ve seen the photo’s of what we got up to and heard the stories, but trust me, you really don’t want to know.

BACK TO MOSCOW

Eventually our time is up and so, after working and performing for around 1500 children in more shows a week than all the west end musicals ever performed (or at lest that’s how it felt), we have to return to Moscow. On route we stop at Zazar’s parents place for a light breakfast. He feeds us cha-cha, it hurts. He feeds us another cha-cha, it still hurts, but not quite so much. By the 3rd one it started to taste rather good, at which point we decided to escape, as we really need to be sober (or at lest upright) for the airport.

Then we stop to pay our respects at both, the remains of the school that was attacked, and the graveyard where they buried their young (they had to build a new graveyard, the old one wasn’t big enough to house all the bodies). From the beginning to the end of this trip, I don’t think any of us went more than 2 minutes without laughing, except for these two places. Here I openly wept, for the children who died, for friends like Zarzar, but mainly for the children who are left to carry on, wondering why they survived when their friends and siblings didn’t. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I aint, and never will be.

At the hotel in Moscow we are checked in by an amazingly pretty lady who, like so many people here, remember us from last year, we decide that tomorrow night we will go to the circus and ask her to book the tickets; she agrees not just to book the tickets, but to come with us as well. But before the circus there’s still work to be done.

The next morning the hotel manageress comes to thank us at breakfast. She looks at me and tells her assistant to get me vodka! I do like this hotel.

We have 2 ports of call to make. One is a show at a cancer hospice, the other is an arts centre for orphans and special needs children.

There’s only one child at the hospice, the rest are adults, but all the patients and staff enjoyed the show. Afterwards the only child there wants to see me juggle some more, which of cause I do, afterwards he says “Bravo”, according to his father his so weak he only talks when he has to and that was the first none- essential thing he has said in 5 months.

Silly things like that mean so much to me, more than any award or money, so I’m on a high, feeling like superman, and not really listening to what the nurse says. She wants me to do something for some people in another room, no prob’s, because today I’m superman.

I enter the room smiling and straight away I realise 3 things.

A) I’m not superman,

B) These people only have days left to live, I can see it in their eyes

C) there’s no way that I can let them see it reflected in mine.

As I juggle away, part of me is silently praying that none of my kit breaks any drips or things that go “bleep, bleep, bleep”, another part of me is simultaneously praying that nothing stops going “bleep, bleep, bleep”. I mess around with a few silly things I have on me, my burping puppet, glowing lights, little mousie etc. Then we leave and head for the last bit of work,

MARIA’S CHILDREN

State orphanages in Russia aint that nice. You get the bare minimum of what you need education wise and very little love. So this artist called Maria opened an arts centre for orphans and special needs children. A place where they could learn all the arts, drawing, painting, circus skills, acting, the lot. The moment I entered it I could feel the love radiating from the walls. This place didn’t feel like a centre, it felt like a home, a real one.

We weren’t doing shows here, we were just hanging with the kids, having a laugh, drawing, and teaching some of our stuff. (Maria latter said that they learnt more from us in half hour than they have in the last week).

Maria is a tall elegant, blonde lady with kind, knowing eyes. She showed us the toilet door that Patch Adams auctions for several thousand dollars every year when he comes to visit her. I so want to meet that man, by all accounts his a right nutter, we’d get on well.

I give her the parachute that “THE ANNE HARRIS CHILDREN’S FUND” had given me, and all of the juggling kit that had been donated by “THE KENT CIRCUS SCHOOL”

She thanks me and tells me that they will use it in Beslan in January when they teach the kids there circus skills. She then says “it’s such a shame you cant join us”

I ask who “us” are and she tells me.

“The children here who learn circus skills use them to cheer up other children in hospices, other orphanages etc. We’re off to Beslan next month to teach circus skills there, it’s such a shame you can’t join us”.

I stood there, trying not to grin like a mad man, as she told me again that its such a shame I cant join them, knowing that I have no bookings that month, knowing that THE 31ST ARTICLE has £1743 put aside for just this type of work, silently deciding who I’d like to take with me (Bet Dave would love it here… hope he likes cha-cha).

“But who” I hear you ask, “are THE 31ST ARTICLE”?

THE 31ST ARTICLE

There’s a man called Jeff. His from South Africa and lives in Cardiff, south Wales. For money he arranges gigs for pubs in the town centre. Last year he said to me “Peat, I love what you do so much that I’m going to put on a festival for you”.

The event was called “THE VILLAGE DREAM”, the venue was the holiday inn, the bands and entertainers worked for next to nothing or free, the day was great fun, and the amount raised was £1743 Profit. That’s no mean feat, and I love him for it (but don’t tell his girlfriend, she might get jealous).

The money raised was handed to “THE ANNE HARRIS CHILDREN’S FUND”, who have held on to it whilst I (who has no bank account, no address, no credit rating, and as such, no chance of getting one) arrange for a “not for profit group” to be formed and get two of its members to open its bank account.

The newly formed group is called

THE 31ST ARTICLE

(Upholding a child’s right to play and laughter)

Like I say, this newly formed group has nearly £2000 to spend on just this type of thing. And the feeling of excitement I had standing there, knowing that I’ll b e back, was wonderful. So wonderful that I decided to write this email as a thank you to Jeff, not just for putting on THE VILLAGE DREAM FESTIVAL 2006, which raised all that money for my work, but also for agreeing to put on THE VILLAGE DREAM FESTIVAL 2007. So here it is;

THE THANKS

Thanks mate, nice one“.

THE BLAG

So, if any entertainers, bands, etc, fancy taking part in THE VILLAGE DREAM 2007, in return for “rich’s stored in heavon” then contact me now, BUT HURRY, places are going fast.

THE NAMING

Article 31 of “THE UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD” state’s that;

1, States Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

THE 31ST ARTICLE states that;

“There is no point in you and I enshrining children rights in posh sounding conventions unless we, their guardians, are prepared to actively enforce them”.

THE END

P.S. for more info on THE 31ST ARTICLE, or to read about my first trip to Beslan, then please check out the aid work page on my website (WWW.devilstickpeat.co.uk). You can also see us in action on youtube, just cut and past the following address into your tool bar

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *