Mike Hirschbach




Part Two - February, 2004

These are the students at the end of the three week session. Every Friday afternoon we watched various circus videos for discussion and inspiration, then talked about how the work was going, followed by more informal talk over a meal.

Every day is something new and unusual. Tonight, outside a crescent moon hangs in the sky, but it hangs horizontally, like a thin smile. In Canada, these moon-slivers hang like an earring, but here the moon smiles as I wander through the streets.

Everyone here calls Ouagadougou simply Ouaga (Wog-ah). Next weekend I'm going to travel with Moussa to the next largest town , Bobo Dioulassa, which everyone calls Bobo. This will be my second time out of Ouaga, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Yesterday, Bamogo, Andre and I drove outside the city. First stop was a sculpture workshop, where people come from all over to learn carving in stone. We wandered among the countless large rocks which festooned the grounds, many of which had been carved into fantastic faces and figures and abstract shapes.

Then we drove to a zoo. Although it was closed, Bamogo seems to know everybody in the country, and we were given a personal tour by one of guides. Although some of the animals had enough space, many of then were in cages that were far too small; it was a sobering, saddening sight to see these beautiful, majestic animals who will never hunt, race, or be with their families in the forest or savannah.

The guide took us very close to some of the enclosures where visitors aren't usually allowed to go. The lions were mere feet away, and I was very glad there were bars between us. I saw a warthog, and said to Andre, "It's like God a had a contest to see which animal could be the ugliest, and the warthog came in first." The hyenas were accustomed, even friendly to the guide, who patted them through the bars as if they were dogs. It was a revelation to see how huge, muscular and strong they are.

Tradition is very strong here. Every morning at 06:30 a very loud siren goes off. It was once used to wake up workers to go to work, and even though times and work schedules have changed the siren still goes off. Also, the type of broom people use here is like a large whisk broom - they hold it in their hand and have to bend over to use it. I see people sweeping the street with this, work they'll do all day.

When I asked one of the students if anyone used a broom with a handle on it, which would be much more comfortable, he said the small one was traditional, and added, "C'est comme ca ici," (It's just like that here). This was a phrase I was to hear more than once…

The Classes: 6 mornings a week I get up very early and take a taxi at 7:10 to the office of the Jeunesse du Monde (World Youth), where I get in a van with the students. (Pick up from various locations around the city, so it can take over an hour before we get to the orphanage). All of us then drive to the "Center Specialisee et de Formation", the Centre for Specialized Education and Training, or C.E.S.F. for short. This is a series of long, one story buildings where orphaned and abandoned boys live (there is another facility for girls elsewhere. These boys live here for 4-5 years, where they are housed, fed, taught and learn a trade.

The kids I'm working with are learning to become circus teachers and performers. Every day Andre works with them on acrobatics, and I teach them theatre exercises and juggling. We work from 8:00-12:30, then take a break from 12:30-3:00 (everybody does; stores, banks, restaurants all close down because it's too hot to do anything!). Then we work again for another 2 hours.

Work is going very, very well. Andre and I are a good team, and we have similar backgrounds and approaches. The students are truly eager to learn, and work hard, and I can see their progress from one day to another…

The students are in their teens and early twenties, and all come from difficult life situations. But, the first week has gone incredibly well and they work very hard and want to learn all they can from us. Twice a week they teach a group of the young boys at the school. It's amazing to see some of these very small kids juggling 4 balls, or riding the unicycle while juggling rings, or doing back flips across the mat.

This program, Cirque du Monde, really works. It's amazing to see kids who have really had hard lives enjoying themselves, and creating, working with each other and beginning new lives with hope in them.

Storytelling: Last night Andre and I went to a traditional African storytelling circle at the Espace Culturel Gambidi. There were two rings of stones, and this is where the storytellers stood, lit only by the light of three lanterns inside the circles. There were several storytellers, and they all began the same way, with a call and response from the audience:

Storyteller: Histoire! (A story!)
Audience: Raconte! (Tell us!)
Storyteller: Histoire! (A story!)
Audience: Raconte! (Tell us!)
Storyteller: Je vais raconte une histoire! (I will tell you a story!)
Audience: C'est une mensonge! (It is a lie!)
Storyteller: Je vais raconte quand'meme! (I will tell you anyway!)
Audience: Raconte a nous quand'meme! (Tell us anyway!)

Then the storyteller would tell us a story, a tall tale or a joke. There were three drummers who accompanied the teller when he or she started singing (all the stories had songs in them), and the audience was part of this too, calling out "No!" when something surprising happened, singing and laughing and chanting.

Everyday is something new. Last week I saw my first scorpion - well, the first one that wasn't in a cage, anyway. This one was in the classroom, just scuttling along as if it wanted to learn a forward roll too.

And bats. Big bats. Tonight Andre and I went to a restaurant called La Foret, which is outside in a forest (where did they get the name from?). Beside the swimming pool, and bats kept swooping and skimming just above the water, gobbling up scrumptious insects. Just as well, as mosquitoes here carry malaria, a nasty. My dessert, as every evening was my malaria pill, which I'll have to take for a month after I'm back too.

Every day the students dance for the last 25 minutes of the class. It's highly choreographed and very energetic. Two will be playing the drums; the dou dou (which is actually two drums, one larger than the other, which are played with sticks), and the djembe, played with the hands like a bongo.

I practiced with them a few times, and though they complimented me on my dancing, I secretly suspect they were being polite and that I looked like a thrashing fish beside their fluid, graceful and practiced movements.

On Friday evening Andre left for the airport; his work with the National only allowed him to stay for 2 weeks, leaving me in charge for the last week.

So, that afternoon we had lunch at Moustapha's, then all the monitors got together for a talk about the program. Again, it was almost an embarrassing expression of satisfaction and appreciation from all the students. Afterwards, Andre and I also spoke. For him it was a summing up, with suggestions for the coming week and beyond, and a passing of the torch to me. I talked of the importance of the group, making the analogy of the safety wire the acrobats used in the Cirque video we had watched. "You are the safety wire for each other".

... more in Part Three!
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