In April 2018 I donned a red nose, dyed my hair to match, and joined 42 clowns in Morocco including clown doctor and social activist Patch Adams from the Gesundheit! Institute. Our goal? To connect with the local people and take love and laughter to orphanages, schools and hospitals.
This blog is an account of my experiences and reflections from 12 days as a humanitarian clown in Marrakech and Casablanca.
You can read the full blog by scrolling down, or use the table of contents below to jump to a particular post.
It would soon be time to travel home, we three clowns from across the pond. As the trip drew to a close, some of us decided to carry on clowning. After checking out, we headed to the beach – hungry for more connections and more play. Oh and for lunch.
We noticed a young lady singing in her car, and a pair of us mimed joining in. She wound down her window and serenaded us as we danced! Of course we applauded wildly, and it was sincere.
We joined a family and shared some giggles, then groups of teenagers posed for selfies with us.
At our final hotel, a member of staff asked if he could bring a colleague to us who ‘was sad and had bad problems in the home’. In England, clowns are often treated with ridicule but we saw many examples here of clowns as therapy or healing. Whether we truly helped in that situation is impossible to say, but she left smiling from ear to ear. And again, we hadn’t really done anything vastly perceivable; a hug here, a heart sticker there but we tried to impart love and a connection.
Gifts That Keep On Giving
At the airport strangers gave us gifts, and in return my clown friend Mowkie gave a Moroccan businessman a heart sticker. As she pressed it gently on his chest, he began to cry. Such joy in a simple gesture.
Later we met two girls – one of them told my clown friend Fizzy she was beautiful and then gave her the necklace she was wearing, asking her to please accept it. Hugs and photos followed.
Shop staff excitedly posed with us, kisses were blown by a large group leaving for Mecca, and we were blessed by an Anglican priest.
The flight gave our British trio the chance to reflect on the trip, to share experiences and process this crazy adventure!
In London, the contrasting British welcome – or lack of – was all too clear. It wasn’t that people were rude, but just that they chose to ignore. There was the odd smile, but many blank faces and heads buried in newspapers or technology. But then I suppose not everyone wants a clown interaction during their rush-hour commute.
However, on the train back I got chatting to two women and told them all about the trip, we clowned and played and talked all the way home. They insisted on buying me dinner on the train, and we discussed ways to get clowning into their own lives.
And that is one of the things I took from the trip. We can all clown. There were members of our group who had never ‘clowned’ before but who I saw create beautiful moments. The trips are open to anyone, experienced or not, and all the magic tricks, balloons and toys don’t make the clown. They are the props that can aid us, the skills that can help us, but ultimately it comes down to connection. Some clowns achieved so much, with so little.
How to sum up this exciting, emotional, exhausting, life-affirming experience? Maybe I just did, but I’m not sure that does it justice. This blog has been a useful way to gather my thoughts and feelings and to reflect on the whole adventure. A final summary is difficult to articulate but I do know that I feel changed, deeply affected by what I have seen and experienced. I feel uplifted.
I’ve so far had two Giggle Doctor visits since the trip, and I can feel that my professional practice and personal development have both grown. I am more gentle, more focused and have had connections that I never thought possible. A colleague put it well as she said, our clown vessels have been filled up.
I found clown freeing, liberating and downright fun! I’ve been out in public in clown a few times since I’ve been back, partly as a social experiment but hopefully to spread some colour and joy. Honestly, it’s much harder in England but I’m determined to stay brave and big-hearted.
Looking back, the overriding feeling that comes to mind is of being welcomed. Welcomed by the Moroccan people, welcome by the children of all ages, welcome by the organisers and by my fellow clown tribe. It is easier to be joyful and playful when you feel safe, welcome and supported.
So thank you clowns, thank you to all who donated and supported me, and thank you for reading.
Although not a holiday, we had time to take in some local sights and experiences – often whilst we were clowning!
Morocco struck me as incredibly vibrant and colourful. Eye-catching mosaics adorned many buildings, and the traditional outfits were bold and theatrical. With so much colour, I don’t feel we looked that out of place as clowns!
Your Fez Looks Familiar
We clowned through the narrow market streets of the Medina, dodging motorbikes and posing for selfies as we went. All manner of souvenirs, teapots and trinkets were on sale, and it was a real feast for the senses.
Bartering and bargaining was expected, but as a clown it’s hard to be taken seriously! However, the market traders welcomed us with open arms (often literally) and when we went to back to shop, one clown was even using sponge clown noses as currency!
At night, the market square came to life with live music, snake charmers and street entertainers. Although heavy with tourists, it was also an opportunity to see the locals sharing food and fellowship.
A Wing and a Prayer
A visit to a mosque was a reminder of the deeply religious culture in Morocco. With Ramadan approaching, many people were preparing to fast, and some restaurants had already stopped serving alcohol. The call to prayer was heard throughout the day, and the Mosque would frequently be packed with devout Muslims.
Stunning mosaics, arches and fountains paved the way to the main entrance and I couldn’t believe that the whole structure was only twenty years old.
The huge temple towered over us, with intricate stonework and beautiful tiling…grand would be an understatement!
Inside, it was peaceful and virtually empty. We expected tourists or locals to fill the echoing chambers but it was mainly our giggle of clowns. Out of respect we didn’t clown in the temple, but the quiet atmosphere made it all the more obvious when a forgotten squeaker went off in my pocket!
The sheer size and scale of the building was incredible – a staggering 100,000 people could worship together. A mechanical roof had to be installed, opening up to let in more air on hot days.
Driving past that evening, I was surprised to see a huge green laser shining from the top, pointing the way towards Mecca.
Scrubbing Up Well
We de-clowned and disrobed one evening to visit a Hammam. This traditional bathhouse experience began with a steam room, an ideal spot to unwind after a busy week. As we sat and sweltered, we were instructed to open a tub of black cleansing gel and rub it all over.
We were then taken into a room and laid on stone slabs where we were throughly washed, oiled, scraped, massaged and vigorously scrubbed…I’d never felt cleaner!
Refreshing, invigorating and deeply relaxing, I can see why for many locals this is a weekly tradition.
Food, Glorious Food…
The local cuisine was exquisite. As the tour progressed, it became a running joke that we were always eating. Not because we were gluttonous clowns, but because food was everywhere we went and, often, it was prepared as a thank you. In Moroccan culture, food is seen as a way of showing love and appreciation and so, after visiting an organisation as clowns, the staff would lay on a sumptuous spread or a selection of sweet treats.
Often we’d only just had lunch, but we ate the food and drank the tea, because it was truly a mark of their gratitude to us. Oh, and because it was delicious!
At an association for vulnerable women, our lunch was prepared by the women themselves. In a previous post I mentioned that at the hospital in Casablanca, we were catered for by the mothers of the patients. A home-cooked meal in our host’s own house was a treat too…I wouldn’t know how to feed 43 clowns! But the food, and the talent show and dancing that followed, was a triumph. These lovingly prepared meals but were some of the best I had on the trip – from the heart, authentic and a real gift.
The closest comparison I can think of in England is that we put the kettle on and bring out the biscuits to welcome friends or strangers. Tea is just our cup of…well…tea! But in Morocco it was refreshing mint tea, poured from a gleaming teapot and laden with sugar. Just the tonic after a busy clown visit!
Keen to embrace the local culture, on a visit to the Medina (market place) I decided to try lamb’s brain and snail soup. A little of someone else’s lamb brain was plenty for me, an unusual texture – not unlike blamanche – with a malty taste but not all that baaaaaad (sheep pun!)
Snails were better than I expected, but I couldn’t look them in the eyes! Served in their shells in a watery broth, stick a toothpick in the mollusc and voila! Chewy and with an odd aftertaste, but said to have restorative health benefits.
Throughout the tour, delicious tagines were common, along with lamb skewers, cous-cous and so many well-seasoned vegetables. I’ve never been so healthy, or regular (too much information?!) In cafés and restaurants we would often be dining under orange trees, and the markets were filled with spices of every colour.
Another foodie highlight was a café next to a fish market by the sea. Customers buy their own fish from the market, then bring it to the cafe where cooks prepare and serve it there. This was the freshest fish, plump succulent prawns…and it just kept coming! It was a truly local Moroccan experience, I later found out they had never had outsiders visit before.
Local musicians played as we ate, and then we ventured into the market to clown. What a place to play, strike up conversations and sample the local produce!
As I write, I’m conscious that the box of homemade Moroccan cookies I brought back is dwindling quickly. I guess I’ll just have to go back and get more…one day!
But more than the food or the sights and sounds, I think it will be the people of Morocco I remember the most. That heartfelt welcome, the genuine appreciation that we came to their country.
I first met Dr Patch Adams in the hotel bar in Marrakech. I introduced myself and went to shake his hand, and he pulled me in for a tight hug instead. As we got chatting, he told me I look like a dork…I soon found that he meant it as a compliment! He embraces geekiness, weirdness, the dorky and the different. Normal, I suspect, would be a dirty word!
Burps, Farts and Giant Underpants…
I soon learned that Patch’s sense of humour taps into something all children find funny…toilet humour!
In our reserved British culture, I’m sometimes wary about this kind of comedy – not because I don’t think it’s funny but that I know a lot of parents teach their children it’s rude and naughty. Saying that, my most commonly used sight-gag in hospitals is a ‘stool sample’ – a small wooden doll’s house stool (chair) in a plastic pot! Yes poos and farts are a bit naughty but clowns can be naughty, to a point!
Turning plastic eyes into a burping puppet, singing about underwear or lining up children to get a face full of flatulence from a giant whoopee cushion, the kids (and big kids!) loved it.
Unfurling The World’s Largest Underpants, two or more people would climb inside for an impromptu pants-parade!
In fact, in the Moroccan culture of veiled women and traditional morals, I was surprised by just how many adults embraced this seemingly crude approach. That is the beauty of clowning, it reconnects us with our inner child and all that is inherently funny.
On the Shoulders of Giants
Patch would invite children to stand on his shoulders, to encourage them to take (managed) risks and boost their confidence. There were two children on the tour with us, and it was great to see their own confidence grow as the week went on. Towards the end, they were standing unsupported and even dancing atop Patch’s frame.
He coached me in how to do this too, learning to feel when the position of the feet was correct. For safety and reassurance, we had a spotter on either side but, thankfully, no child was ever dropped!
He then invited me to go on his shoulders, to experience what the child feels. Held aloft, I realised it was scarier than it looked and hard to ‘let go’. But once I’d found my balance and put my trust in the spotters, it was an exhilarating experience…and what a view!
The Brave and the Bold
Patch encouraged us to be brave, to clown boldly and connect with everyone. This could involve taking risks and pushing boundaries, but I also saw tender and gentle moments – especially with younger children or the elderly.
He would search for his ‘momma’ by pretending to be an oversized baby, introduce people to his pet fish, gurn, grimace, hug and embrace. We saw several routines or gags used over and over, but he has found what works for him, his character and those on the receiving end!
Patch would hop on motorcycles with market traders, and at one point even clowned with the police who were trying to move us on from a fast-approaching group of political protestors. We’d been advised to give police and armed security guards a wide berth as they can mistake our playfulness for being ridiculed, but Patch managed to break through that through with his clown.
As well as seeing Patch work, there was time to meet with him one-to-one. He is a lover of art, culture, nature, literature and history and has over 45,000 books. At breakfast one day we sat together and Patch recited Shakespearean sonnets and quoted Walt Whitman poetry from memory. A surreal moment as I sipped my morning coffee!
In a bar in Casablanca I asked if he had any advice for my two sons, and he very kindly filmed a video. As a personal family message, I won’t share the video on a public forum (although if you know me and would like to see it, just get in touch) but there are some choice quotes that I’ve transcribed below…
“I know one of you is a clown but the truth is, when you play with each other you’re ALL clowns…”
“The world needs to take love to all the corners, and humour makes it easier to do it, because people are a little freaked by love…”
“If you need to know that the world needs you, look around…and when in doubt, be funny!”
The Hollywood Effect
It was interesting to hear how the film, based on his life story, was largely truthful but also changed and dramatised in places to sell more tickets. If you have seen it, you may remember the famous scene where an elderly patient bathes in noodles. That really happened, and Patch has the photos in his wallet…
If you haven’t seen the film, I think it’s a must-see…although you may need a box of tissues handy!
With Robin Williams taking the title role, the movie propelled Patch to fame, and I was surprised by how many knew and recognised him – even in the more remote places! People would stop us and ask what we were doing, and if we mentioned Patch they would excitedly ask “Is he here?!” So many people thanked him for his work and his influence on their life.
He would be asked for selfies all the time, but would insist that fans stick a finger up their nose and pose. Why? Because when they look back on the photo, they will smile! Some were reluctant to make this unhygienic gesture, but nearly all ended up laughing during the snap!
He explained how, since the film was released, he has been quoted in the media countless times saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Frustrated, he told me he never said that nor does he believe it! Instead he feels that love is the best medicine, and that laughter is the fuel that powers it.
The Life of a Clown
On the coach we discussed his ethos on clowning, and we were all invited to an open forum in his hotel room where we could ask anything. By his own admission he has no privacy, so this was a frank and open dialogue that finished in the early hours of the morning.
As useful as it was to learn about clowning, I was equally interested in how Patch lives his life. To him, clown is not a character or an act, but a way of life. It’s not entertainment, but connection.
His focus is on love and gratitude, and on not ‘trying’ but ‘being’. So someone can say ‘I am going to try to be grateful’ but there is an element of doubt or potential failure in the statement. Instead he would say ‘I am going to be grateful’. After suffering severely with his mental health, he made a conscious choice in his late teens to never have a bad day in his life. To summarise his outlook, these are the six central interests and actions in Patch’s life…
We spent time discussing how it is okay to think of yourself as wonderful! He said how “Almost nobody loves themselves, which makes it difficult to be joyful.” Not to be confused with arrogance, we looked at ways to appreciate and develop our self-worth. At a circus camp for disadvantaged children, he had each child look in the mirror and say ‘I love me’
Connection breeds connection, Patch would ride elevators up and down all day just to learn how talk to people. He would open a phone book and ring random number after number, just to chat. His goal was to end up with him asking to hang up first!
“I ache for the loss of imagination…”
Patch has never used a computer. His team run all his social media campaigns, and his personal correspondence is all handwritten. Everyone who writes to him will receive a reply back, and he gets a lot of mail! He advocates opposing technology and being a thinker –connecting with things like nature, art and music and, crucially, each other.
He explained how we are all, at heart, tribal. We need connections and friendship and fellowship. It certainly felt like the 43 of us became a large tribe, a clown family that loved and supported each other. I think we all had emotional wobbles, and some clowns were struck with illness, but the team rallied round and helped without being asked. Far from a holiday, but if you ever have chance to travel with a bunch of humanitarian clowns – I highly recommend it!
If you’d like to find out more about Patch, there are countless interviews and TED Talks on YouTube. The film Patch Adamsis available to buy, along with two books – Gesundheit! and House Calls
“Be radiant. If you are radiant, you own the world…” – Patch Adams
As I sit and write, I’m on a train heading back from a four hour Giggle Doctor hospital visit as Dr Teapot. I’ve worked for Theodora Children’s Charity for around 5 years now, seeing children of all ages in hospitals across the North of England. Before this I was a magician in hospitals for POD Charitable Trust. I generally do 2 or 3 visits a week now, and although I don’t wear a red nose it is essentially hospital clowning. So I was especially keen to experience a Moroccan hospital.
In fact it was watching the 1998 film Patch Adams that first drew me to clowning in healthcare, and here I was on a clown tour with the man himself…
Towards the end of the trip, we went to the largest hospital in Casablanca. The first thing that struck me was that same friendly welcome. As I arrived, two paramedics beckoned me into their ambulance for a photo. I just wish I knew the French for ‘please can I press the siren?!’
Doctors and nurses would come out of their stations and show genuine interest in why we were there. Many had heard of Patch Adams, and had memories of the film, or heard stories at medical school. Some even told me that they have tried wearing a red nose in their work, playing and clowning to ease a child’s fears.
Elsewhere on the trip, we met a market trader who designed costumes for clown doctors, and a medical doctor in our hotel who works as a clown doctor in Tel Aviv! It was a joy to share ideas and stories, and to meet like-minded folk.
Our troupe was split up into small groups and directed to different floors. Most interactions in hospitals are one-to-one, and 43-to-one would be an overwhelming ratio!
I find the energy very different in hospitals; yes children are excited to see us, but they can also be in pain, tired and nervous. Most adults that come to see them are there to prod, poke, take blood or operate. I use a gentle approach until I can tell how comfortable a child feels – it can sometimes take a while to build up the rapport before the fun and games can really begin.
In England, I would chat and ask questions – perhaps finding common interests like discussing their favourite superheroes or video games. But with the language barrier abroad, I had to find other ways in. Gentle physical comedy and slapstick worked well, even simple things like sitting on a chair the wrong way or picking up a banana and trying to use it as a phone. Sometimes a child would pick up an object to connect to my imaginary call, and we would have a whole conversation in gibberish!
Silence is Golden
I’ve trained in mime with performer Les Bubb, and it was useful to recall some of those silent gags and tricks – like walking down imaginary stairs whilst a child watches through a window. On the subject of mime, my roommate Chicle chose to be a full silent mime for one entire day of the trip. His commitment meant that he was also silent during travel, meals and even in our hotel room. This led to some truly beautiful connections, and I’m inspired to try it one day too…although I do like to talk!
A Bubble a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Back in the hospital I found again that with young children, bubbles rarely fail – I swear there’s magic in that soapy liquid! Staying back and blowing bubbles from afar, you can see the child’s eyes widen in wonder. A palmed squeaker, and they can pop with a squeak!
Balloons are a common pitfall, if you start making them then everyone will want one! I generally reserve these for side-rooms but briefly got stuck in a corridor twisting latex shapes as more and more children appeared. Politely ushering children back into their rooms helped – those children still got a balloon but also a more personalised interaction.
I had puppets on me but in the UK we have hygiene regulations drilled into us, and furry puppets are usually no-go. Giggle Doctors are all trained in hygiene and infection control, but in Casablanca we struggled to find sinks and cleaning stations. In England, basins and pumps of alcohol foam are every few metres, and we have to be seen to be washing between each bay. All props and toys get antibacterially cleaned between visits too.
That’s not to say that the hospital was dirty, but it just showed how rules and regulations vary by geography. Of course the safety of children is paramount, but it could be argued that we are too extreme when it comes to hygiene in England – I’d wager there aren’t many resistant superbugs in Morocco!
We would normally check with nurses to see if there were any infectious rooms to avoid, or at least to play through the window. Again, with my limited language skills I wasn’t able to check this. However, I never felt vulnerable or unsafe and was looking for any visual signs. Some children had surgical masks covering their mouths, either for their own protection (possible low immune systems) or to prevent the spread of their illness. But they needed the interaction just as much, so we found ways to play with minimal contact or props.
Parents would often try to hand me babies, sometimes whilst they were distressed. I later found that some people see clowns as sacred and as a blessing, but I’ll have to do more research into the origins of this. One mother said though that I ‘share vibrations with the angels’ which was a beautiful and unforgettable thing to hear.
Once I’d got into the flow of the visit, I was surprised at how similar it felt to the British hospitals. It is always rewarding to see a poorly child break into a smile, or giggle at a squeaky nose or a sponge ball appearing from behind their ear. I relished the challenge of not using language and felt slightly less bound by hospital protocol.
In England I am sans le nez, or without nose, but it was great to use it here in a culture where clown phobia seems non-existent. The nose and my red hair (at this point, sun-bleached orange!) seemed to act as a beacon that would draw attention and focus. We were a colourful bunch, and I saw countless magical moments from both experienced clowns and those new to the field.
The trip ended with lunch at the hospital, not prepared by staff but instead by the mothers of the child patients. An incredible gesture, and one of the best meals we had.
The first full morning began with a workshop where we explored different ways to connect with others. Then came the soon-familiar chant of ‘clowns on the bus’ and we were heading off…
It was a packed schedule that I could probably write a whole book about so, rather than break down each separate trip, I’m going to share some moments, memories and general thoughts here.
Oh When the Clowns, go Marching in…
Each visit would usually start with a clown parade – all 43 of us marching into the organisation with ukuleles, kazoos, shakers, accordions, bubbles and smiles all round. Sometimes we would be met with rows of children lined up on either side, and you could hear the excitement a mile off! Or at a school, the classroom doors would open and hundreds of children would burst out onto the playground. Other times, children would arrive at the bus and the fun would start before we even disembarked…
Thank you to Yuri for the video, used with permission
There were many different clown styles in the group – some would dance and play with large groups, some would sit to one side and twist balloons, make origami hats or paint faces. Others would teach circus tricks or use puppets as a way to connect. I had my own bag of tricks on me with a bit of everything…
The Art of Public Squeaking
However, I increasingly found that I wasn’t using a lot of the props I had. I found I didn’t need them, or I wanted to find other ways to connect. I even gave some away. I wasn’t there to just do what I do as Dr Teapot in England, but to challenge myself.
When I did use props, bubbles were a great ice-breaker with younger children. Visual magic tricks with sponge balls worked really well, and I had a lot of fun with puppets. Oh, and a small toy squeaker hidden in my hand worked wonders, allowing my nose to squeak and then…the child’s nose too! An old school party trick of being able to vocally ‘honk’ came in handy, for when I couldn’t find my plastic prop.
Personally, I tried not to make balloons or hand out too many gifts, as I knew from hospital experience that you can quickly become a vending machine for ‘stuff’ – and that you can easily lose any real connection when a child becomes focused on getting a free toy or sticker. I saved sponge clown noses for those really special moments where it felt right.
I had to connect without language too, I knew basic conversational French from my school days but that was limited. I found I couldn’t always reply when children tried to communicate, so the visual approach was key. In England I’m a chatty character, I mis-hear children names and their ages to empower them to correct me, but none of that here. No jokes, no puns, no wordplay! A challenge for sure, but liberating to think outside the box.
I Moustache You a Question…
With a moustache bow-tie, bag and socks, a clown friend had suggested I take eyeliner pencils to draw moustaches on faces. Genius! I first tried this at a school for mostly older children and teenagers. There was initially some reluctance as it was clear that teenagers are teenagers worldwide; too cool for school and concerned about their image amongst their peers. But, once a few had their own ‘moustache gratis’ it spread quickly!
My own approach varied with each visit, but in a Giggle Doctor environment I am used to working one-to-one. In Morocco, I generally found myself working with small groups who would stay with me for the visit. I would also often try to find those children who were maybe a little overwhelmed by all the noise and colour, and have a gentle and quiet interaction with them instead of encouraging them to join the clown chaos!
This led to some beautiful moments, and some children who became quite attached during each visit. In orphanages especially, this had a huge emotional impact. Many of us found that these children don’t give weak hugs, they crave affection and so would often hug and not let go easily. Always a heartbreaking moment. This boy in particular at the very first orphanage was difficult to say goodbye to. I felt we formed a bond, and we weren’t really doing anything expect playing and pulling faces…
Conditions varied too, some orphanages seemed like safe and nurturing places, whereas others showed signs of real poverty and sadness. One orphanage in particular had children who were sometimes aggressive, and possessive of their gifts from us. Whether bullying was common here or they were more affected by their backgrounds, we don’t know.
But more often than not, even with so little, the children gave us so much love and attention. In fact sometimes, when a child was given a sticker or gift, they would excitedly pass it on to another clown. Not because they didn’t want it, but because they wanted to give. Amazing!
Even in the bleakest orphanages, there were smiles and laughter – generally the children still knew how to play and how to love. There were exceptions of course, children with vacant expressions and fewer smiles but we hoped, deep down, they enjoyed all the colour and fun.
I am more familiar with hospitals, and so my first orphanage visit hit me hard. I managed to keep it together during the visit, focusing on the joy in the moment and the opportunity to bring some change. But out of sight of the children I was a mess, and was subdued for the rest of the day. The support of the clown team came through here though, many of us had moments like this but we all helped each other through the harder times. I never felt unsupported, and thank you again to any fellow clowns reading this.
One of the reasons for so many orphanages is that in Moroccan culture it is seen as shameful for a woman to have a baby out of marriage. So, sadly, many babies are left at churches, mosques or police stations. It is said that 24 children in Morocco are abandoned each day, 9000 babies per year.
And the adoption process is difficult. Prospective parents have to live in Morocco for three months, visiting the child daily, then another month living with the child before being able to take them home. So there are financial and practical implications too.
With those statistics in mind, it felt important to focus on the positives. Stand out moments? Too many to list! So many real connections, and genuinely magical moments. I don’t like to pick ‘favourites’ but the boy I mentioned earlier will stay in my heart.
A shy girl at an all-female orphanage suddenly became really interested in magic so I taught her a simple trick where a red ball turns into a cube. The look of joy as she realised she could do it! I let her keep the prop, and she ran off excitedly showing it to the other girls. I hope she still has it.
At the same orphanage, we experienced a huge dance party – with the teenage girls sharing some funky dance moves and even appreciating my not-so-funky dad-dancing!
At a school visit, a boy stayed by my side the whole time. He taught me French songs, shared dance moves and insisted on sitting with me for Chicle’s show. Again, difficult to say ‘au revoir’ but moments I will treasure.
At an association for children with additional needs, the kids welcomed us with open arms and danced and played without any self-consciousness. Pure joy!
I’ve seen things that make me hug my own children that little bit harder now. More than anything I will remember all the smiles and giggles though. The brief moments that I know I won’t forget, and that I hope will stay with the children too.
I was incredibly humbled by the staff at orphanages who raise funds and help these children that are so in need. Not just in need of food, clothes and toys but of a safe and loving environment to call home. The sad reality is that many of these children will never be re-homed, but staff tirelessly work to give them the best possible upbringing.
I was especially moved by the dedication at Les Enfants l’Atlas The founder, Hansjörg Huber (pictured with Patch Adams, below) invested a large part of his own wealth to enable a better future for orphaned Moroccan children.
The orphanage had a centre with artwork for sale, hotel rooms and even a small cafe – all for the sole purpose of generating income to support the children. It’s a cause I hope to support in the future too.
Arriving into Casablanca Airport, we were immediately shown the warmest welcome from the Moroccan people. Strangers would come and hug us, ask for photos and selfies, and thank us for coming to their country…all because we were clowns! It almost felt, I imagine, like being a celebrity. A surreal but amazing arrival, and a world apart from clowning in the UK!
Locals and tourists would snap away, and staff would beckon us over or come out of their booths, again wanting photos and to meet and talk to us. We were soon mobbed by an excited group of French schoolchildren, with each one wanting a high-five and to squeeze my nose. Bubbles proved a great distraction, and the teachers gave heartfelt thanks for stopping to play.
At the hotel things were no different, as we posed for photos and embraced staff – some of who excitedly showed photos of when they met my clown-colleague two years ago!
We soon learned the reality of clown-time; travelling anywhere took much longer than we planned but we also didn’t want to rush. It was a joy for us to receive such an outpouring of love and gratitude. And it was clear that this was not just polite smiles but genuine – people would put their hand to their chest and bow, or blow kisses and bless us in Arabic or French.
Do the Locomotion
The next day, as we waited for a train to Marrakech we danced and partied on the platform. At one point a cat came and stared at me, so I pulled 25ft of colourful streamers from my mouth. Unfazed, the cool kitty just rolled its eyes, stretched and walked off. Maybe if I’d had a can of tuna instead…
We sweltered on a hot and stuffy 3-hour train ride to Marrakech, and shared snacks with the locals before arriving to a similar reception. Young and old spoke to us at the station, and we posed for more photos…
Soon we checked in to our next hotel and began to meet the other 40 volunteers from 18 countries that would form our new clown family.
Slapstick and Sausages
Time to eat! Over dinner it became clear we were a diverse and colourful team – there were experienced clowns, doctors and nurses, psychologists, musicians, children’s entertainers, street performers, storytellers and more. I was immediately made to feel welcome, and it was fascinating to hear everyone’s reason for coming – some to help children, meet their hero, developing their clowning or experience the Moroccan culture and do good at the same time. Before long, many of us were chatting like friends and quickly bonded over our common interests.
A Stretch of the Imagination…
I met my roommate, Puerto Rican street entertainer Chicle – a performer who can stretch his skin, pop his eyeball out, bend his joints backwards and so much more. We stayed up chatting and sharing tricks, little did I know I would end up in his shows…dragging him on in a suitcase, jumping up and down on top of it, and inflating a giant balloon with him inside! Chicle would often perform his high-energy act at the end of each clown visit, wowing the children with his body tricks and circus skills set to a thumping soundtrack.
And So to Bed…
Eventually we called it a night, as I lay reflecting on the day’s events and anticipating the first full day as an international humanitarian clown!