From March 27, 2016 through May 13, 2016, April Yanah and Wawan Kurniawan spent 6 weeks in Battambang, Cambodia with Phare Ponleu Selpak, a Cambodian Social Circus. During their stay in Cambodia, they taught circus classes, studied traditional Cambodian dance, and developed a 40 minute street show to be performed as part of the Tini Tinou International Circus Festival in three major cities across Cambodia. April and Wawan began at Red Nose when they were still in elementary school and now, 8 years later, are full time circus instructors for the foundation. Below is April’s explanation of her experience.
I was scared, I was nervous. It was the first time I had traveled abroad by myself. Well, Wawan and I, but there was no Ka Dedi, no Ka Dan, not any other senior teacher of Red Nose. Not to mention my limited skill in English. Everything seemed so hard. I kept wondering, “Will I arrive in Cambodia? Will I misunderstand instructions at the airport and end up on the wrong flight?”
But despite my trepidation, we navigated the airport together and we landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Soon after we arrived, we started our days teaching with Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS), during the 10th anniversary of Tini Tinou Festival. The adventure had begun.
My first day at PPS was hard. I was there to teach basic circus skills. But I was surprised because skills that the Cambodians called basic, were actually very advanced for us at Red Nose. I also had a difficult time communicating with the students, because I don’t speak Khmer. Thankfully, a Cambodian teacher helped us translate while we taught.
Wawan and I taught acrobatics to the children. It was hard for us, since many of students’ skills were even better than us. Even though we had less advanced skills, I watched Wawan teach, and he didn’t look ashamed or inferior to the kids. He taught with confidence and bravery. This encouraged me to do better in acrobatics. At Red Nose, our circus classes are unique and different from the classes at PPS. We spend a lot of time focusing on soft skills like self-esteem and teamwork. Wawan and I asked the students to reflect on what soft skills they could gain by practicing acrobatics. This was new for the kids and I think they really benefited from exploring the personal development gained through studying circus. After this, the kids began to really enjoy our classes, we laughed together and shared stories with them. Things were starting to get much better than I had worried about before.
In Cambodia, Wawan and I did not just teach. We also took classes where we gained valuable lessons. Like, when I practiced handstand. I did it for a whole hour! It was really exhausting, but I then realized I could have done less than an hour if I did it in a right way. When I returned to Jakarta, I understood how to teach and do handstands the right way. I also learned contortion, which was really painful. Learning new skills is always fun, and I enjoyed these new lesson so much. Wawan also learned trampoline and advanced Diablo. One day if Red Nose has a trampoline, I am sure he will teach Red Nose kids all the skills he learned.
During my time in Cambodia, there was a week off where Cambodians celebrated Khmer New Year. It was a nice break after working so hard for the first few weeks. We spent our holiday with other PPS teachers and students, as well as our exchange fellows from Afghanistan. Together, we had a chance to visit a number of tourism destinations in Cambodia, like Banan Temple, Thousand Islands and the center of rice paper home industry, a Cambodian-styled crepes. It was really fun to travel throughout a country I knew nothing about. Wawan and I also used this opportunity to learn a little bit of Khmer from our local friends. Sometimes we also told them a few words in Bahasa Indonesia.
A week after our holiday ended, I took a bus to Phnom Penh by myself. I was invited for Tini Tinou’s opening conference about performing arts and sustainability. There, I was speaking about how I found circus as my way of living and how it changed my life into a better way. It was a memorable experience, speaking in front of performing arts enthusiasts, sharing session with heads of performing arts schools from many countries in the world. Even better, people said my story was inspiring.
One of the other speakers was Ka Dan. He was presenting about Red Nose, as well as helping translate what I wanted to say in English. It was such a joy to see Ka Dan in Cambodia. I remembered before my departure, Ka Dan challenged Wawan and I to dare speaking English all the time. Once I met him in person in Cambodia, I greeted him in English, and we had English conversations the whole time, showing what I had practiced during a month being with all foreigners. Ka Dan looked delighted and praised my progress. It boosted my confidence to keep trying to learn more and more.
After the conference, I traveled back to Battambang, and began preparing for the Tini Tinou street parade. I learned from the leader, there would be also artists from France, Australia and Canada joining the parade. I was excited and nervous at the same time. We practiced everyday and I felt that I progressed well.
Finally, the day of the street parade had come. We walked down the streets of Battambang city center, attracting crowds, making such a spectable that some people stopped their vehicles and took pictures. I felt ecstatic. Every time we reached an intersection, we stopped and made a big circle. Some of us then moved into the middle, showing our skills. Some Cambodian friends did awesome acrobatic moves, some played flute while walking on stilts, some others showed up their ability in contortion.
Before the parade started, Wawan and I had promised each other to go into the middle, and show some of our skills. Once we began the parade, the level of tricks others showed made us feel unconfident to do join, because they were so good!. Every stop, we kept looking at each other but didn’t go into the middle. Until the final stop, I looked at Wawan from across the circle and his eyes said to me, “let’s do it”. So I ran to the middle and he joined me! We both juggled while I stood on his shoulders, we did a few acrobatic tricks that we could do and we were amazed that the crowd cheered and applauded for us, just like they’d done for the others!
For the next 6 days, we performed at parks around the city. In one of the performances, we performed the legend of the King of Battambang, where I played the role of one of the King’s wives, and the most beloved one. To play this role, I had to learn Khmer traditional dance, which was really enjoyable. It surely gave me a new experience of learning different cultures from my own.
Six weeks flew by so fast. I, who was first afraid of this trip, ended up enjoying every moment in Cambodia. It felt really hard when I headed to the airport to return back to Indonesia. There, I learned a lot. The skills, the culture and the language. But, most importantly, I learned to be independent, to be a mature girl and to be brave! I am now ready for my next adventure: a trip to Poland, to participate in the Brave Kids Festival. But this time, Wawan and I will be the chaperones for a group of four younger Red Nose kids. A new challenge and a new adventure. And, I couldn’t be more excited!