Ethno Circus In Sajókaza: Life In A Ghetto

Katka Klusáková and Pavla Rožníčková of the TeTy circus report on their experience from an international workshop in Hungary.

How do you recognize a circus gang on the busy Keleti Pályaudvar railway station in Budapest? All you need to do is look around the departure hall and find the strangest-looking group around. Yep, it’s them alright.

First train: Hungarian crash course. Change trains. Second train: we barely manage to squeeze ourselves inside. Change trains. Third train: a local slow train. Horse wagons would be more like it but no luck. Just before dark, we reach Sajókaza on foot. Cirqueon have no idea where they have sent us to.

The Ethno Circus project focuses on practical social work in the sense that we don’t simply teaching circus skills – instead, our main goal is to mingle, integrate and survive in the picturesque authentic Roma ghetto. In each country, the traveling project targets a different social group including juvenile delinquents, a family circus, prisons, residential institutions, etc. The participating organizations and lecturers come from various countries, such as Spain, Germany, Belgium, England, Hungary, etc. Circus isn’t the goal but a tool. We also had a band with us. The musicians were picked up off the streets of Budapest but they came not only from Hungary but also from Sweden and USA.

On the edge of this typical Hungarian village, there is a Buddhist-Montessori school serving predominantly the children and youths from the Roma community (and responsible for the increase of the number of registered Buddhist by 300% in the area last year). Beyond the school facilities, there lies the ghetto wilderness without sewers, street lights (supplanted by evening bonfires), fences and city manners. That was the area we settled in. We dubbed the abode with two rooms, three windows (with bars and about 20 children peeking through each one of them at any given time) and 15 people sleeping on the floor, couches and tables the “Loud House” due to the incessant noise made by our neighbors by banging on the windows, shouting or loudly greeting us “Fuck you, bitch!” to which we learned to answer either “Fuck you, too!” or “Yeah, fuck me.”

Our guys, i. e., the participants of the workshop we were teachers of, were 17 Roma teenagers from Sajókaza and two other nearby villages. They were all called Richi. After a few days, we referred to them as Clean Richi, Tall Richi, I-Can-Do-Anything Richi, etc. We started every morning together with a breakfast, the we practiced (juggling, rolo-bolo, hand-to-hand acrobatics, floor acrobatics) until lunch which we had at the school cafeteria. In the afternoon, there was more practice or an English music hour which meant our reflection time, evaluation, planning, dealing with problems and smoking cigarettes. A dinner together gradually transitions into the evening program which includes more practice, birthday celebrations and presentations of different countries. Belgium and UK were to do the first presentations but they kept postponing them until… maybe we’ll do them in the next project. But we did get some Belgian chocolate the last evening after all. There was a camp fire, too. There are one to three radio stations playing at once all the time – live, international and unsilenceable. Apart from the Buddhists, there is also a Santa Claus teaching as a volunteer at the school. His name is Finn and he is a Finn. On the second day after lunch, he brought us a bag of candy to give us strength and gave us some indispensable advice regarding drugs. What else could you ask from a Santa for Christmas? The goddess of the session was called Suzi. She was a local petite blond able to tame fifteen tattooed men in studded leather set out for a vendetta in a way that within 5 minutes, all the involved were happy to shake each others‘ hands. Unfortunately, such episodes are a part of the life in ghetto and despite all our best efforts, we had to flee from our squat house to the safety of the school compound and stay inside.

The other more fun side of the same coin was the great warmth and spontaneousness of the local residents and the joy and laughter which reigned the streets at daytime. Very quickly, we managed to transfer the mindset of the crazy circus people to our “guys” and withing three days, they were taking their shoes off and hugging each other. They even practiced on their own in their free time before the breakfast and after dinner and taught their new tricks to their peers and friends from the village.

The five days of training climaxed with two performances. On Friday, we visited Rizla (a village approx. 50 kilometers from Sajókaza) and performed in the local culture hall. It was interesting to see the tile floor of a room for about 50 people packed with some 200 visitors get completely covered with water and turn our Roma Circus into a Circus On Ice.

The second performance for Sajókaza was supposed to take place in our beautiful circus tent (11 meters tall, 25 meters in diameter) on Saturday but the tent didn’t happen. On Thursday night, we had to save it from the rain and it about an hour of work by the whole Ethno Team before our soaked, dirty but happy gang could celebrate success in the light of our head lamps. Nevertheless on Friday as we were all falling around the stage in Rizla, a quick storm tore down and absolutely ripped apart our entire circus shrine. We devoted it a minute of pain and grief and then an hour and a half of meticulous cooperation of the whole Ethno Team: not a single peg must fall prey to the scrapyard!

The final performance took place outdoors in a grass field. All our guys gave their best to the presentation of their numbers accompanied by our band, interspersed with interludes, appearance by the sun, laughter but also the throwing of dirt, grass and children. As a fantastic stage manager and a guide to all practice, a circus master (of an unknown circus) suddenly appeared to give away advice for anything and offer a helping hand with a free potato-face smile to go with it. Despite the drummer’s perfect forearms, Ty of TeTy fell in love wishing to take him home with her! Maybe next time.

We thank Cirqueon for the incredible. Te and Ty!

P.S. The next “Educircation party” takes place in Berlin in September and we hope to return to Sajókaza, as we have all promised each other!