I was awoken by stirring and voices all around me. My eyes opened and quickly shut again and I lay still, breathing rhythmically. Surrounding me, in various stages of morning readiness were three female clowns.
The previous evening came back to me in a slideshow: meeting Maggie and Liz at the airport, climbing into a white van with a man who had a sign bearing my name, and arriving at our hotel, La Casa Sol, in Quito, Ecuador about 30 minutes later.
At the hotel I finally met Dario, the cheerful Italian man I had been exchanging emails with leading up to the trip. Then I was ushered up an M.C Escher painting to my room. In the dim light from the hallway streaming into the pitch black quarters I barely made out the shapes of the roomates who greeted me before I crawled onto my single matttress and passed out.
Now, laying with my eyes squeezed shut against the light I tried to remember my comrades names. Nothing came to mind.Maybe one was named Kate? From their conversation I gathered they all knew one another already... and from their outfits I imagined they had professional clowning experience. The actual adventure of what we were here to do hit my stomach like a flock of angry butterflies carrying sledgehammers. I was in South America with a bunch of clowns and now I was one too.
After assembling my first clown complete with a purple wig to cover my purple hair, I walked downstairs to search for coffee. The kitchen area, like the rest of the hotel was painted in bright, traditional colors. But it was no match for the motley crew it barely contained.
Busting out of all its seams were clowns of all ages and speaking in a manner of all languages. Some of them eating, some of them painting their faces, some of them chatting excitedly to one another about their arrival. I spotted Dario, Maggie and Liz and sought them out, but soon was swept up, hugging and greeting everyone.
When Patch arrived no one changed what they were doing, but his presence was powerful. He is TALL, far taller than I expected him to be, and his energy took up any space that he wasn´t physically occupying, which wasn´t much. "Good morning!" he began bellowing at people, and the clowns nearest to him greeted him with familiar hugs and jokes.
When all the clowns were squeezed into the tiny kitchen, much to amusement of the hotel staff I imagined, Patch began to address us. I recorded this first clowning pep talk on my phone, but the stand out quotations were as follows:
"If you love people, you can´t fail."
"The reason we clown is because the clown can do what normal people can´t do. Don´t think about whether or not something is appropriate. Inappropriate is for normal."
"Clowning is just the trick to get you in the room of a sick person without them calling the nurse."
After our pep talk we were throw into the ring. Coffee cups were set down and we began a clown parade that would end at the nearby children´s hospital, Baca Ortiz. Our manager/wrangler, Pablo, led the way in plain clothes, and we were a sight to behold: a straggling trail of clowns following him down the street accompanied by an accordian and a whistle to keep the beat. He carried an umbrella and an iPhone. We carried bubbles and streamers.
I skipped and waved at everyone we passed. I held hands with my new strange friends and we mirrored one another´s goofy walking.
I was a clown! I was joy! I was happiness! I was light as a feather! And I was wholeheartedly thrilled at how terrifying it was.