This is one of the last rooms on this Tuesday afternoon. We’re visiting a family who have come to Innsbruck from the Congo. Their 15-year-old son, Hasan, has suffered a serious head injury, and no one in the family speaks German. “We should just give it a try”, the nurse said when she discussed the case with us.
We’re more than surprised when we open the sliding doors to the room. We find Hasan’s parents and four of his brothers huddled together on a bed, as if they were in a small boat. Hasan lies in another bed, hooked to all the monitors and tucked in with care. The large family stares at us with scepticism. These seven people have probably never seen a clown in their lives, let alone two clowndoctors.
My partner, Herta, and I look at each other. We look at the faces of those in the room, and then we look at each other again. This continues for quite a while: see – understand – respond. An old, well-proven clown law.
Suddenly, we accelerate the pace. We want to give the family a song as a gift – an African song. We get going and really try our best, but we fail. There’s no reaction. So, we try another song, and we see the first impact of our visit: the children respond. Those initially frozen bodies suddenly come to life. The parents smile. Then, one more song.
It’s one of those little miracles – how you can rely on body memory. Years ago, we worked with African songs in a clown training course, and now it’s time to unpack them again. During the third song, the family members begin to clap along a little. The spell is broken.
We introduce ourselves, greet everyone and ask for their names. The father introduces us to his sons – his five boys. His pride is unmistakable. Their names are difficult for us to pronounce, and Herta mixes them up. I try to do everything right and to welcome the boys personally. Farad, Haluk, Cem, Mohamed ... but who is who? It’s chaos. Beautiful chaos. The mother laughs herself to tears. The boys have their own fun as we try to distract one another. We constantly apologise to Hasan for the disturbance. He is generous with us and is clearly the boss in the room!
We announce that we’re about to do a great magic trick and, with the help of the children, we make red noses appear out of bubbles. Those noses inject lots of life into these well-behaved children. This is the highlight. We should leave now – but something holds us back – the incredibly deep glances of these special people.
Then, the unbelievable happens: all seven sing an African song for Herta and me. How original! The boys sing, sitting and standing beside their sick brother’s bed, just like the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Their parents support them, timidly but proudly. They wear their red noses.
When we walked into that room, we never expected to get so much back or to get it so directly. Filled with happiness, we carry a special kind of energy into all the remaining rooms that day, and we benefit from this great gift for a long time to come.