THE TRICKS TIME PLAYS
When Yaela Orelowitz ran off with the circus, endings became beginnings
This is a story about beginnings and endings, and how we never really know when we’ve arrived at either. Like all good stories, this one begins with a girl who ran off with the circus. It was 2016 and I had decided to pack up my life, quit my job and move to a country where I had no family and could not speak the language. A detour through Thailand seemed like an appropriate prologue to this adventure. One morning, in the garden of the guesthouse where I was staying, I stumbled upon a slackline hanging between two trees. I climbed on and gave it an inelegant go. Next thing, I found myself adopted by the travelling circus, whose members all went by monosyllabic names like Pang and Skye.
Their flesh was overlaid with artful works of self-expression (tattoos) and even their ear lobes appeared subhuman in their ability to hold extremely large metal inceptions. But their eyes shone brighter than those of the mortals I was accustomed to, and they laughed — a lot. Naturally I was intoxicated. I became their resident yoga instructor as we travelled from Pai, in the north, down the country, as they performed at festivals and ran workshops in local communities.
BEING WEIRD FELT COOL
This self-named “Pyro-Gang”, dressed in handmade leather costumes, travelled in a convoy of eight motorbikes, loaded with equipment. We’d stop at local markets for lunch and our mere presence would attract hundreds of locals, staring unashamedly as we practised our circus tricks, receiving lunch for free. It was the first time in my life that being weird felt so darn cool.
Throughout the journey down south, Max, the British firedancer, would tell me about his godmother, Fiona, who lived on the island of Koh Phangan. He said we were “soul sisters” for she, like me, is a Jewish South African woman, a body-mind practitioner and therapist.
Fiona and I got in touch, excited to connect. On the day our ferry blew us in to the south of her island, a storm hit. Now, a storm on an island in Thailand is not just an excuse to cuddle in bed with hot chocolate and Netflix. The roads turn into hip-height mud baths and cheaply made structures — homes and restaurants — simply collapse.
Fiona lived in the north, and travelling to her would have involved a mud swim of about six hours. We decided to wait the storm out, hoping that in a day or two it would clear. Nine days later, nothing had changed and I had a flight to Israel to catch.
Fiona and I stayed in touch and she tried hard to see me. First, when she flew to South Africa to visit family she checked in to see if I was around. I wasn’t. Later she flew to Israel for work, but I had just left for a summer sojourn through Europe.
Along the way my life took an interesting turn. I met a man, fell in love and travelled the world with him. After some months we returned to South Africa together so he could meet my family. All went well, until it didn’t. On the promenade in Sea Point one beautiful October afternoon, I walked away from it all: from him, our future and my life in Israel.
A few weeks after this overhaul, in a complete daze, I flew back to Israel to pack up. I arrived at the airport to find my Israeli sim card was no longer active. The country seemed to have rejected me before I could reject it.
I went directly to the cellphone stand and the cute guy at the counter offered to help. Suddenly a blonde woman cut in front of me, “I’ve been waiting for 10 minutes,” she said. Fine, go ahead lady.
I waited, watching the cute sales assistant mercilessly flirt with the blonde. “Where from are you?” he asked. “It’s a long story, I am from South Africa, but I live in Thailand.”
It took me a moment to catch my breath. My face melted into a massive grin because there I had been, thinking my adventure was ending. She was supposed to have been there at the beginning, but she appeared at the end to show me it wasn’t so.
I tapped her on the shoulder, she turned around, and I embraced her. “It’s a miracle to finally meet you, Fiona.”
TRAVELLING SHOW Ban Rak Thai village in Pai, northern Thailand.