Puppeteer Takes on Africa

Darren Collins. Photo by Billy Surface

In our June issue, I introduced readers to Darren Collins. Collins is a puppeteer who gave up his house more than a year ago and decided to live in his car, on friends’ couches, or in backyards. I also mentioned that he planned to take his puppets to Africa to teach people about AIDS. Puppets have the freedom to say things humans can’t.

Well, Collins is in Africa. He’s been there for more than a month. He does updates about his time there nearly every day through Facebook. I’ve enjoyed reading his updates–sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re very sad, and other times they’re just great to see what it’s like to be a vagabond/puppeteer in a foreign country.

After the jump, I’m including a few of Collins’ more recent posts. Collins is hoping to stay in Africa for as long as possible. He’s meeting with various organizations and has found a team of puppeteers who want to work with him. He’s running out of money, though. If you want to help, go here.

Some of Collins’ more interesting updates involve the police. Collins has made it his goal to not pay a bribe when he’s pulled over. He’s been able to get himself out of most situations, but he ran into a problem the other day. Collins went to pick up a video from a TV station. He was on their morning news program and wanted a copy of the segment. Here’s what happened:

5:33 a.m.: I just got harassed by police. But I tried a new tactic. “I just got interviewed on TV in that building and was told to wait here to pick up my interview. What do YOU want me to do?” “Just go!” This after he tells me he’s going to arrest me, take me to the station, the same old setup to the punchline: “or you can pay the fee here.” I’ve still not personally paid a bribe to a cop.

6:02 a.m.: Wow did I speak too soon. I’m now at a police station. Two other cops on the other side of town got into my car and are running game on me. I am at central police station now.

6:02 a.m.: They are asking 5,000 shillings for an “illegal u-turn.”

6:54 a.m.: At the station, surrounded by police, a woman walks out, “What is this pressing business you need to attend to?” “I’m going to work.” “Where?” “The theatre.” “If I forgive you, will you stop making illegal u-turns?” “Yes.” “You go!”

(I called the U.S. Embassy instead of walking inside the station. The woman there at the Embassy said she would make a call for me. She must have.)

Collins has celiac disease, so it’s been hard for him to find food conducive to his diet. He’ll sometimes post pictures of gluten-free, store-bought items. One day, he had a homemade meal. There is a whole string of posts explaining how that meal did not end well.

Collins also talks a lot about how most meetings are about one to two hours late. It took him a couple weeks to figure out that they wouldn’t start on time. Then he, too, started showing up late to meetings.

But the police, celiac disease, and late meetings aren’t all that bad. Collins has been able to maintain his sense of humor through all that. But he did have a situation recently that’s really tested him. He’s staying with a host family. Here’s his post about the recent happenings:

Please pray and send thoughts to my current host family. As you know from my earlier update that the sister was killed by a car on Monday. Now, this morning, we have learned the brother was found dead a few hours ago. It’s a bit more than everyone can bear.
I’m not exactly certain what my role should be. On one hand I feel like an extra burden, since they go to great lengths to take care of me. On the other hand I have a car and can help shuttle people around and I might just be a good distraction from the searing pain.
It’s hard to know what I should do. But then again, does anyone ever know just what to do in times like this?

The brother died after making funeral arrangements. He was paying a cab driver and was hit by a passing car. The funeral was a couple days ago. More than 400 people attended, including media. The road system is not great, and this is one example of how it greatly impacts the people there.

Through it all, though, Collins is carrying on.

Pinch me. It’s like a dream. I’m doing what I was born to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also getting ripped off, taken advantage of, and being promised things that don’t pan out. Some days truly suck.

But RIGHT NOW, things are running on time, puppeteers are working HARD, and they are doing it for the right reasons.


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