Traveling to Haiti on behalf of Clowns Without Borders are three physical comedians: Alex ‘the Jester’ Feldman, Clay ‘Mazing’ Letson, and Chris ‘Hoopoe’ Yerlig. They will mix juggling, music, mime and improvised comedy in a venture that has been co-sponsored by the artist-envoy organization, Project Troubador. The artists will first visit the rural South-east as guests of the US/Haiti collaboration, Hispaniola Health Partners, who provide medicine to this region. They invited CWB to create some excitement around their brand new clinic, and to bring some comic relief to a refugee camp of Haitian-Dominican exiles close to the Dominican border.
The second half of the trip will be in and around Port-au-Prince. It will include shows for hundreds of children in orphanages and schools, some of which receive grass-roots level support by an international network of concerned folks associated with the members of the team. And, while in the capital, our clowns will meet and share skills with local performers and artists.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the 2010 earthquake compounded many inherent economic and social problems. Relatively calm since 2006, Haiti saw a rise in instability in 2015 and 2016, as presidential elections were repeatedly postponed. New elections are slated for April this year.
Despite facing much adversity Haitians do like to laugh, and thanks to support from our sponsors and folks like you, our 3 clowns will be making lots of laughter happen in March.
A very Brief Window into the History and Culture of Haïti
Haïti is the French spelling (‘h’ is silent) of the word Ayiti, meaning ‘land of high mountains’ in the indigenous Taino language of the island of Hispaniola, that Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. Historically its people have seen a lot of suffering. In 1492, soon after Columbus landed on Hispaniola, claiming it for the Spanish, the natives were almost entirely killed or exported as slaves. France began a colony in the 17th century, and in 1697 was given possession of the western third of the island, now Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of slaves were imported from Africa to work in forestry and sugar-related industries. In 1804, after a slave rebellion led by Toussaint Louverture, Haiti became the first post-colonial black-led nation in the world.
Over the years there have been harsh regimes and much political turmoil. Today Haiti continues also to battle poverty, lack of resources and industry, poor infrastructure, and bad weather (hurricanes, rains and floods). Most of Haiti’s population are farmers, though, sadly, agricultural productivity is low, due in part to soil erosion (from deforestation, by colonial exploitation and the local custom of making charcoal for cooking fuel). Seismic activity is also a danger: the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010 killed an estimated 300,000 people, made millions homeless and destroyed a large percentage of buildings and roads. With strong Haitian determination, and help from overseas, there has been much redevelopment and rebuilding, although, in some cases, aid has received mixed reviews.
Haitian people are kind, resourceful and resilient, and maintain tremendous faith. Most are Christian, some practice Vodou (a blend of African and Caribbean spirituality) and a good number combine the two. The main language of Haiti is Haitian Creole, or Kreyol, which combines French derived vocabulary and African grammar. It evolved as a common language amongst the various peoples who were brought to Haiti as slaves. French is the language of education and things official, and 40% of the people speak it. Typical Haitian foods include sos pwa (black bean gravy), piklis (Haitian kimchee) rice and bean dishes, fish and meats like chicken and pork. Spaghetti with ketchup is often eaten for breakfast, and a warm corn custard called AK100 is a popular snack.
Carnival is held in February leading up to Mardi Gras and features parades, decorated floats, costumes, masks and much music. Haitian music includes traditional styles like vodou, zouk, rara,twoubadou, and mizik rasin, or the more contemporary rap, compa and me
Some Facts and Figures
- Population: 10.5 million
- Average annual income: $1730, compared to $14,098 in Caribbean/Latin American developing countries
- Literacy rate: around 60%, compared to 92% for Caribbean/Latin American countries
- Unemployment: around 41%
- % of children who do not attend school: 50
- Life expectancy: 63 years.
- % of the population considered food insecure: 30
- Infant mortality: 55 per 1000 births
- Maternal mortality rate: 3.5 in 1000 births (about 16 times higher than in the USA)
Sources: World Bank 2013, 2014, 2015; Partners in Health 2014; CIA Factbook Nov 2015; UNICEF 2015; World Food Programme 2015