Looking out the window of the plane, it becomes apparent we must be closer to land as the the sand makes elaborate designs around a shipwreck off the coast of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti and the water begins to change to lighter shades of Caribbean turquoise. There is a slow merging of the coast with the ocean, undeveloped in sharp contrast to the development of the New York City that we left only a few hours ago. The mountains grow larger in the distance, and as we hover over the congregations of rusted corrugated roofs. I begin drawing similarities between this coast and that of Banda Aceh, Indonesia; the exquisite tropical beauty of the land and abundance of the natural resources, in contrast to the poverty of the majority of the population and lack of basic systems I take for granted: sewage, proper water treatment, garbage. It is markedly more green and lush, as there hasn’t been a natural disaster in this particular area of Haiti lately, as there had been in Banda Aceh when I was there six months after the tsunami. The trauma here has been slow and continuous for centuries.
I am traveling with a group of performers, David Lichtenstein, Leah Abel and Olivia Lehrman through Clowns Without Borders, our mission is to bring laughter to as many children as possible in this, the poorest country in the western hemisphere. I was often trying to precisely articulate for myself and those close to me: Why Haiti? Why now? There are the most basic reasons: it is literally in our backyard; one of the most efficient ways to use our funds, as plane tickets are often one the largest fiscal aspects of our expeditions; and all the children here are always in dire need.
The true reason erupts in goosebumps inducing cheering and laughter during our first performance in one of the nicest schools we will visit. The children at, College Pastor Nere Delmas 2, are a wonderful audience, welcoming us with a song and thanking us with another after the performance. They all wear uniforms, like all children in school in Haiti, and a group from the secondary school put on their own show for us as well for us. The school is a concrete barrack construction, with desks decades old, but clean and having all that is necessary.
After a fantastically productive meeting with the owner of the school, we played with a group of children for an hour or so; sharing acrobatics, juggling and language. Some shy at first were sitting on our shoulders and standing strong on our thighs in angel in no time. We were asking a boy to jump, to get into a partner acro move by showing him and saying “saute”, to jump in french. His reply was “No, je voule”, “No, I fly”, and in that moment there is no question that I could be anywhere else.