This morning our contacts at Plan International take us to play for a school. There are many schools that are not yet back in session after the earthquake, but this one has a big enough yard that they were able to set up temporary classrooms under tarp canopies to protect the students from the strong sun and impending rains. They find a tarp to roll out on the bare ground to mark our playing space, and six hundred boys file in to watch the show. From the very first moment of the show when we start parading in, me on trombone, Joe on guitar, and Heddy on harmonica, the crowd is responding. Our first series of flips over each other as we vie for position to make the opening show announcement is met with laughs and cheers. Boys push forward to see the show better, and our stage is shrinking.
The rest of the show is a mixture of effusive joy and chaos: boys laughing and leaping and roaring at the show, and then pushing their friends to see it better. We are caughtbetween wanting to cut the show short before the pushing gets worse, and riding it out because they are so enjoying it. We end up cutting one act in the middle, and turning the ending dance into an ending parade so that everyone can see and join in. I am on stilts for the parade. Joe walks in front of me, keeping space for me to walk and fending off the crowd of boys who want to grab my legs to see how the stilts work. Boys crowd around as I sit down on the front of the truck to see me take the stilts off. Eske nou te reme spektak la? (Did you like the show?) I ask. Yes! they say. I look down to take my stilts off and they start pushing each other and I realize I need to keep them engaged. I talk and play games with them, trying not to take my eyes off them as I remove the stilts. My new favorite things is to make animal noises with a big group of kids: they seem incapable of not laughing at animal noises. I ask them if they speak French. A handful say yes. Haitian creole? They all say yes. Bird? No. Well, I speak bird. Let us hear. Cree cree cree coooo! Do you speak cow? A boy moos. The rest laugh. Etc … until the stilts are off and the teachers come to take the boys back to class.
Our second show of the day is strangely similar to the first. It is actually at the same school, but for the afternoon students, mostly girls. They divide the day so that more students can use the outdoor school space. We come up with a set-up and seating strategy to avoid the chaos of the morning, and our contact who’s taking us around as well as the school director assure us that the girls in the afternoon will not push each other like the boys. And then … they do! Joy! Madness! Chaos! We take off the red noses in the middle to regain our stage space and look around for teacher assistance … no teachers, or adults, in sight: just a sea of excited girls. We skip a section of the show again, wind up with a wild parade again, and pile in the car exhausted.
On to the last show of the day at a big tent camp. The tent camp houses a little over 3,000 in rows and rows of army green tents. The ground is dirt and rocks. There is a long line of people, many kids, waiting with containers at a water pump. People look tired, and dirty. Emmanuel, our contact, explains that there’s no set place to do the show and there isn’t an organized audience to see it. The people walking around us do not at first glance look in the mood for a show. I ask Emmanuel if he’s sure about this situation as a show venue. He is optimistic. As we unload our trunk and stilts and instruments, he organizes the mixed-age group of people milling around nearby into a large circle. He gives them a talk about not pushing forward, and keeping the circle big. “Okay,” he says, “you can start the show.” It turns out to be our best show of the day. Babies, kids, parents, grandparents, NGO aid workers, Venezuelan soldiers, all stay in a big circle and watch the show and laugh. Many of these folks don’t have shoes for their feet. Some kids don’t even have pants. We’d met the Venezuelan soldiers earlier in the week and they’d said “come to our camp! The kids are so sad there. They sit there and cry.” Seeing them laugh was a great end to the day.