Our time in Jacmel feels like a dream to me. This little ocean town resonated deeply for me and Bobby, partly due to our gracious host, Joe. A new lifelong friend, who quite obviously, we were destined to meet.
The drive from Grand Goave to Jacmel was an adventure, to say the least. Joe picked us up from TDH’s headquarters in “The Train,” his Ford 350, suitable for 6 clowns, our guide Menley, and all our gear including the aerial rig! The climb through the hills was epic. The sort of ride your mom doesn’t want to hear about! We drive past limestone mines and curve around the road that never seems to stop twisting and climbing, up, up, up. Joe beeps his horn around every corner in case of another oncoming car…there is barely room to pass. The views are breathtaking.
As we start our descent, Joe says “Welcome to Jacmel,” with his signature smile. He is proud to show us his home. Jacmel and the immediate surrounding areas have a population of about 80,000. And while resources are scarce in such a remote area, there is no shortage of beauty. Livestock seems healthier here, and the sunsets do wonders for a life of hardship. Our presence is even more of an event being so far outside of Port-au-Prince. Everywhere we go we get the double take, but almost always accompanied by a huge smile. Or even some giggles, “Garde la!” Will you look at that!
Joe runs his own non-profit working to provide an alternate fuel source for the citizens. Haitians rely heavily on charcoal to cook their food. A reality that has led to massive deforestation, with only 2% of trees remaining. Joe has invented a process through which coconut husks can be burned to create a safer fuel source. It has been no easy feat….he shows us “the godfather” in his workshop, the original prototype for the heating process. The work is laborious, but so incredibly inventive and promising for Haiti’s future. It’s evident that this guy is given mucho respect in his community. He is an open heart.
Our shows in Jacmel range from a small preschool with lots of walk-up observers, to large schools with over 350 children. Our spectacle is very much that here. A school teacher tells us that many of her students have never even seen a television, and the delight of watching our wacky ways and odd talents leaves them with open jaws. Jo and other community members seem so grateful and the question we are met with constantly is, “when are you coming back?”
Our original schedule grows as word gets out, and we add shows to reach as many people as possible. We arrive at one school to perform, but unfortunately it’s Friday and the students have gone home early. Joe quickly gets to work with his friends, getting word out that there will be a performance, and sure enough close to 200 people gather out of nowhere. The energy is incredible and we get some of our biggest laughs yet.
Things never seem to go to plan, but everything always works itself out…often better than you had originally hoped. It is very much island living here, but not in the way we think of that term. There is no easy life here, people sweat in the fields, sowing each other’s land together. Men work in the streets, the sun beating down on them. Children care for one another, little ones only seven or eight years old holding their little sister’s hand by the ocean and filling up coke bottles with sea water to wash their clothes. But everywhere there are smiles. The land is beautiful, and there is community and gratitude.
At night the crashing ocean lulls us to sleep, making us forget about the spiders, cockroaches, and jungle rats that are so eager to see what we’re up to in our rooms. Joe’s neighbor, a sweet old man with kind eyes comes up on our final morning to see his friend. What a surprise to be met by these strange visitors. We’ve arranged a quick show before we hit the road, for the neighbors and their children. During our pre-show music, the old man dances with me. A tiny little old man dance. I love it!!
As we bid our good friends farewell, Joe asks about when we might return. While the shows are wonderful, the hope for something more sustainable is desired. Working together with community members to train teachers and create performances with the children would be incredible. There is so much to learn and understand, and so little time. But, our visit seems to have a strong effect. We see many people practicing Dave’s coin tricks, and calling out their favorite moments from the show as we drive by. As we leave town one little boy leans out of the “tap tap” on the road and says, “hey, I know you guys!” Bobby and I assure Joe that we will be back.
Day 3 in Grand Goave, three shows. For the first show we travel up into the hills of Grand Goave to an orphanage/school nestled into the hillside. As we leave the main roads of the town, the earthquake damage is much more prevalent. Community members work to build walls that will help prevent erosion and several houses lay in rubble. And yet, the human spirit prevails, the smiling faces welcome us as we drive past the makeshift construction sites, one man wearing a Santa hat in the sweltering heat. After all, it is the holiday season! Bon soir, Pere Noel!
The children here are incredibly eager to play, right from the start. We put on music during our pre-show and several kids come forward to dance with us. It seems that funk music accompanied by butt shaking translates into laughter, in any language. The complex is split into two sections, the orphanage and the school, totaling 270 children in all.Dave tells us of his visit here in years prior. Last time he was here, the children did not have shoes and many barely had any clothes, but now they wear matching blue uniforms and the girls wear their hair plaited in braids. Fresh water is pumped by the children from a well on site, and the director says conditions are improving. He thanks us continuously for coming to perform. “A prochaine!” He hopes to see the clowns again next year!
The second show is at another orphanage, this one even higher up the hills, with a view that displays the majesty and beauty of the Caribbean. I continually am amazed to see how mountainous Haiti is. I had no idea. The hills are gorgeous. The landscape is lush and offers a constant dichotomy between green hills and piles of trash burning in the streets everywhere we go.
The orphanage is a towering, beautiful complex called “Be Like Brit.” We learn that a few years ago there was an American humanitarian worker named Britney who worked in Port-au-Prince and Grand Goave. Tragically she, like so many others, was killed in the 2010 earthquake. Her father had the orphanage built in her honor. The love that has gone into this complex is evident. It is a beautiful place and the workers here have kind hearts. The children long for affection and quickly jump into our arms as were arrive. We spend the majority of the show, when not onstage, covered in 3-5 children a piece. They stroke our faces and wrap our arms around them tightly. It brings tears to my eyes and I hold them close for as long I can before we leave.
What a rowdy crowd. The show is performed in the school’s courtyard with hundreds of children surrounding us from all sides. Hundreds more watch from above on the upper level. This creates a wonderful affect for Caitlyn’s aerial act, many of them are at eye level with her as she climbs to the top of her rig. Dave and Jan are able to toss juggling clubs up to the kids above us and they throw them back down to catch. If we could bottle up the energy here, I’m quite sure it could power the entire world. The screaming, cheering, and laughing roars in our ears.
We milk every second, giving them more, more, more until we practically collapse from the heat. The loudest scream of all comes when we pants Dave and he runs though the crowd in his boxer shorts. They love it. Our stage volunteers are older here, 14-16 years old, so we have a real good time with them up there. They are ready to play and quickly become the clowns themselves. One boy stands in the front with his sunglasses and crossed arms, the “cool guy.” Before long he is onstage riding a mop around like cowboy and slapping his butt. The transformation is complete!
As we pile back into the car everyone is smiling, what a wonderful show! We are beat and jump into the Caribbean for a quick cool down before dinner. SO LOVELY! On our way to dinner I almost step on a tarantula the size of my hand. YIKES!! I’d never seen one before, and later we see another, right outside our bedroom door. Haha. Danger in the jungle, I love it!
Today we travel to Jacmel where we will perform for a few days before heading back to Port-au-Prince. The TDH volunteers have been wonderful and have gotten progressively crazier since we arrived. Our driver, Milot, whoops and hollers as he drives like a madman through the landfill on the outskirts of the TDH complex, he’s such a clown. The pigs and goats look up from their trash dinner every time we drive through….oh geez, these guys again. It will be sad to say goodbye to our new TDH friends, but I look forward to seeing what the next adventure will bring in Jacmel.
Day 2 in Grand Goave…staying with Terre des Hommes surrounded by chirping tropical birds, goats, pigs, and occasional rats friends that visit at night!
Yesterday, two shows. The first at a local school that is a conglomerate of several schools together, totaling close to 500 students, ranging from elementary to high school. The crowd was rowdy and very excited, especially to see Caitlyn’s aerial act. The jaws drop and the eyes stare in disbelief as this super strong woman climbs to the top of her silks, hung at 21 feet, and drops dramatically, catching herself just before she hits the ground. A hat juggling routine gone wrong ends in an epic chase through the crowd. Dave chases as Jan gets the kids to hide his incriminating red nose amidst their backpacks. Gwen shocks and amazes with her disappearing hanky trick…the faces are priceless when she pulls it out of various students’ ears. Bob the clown is exhausted by Kob’s kazoo music that makes him dance. After he collapses, Kob chooses a new husband from the crowd. The strapping young man turns bright red with a big smile when he gets tricked by the busker kiss. He walks off with his new woman, the crazy clown in the tutu. A beautiful moment as a child is brought up to be “clowned.” His little face peers out from underneath the hat, grinning in his new red nose. His friends hold him up with a huge applause.
The second show is in the local market…a small crowd greets us, with a few boys kicking a soccer ball around. A woman selling peanuts and a man with a large bucket of nails stare with intrigue at these strange white faces. As the show begins, the crowd quickly grows to over 200 people. The community seems to materialize out of nowhere and surrounds us. The energy is high as we play in the round and the sun sets behind our heads. After the show the village seems somehow united, talking excitedly about their shared experience as an audience. Women bring their babies over to us to say hello and the little faces that watched us cautiously at first are now eager to high five and dance with us in the streets.
That night we dine with Florian, a Swiss volunteer with TDH and his wife from Mexico. They tell us of the last few years working here in Grand Goave. Soon the group will move to a smaller facility, as there is less of a need for aid. Where before over 100 volunteers worked diligently to repair earthquake damage, provide clean water, and help with cholera
prevention and awareness, now most jobs have been outsourced to Haitians. In January, TDH will move to Petite Goave, the neighboring town. Gwen, Jan, and Dave, who have been here in years prior seem constantly amazed and pleased to see how much living conditions have improved. The people of Haiti are rebuilding and finding more stability, as they had before the 2010 earthquake.
Today, the clowns have 3 shows. The first two at orphanages and the third at a nearby high school. The faces are friendly and the smiles are warm as we drive through the streets. Looking forward to meeting more of this community, where there is noticeable need for comforts we so often take for granted, but no shortage of love and resiliency.