Konbit has a few meanings Haitian Kreyol. Sometimes it is used as a verb, and means “to put your hands together.” Other times, it is a noun, meaning, “communal or cooperative labor.” The essence of Konbit is community and equality.
After the 2010 Earthquake, many NGOs asked: What can we do for Haitians? 7 years later, it is clear from the names of Haitian-led organizations such as Konbit Soley Leve, the shift from “for” to “with.” Our local partners and contacts in Haiti all emphasize the importance of konbit. Our accommodations – Haiti Communitere – is an organization based on supporting Supporting Clown PartnersHaitian-led initiatives. MJC, our hosts in Grand Goave, operate based on a cooperative model. With in mind, we set out to make sure our December project was organized around the principles of konbit (communal labor and many hands coming together).
Performing looks like fun, when you’re in the audience. In rehearsal-or in training-it is a lot of repetition and a lot of critique. A lot of material you love gets cut when your partner tells you it’s just not working. It was easy for Camilla to tell me to scrap a lift because I couldn’t get the timing right. I understood that it wasn’t worth doing if I couldn’t do it well. It was a lot harder to balance my own perfectionism with the primary goal of making sure the Haitian artists felt confident about the act we put together.
As a teacher, I wanted the students to be confident, discover their own voices,
As a performer, I wanted to know the whole show would be good
As a collaborator, I wanted everyone to like me…I mean, I wanted us all to be equals.
Ultimately, I had to focus on being a good team-member first and foremost. During our first show, MJC performed an act I had directed called Park Bench. The premise is simple. Person A person sits on a bench, reading the newspaper. Person B enters, sits on the bench, and somehow gets Person A to leave. Then, Person B moves over to Person A’s spot, picks up the paper, and Person C enters. It repeats. Everyone gets a cameo.
For the first show, Janelase had asked me to start. I sat on stage reading the paper, she entered, and froze. We had rehearsed her bit (she was going to brush the dust off her shoes until it became so annoying that I had to leave). In rehearsal, she was a star. In front of an audience, she froze. She dusted her shoes once, then switched tactics and started doing her hair. Then she started to read over my shoulder. I started to feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t funny. According to the rules of the skit, my exit had to be a reaction to her action. The problem was, she wasn’t escalating. I had to make a decision. Do I break the rules and just get off stage? Do I try to feed her something? Do I wait for her to figure it out? I really wanted to run offstage. In my own panic, all French escaped me. So I waited. I reacted to her actions, as she slowly built up the confidence to do something wild, and finally pushed me off the bench.
Sometimes support takes the form of patience. In this snapshot, the best way I could support Janalese was to trust her, and give her the space to build her confidence. By waiting, I was able to let her know that her process, and her speed, were just fine with me as her teammate. I let her know that I would keep my cool until she found the bravery to create with me in front of all of those people. I proved that I would not try to “fix” the situation for her, by deviating from our plan. And that’s konbit.
An alternate title for this post could be: collaboration is hard. Whether working with a team you know well, or a new team, collaboration is hard. Collaboration requires dedication to the process, not just the product. It requires finding a pace and style of communication that fits all parties. Most of our work is this balancing act of cross-cultural co-creation: learning when to push things forward, and when to let the other partner lead. Whether planning the logistics of a project months in advance, or responding to a situation in-the-moment, co-creation is a dynamic dialogue. In order to be in true solidarity with our partners and collaborators, we happily walk that tightrope every day.