This being my first Clowns Without Borders trip, it is of course different than anything I’ve ever done before. Travelling to other economically depressed parts of the world certainly prepared me for this trip and I can’t imagine what I’d be feeling like had I never taken those trips. The destruction of the earthquake is still clearly evident. Our drive through Port-au-Prince was arresting– largely due to the absence of an effective sanitation system. The poverty is shocking. The three of us sat in our car being driven from Port-au-Prince to Les Cayes and hit a particularly broken section of road where we had to come to a complete stop. A child ran up to our car and began tapping on the window. He followed us for the equivalent of perhaps 10 city blocks, tapping on the window and motioning that he was hungry. As he stared into the car we became silent. This silence persisted through the duration of the time he tapped and continued as we all dealt with the intensity. He didn’t become angry or agitated. The running, walking, and waiting that he did by our car stuck for a while, and now as I write, readily comes back. It’s not easy to see, or to watch this despair. To have it look you in the eye through a thin piece of glass.
I was thinking to myself about how we were probably going to go to places where I’d be hanging out kids like this and I was not sure what I would do.
Now, a few days into it, I realize that there’s not much planning you can do for this type of encounter. I’ve been figuring it out as I go. We’re spending the week in Les Cayes, in a small neighborhood with children and adults who are hungry and have very little. But I don’t feel anything like I did in the car. I feel uplifted and a sort of basic satisfaction with what we’re doing. Which is such a relief. The contact that we’ve had with the residents of this community has been real and significant. There are many many differences between here and home. Seeing the old man sit by the tree and help out around the hotel where we are staying is so shocking to me. I’m used to seeing people who ride an exercise bike with a computer hunched back watching TV and talking on their cell phone all the while knowing that they’re actually doing a mating dance with the person on the step machine next to them. The old man sits and tends to the grounds of the hotel. Chops a few fresh coconuts open for us with this machete and makes me feel lucky to soak up some of his aura.
We’ve been working with some community leaders, sharing our skills as teachers and performers with them so that they might have some new tricks in their pocket for their own work. The playfulness and joy of clown work is something that they are finding enjoyable and empowering as leaders, and something that they see can help them in their overall work among their communities. Which is great! That’s what I think to! And it’s great that we’re going at it with that in mind. This clown work and the joy it brings offers some temporary relief in the moment and perhaps contributes some positive energy to their other work as well. I think Julie said it yesterday– that this work can be healing. I’ve definitely experienced that personally, and it’s great that they see our stupid fun honest playfulness can also feed informed proactive committed empowered work in a community. It’s beautiful to see all of this fitting together so nicely.