I don’t know how I’d respond when, after planning a celebration for and about children, the whole thing erupted into a fight, and I landed up getting kicked in the ribs, and my co-worker takes a machete to the upper arm trying to break up a fight – but I don’t have to. Through chance or fate, I am just an observer to this sad and harrowing tale, and not the young Haitian woman who is one of the “formateurs” – child care supervisors – we are mentoring as part of our project here in Haiti with Terre Des Hommes. Her response when asked about these events: “That’s just the way things are here,” she said, with a sigh, and a weight that no one that young should be carrying on her shoulders. And yet, she does. As do all of the adults we are teaching clown and circus skills to, so that they can pass them on to the many children living in the communities of Les Cayes and Renuad.
The more than remarkable resilience of the Haitian people will live within me forever – from the half clothed or naked children carrying water bottles back to the shacks that their families call home, to the women scrubbing their families few clothes in water that is filled with God only knows what, to the men at the edge of the community carving beautiful furniture to take to the market. It is often said that the clown loves a problem – they live in that place where they have walked into a wall, dropped a fragile thing, or somehow gotten tangled up in a piece of rope three inches long – but a clowns “problems” are for comic effect, and there is NOTHING remotely funny about the conditions of Haiti. And yet…
Like the sunshine bursting through the clouds after a thunderstorm, I see the smiles of the children and adults here – the contrast in their faces – one minute set in composure of disappointment and hardship, the next a smile as large as any I’ve ever seen. The songs, the dances, the eagerness to learn the clown games and skills we have brought, that, I think, is the true heart of the Haitian people. There is joy there – it is under the poverty, the legacy of government corruption, the history of neglect. And it is that joy that we as clowns can minister to. It is only a small thing, and some may think it is not worth doing – but I am a clown, not a rich business person, not a doctor, not a politician – and so I, with my brave and beautifully funny, open, and generous clown partners here will offer what we can to these people who astonish me every day I am here.