Monday, August 17, 2009, Port Au Prince: Sarah’s Journal
Our first day of shows in Port-au-Prince! Haiti wakes up early and so do we, between 5 and 6:30am, to the sounds of traffic, shouting, roosters, music … Tim and Suzanne and I put on our costumes, string red noses around our necks, and bring the trunk, stilts, trombone and umbrella downstairs to the driveway. Maude from UNICEF drives up at 8:30am. We load ourselves and our gear into the cab and back of the pickup, and head out for a day of shows and workshops at Lakou and Lakay, two centers for street youth in Port-au-Prince.
Lakou is a drop-in center and vocational school for kids and young adults who have chosen to leave bad situations at home to fend for themselves on the streets. The younger ones, a group of about 30 boys ages 8-14 or so, are assembling in a large sunny courtyard when we arrive. By the time we unload our gear, meet the administration, and start our morning of workshops, we have about 50 students. They are a little shy and hang back a bit as we begin with some breathing, and warm-up movement. They have pretty clearly never been asked before to do things like “make a big shape with your body as you say your name.” Tim and I have never tried to say such a thing in French or Haitian creole, either. But we do our best, and so do they. Many of them strike tough karate stances as they say their names. The adults in the circle chime in enthusiastically as well. After each name, the whole group repeats the name and movement back to them.
After warm-up we break into three groups: Suzanne teaches juggling in one corner, I work with another group on acrobatic balancing, and Tim does physical comedy workshops. As the groups rotate through, the boys are relaxing and playing more. They are proud of the simple weight-sharing leans and pulls we try in pairs, and then climb fearlessly into pyramid shapes with each other, despite the hard cement ground under their knees. Over in Suzanne’s corner I see juggling balls and clubs flying. Every so often we all look up as Tim’s group sends up a wave of laughter.
At 10:45 the older kids have a break from vocational classes, and come to join us for a show. The two sides of the courtyard with a canopy and shade become the audience area and fills with about 200 kids and youth. We play our show in the sun of the courtyard.
This audience is comprised of tough kids who have survived and fought their way through a lot already in their short lives. This seems to be reflected in their reactions: during the show the laughter comes in shrieks and ragged bursts. There are a couple of kids who have trouble staying in one place to watch the show. Each time one of them starts walking over to the other side of the audience Tim chases them across the stage, prompting roars of laughter.
After the show we stay to play informally with the younger boys who crowd around us. It is interesting to see how they interact when not immediately engaged in something like a show or workshop. They are small and ragged and fierce. In the context of an acrobalance workshop this translated into bravery to try new moves and balance on each other. In a less structured setting they are quick to push each other and fight. Little skirmishes erupt at intervals around the courtyard, smoothed over by the Lakou staff. At the same time, we see these boys looking for love and connection. They crowd around us to mimic our movements, try thigh stands, and play hand-slap games. A boy comes up to me and tells me he is sick. He picks up my hand and puts it to his neck so I can feel how hot it is. His eyes are watery and glazed. I stand next to him for a while, leaning against a wall, watching the other kids play. I start doing little silly things with my hands until he smiles. A small boy throws his arms around Suzanne. She hugs him for a long time until he lets go.