Wednesday, August 12, 2009: Suzanne’s Journal
Our first show is going to happen. I’m remembering my blocking, the order of the scenes, and sweating. I’m nervous. This feels like the most important show I will ever do. We pull up alongside a row of concrete buildings, our first orphanage show. I hope that the orphanage is in good condition. I hope that the children are healthy. I hope that we can make them laugh. I just want to be present with as many of the children as I can.
We walk into a large field covered in manure with all of our gear. There are children everywhere. They want to help us and hold our hands. As soon as I step off of the bus, I have two girls in tow. Tim, Sarah and I want to make sure that we are facing the sun and the children are in the shade. It’s a hot day. Not a cloud in the sky. The energy is buzzing.
There are 300 or so kids at the orphanage, and we will perform for about half. It seems like they are happy, but there are just so many of them. It impacts me to see them here in this moment. I get focused and preset my props. We start in an empty outdoor hallway out of sight. Sarah and I wait anxiously for our cue from Tim, “Veni Clown!” We barrel out into the sun with the trunk. My heart is beating fast and sweat is already pouring down my face. Their little faces get bigger as we get closer. They’re attentive. We chase around in circles for the first time and I’m already out of breath, but they are laughing! I smile wide and find moments to connect with individuals in the crowd. I see them and they see me. We really see each other. Our souls connect. I take a deep breath and check back in with my partners.
Our show is going well. I run back to our “backstage” hallway and put the stilts on. As I stand up, the red and black stilt pants lengthen down and I’ve grown! I start to walk towards Sarah with her umbrella and I can feel the audience. They are with us and loving it. As the show ends, I feel like I don’t want it to. I want it to keep living in this field with these kids. Somehow I know it will.
We exit and I sit down to take it all in. This was my favorite show I’ve ever done as a clown. I smile to myself. As I peak out and walk towards the kids for some one on one interaction, I see Tim already doing his magic and Sarah is speaking with some of the kids. I seek out some of the kids on the outskirts of the crowd. There’s one little guy near me. His caretaker says his name is Junior. I kneel down and he goes for the nose. I smile. He doesn’t, but keeps pulling on my nose anyway. He looks away and holds onto my knees and seems content this way for awhile. Another toddler walks up and we connect. I realize that there’s no other place that I’d rather be.
I pick up Junior and he seems to like it. It seems like the kids all take care of each other and they pick each other up all the time. They seem to like the positive physical contact. The caretakers always have a child in their arms and one of them is happy to see me with Junior. We smile at each other. Somehow I’m making a small difference in this moment.
I’ve heard a lot about Lakou and Lakay from Tim and Sarah. We are going to see the street boys in Port Au Prince. I’m not sure what to expect. This is a running theme for me. UNICEF is driving us this day and they pick us up from our hotel. We drive through a busy arterial road covered in garbage, vendors and people. Our driver tells us that we are going past the market that was once the site for the slave trades. We pull into Lakou through a metal door, and kids surround our truck. Finally! I see the first basketball hoop since we’ve been in Haiti. I run and interrupt their game and start to dribble and shoot. We already understand each other. The boys playing ball swarm me as I dribble. I love this and so do they!
Eventually, I have to get my clown gear together. We teach workshops first. I’m teaching juggling with 3 sets of balls and 3 sets of clubs. I hope that I have enough. The boys are in groups of 3 so Sarah, Tim and I take on a group at a time. I soon discover that even though there are enough juggling props for everyone, that they all want what the other has. I end up breaking up 5 fights during 1 hour of workshops. I break them up physically and then redirect the kids with an activity each time. It seems to work. It also seems like fighting is the norm here. Even though it feels like a rough workshop, I think that they are connecting with me.
The boys have large scars on their faces and body, one of them is mute, and one of them has had a serious eye injury. I wonder how many of them have been victims and instigators of violence and abuse. Most of them do not have shoes or clothes that fit them and it’s hard to say when they last bathed. I wonder where they sleep at night and if they have enough to eat. It seems though that their mentors are strong positive people and that they are helping these boys get on track as much as they can. They love them the best way they can.
We end up doing our show for a large group that also includes young men and women. Most of the young men and women take vocational classes at this site. Now, during the show the blacktop was so hot that when I lay on top of it, it burnt the backs of my bare arms and legs. I was thinking, “This is so hot, why can’t Tim and Sarah do this doctor bit faster.” Soon it is over and sun is beating down. How do the kids stay hydrated all day? The show goes well and at the end of it, I find myself surrounded by a group of boys. We joke around by making faces. They try to talk to me in Creole and I try to understand, but don’t. So we make more faces and do secret handshakes and play copycat games. One little boy is sticking close by. I start to base the kids for thigh stands. One right after the other they jump up onto my legs and we hang onto each other, hands to wrists.
The little boy that has stayed close takes his turn. His feet are bare, callused and burning hot against my legs. He’s been standing on the blacktop like this all day. He does this every day. His shirt and shorts are too big for him and are dirty and falling apart. He smiles at me and he jumps down. Another goes, and then he jumps back up again. We laugh. He comes down and I stand up and look the other direction. Suddenly, I feel arms grab around my waist. I look down and there he is staring up at me, eyes wide. I hug him back and look into his eyes. I rub his back and hold back my tears. I don’t want him to see me cry. I don’t want him to think that I feel sorry for him. I just want to love and embrace him in this moment.
Minutes pass and we let each other go. He holds my hand and I walk towards the truck. Dianna is taking pictures. Another fight. I break it up. Group pictures. Hugging. Smiling. Patting. Laughing. We load the truck. I sit down and take a deep breath.