Monday, September 27, 2010

Clowns Without Borders in Haiti, partnership with Terre des Hommes

I was one of 4 clowns on a Clowns Without Borders trip this September partnering with Terre des Hommes (TDH). We did 2 residencies, one in Grand Goave the other in Les Cayes: training workshop leaders, teaching kids, creating a show with both kids and workshop leaders, and performing in and around their communities.

Papette – Grand Goave

The week of workshops and shows ends with a giant morning workshop. The 18 animateurs and 4 trainers we have been training teach the other animateurs from the 9 child protection centers. Yesterday we split everyone into groups and planned for the morning. Today there are 76 people in the warmup circle:

It is amazing to step back. After a week of creating and trying to direct the momentum of the training, we are on for the ride. The giant morning training takes off, a true team effort. Everyone participates teaching something different.
Our star mime leads an amazing magic imaginary ball exercise. Our star funny walker isn’t sure on how to lead the exercise but she commits 100% anyway. They are all teachers back in the teaching role after a week of being students. They are so luminous while they teach and it is delightful to tell them so in our reflection afterwards. We exchange many goodbyes on words of respect and appreciation.
One trainer describes Anna as the crazy one, Tim as the clumsy one, me as the Scottish beauty who helps others even so, and Jan as the insightful one with a big field of vision.
The workshop participants who speak thanks and goodbyes in front of the group say our names one by one. I look around the circle at their faces and wonder for how long I will remember their 22 names.

From Grand Goave to Les Cayes

Throwing names today, Tim asked, “Que côté la mer?” A quarter of the class pointed to one of the 4 concrete block walls surrounding the 1-hoop basketball court and the community center shelter where we are teaching our workshops. I could see about one meter of sky between the razor wire along the top of the concrete wall and where the roof of the shelter begins. So I aimed my name into this slip of sky as I threw and called it out. The group echoed “Seeeleeeennaaaaa” behind me. I am one of the teachers but I’m still giddy at hearing my own name echoed by so many people.

Anna asks why they have the walls around the community center. It is in stark contrast to Papette in Grand Goave where we were working last week. There we were right on the sea. Open. Surrounded by trees. a group of people making charcoal. Another group cutting string to hang mosquito nets. I answer that I guess the wall is to keep people out, as evidenced by the crowd of kids that climb to the top of the gate, or peer under to watch the strange noisy activities we are leading inside.
We are in the city now and it is completely different. The regional director of TDH said we have just seen the two different kinds of humanitarian aid. Emergency response in Grand Goave and now development work in Les Cayes. We certainly notice the strength of the community. Despite the poverty. The motivation of the participates. Last week was full of energy too, but this week the participants seem more solid. For a second I picture these individuals as buildings themselves. Here in Les Cayes, though they may be living in tiny shacks, they seem whole. In Grand Goave they were crumbled. I see sketches of the many different living situations we’ve seen in Haiti interspersed with the faces of my favorite workshop participants. A former home inhabitable, the roof at an angle on the floor, a shack full of too many family members, a tent among many tents.

Cité Delma – Les Cayes

The workshops this week have a family feel. I give directions for an exercise with the baby of one of the workshop participants in my arms. An older brother and younger sister quibble during pass the clap. A few adults hang around watching our work sitting on benches in the space while kids climb above or scamper below the gate catching glimpses of the bizarre preparations inside the walls. Maybe they know there will be a show for the whole community in a few days but for now we remain these silly creatures driving through the community. Big pickup on narrow cactus lined path . There are bizarre fun sounds ensuing from the community center during the day and I imagine quite a few stories about the workshops at night.
The director of the community center has chosen outgoing kids for our workshops so that they will share what they learn with the rest of the community.
Today one of the TDH trainers asked me “so do clowns live in families?” I gave him a long answer about relationship in clown - status and complicity through different types of relationship. Then realized that what he wanted to know was whether me, Jan, Anna, and Tim live in families or the four of us together.
People seen to like the word “clown” even if it’s not so clear. In Grand Goave we had the workshop participants draw pictures of what a “clown” was for them. For the kids it seemed to mean the 4 of us. For the adults more comic actors and characters and a lot of somewhat witchy stuff. Tails. Pointy hats. But no matter what, it always seems to mean “you silly goofies.” And when a workshop participant does something especially funning or uninhibited people say their name followed by clown. "Selena clown" "so and so clown" etc...

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