Puppet hands and other fun stuff in Kenscoff.

On our last day in Kenscoff, a small town in the mountains of Haiti, it rained. Not until the afternoon though. 

In the morning, the toddlers came to the community center with the staff and volunteers from the World Wide Orphans Foundation. The director asked me to stretch and dance with the kids a little at the beginning. We spread mats along a covered stairway with landings, because the stone was wet from last nights torrential rain. All the little guys were plopped on top of mats. With Freddy by my side to interpret, we reached toward toes, and up to the sky and jumped and twisted. When I stretched too far, Freddy stopped me. Most of these kids don’t get out of their beds usually. They have no gross motor skills. This was the first time any of them had done anything like this. Moved. To music. It was just about the first time this week I didn’t feel like a useless waste of space.

My husband and I were delighted to be invited to work with the World Wide Orphans Foundation in Haiti. Well, my husband was delighted. I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure I had anything to offer. I was mostly right.

Little guys plopped on mats!

We went to share with the staff and volunteers of the WWO in Kenscoff, Lespinasse and Port au Prince some theatre games, storytelling and puppetry, in the hope of providing additional resources for the work already being done to offer joy in this earthquake leveled country. Amy Poehler, who I’ve now decided I worship and adore, supports this organization and the programming we went to help. Melissa, the director, is going to go down in history next to some of the great philanthropists as a gentle guiding light through all disasters during her lifetime. I am humbled by her.

This beautiful island needs so much help and a do-over would be nice. Staggering amounts of financial resources and back-breaking reconstruction would only scratch the surface. And my husband and I came to Haiti to play. Play! Not re-build, not solve any sanitation problems, feed anyone or save a soul. Play. Connect. 

Well, now I know for certain what I only knew in theory. “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” (Victor Borge)  And playing is worthy. A Melissa lesson.

I was expecting to see pain and suffering. I wasn’t expecting strong, resilient spirits and warm, beautiful smiles. I wasn’t expecting to dance with anybody.

That last afternoon in Kenscoff we walked to an intact cement slab in the center of a locked school yard. Rain was threatening. The morning session seemed to go well with the toddlers, so my husband wanted me to do the same thing this afternoon, put on music and have the kids stretch and dance. These are older kids, though, from the tent camps and orphanages and some have never moved any muscle at all. Again, no gross motor skills. I’m used to teaching dancers who’ve spent their lives carefully honing their muscles.

There seemed to be droves of kids and volunteers that day. My husband just said “Go.” Which he says to me all the darn time. “You’ll be fine. What song do you want?”

Me: “I could seriously injure someone! I don’t see you jumping out to do this.”

HIM: “Just start.” (HIM is capitalized because I’m annoyed with HIM all over again.)

Me: “I don’t know what to do.”

HIM:”Yes, you do.”

Now they’re all standing there in rows staring at me.

Me: “Play Fergie’s A Little Party Never Killed Nobody. There’s a some language, but I don’t think they’ll know that. I guess that’s better than Blurred Lines.”

HIM: “Definitely.” HIM pressed play.

I didn’t hurt anyone. Maybe confused a few, but not permanently. They were fantastic. Followed along, stretched legs, smiled. Laughed. Relief. The volunteers were an absolute kick in the pants. Soooo good. I think they had fun. There were boys too – which always worries me that dancing seems girly. But, the boys were cool. HIM was thrilled. “You should have seen the expression on the older girls faces! They loved it. They could’ve gone on longer. Why did you stop?”

“Well, it’s starting to rain, and they don’t seem to like the rain. Which is kind of amusing, since it rains here all the time. But, mostly I don’t want to hurt them.”

We split up by ages to play “Kitty wants a corner” the most popular game of our week there when it started to pour in literal sheets of rain. Within seconds all of us were underneath an awning along the walkway outside of the classroom doors. 40 people ranging in age from 4-ish to me, 55-ish.

My husband put the large speaker thing on his shoulder, and said “Play something. Quick.”

I was searching for something currently on the pop charts when I accidentally played “Jam” by Michael Jackson. I didn’t even know I had that on there.

“Michael Jackson!” shouted it’s way through the crowd. And Bam! We had a party. A little party never killed nobody.

A volunteer bustin a move.

Dancing! Good dancing. Really good dancing from a few of the volunteers. The kids were a little hesitant at first. But, turns were taken to dance in the very crowded center. Lots of smiling and clapping. A boy came to stand next to me. He looked to be about 11, but Haitian kids are older than they look, so he may have been in his teens. He was killin’ it when nobody was watching. I mean, a studied, worked on, skilled set of movements. Whenever I called him to come in the center though, he stopped dancing and tried to disappear. After about an hour we played the music a little softer and spread out.

Which was when the boy who was really killin’ it earlier came up to me and quietly and very haltingly said in what were extremely hard syllables to pronounce, “Justin Bieber.”

Thank God I have teenage children, I have about ten Beiber songs on my iPod. So, a 55 year old woman from a world away, a tender boy, and three teenage girls who joined us, danced and sang together while hiding from the rain. A moment seared into my soul.

Even a child that doesn’t speak english, living on an island three worlds away, with no electrical power, sleeping on the ground, learning to live in a world he was handed without a formal education and often without much food, knows every lyric by Justin Bieber and can pretty much dance to any song by Michael Jackson.

I just really like this guy. 

Music. Dancing. Universal languages. Which is almost enough said. Almost.

Whatever their personal demons, Justin and Michael have created music that has united worlds and generations. Two separate lives that gave, at least me, an unforgettable moment. Just a moment to stop and dance out of the rain.

Anybody else been alive somewhere you didn’t think you belonged and music and/or dancing changed your last moment? Or changed your story from a waste of space to something unexpectedly good?

Smiling’s my favorite.
Bye for now.