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I walked out the door and was immediately struck with the bright sun and the blazing heat that came along with it. I took a deep breath, and let out a cough. The smell was awful. My nose had never had a stench like that come in. Imagine the smell of a dump, but ten times worse. I walked down the moveable stairs, which was unusual to me, and observed my surroundings. The pavement was cracked in many places with grass growing in between. The fence around the landing track was old with holes five times the size they should’ve been making it seem like people had tried to sneak in. I was no longer in the United States; I had arrived at an airport in Port Au Prince, Haiti.

This was a missionary trip for the church my family and I attend. I was with a group of about fifteen people, twelve being kids around my age. This trip was meant to help the people of Haiti. We were there specifically to build an orphanage for the children in the little town of Batso. The church has been doing missionary trips and building this orphanage for about five years. Wanting to help, I hopped on a plane and headed over. Well, that’s not exactly what happened, but I think the point is clear.

After leaving the plane, our group went inside to grab our bags. Each one of us was responsible for a fifty- pound bag that contained a bunch of goodies. Toys, medicine, food, and all that jazz was inside each bag and it was all going to be given to the children in the orphanage. Before we got to our bags, our group leader stopped us. “Everyone listen up. Now this isn’t like the airports in the U.S. The security will ask you if you have any kind of drugs. I know that you have medicine in the bags, but say no. They might look through them so just let them do it. I will be around all of you when this process happens and will help out if needed,” he explained.

This made me a little nervous. The security guards were big and I had no drive to walk up to them and be questioned. However, it needed to be done so I built up the little amount of courage I had and went through with it. It was nerve-racking at first, but I soon realized that it wasn’t the scariest thing to go through so my nervousness shook off quickly.

Once everyone got through security, it was time for us to head back out into the humid, smelly air of Haiti. For a reason I didn’t know, the place was crowded. There were tons of people surrounding the outside of the airport shouting things I could not understand. We were following our group leader, but because he is so short, I made sure to stick by my group members so if I did get lost, I’d be lost with a familiar face.

The group came to a stop and I was astounded by the sight. Parked in front of our group was a truck with a cage in the back with benches on each side. “This will be one of the vehicles we will be using during our time here in Haiti,” said our group leader, Paul. The other vehicle was a regular, Chevy- looking truck. Only five people could ride in it at once. Instantly after Paul had finished explaining, the group ran to the caged truck to find their seats. We all wanted to ride in the new unfamiliar vehicle, but because there were limited seats, we had to fight for our spots. It was almost like musical chairs, without the music, but with all the pushing and shoving violence.

It was only about a five-minute ride to where we would all be staying for a couple days, but within that short amount of time, I saw a couple different and scary sights. Along each street I saw a few men in uniform carrying guns. They all walked slowly on the sidewalks intently looking at each pedestrian as if one were about to create a violent scene, which I was told happened frequently. Chills ran down my spine every time we drove past one. I cringed every time one would move their gun thinking they might aim it towards us. I have never experienced anything like it, nor was it a pleasant sight to see.

The sidewalks were packed with people, all walking sluggishly like they had no life to live for. Some just sat watching the cars fly by on the very busy roads. And when I say “fly by,” I mean it. There are no speed limit signs in Haiti so people were driving like maniacs, even the guy driving our truck. Every second the thought of crashing occurred to me. Then realized why the place smelled so bad. Everywhere I looked there was garbage lying around. On the roads, on the sidewalks, on the grass. We were told later not to step in the little puddles in the roads because it was very dirty water; nothing like the clean water we had back home. So, the five-minute drive to where we were staying dragged on. When we finally arrived, I was more than happy to go inside.

After a couple of days had passed, we headed out for our nine-hour drive to St. Michelle. However, the drive seemed much shorter. I guess this was because we all had fun on the way over. In Haiti, it is very rare to come by a paved road so the whole way was on dirt. And yes, we had to ride in the caged truck so it was very bumpy going about 80 mph the whole way. Due to all the dirt that floated around our faces during the drive, each one of us had to wear bandanas over our mouths making us look like we were from the Western times. We got a good laugh out of that.
Of course after this long drive, we were all tired so we ate and went straight to bed falling asleep within seconds. The next day had come and it was beautiful outside. The sky was a bright blue with not one cloud taking up a spot. The laughter of children outside filled my ears. I quickly ate my breakfast and went outside to see what the commotion was about. To my surprise, the children surrounded the front door and came close to me as soon as I walked out. Each and every child touched my skin, felt my hair, and giggled when they did this. These kids were friendly and wanted to be around us.

I ran back to my room and grabbed my soccer ball. I had brought it because I knew it was an international language and I planned to leave it there for the children. When the kids saw the ball, they quickly set up a game. Unlike soccer in the U.S., we played in the street and used big stones at each side as the goals. To score, one would have to hit the stone with the ball. Due to my lack of knowledge in the French language, I could not understand what these kids were saying to me. Fortunately, one group member had been taking French for years. So he helped me out and a game began.
This is what we did the majority of the time we spent in Haiti: played soccer. I’m not at all complaining. It was amazing to see how good these kids were. They showed me the ball that they usually used and it was beat up. It was partly flat with the material coming off all around it. This made me realize how often they played the game. Looking around I saw no parks, no basketball hoops, nothing you would normally see in a neighborhood in the United States. They loved this sport because it was the most fun they could have. Some just enjoyed being the spectators on the side and would laugh whenever a Haitian did a fancy move on one of us, and died of laughter when we did it back. They seemed surprise with how many skills some of us Americans had. They all loved it. During the time we weren’t playing soccer, we taught them handshakes and hand games, such as double-double this-this, and they taught us some too. Although we spoke different languages, we understood what the other was trying to say.
There was one child I came to be very fond of by the end of my Haiti experience. Honest to God he was the cutest and sweetest kid I’ve ever met. Once I learned how to ask “What’s your name?” and “How old are you?” in French, I quickly asked him exactly that, and because I was so excited I learned these phrases, I asked almost every kid these questions. I even learned to count to ten. After asking, I found that the kid’s name was Judlee. He told me he was twelve years old, but because I couldn’t count that high, I needed my French-speaking friend. Judlee was dark skinned, but so was every other Haitian. He was a little shorter than I and had dark brown eyes that held so much wisdom you don’t normally see in a kid his age.
Everyday Judlee, dressed in the same blue T-shirt with a basketball logo plastered on the front, would come to the place we were staying and call my name to come out. They all always looked so dirty and some group members hesitated to touch them, but I didn’t care. Judlee and I became glued to the hip. I taught him how to say, “Good morning,” which was much harder than I had thought. My friends and I even taught him a dance move which he did constantly. It was really funny to watch and most times we would join in with him putting on a little show for the pedestrians walking the street.
Every day I was in Haiti I realized what was right in front of me. The houses were made of cement, no washers or dryers, and we couldn’t even flush the toilets. The saying, “It’s the little things that count,” always ran through my mind. The kids I played with everyday had nothing compared to me, but they were so much happier. I never saw them without a smile on their faces. They wore the same clothes daily, bathed in dirty water, lived in awful conditions, and they were still happy. This is going to sound like a Hallmark moment, or something along those lines, but I’m going to say it anyway; I never knew how much I had until I met these kids. We all complain about money situations or even the dumbest things for instance, not having a computer. These kids were happier with nothing. Of course they want more, but they make the best of what they have in front of them. This is something everyone should do everyday like the kids in Haiti.





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Ms. S-P said...
Oct. 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm
The sensory description in the opening paragraph caught my attention immediately.  Isn't it amazing how joy can found lurking within a seemingly dark situation?  All it took was a soccer ball.
 
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