By Brian Jensen, Haiti Outreach Intern
When I first arrived at my apartment in Haiti I felt like I always had people watching me. I guess most people feel that way when arriving somewhere new, but I seriously did have kids peering out from behind bushes and corners. They would stand out in the open and just stare. The best thing I did was to make faces at one of the 8 or so year olds. Thus commenced a funny face-off to see who could make the other laugh. After my cheeks got sore, he took me around to meet everyone. My head swimming with names. I had just met my favorite things about Haiti. They are:
Not shown: Ludmia, Biveli, Jidline, Makin, Flor, Dawiski, and Meken.
We’ve had movie nights, played and gone to numerous soccer games, ridden horses and motorcycles, cut and pressed sugar cane, worked on a solar cooker and a garden. Today we went to a small suspension bridge a few miles away. After the 15 year old, Kevin, fixed his dad’s motorcycle we headed out: Biben, Milkens, Kevin, Steve, and I. I carried Steve because he’s smaller than the other big kids and I’m still a little shaky on a motorcycle. We drove on a road that I’ve ridden many times in the back of a truck, but never on a motorcycle. The muddiest of the areas forced the passengers to get off while we drove the bikes through the mud. They were surprised that I got through. I’m not sure if I’m proud of that or perturbed at their low opinion of my moto-skills. After a treacherous descent down a rocky slope we arrived at a walking bridge built by Rotary International.
Biben was very hesitant to go across so someone had to hold his hand. His brothers, in their usual brotherly fashion shook the wobbly bridge until he gripped my hand as tight as he could. By the end of the day he was racing from one side to the other. He was also timid about going in the river because he couldn’t swim and there was a bit of a current. He stood next to some donkeys with our stuff looking longingly at us playing in the water. He looked as most little brothers look when they see their siblings doing things they can’t: afraid and envious. There were about 10 other people there, bathing, washing clothes or watering their animals. We dunked each other and jumped into the river a few times. Then we played a game where one person points and shouts “look a bug” and goes under water. The other person turns around to look for the bug and when he turns back he has to find the first person before they swim past them. Due to muddiness of the river it is actually pretty tough to find them. The depth of the river varies from 8 feet to 6 inches in places, so I would often painfully swim right into a rock wall. I found it funny how worried they were when I went into the deep end. They assumed that I didn’t know how to swim. Rivers are common, but lakes are not so I’m not sure how common it is to be a good swimmer. I guess having come from the land of (more than) 10,000 lakes, it’s a little change. It was a little disconcerting to see large quantities of livestock droppings around the river, so I made sure to take a shower when I got home. For the kids that swim, this was their shower.
A few motorcycles carefully cruised across the walking bridge as we held our breath and watched from under the bridge. We got back to the clothes and bags only to find that my 8 year old bag guardian didn’t fend off the donkeys. The baby donkey had pooped on my bag. Or maybe it was dragged through poop when he tried to get away and got its rope tied up with our stuff.
The teenage boys fought over who was going to drive. We drove the motorcycles back through the mud and rocky path. After we got going, the loser fell off the bike into the mud; to add that to the fact that he wasn’t able to drive. He wasn’t amused, but his brother was.
We drove up to the house only to realize that it was Sunday and our zone had a soccer game today. Lapila vs. Lapila (Te Blanch). So, we rushed to the field on a path that is what mountain bikers call a “rock garden”, which is simply where there are more protruding rocks that there is flat ground. With arms strained from the ride, we arrived at the field.
The field is pretty janky. It is made of dirt and gravel. I’ve always thought that people are tougher here, and some of the falls onto the gravel during the game proved my theory. There weren’t many fake injuries or deliberate falls to draw a penalty like you see in professional soccer. A few times during the game people drove across the field on motorcycles as it was the only way to reach the other side of the field. Whenever the ball was kicked past one goal it would go into some thick brush and some kids would have to go fetch it. The crowd howled with laughter when the goal-tender of one team had to leave for some reason so one of the referees took over. In his canary yellow jeans and matching shirt he let 2 more goals past. He wasn’t willing to put in a dive in his best clothes. There were also two Haiti Outreach employees, Jacques and Enel, who were playing against each other. It was interesting to see their aggressive personalities outside the office. In the office, and anywhere in Haiti, people are aggressive by Minnesotan standards, but nowhere so much as the soccer field.
I hung out with Biben for most the game and swung him around or let him wear my motorcycle helmet when his begging got too annoying. He is one of those kids with a smile that you can’t just help giving him what he wants.