September 2, 2016

It was probably a combination of a lot of things. Exhaustion, a full day of travel and airport delays, and certainly some reverse culture shock. But the night I came home from Haiti, after opening up my fully stocked kitchen cabinet in search of some cereal, I couldn’t stop crying. I was being slightly dramatic, but we had every type imaginable. In Haiti, most people are lucky to eat once a day. Whether my tears were of sadness or gratitude, I’m still not sure.

It had only been two or three days earlier in Minoterie that I had experienced one of the most overwhelming, emotional days of my life.

We were visiting a Tent City, a plot of land that, after the devastating 2010 earthquake, was converted into rows of tin-sided, blue tarp-roofed shelters meant to provide temporary relief, only to be still fully occupied by families six years later due to the extreme poverty and lack of resources in the area.

The day started in typical fashion for me, I fell. I am probably one of the clumsiest people I know—just ask any of my friends. So it was no surprise to Grace, one of my best friends who came to Haiti with me, when I wiped out in a giant mud puddle, coating my shoes and skirt with sludge, along with ruining one of the several water purifiers we had just assembled and were preparing to distribute in the village.

Embarrassed at my inelegance, I was ready to be judged as a dumb American girl by the onlooking Haitians, whose village I was a guest in and had managed to make somewhat of a scene. Instead, I was met with the complete opposite reaction. Two Haitians rushed over to me, and, not speaking English, guided me to a
water pump in the ground where they literally washed my feet for me until the mud had rinsed off.

For perspective, water in Haiti must be rationed and is by no means readily available. In villages where they do not have a water pump in the ground, people often send their children to walk miles in the heat carrying buckets of water back to their families. My self-centered insecurity was instantly replaced with gratitude and awe at the purest form of selflessness these people possessed. This was one of the many instances throughout the trip that I witnessed firsthand how strong the presence of God is in Haiti and in the Haitian people.

The day in Minoterie was long. We spent the majority of it interacting with families and children as we dropped off water filters for them to use. We prayed with them, played with the children and took it all in. The poverty was kind of like what we see in the movies and charity commercials, but experiencing it on the ground instead of through a TV screen only intensified everything more than I can describe.

This young girl's Dora shirt struck a cord with me. In stark contrast
with the typical Dora-obsessed child in the US, it was apparent she was
simply wearing a shirt for its functionality-- her concern was not Dora,
but her hunger (she hadn't eaten all day). 
As I got back in the van to return to where we were staying, and the door shut behind me, my eyes began to fill with tears. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. People in the Tent City had nothing and everything all at once.

While my eyes were full of tears, the eyes of the people staring back at me, occupants of the Tent City, were not. Granted, when you met people’s gaze, the desperation was there. Small children who had gone days without food. Mothers who seemed helpless and unsure of what their families’ futures may hold. Kids with distended stomachs from malnutrition or sickness. You saw fear and angst in their eyes.
But even more prevalent than the desperation was hope. (It was no coincidence that the organization leading our mission in Haiti is called “Mission of Hope.”) These people had more faith and hope than anyone I've ever encountered. They were living, breathing proof that happiness and a strong sense of spirituality trump material possessions every single time. Despite their circumstances, they were optimistic and enviably joyful. They forged ahead, determined to live- in every sense of the word. In their eyes, especially the children's, I saw the purest happiness, playfulness, and endless hopes and dreams.

If you think about it, human eyes are one of our most generic features. While some of us may be thin, overweight, short, tall, black, white, Asian, or otherwise, our eyes are generally the same. So while my Creole skills may have been lacking (okay, nonexistent), there was a universal communication that came from just looking into people’s eyes.
Widlove's only outfit, a donated girls' dress-up
 skirt made for the perfect dancing get-up.

The eyes of Widlove were bright, beautiful and optimistic. About 12 years old, she was captivated by my phone, camera and the hairs on my forearms. I introduced her to Taylor Swift and she showed off her best dance moves. Her sass and spunk will never escape me.

Another young girl, Roseline, was so young. Her eyes had a tinge of sadness. You could tell she was hungry and she seemed a little uneasy. But at the sight of herself, appearing in the form of a selfie on my phone screen, her eyes lit up and became full of fascination and eagerness. In Haiti, mirrors are a commodity item and many people have never even seen what they look like. You can imagine her excitement when she saw herself for the first time. It was as if her world had just begun in that exact moment.
Roseline's first selfie! She was a little confused by the whole thing but her face
lit up as soon as she realized she was looking at herself.
I saw so many stories in people's eyes in Minoterie. Too many to recount now, but too valuable to ever forget.

It's been a few months since I got home. The exhaustion and culture shock have dissipated. I've thrown myself headfirst into a fast-paced internship at an advertising agency in Midtown Manhattan and I often observe the stark differences between Haiti and New York. Most of the time it feels as though they could be on entirely different planets, but other times, during my unexpected run-ins with benevolence in a city often consumed by greed and selfishness, Haiti feels like it could be blocks away.

Some aspects of what I experienced in Haiti have certainly faded.  And thankfully for everyone around me, I no longer cry up upon opening the kitchen cabinet. But I do think about gratitude a whole lot more. As far as kindness, all it takes is the memory of the two locals who washed the mud from my feet to realize that there are no excuses not try to be more selfless and spread love everyday.

And until the next time I get the privilege of being back in Haiti, I'll vividly remember the eyes of the people I met. In their eyes, I saw their souls; their heartbreak, hardship and struggles, but most importantly, their unmatched joy. And that is a sight my eyes will never forget.

If you feel inclined to help change the life of a Haitian child, please click here.


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