Every trip to Haiti has looked and felt different. I’ve learned so much over the past 16 months. It was such a joy to be able to experience J’s home country with Jen, Colleen, and Erin. Every night after we would return to the hotel from the orphanage, we would sit outside to eat dinner and talk for hours about our adventures that day.
We all admittedly know absolutely nothing about the country and could not even begin to scratch the surface on the complexities of its history, current conditions, or the future prospect of its people.
I wanted to share with you the perspective of each woman on the trip in their own voice…
Great Expectations vs Reality:
INFANT/TODDLER ROOM: In retrospect, I was not at all properly prepared for my time in the infant/toddler room. Without realizing it at the time, I now see that I was envisioning a church nursery set-up where I’d be rocking sleepy, snuggly newborns who have that new baby smell with soft music playing in the background. As a parent who has had 3 kids in a daycare setting, I also anticipated some kind of tracking system for which kids were in the room, who had eaten and who hadn’t, and a secure door to keep the children contained. Let’s compare these expectations to the realities I experienced:
(1) Instead of lullabies there was talk radio playing in French/Creole. (silver lining – the babies and toddlers are hearing words/sounds)
(2) Instead of rocking chairs there were a few toddler sized plastic chairs. (silver lining – at least some of the kids had places to sit other than the floor)
(3) Instead of the sweet newborn baby smell there was a smell of urine as the babies/toddlers were in cloth diapers primarily rather than disposable diapers and unfortunately many of those cloth diapers were soiled. (silver lining – ummmm, hmmmmm, well, cloth diapers are better for the environment??!?)
(4) The door to the infant/toddler room was sometimes closed/locked and sometimes left opened/unlocked so the babies/toddlers often could come and go from the room into the hallway as they wished. There was no tracking system that I saw for keeping track of who should be there and/or who had eaten and/or who had been changed. This was such a shock to my Type A personality. (silver linings – (1) the freedom of mobility seems to have led to good physical development in most of the children – lots of kids were crawling, creeping, walking and even a 5 month old and a 6 month old were both already sitting up on their own. (2) The open/unlocked door to the infant/toddler room allowed many of the older kids to come in the room and interact with the little ones and help the nannies – this was heartwarming to see; (3) perhaps the nannies just know “their” 18-20 kids all so well that they don’t need lists and tracking forms any more than I need one for my own kids at home.)
(5) Kids as young as probably 9 months old had already begun pushing other kids away who came near them when they were being fed for fear that the other child would take their food. This was heart-breaking to see. (silver lining – hmmm, another hard one, I guess the kids have good situational awareness and are learning to stick-up for themselves??).
One last note on the infant/toddler room – the nannies in that room in particular have an amazingly difficult job. While some things were surprising to me or maybe not the way I would do it, these women clearly love these children and work very hard. Additionally, seeing the older kids love on these little kids too was so encouraging and sweet. Most importantly, in general, the babies/toddlers were happy and playful and very physically capable!
SOCCER: God had laid on my heart to spend some time playing soccer with the big kids during my time in Haiti so I was thankful when the opportunity presented itself on Saturday. I’ve played soccer in some pretty poor parts of Brazil before so I thought I was definitely prepared for this. I expected to play in dusty dirt. I expected to have make-shift goals. I expected to see some kids playing in non-soccer shoes and I expected many kids to just be playing in bare feet. I wasn’t too far off with these expectations but I still had some surprises. We did play on a dusty dirt field and the kids did have make-shift goals (but they were full sized goals)! I did see kids playing in whatever shoes they had and many played in bare feet. But I was still surprised to see kids playing (effectively!) in flip-flops and also surprised to see another kid playing in tall, rubber rain boots! One child actually had a good pair of soccer cleats and a second child did too but his cleats had no laces at all (yet somehow he could run in them?!). The most surprising situation however, was the child playing with one soccer cleat on and one bare foot!!! What??!?! It didn’t seem to bother him in the least but that kind of unevenness would drive this woman crazy. LOL!
It’s worth mentioning that these soccer boys were so sweet and they welcomed me with open arms to play with them. We had such a fun game and scored lots of goals on both teams so there was lots of celebrating which was super fun. Also, I think the hearts of these boys was really on display when I did a head ball and my sunglasses broke and immediately a group of boys all came running over to help fix it! It was so nice and they were able to pop my lens back in and fix my glasses. The boy who actually fixed it was so proud of himself and so excited to show me! It was a sweet, sweet moment.
HANGING OUT: The other thing that I realized I was expecting was a big central area for hanging out. I guess I was envisioning an area with couches and shelves with games and toys and puzzles and books. There was nothing like that at the orphanage – at least that I saw. In fact, I only saw one book the entire time I was at the orphanage which really breaks my heart because reading is such a huge part of my own children’s life. I’m hopeful there are maybe books in the kids’ bedrooms or at their school that I just didn’t see. I’m also not sure I saw any toys or activities other than the ones we brought and the indoor/outdoor playgrounds. But consistent with Becky’s past trips, we used the 3rd floor balcony as a central hang out place to spend time with the children and of course, we spent lots of time outside too! This worked out great but just wasn’t quite what I had initially envisioned.
If I were to give advice to anyone going to any 3rd world country I would say, you are going to see things that are completely foreign and maybe unimaginable in the bubble we have lived in, however, some things are different – but not necessarily completely wrong. I’m also reminded of a quote I’ve heard attributed to Mr. Rogers (yes, the one we watched growing up!). I’m paraphrasing – he said his mother always told him if he was in an emergency situation he should always look for the helpers – the police, the doctors, the strangers that help each other. I wish on this trip I would have focused on that more. I wish I would have focused more on the smiles and the laughter versus the other. In retrospect I see the helpers and the good, but I wish I could have seen it more when I was in Haiti.