I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I retched onto the floor of the plane. Twelve hours on this crowded 767, and the extreme turbulence wasn’t making it any better. I retched again, and the woman next to me, whom I had spoken only three words to, handed me the throw-up bag. Nodding to thank her, I ripped it open and heaved up more airline food. The sound of others puking surrounded me as the stewardess announced that we were landing. I felt like dying. Throwing up was my worst fear, and it had already happened.
This trip to China did not bode well.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Two days later, I stepped onto a bus with 18 other students and teachers from my high school. After we reached the Beijing airport, we flew another 3 hours to Kunming in southern China. The bus we were boarding now was taking us to Ganhaizi Village in Wuding County.
The goal of our mission trip with Habitat for Humanity was to help a needy family. We were to work there digging a foundation from a hillside so that someone could build a house there in the years to come. None of us knew what to expect regarding our workplace or even what our accommodations looked like. The bus carried us to a place that we knew virtually nothing about.
Our “hotel” was basically a bed, a porcelain hole in the ground as a toilet, and the constant smell of open sewage. “Flushing” meant stinking up your room for the next hour.
From our hotel, it was 30 minutes by bus to a one-road village, and then the hardest part. In the morning, we walked 45 minutes downhill on dirt slopes. On the way back, after a long day’s work, it was 45 minutes uphill on those same steep slopes. In total, it took over an hour of blood, sweat, and tears (literally) to get to the village where we worked.
Oh, but once we were there … time slowed. Every ache that you felt when you lifted your shovel and dug into the ground, every time you wished for hot showers and an actual toilet, every drop of sweat and suffering was repaid by the villagers themselves, who cooked homemade lunches (cooked less than two hours before we ate), let us play with their children (who stole our hearts), and sang hymns to us on Easter.
In America, we spent hours on our laptops and iPhones. We shopped at malls and bought clean clothes. We slept in beds that could easily fit three people and attended an excellent school. Our parents spent thousands of dollars on our clothes, sports, cars, and free time activities.
But in China, we dug for peas with a group of people who had grown up with only nature to play with. We sweated that 45-minute walk uphill and down. We wore the same clothes to work for five days straight. We ate the same food at every meal. We made friends with people we couldn’t even speak to because of the language difference. We dug dirt for over 6 hours each day to prepare for a house that we would never be able to see.
And we were happier than we had ever been in our entire lives. We gained an appreciation for each other and for the villagers, who worked right alongside us the whole time. Abandoning all prejudice, we learned to love each other without considering appearances. And when we left that small village, we wept to leave this place where we had experienced joy, friendship, and true love.
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