I’m going to Haiti today. That was my first thought when I woke up this past May 6th. The reality still hadn’t hit me, partially because it was 1:00am and I was insanely disoriented, but also because somehow it still hadn’t sunk in that little old 5’5 me had been chosen out of all the other junior girls in my youth group to travel to Jeremie, Haiti, all expenses paid, with the Haitian Health Foundation. I guess that’s why when my parents told me that I had been selected two months earlier I had asked them to repeat the phrase “You’re going to Haiti this May” at least five times before I jumped up squealing “Are you serious?!?” and started dancing around our kitchen.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
As excited as I was I had no idea what to expect from my trip. I had never traveled on my own before and I’d certainly never been so far away alone, let alone a third-world country. Everything about this trip was going to be a first, but I was totally willing to, as my dad would say, “embrace the adventure.”
Haiti was beautiful. Mountain tops disappeared into swirling clouds that hung low in a the sky, pink hibiscus and palm trees with ripe mangos hanging off the branches lined the streets. I was in a beautiful country, but I had seen the pictures and read the statistics about Jeremie. No one needed to tell me about the poverty here.
On my first morning in Jeremie I met Mackalyn, this sweet little twelve-year-old girl who followed tentatively behind me and flashed me a shy smile when I looked back at her. I held out my hand and her smile broadened as she grabbed it. Every morning after that when we went on our early morning walks, Mackalyn would be waiting for me at the gate. She’d grab my hand and jabber away to me in Creole. She knew I couldn’t understand a word she said but she didn’t care. She never forgot my name, and now that I’m home, I’ll never forget hers.
That Thursday I brought Mackalyn one of the Barbie dolls the girls in my school choir had donated. You’ve never seen a little girl light up more than Mackalyn did at the sight of that doll. She was completely enamored with it. Eventually, she slid the doll into the front of her dress so she could still hold my hand.
Mackalyn wasn’t the only kid that made a lasting impression on me. There were the kids in a village called Makandal. I saw a group of little boys playing with kites they had made out of garbage. They laughed just like little boys back at home. Toddlers in Mother Theresa’s missionaries of Charity orphanage totally lit up when we started blowing up balloons for them. And then there were the giggling schoolgirls at a medical post we worked at who sat down around me and my friend, Theresa, braiding our hair, trying on our sunglasses, and taking turns sitting in our laps. They reminded me so much of myself at that age.
Those kids taught me more than they’ll ever know. After a while, you’d never guess they were living in a world where they had next to nothing because they were so happy. I never saw them without big goofy smiles on their cute little faces. Since my trip to Haiti I’ve learned not only to be thankful for the many ways I’m blessed but also to make the most out of any situation and to do it with a big smile.
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