May 9 - Marcus Heemstra Blog
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Today was our first full day in Haiti and our first real experience in Port-au-Prince. It’s tough to know where to even begin describing our experience so far. In one word, Port-au-Prince is chaotic! - especially for a kid from a small Midwest town. There are no traffic rules. You just go, (and fast, I might add!) and the most aggressive driver or pedestrian gets to go first. The people on motorcycles have an advantage because they can weave through traffic around the larger trucks. The horn on a truck is used as often as the gas and brake. There are occasional paved roads, but for the most part, the roads are made of dirt and gravel, and have more potholes than any road I have ever driven on.
The sides of the street are lined with little stands selling fresh fruit, lottery tickets and various trinkets people have gathered. There are people everywhere in the streets. A majority of them are simply standing around because they don't have anything to do. There are no jobs. They are simply waiting. I was talking with Kalipso, who is one of the Haitians that works for the organization “Feed the Hunger,” which we partnered with today. He said that his only job is to help the teams from America that comes on mission trips with “Feed the Hunger.” When we leave next week, he won't have a job until another group comes back. He’s hoping that someday groups will come more often, like once a month, so he has a more steady income. The level of poverty here is difficult to fathom, even while we’re here and seeing it.
Our day started this morning with seeing a man outside our rooms mowing the grass at the hotel with hedge trimmers (if you need proof Coach Nagy tweeted a picture of it). We then ate breakfast, which included a variety of delicious fresh fruit (especially the mangos) and some of the best coffee I have ever tasted.
We then had a group devotion that was lead by Graham Gibbs from Samaritans Feet. He’s constantly encouraging us players to speak up about what we see and feel. He even challenged us to lead a devotion one morning. Owen Stanley, (our Athletic Trainer) is taking tomorrow, but maybe I’ll volunteer for the following day. Leading a devotion will definitely be a stretch for me and any other player who volunteers. We have a very quiet team, and sharing of any sort doesn't come naturally for us players. God is certainly going to place us in situations out of our comfort zone on this trip, and that's good.
It’s amazing how much I’ve grown in only one day! After breakfast we headed to where “Feed the Hunger” stored food packaged in the United States by volunteers. We loaded 188 boxes onto our truck and each box was filled with 40 bags and each bag provides six meals. If I did my math correctly (I am the math major on the team) we loaded and delivered 45,120 meals today!
In high school, I remember Feed My Starving Children coming to town and volunteering to package bags of food. Many other players and coaches commented on how they to packaged bags of food similar to this back home. It was incredible to play a part of the next phase in the process of getting food to those who need it. Tomorrow, we get to cook some of the food we delivered today and feed it to the children, so I’m really looking forward to that experience.
We delivered the boxes of food to a mixture of nine orphanages and schools throughout the city. One of the schools, which we’ll do a shoe distribution at, has 700 students. Their schools aren't anything like schools back in the U.S. One of the classrooms I saw was a little larger than my dorm room freshman year, and in this room were about a 15-20 three year-old kids. These kids sat two to a chair, yet they sat calmly and quietly. In the U.S., a room like this would be complete chaos, but we didn't even hear a "peep" out of these children.
One of the coolest parts of today was getting to see Coach Nagy talk with Naika's (his adopted daughter) birth mom. Naika looks exactly like her mother, and it was awesome to get to have her travel with us today.
What I’m most looking forward to in the next few days is interacting with children. I can't speak any of their language (although I have learned a few phrases) and they can't speak a work of mine, but it’s amazing what a smile, saying “hello” and a tennis ball can do. Today some of us were able to play catch with some kids and then give them the ball. It was incredible to see their faces light up! The kids loved the ball so much, that it took a while to get them to throw it back in order to actually play catch. To most of these kids, that tennis ball will be the only toy they have to play with.
The day ended with supper, relaxing and an INTENSE game of water polo in the pool with a tennis ball. Even though we were tired from our day, our team never seems to back down from an opportunity to compete. I don't know what was more physical, the Summit League tourney in Sioux Falls, or our pickup water polo game! I have the scratch below my left eye to prove it, too!
The pool was deep; probably around 5 1/2 feet in the shallow end and about 7-feet in the deep end. After nearly an hour of playing, we were exhausted and gasping for air. One of the players even commented that he was more tired than he had been in a long time (we don't need to tell Coach that though). We aren't in the same shape we were back in March, but we're still in pretty good shape, so we played hard.
It’s about midnight now, and nearly everyone retired to their rooms, and I'm sure many are asleep. Soon I’ll be headed there too. I hope all is well back home. We’re blessed beyond belief in the United States, and we all need to be thankful for what we have. I will certainly think twice before complaining again.
We’re grateful our families and all of those who supported this journey both financially and spiritually. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we continue our work here in Haiti.