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Monday, January 14, 2013

At the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic
     Never in my life have I seen a more beautifully broken country than Haiti. Every step I took there was one life-changing moment after the other. To be honest, I wasn't quite sure how I would feel arriving in a third world country after spending all of my life living in my cozy, first-world bubble. When we first crossed the border from the Dominican Republic into Haiti, I wondered what all of those people crowding the streets thought of us - a bus full of Americans. Were they happy to see us? Were they as curious as we were? There was such a stark contrast between those two neighboring countries; the paved roads disappeared, grocery stores and car dealers vanished, and the number of people on the streets grew exponentially.
  When we finally arrived in Cap-Haitien, I was amazed at how crowded the streets were (half the time I was clutching my seat for dear life as our gigantic seventies-style bus navigated the narrow streets). Some were closed off just for selling merchandise. And as we drove through to get to our secluded hotel on the beach, I was mesmerized by how colorful everything was. No shops had neon signs or big block letters; everything was painted in fancy lettering. But it was obvious that the city was too congested for its own good.
   Visiting UNAF and the orphanage on one of our first days in Cap-Haitien was probably one of my favorite experiences on the trip. I wanted to practice my French so badly with the students we met, but I was nervous about making a fool of myself. Luckily, I found that any communication at all with the university students was enough to make them happy. Some students would hear that I spoke french and would eagerly come up to me to introduce themselves. I only wish that I were more fluent in order to get to know them all better. I had a similar experience at the orphanage, Terre Rouge, where I spoke french with many of the children. This made them smile and laugh (most likely at my funny accent) and made it easier for us to get to know one another. My favorite part of that visit was when a few of us taught a group of girls a silly game where you sing a song and avoid getting your hand slapped. Then after we were done playing our game, they showed us their version of the same game (in French though, of course). I even got to play soccer with a few of the boys at the orphanage. They were so good for their age!

However, climbing La Citadelle was also top on my list of memories. Despite the incline being ridiculous and being pretty darn out of shape, making it to the top was glorious! A small Haitian boy walked with me all the way to the top, and occasionally he would ask me, "Are you tired?" and I would wheeze a reply, "Yes! I'm exhausted.." I would then ask him the same question, and he would smile proudly and say, "Nope!" Little bugger..
     My New Years Eve in Haiti was also one of my favorite New Years of all time. It can't get much better than dancing all night with a fun group of people, and basically being in paradise. Ceremoniously, we all held hands and ran into the ocean right as the clock struck midnight. Most of us stayed up till sunrise to go swimming. But honestly, I was having so much fun that I didn't even realize that the sun was coming up. It wasn't until I got to breakfast with Erica that I realized how slap-happy and tired I was. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep mid-conversation at one point.
    But I also had a great time visiting North Coast Farms, Let Agogo, and CTEAD. All of them had really interesting projects going on, and our hope was that Heifer International, CTEAD and UNAF would eventually work and improve together.
    I think the last memory that stayed in my mind as we left the country of Haiti was when we visited a small village on one of our last days. I played a monkey-in-the-middle soccer  game with a large group of boys, while most of the girls taught the other kids how to sing Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. It made me realize that connecting with a group of people doesn't necessarily entail speaking their language, but finding something in common with them that doesn't require any words at all. For me, soccer was my universal language.
   I probably won't be able to tell you how this trip has changed me and in how many different ways until many years from now. But I can say that it's an experience that will forever remind me to be grateful for what I have, to always be open to new people and cultures, and to know that even small changes can lead to great progression.

Caroline Chumakov

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