I must tell you all of a vacation my parents took my brother and I on when I was fourteen. It was meant to be a vacation to Jamaica for two weeks during Christmas break. You know fun in the sun, sailing, scuba diving, riding horses on the beach, etc., etc., Then, not long before we went, our parents informed us we were going to Haiti for a week first, and would only be in Jamaica a week. They informed us, the plans changed because some of our churches were having a fellowship meeting with the brothers and sisters in Haiti, and we would be attending. Now, being teenagers we weren’t too happy with the prospect of attending a church meeting, when we could be enjoying snorkeling, scuba, sailing, etc., so we complained and generally let our unhappiness be known, though we knew it would do us no good.
The time came and we flew out and went to Haiti, we had no idea what Haiti would be like, when we were flying in you could see the old wrecks, various iron objects and other obstacles in the surf, so we knew we most likely would not get to have fun in the ocean or go romping around on the beach. We landed and were driven to our hotel, it was called the El Presidente Hotel in Port-au-Prince. It was a grand structure, had walls 12+ inches thick made from some kind of white stucco like material. My brother and I walked through the foyer and out onto the balconies, there were three very large balconies that ran the length of the hotel and they were terraced out over the jungle in three step downs from each terrace to the next. On the third and last terrace when we got to the edge it was about a 50+ foot drop down to the floor of the jungle.
The wall around the edge of the terrace, like all the exterior hotel walls, were made from the white stucco, they were 12 plus inches thick and had pieces of broken glass bottles embedded in the top of the walls. This was kind of amazing to us, we had never seen anything like these walls with glass bottles that would cut you if you tried to climb on them. Now being the curious teenagers that we were, we found a way to get down through the terraces, by a set of steps that led us down to the jungle floor. We therefore descended these steps to see what we could find, when we reached the floor of the jungle, we couldn’t really see too much, other than the high wall to our left and a cleared area of the jungle that ran around the hotel. We then went walking around the wall to our left, till we got to where we could look around the corner.
There, we were astounded to see this middle aged native gentleman seated on a five gallon bucket, in front of him he had a pretty large rock, he was in the process of breaking up coral into powder (we assumed having been around construction our whole lives) to patch or build, more on these white stucco walls. The thing that so astounded us, he was doing this with only rocks, he was using the large rock in front of him to put smaller pieces of coral on, while pounding them to powder with the medium sized rock coral he had in his hands. This was amazing to us, this was obviously how they had made all the walls in the great and majestic hotel out of coral, not just that, but they didn’t use any mechanical equipment to do so. This was just one of the surprises we had waiting for us on our journey of discovery.
Not long after we had arrived we got to be friends with, or introduced to some of the native children that lived at the edge of the jungle just outside of, and below the hotel. They lived with other members of their family, I think there were about three or four adults, if my memory is correct. Where they lived was a little tin shack, couldn’t have been more than a twenty by twenty foot square, haphazardly; or so it seemed to us, thrown together with a few boards, nails, and covered with tin sheeting. They didn’t have any of the modern conveniences we were used to in America, they took showers outside in a little shower stall without a roof, also with tin on three sides. We would get up early and we were amazed to see what seemed like ten to fifteen children emerge from the small shack in the morning, we didn’t know how they found room to sleep.
One of the children we got to know really well, was named David, he would climb up in the tops of the tall palms around the edge of the terraces, they came up, to just about the height of the lowest terrace. At this point in the story, I will tell you in case you do not know, Haiti at the time was the second poorest nation in the world. David would climb up in these palms and clown around trying to get the tourists to throw him money, he was quite a character and my family got to know him quite well. If I remember correctly we even brought him into the hotel with us one time, because my parents wanted to give him something, might have been some clothes, can’t remember for sure. The thing about David, besides being an exceedingly sweet child, the whole time we were there the only clothes he wore, was a pair of short pants. The thing about the short pants was, they had no rear-end, the only thing left in the seat of his trousers were the seam and stitching holding it together, his buttocks were completely exposed. I remember my parents wanted to adopt him, he was amazingly creative and intelligent, he couldn’t have been more than ten years old.
The other children were not as brave as David I guess, for they didn’t attempt to climb up in the tops of the palms as David did, they would simply try to get us to throw them money down at the floor of the jungle around the outside terrace. My brother and I frequently obliged them throwing down the coins we had in our pockets, we both worked for our father in his HVAC business, so we had money of our own. In tossing change down to the others, there were probably about ten of them, I noticed the youngest and smallest one never got any of the change, and having been the youngest growing up among older boys, I had a soft spot in my heart for the youngest. I therefore attracted his attention to stay where he was, since he was some distance from the others, got them distracted with a few small coins and threw him down a quarter. He immediately scooped it up and took off through the jungle, the others realizing what I had done, took off after him. I hope still to this day he was able to keep it away from them, we left a day or two later, so I never knew for sure. I know he was fast. so I rest in the hope he did. I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything that would have made the others even meaner to him, than I had already witnessed.
During the camp meeting services we teenagers and children were not allowed to go into the church, I say church, it wasn’t like the churches you think of here in America. This was simply a large pavilion made with pillars to hold up the structure of the tin roof, and had no outside walls, so even though we were outside, it wasn’t much different than being inside, we could hear and see everything that was happening. We just weren’t able to sit on the pews under the roof and simply stood around the perimeter of the building. There wasn’t a lot of room left on the pews either, one of the other things that truly impressed us, the people were so hungry for the truth and the gospel, they doubled the amount of people you’d have seen in the pews in America, even when the pews were full here. What they did was, one person would sit back in the pew, the next would sit towards the front edge, the next sitting like the first, all the way back in the pew, so that they were staggered along the pew so more of them could sit, it was heart touching, their rapt attention of what was being said.
One of the other amazing things to my brother and I, as we were exploring around outside the pavilion while service was taking place. They had an outside toilet, which wasn’t nothing to my brother and I, since we had an outside toilet, i.e. outhouse, in the home we grew up in, when we first moved there. The houses bottom floor being built in 1896 and the top floor being built in 1906, there was no indoor plumbing until our father installed it after we moved in. I still remember what it was like when we first saw it, no one had lived there in years, it was truly like a haunted house you see in the movies, cobwebs everywhere, big snakes in cabinet drawers, etc. To get back to Haiti though, this outhouse they had was somewhat like you’d see in America in that there was a ladies bathroom and a men’s bathroom. They even had running water, so the quests could flush the toilets, however that is where the similarities ended, what really impressed us was how they obtained this running water. The running water was fed by gravity, there being two fifty five gallon barrels on the roof, one for the ladies, one for the men’s and there was a native gentleman on the roof that would take these five gallon buckets delivered to them by the native women, who carried the buckets to them on their heads. All this so the guests could have comfort, that they themselves did not enjoy.
The people were truly touching, their care and kindness, I will always remember fondly with a tender heart. One of the things that happened I had forgotten and was reminded of, a number of years ago when my parents were telling some friends about it. During the camp meeting, on one of the first nights. This native woman was selling penny candy, (or at least then it was penny candy) for people to buy in order to assuage their thirst, hunger and to protect others from your bad breath while services were going on. I remembered her well because when I first approached her about buying some of her candy, she tried to charge me a quarter each, for a penny piece of candy, not being too much of a young fool, I told her to forget it and she quickly went down to a penny on her price. I bought a bunch of candy from her, knowing me, probably a couple dollars worth.
Known among those who knew me best, I was an extremely generous soul when growing up, so I being me, I started giving candy to those native children around me during the church service, more came, I went and bought more candy, and continued to give it out to the children around me, it wasn’t long until there were what seemed like hundreds of children around wanting candy, so many that one of the ministers stood up to the pulpit and asked over the microphone “whoever is giving the native children candy, would you please stop”. I did, and the native children slowly went back to their neighborhoods.
One of the young men I met then, was about my age and we became fast friends, although I cannot remember his name now. He took it upon himself to be my “protector” and “guide”. Protector to make sure other natives didn’t take advantage of me like the candy lady had tried to do, and guide, to take me to wherever I wished to go, including into the native neighborhoods around where the church services were being held. I went with him and met many of the people, you couldn’t have asked for more genuinely sweet, good people. They lived in little comfort, the sewer consisted of a ditch that ran along the side of the thoroughfare, whether it was a road, path, or trail. Their garbage was heaped into a central pile that was continuously smoldering in the center of each neighborhood. It was really eye opening for a fourteen year old from America, it left quite an impression on me.
This young man I had met, spent the whole week with me, taking me to places most tourists never saw, he went to the markets with me and helped me with the bartering for the various souvenirs, I wanted to bring home. He was truly a good friend in the short time I knew him, one of the last things I did before I left was to give him a ten dollar bill for all the care and trouble he took for me, showing me around and helping me. I fully expect that ten dollars, if it didn’t set him up in some kind of small business, it lasted him for at least a year. Judging from what I knew of him the short time I was there, I expect he used it to further his life and made much more money from it.
One of the other things we did, some of the older church boys took some of us younger ones to what they said was a voodoo ceremony, now we were pretty skeptical, but I will say, there was this big chicken sitting on a stump not far from me, no visible ties holding it in place and all it did was move its eyes the whole time we were there, didn’t even move its head. I won’t go into detail on the other things that took place, it was pretty wild though I must say.
One of the other things I’ll tell you about it, as I mentioned the women carrying these five gallon buckets of water on their heads. My guide informed me, by the time a girl there grew to adulthood, they could carry 100 pounds on their heads. This fresh water they carried, there was one place in Port-au-Prince I saw where they could get it from, according to what I was told, the only place, was in downtown in the central square by where they had the market. The market isn’t like some market you see in America, this market was a vast complex of outdoor stalls that took up a large portion of downtown Port-au-Prince. The native women would come from miles around just to get five gallon buckets of fresh water to take back home to their families. They not only carried water in them though, they carried, sand, gravel, and numerous other things in them. The buckets weren’t the only things they carried on their heads either, they carried all of there large cumbersome loads on their heads. They would take a cloth, roll it up in a roll like a bandana, make a small circle with it to fit the crown of their heads, and would sit the buckets on these, thus creating a stable base for whatever they were carrying.
I could go on and on about my time in Haiti, I remember it so well, because of the impression it left on my young heart and mind. While I remember some things about Jamaica, I rarely go into detail about it, because it didn’t leave near the impression upon me that Haiti did, the main thing I remember fondly about Jamaica was my first time scuba diving, and the native lady who wanted to trade clothes with me on the beach because she liked my t-shirt with the smiling sun on it and the words “smile and the whole world smiles with you”. My mom bought me that t-shirt because I was always smiling when I was a youngster. Almost broke up one of my brothers school plays one time because my smiling in the audience caused my brother and the others on stage to laugh so much. Every young person in America should go to at least one country like Haiti while they are growing up, just to give them a perspective of how truly blessed they are to have been born here.
Mom and Dad, if I never told you. Thank you for changing our plans that year, you have no idea how I am touched by and hold onto the memory of the wonderful experiences I had, and the time we spent there. I love you both dearly, my life has been greatly blessed because you are my parents!
That’s enough for now, if I think of something else good to add, or think of another story. I’ll give you more when I do, things in my life spark these memories, I never know when I will be reminded of something that I have to share. Until then I will keep adding my history pieces that could be contemporary pieces in dealing with today’s problems, and other inspirational, patriotic and educational stories from history.
For another inspirational story from my life, please enjoy Never Judge a Book by it’s Cover: In memory of a great man I once knew
God bless and Jesus be with and keep you all, always!