This is one in a series of posts I wrote about my second trip to Jacmel, Haiti, where I spent a week at Faith Orphanage. You can read more posts about my trip to Haiti here. I started to edit this piece, but decided to leave it as is. It’s interesting to see where my head was at just twelve months ago. What a difference a year makes!
The airport in Port au Prince is hilarious. You get off the plane and are greeted at the bottom of an escalator by a welcoming band, then you’re whisked away to the baggage area on a bus, then you go through customs (sounds official; it’s not), then you try to find your luggage in what is essentially a giant warehouse with sometimes-working conveyor belts. It’s one of the least organized experiences you’ll ever be a part of.
On my recent trip to Haiti, this wasn’t even the funniest part.
Having miraculously secured all of our luggage, we got in line to head out of the airport. While in line, a portly Haitian security guard wouldn’t stop staring at me. I politely smiled. Then, he pointed at his arm and moved it up and down, then pointed at my left arm, missing from the elbow down. I smiled again and nodded. Then he did the most awesome thing ever: he raised his eyebrows, made a frown and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Ah well…sh** happens.” I started laughing. Hard. I’m not sure if that was the most appropriate response, but I can’t remember experiencing such an honest reaction from an adult before.
If I’m not cracking jokes about it myself, the fact that I have one arm never really comes up. I’ve been thinking about it a bit more than usual this year, though. In fact, in January (2011) I had a piece published on RelevantMagazine.com about it (read it here). So, on this trip, as opposed to the last one I took, I noticed it a lot more. For one, the kids were a lot more interested (read: fascinated) with my arm this time. They’d randomly come up to me and put their little faces close to the end of my arm and they’d grab it and poke at it and play with it. The fact that I allowed them to do this surprised them, I think, and gave them the freedom to explore. I already wrote about Jameley’s adorable reaction to all that. It got me thinking about the reality that they’ve probably never seen anyone with only one arm. In fact, I don’t remember seeing any one-armed Haitians on my last trip. (But, this time…oh, this time! I saw TWO! Two one-armed Haitians! I felt like Captain Ahab finding Moby Dick. Except, ya know, without all the revenge stuff.)
What’s weird is that, in reality, I rarely see any one-armers in America either. The fact that I was in an unfamiliar place that was so completely different from my normal daily reality, I believe, heightened my awareness of it. I mean, being white in a place where everyone else is really dark is one thing. But, being white and having one arm where everyone else is really dark and fully appendaged is quite another. I never really wonder what people are thinking about my arm in America, but when I was in Haiti, I was really conscious of it. And I think that’s good. It’s ok, at least.
In retrospect…how do I say this…the experience of bringing my one-armedness to the kids in Haiti was supremely rewarding. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to expose them to a physical difference they most likely have never seen before and helped them to understand that people with physical differences should be embraced and learned from, not shunned or ridiculed. It was refreshing to see their curiosity satisfied. It was also powerful to experience their acceptance and love. Impacting the kids’ lives in this way is something
I’ll never forget.
I’ll also never forget that security guard’s reaction. Classic.
Share something you’ve learned from someone who has physical limitations.
My Little Dude.
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Going to work on the bus, the woman sitting next to me grabbed my arm and started shouting at me about what she thought about it. I was cringing with embarrassment.
She then asked me to move to let her get out of her seat. She charged up and down the bus, haranguing the driver, praying, blessing her mother and falling down. My embarrassment for me changed to embarrassment for her.
A few people on the bus said, ‘Sh’, which is quite extraordinary on a London bus. Us Londoners never talk to strangers on public transport.
The incident reminded me that we all have our own issues.
I met a guy who had had both legs amputated in a horrific tube (= metro) crash in London. We became friends and when I was visiting London on work matters, he invited me to stay in his apartment overnight rather than in a hotel.
On the third occasion he asked me to help out of the bath and dry him down. I nearly freaked out, but complied.
Later he told me he was testing my reactions .. and I had passed with flying colours 🙂
We are still friends 🙂
My husband works with Adults with disabilities. He recently attended a banquet for the volunteers in the program and rather than taking me, he thought our 6 year old might appreciate the event.
When my son returned home I asked him if he had a good time…
“Mom, we sat at a table with people who could only talk with their hands!!!”
He went on excitedly to tell me a short story about each person who had sat at their table as though they were some kind of celebrity. He had an amazing time visiting with these people that he felt were were just plain special.
My husband waited patiently until my son finished and then asked, “Who else did you get to meet?”
Suddenly as an after-thought my son says, “Oh ya, I also got to meet Ace Walker. He was pretty cool too, but he couldn’t talk with his hands.”
Ace Walker is the staring pitcher for the local Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball team. He’s pretty big around these parts and my son is a huge fan.
But he paled in comparison to the people who talked with their hands. Pretty cool.