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.