Mitchell- Looking Back on Haiti Trip
In Praise of True Wealth
by Mitchell Lopez
Upon Coach Günter’s announcement that the team would travel to Haiti, many of the players were taken aback. Mind you, I had been signed a little less than a week before the decision came through that I would travel, and I was still getting used to the idea that I was part of ‘The Fort’. Without any real time to prepare and without realizing it, twenty-one of us were en route to Port-Au-Prince. As I attempted to prep myself for the trip, I couldn’t help but fall victim to the nay-saying of those who had overheard, read second-hand, or eavesdropped on the idea of Haiti. They told me things like “don’t drink the water” or “don’t take any electronics or jewelry.” What they failed to mention, what I found out for myself, was the untouched spirit of a people who have become rooted in their culture. A culture of Kompa, and Rara, and Art. And Soccer.
People talk about the destruction left behind by the earthquake, but seldom does anyone mention how, in the same way that 9/11 only strengthened our country’s foundation, the natural disaster of 2010 only helped to reaffirm the sense of unity of the pristine country.
After taking a small 80-passenger plane, and then chauffeured from the airport in a 25-person bus, we finally arrived at our Hotel, Ibo Lele. Sitting atop the highest hill of Petionville, our staying arrangements were breathtaking. Having breakfast, lunch and dinner on a balcony atop a mountainside over-looking the city and bay, the far off ocean on the horizon, there was something rather dream-like about it all. And when our President Tom Mulroy took us to see the sights up on the surrounding hilltops and we found ourselves being escorted by the Military Police through the roads, I was still pinching myself just in case.
We stopped by two markets to take pictures and hand out clothing, before heading to Parc St. Therese, the stadium in which we would face Don Bosco F.C. the following evening. Despite the small proportions, and being artificial turf, we were all very excited to play in front of the locals. I remember a teammate remarking to me later that night of how he ‘couldn’t wait to be subject to their chants, their passion’.
Before the night came, we were headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner with the Municipality of Haiti and the organizers of the friendly. I had been impressed by the quality of the food in the hotel, but the seven-course meal which turned into a buffet won my culinary award of the season. As we mingled and ate, our team captain for the trip, Stefan Antonijevic gave a speech, which Fafà translated to the Island natives. As the night drew to a close, we began preparing ourselves mentally for our game the following day.
As we awoke, we shuffled to get breakfast in the beautiful balcony. Tom had a small excursion for us set to see ground zero of where the earthquake hit, and the central local’s market. Instead of the tourist’s market, we were able to get a better feeling for the country in this market, as if you were to go to a Flea market, instead of going to the Sawgrass Mall.
As we passed by some of the leveled buildings left behind from the quake, the Tap-Taps and the Moto-taxis that clamored at the bottoms of the hills, I couldn’t help but be grateful. Not just for the things I had, but for those I didn’t. The things I lived without, which made my life simple, I was now able to better appreciate.