January Impact Trip Days 4 & 5 - Simon Whitehead - 1/25/2018
Our last two days were filled with social, soccer and business meetings. On Friday Tony suggested to get out of the City and visit a wonderful beach about 50 miles outside of Port au Prince called Wahoo Bay. Unfortunately car issues and Pouchans’ ride basically stopped. We all piled into the other vehicle and were able to make it with Eric, Pouchan, Rosalithe, and Clever coming in the second car which did eventually get fixed. The ride was long and we saw some countryside indisposed with small pockets of urban areas spread alongside the road. The side of the road was populated by entreuprenial vendors selling their wares. I thought I saw many abandoned houses, but Tony explained that these were actually half finished houses. When they get the money, they will finish them!
Wahoo: This was basically a private resort with a private sandy beach with a Caribbean style bar, gifts shops and facilities. The water was clear, warm and salty! I haven’t been in the sea for such a long time! Donny and Anne went on a long kayak ride along the coast and the rest of us swam around, made friends with other groups - many were also on missions - and of course sunbathing, eating crab legs and doing deals with vendors on the local crafts and shells. Tony would not put down his drone and even took it with when we went on a rickety old row boat to see the coral reefs up close. The reefs were amazing we all wore goggles and dived under to get a closer look. The colors were so varied and I also found out they were really sharp. The poor guy rowing us there and back was a rockstar but must have been cursing inside as it was a fair distance but he stuck to his task with efficiency and skill!
We found out in Haiti - it is tough to plan sometimes. We were supposed to go coach in the afternoon at Cite Soleil but we ran into extremely slow traffic due to some protests that resulting in many roads being blocked off. We had important visitors for dinner so we decided to head straight back to Nicole’s Place. There we met The Commissioner for Community Policing and Valencia who was with the US Embassy and she had also visited the Stadium to watch the coaches clinic. Its all over my head but there are significant “political” issues that have to be addressed when running the Haitian Initiative in terms of building bridges and getting paperwork squared away. Tony and Todd seemed on top of this and obviously had a great relationship with these two important people. There was a time when Police did not even go into Cite Soleil, but thanks to HI it is beginning to happen.
After dinner we decided to take in the Haitian nightlife and found a Jazz festival a little further up the hill. This brought home the the other side of Haitian life in that it was a pretty posh place frequented by people of all descriptions who had money. The jazz was very entertaining and the “younger” coaches decided to head out with Pouchan to other destinations, whilst the old farts went back home in the first vehicle.
We all got packed up Saturday morning and at 7:45 headed over to Cite Soleil for our final time with the HI coaches and kids. It is amazing the bond that can be formed between two complete strangers in just a few days. I certainly felt a strong kinship with these coaches and it was fun to see them incorporate some of the diploma stuff in their sessions. The HI players are very skillful and naturally creative. They have an incredible first touch on the ball and make good decisions when in possession. They are not afraid to try new skills or tricks. I credit the HI coaches for this in providing an environment where players can express themselves. Max was the Head Coach - he was quick to announce this to me on Monday. He is good at directing the four quadrants - moving groups in and out - and generally keeping order. He is also a very talented player despite his advanced years. I always felt the kids respected him so much they were afraid to tackle him!!
When the games were over the players came back to the center to get fed a nutritious meal - served usually by William, who was an amazingly positive man but looked like he had done
plenty of food testing along the way!?! Tony provided beer and a meal for the coaches which they enjoyed after the players had left. I had brought over about 16 different soccer shirts which had sentimental value but were sitting in my closet not ever being worn. I laid them out on the table and we allowed the coaches to pick one each - starting with the oldest coach! To my surprise they were all gone in about two minutes - even the cheesy ones. There were several Southampton FC shirts in there and even they were taken which made me believe there may be a new branch of the Saints supporters club be opening in Haiti!! The coaches seemed happy with them. Tony made some important announcements including the addition of Jose to the HI team in Cite Soleil. Once again Clever did a great job of translating. We had some sad goodbyes but also promises to see each other again. A lot of equipment was left with Eric including balls and about 200 pairs of cleats of all colors which the players need desperately. Avant is the chap who looks after the HI center and it will be up to him and Eric to distribute these all with other stuff.
Back at Nichole’s place we got loaded up and we signed the visitors book. Nichole’s place was a safe haven and a nice place to regroup, rest up, reflect of the days activities and of course to check our electronic devices and to post our stories and pictures. I do not know much about Nichole but she must been a very special person.
Our trip has been eyeopening, exhausting and thoroughly rewarding. Haiti is an incredible country with many challenges. The infrastructure is not quite there yet to get rapid progress on stuff like roads, garbage collection, policing, etc. but efforts from groups like the Haitian Initiative are making a difference bit by bit. That and the indomitable spirit of the local people, their fierce pride and their amazing ability to make the best of a dire situation - there is hope.
Thank you Tony for your leadership, generosity, strength of character and your kind heart. We appreciate you and so do so many folks in Haiti.