A life-changing experience

By Casey Lee

For them it was heaven, for us it was hell. With no running water, air conditioning, toilet paper, showers, or toilets, I thought, how can anyone live like this?
On June 16, I was on a plane headed for the Dominican Republic. Earlier that week my coach had invited me to play soccer with the Women’s National Haitian team. This was crazy, I was fifteen and I was going to go train and play with national players twice my age? It seemed like a nearly impossible dream. But when we arrived I quickly realized that this wasn’t the vacation I had been expecting, and to make it through the next twelve days I was really going to have to push my limits.

I was the first on my team to arrive. When we drove up to the building I saw guards holding guns. The guns were shot off every night at midnight. My coach told me that we had to have protection at all times because well, we definitely weren’t in Kansas anymore.

The next morning as I stepped out the front door I saw stunning bright orange flowers. I stepped down the stairs to see the field we’d be training on. It wasn’t exactly like the fields we have back at home. There wasn’t much grass, but when it grew long they brought in wild horses to eat and cut the grass.

Not lawnmowers, but horses.

Later that afternoon my coach and I ran across the highway, into the town. It was a run down community, and trash covered the streets. There were some nice buildings and shops but most of them were dilapidated. Everyone stared at me because I was white. It was such a small town I didn’t think they’d really ever seen a blonde-haired blue-eyed white girl.

When the other girls arrived I actually started to enjoy myself. We go to tournaments all over with each other and it’s like reuniting with sisters. We have some girls from Florida, California, Canada, and even England; we come from all over.

When the Haitians finally arrived we shied away but they immediately pulled us in. We couldn’t even speak the same language and yet we understood each other so well. They made us feel like family.

Altogether we played three games. All of which took place in the drenching rain. It’s a different atmosphere down there, because everyone loves soccer. And when we practiced, we definitely pushed it. For them, soccer is all they have, outside of soccer they have nothing.

Running water was scarce. The toilets only flushed once every two or three days. We brushed our teeth and washed our face with water bottles. The showers rarely worked.

We showered with a hose and there was no way to wash our clothes. We practiced twice a day and since it was so hot, everyone’s shirts turned from light gray to dark gray by the end of practice. Since our coach wanted us to match we wore the same shirt everyday, so we were basically wearing our own stench for two weeks straight.

I remember the last couple of days I was begging to go home, nearly going crazy. But as soon as I got home life picked up again and I was begging to go back.

It was nothing like I had expected. When I thought about the Dominican Republic I thought white sand, palm trees and beaches. Well I thought wrong. When my coach invited me on this trip I never thought it would open my eyes like it did. These girls had nothing. Here I was complaining about my life and complaining about what I didn’t have and how I wasn’t happy. I had everything anyone could ever want and was still so unsatisfied with my life. These girls have nothing, and they’re the happiest people I know. They always have smiles on their faces and somehow find joy from the smallest of things. It really made me think. And then I realized, it’s not money or possessions that make you happy it’s the people that love you, and impact your life in more ways than you know.