Anyone that’s ever traveled to a foreign country experiences the same powerful moment sometime in his or her journey. There is no amount of preparation or training that can prepare you for it. Pictures don’t do it justice – and videos only come close. I’m talking about what happens when you are walking down the street or driving down the road and you see something you’ve seen before – but seeing it here somehow feels out of place, almost feels wrong. So what exactly is this familiar yet foreign experience? It’s the smile and laughter of children.
I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a song as beautiful as the laughter of children on the streets of Mexico, Nicaragua, Kenya or Haiti. I’ve not seen a painting or a picture as breathtaking as looking directly into their eyes when they smile at you. The hope, the joy, the innocence and ignorance that pours out of those eyes and screams at you in their laughter can bring you to your knees and make you forget about any possible trouble or hardship that exists in your surroundings. The trash that covers the landscape, the smell of open sewage, the heat and humidity and all the chaos disappear in those moments and everything seems like it could be right in the world. I think this happens because in the eyes and mind of the child – in that moment, everything is right in their world. There is peace, joy and happiness.
My words don’t do these experiences justice. Just like most things in life they have to be experienced to be fully understood. Although, I would argue that I do not have a full understanding of it myself. I have certainly experienced it, but to understand it is something I don’t think I will ever be able to do. I know the difference. I’m ruined from the knowledge that life can be different. There is this whole other world that this child in front of me couldn’t possibly understand. In a way we are equally ignorant of each other’s reality, yet both trying so hard to understand the other.
I was at a community-training seminar in October just outside of Cap Haitian, Haiti. They were teaching how to melt beeswax into liquid, pour it into molds, and create candles. Nothing I haven’t seen before at local art-walks or art festivals. However, it was 2:00pm, 100° F, and 98% humidity. We hadn’t had lunch and I was at the end of my rope. Then all of a sudden, everything went away.
This little girl appeared from nowhere, found her mother who was sitting across from me and I felt the heat move from my face to my heart as it melted. She wouldn’t stop looking at me or making these cute faces at my camera. It took me a few seconds to remember that I was holding a camera and that if I didn’t act fast – I would miss these moments. Good thing I recovered quickly.