Friday, September 10, 2010

These Boots Were Made for Working

Day 7 continued (Saturday, Aug. 7)

Leogane, Haiti

During our last few days at the orphanage, I began to think of ways to lighten my luggage load for the flight home, knowing I had to keep it under 50 pounds. I threw away a holy pair of jeans that were utterly filthy (and smelly). I tossed a white t-shirt that would never come clean, no matter how much bleach was applied.

The heaviest items left in my suitcase were an old pair of work boots. Surely, someone could use a good pair of work boots. I hadn’t used them in several years before this week; I surely wasn’t going to miss them.

Jonathan, our team leader, pulled me aside and reminded me of the church’s rules to not give personal items or food to the locals. Inside, I was sad, because, in my heart, I knew I was right in wanting to give one of the Haitians something he needed to work in local construction. But I also knew I had to follow the rules, whether I agreed with them or not.

After saying our goodbyes to the children, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up (so important for male construction workers), before heading off to tour Port-au-Prince. When we got back to our rooms around noon, the local construction team was hard at work on the second floor, where I was staying.

After changing clothes (I felt so refreshed), I started to head downstairs to our vans, ready to be a tourist. One of the workers passed by, and I just happened to look at his feet. He was wearing this ratty pair of tennis shoes feebly held together by short pieces of shoelaces. His heels hanged out over the back of his shoes, flattening them, and he was barefoot. The shoes looked like hand-me-downs that had handed down a couple of times.

I got his attention, then put my foot up next to his. His was bigger, but that was OK, because the boots were too big (they were given to me and probably a size 11; I wear a 10). I motioned for him to wait by my door while I fetched the boots. “Please, Lord, let these boots fit this man. He looks like he could use them.”

I put the boots on the ground for him to try on. Perhaps he was wary of me, thinking I was a used shoe salesman from the States. The young man slipped on the unlaced boots and smiled. I smiled back. If the boots fit, you must … keep them.

“Yours,” I told him. “Gift.” I was thinking, “You need them more than I do, fella.”

We shook hands, sealing the deal. He quickly slipped off his tennis shoes and put on the boots, without socks, mind you. I couldn’t help noticing this young man of perhaps 25 had the feet of a 70-year-old man.

He went back to his labors, with toes stretching out, and I skipped off, gleefully. I had lightened my suitcase load and I had gladdened my heart. (The next day, my suitcase weighed in at 50.3 pounds, close enough to not pay the additional fee.)

I probably bragged too much about my thoughtful gift, but I was truly happy that I could help someone in need. Our team rules said nothing about giving your stuff away to the locals.

Caption: These are the shoes worn by the Haitian before my free gift.

One of my teammates, Amy, has returned to Leogane to care for little Charlie, who was sick the entire week we were there. Read her blog at

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