I was a rock star in Cabaret. Although I'd like to think it had something to do with my awesome rendition of the classic "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," or my sweet Latin dance moves, I suspect it had more to do with how exotic looking (read: pale skin, varying from translucent to Lobster Red) and sounding (read: speaking only English or French) I was to the campers. I also realize it had less to do with my arts and crafts prowess and more to do with my ability to provide simple things.
Everyday in camp, little hands would reach up and tap me on the arm. Faces with puppy dog eyes, broad smiles, and small white teeth in various stages of coming in or falling out would look up and ask one of two questions: Dlo? Boul? Water? Ball? A basic necessity of life and a near-necessity of childhood are two things that the children of Cabaret often lack. Although we tried our best to provide plenty of both, it never seemed like enough.
Potable water, sold in plastic pouches of not quite 8 oz., could only be barely enough to quench a child's thirst in the hot Haitian sun or even under the shade of the mango trees, which produced the sweetest mangoes I have ever tasted. Water struck me as something I had never really given a second thought to having. When I went to camp I took a frozen water bottle, but that was just because I preferred cold ice water, not because there was no basic plumbing or an ample number of water fountains on the grounds of the camps I attended. Other times, I brought my own because I wanted iced tea instead of water. I had never seen so many children ask for plain water. I would have asked for soda, juice, or any other sugary drink I desired.
As it was when I was a kid in camp and a counselor was holding a ball in his or her hands, the children of Cabaret wanted to play with it. Except as a camper, I'd want to pick out the best basketball from the rack of 20, the one that was perfectly worn in, the right size, and inflated just right. Or I'd want the soccer ball that was the Size 5, the official size that the pros played with, not the junior sizes 3 or 4. Forget about the balls that were worn, ripped, or in other ways less than perfect.
In Cabaret, it was different. These kids wanted to get their hands on any ball we had and would have entertained themselves for hours with rocks for goal posts until we stopped them to eat lunch or change activities. Pastor Mario of Voices for Haiti told an interesting story that demonstrated the power of a simple ball. The essence of it was that the town had no public park until Voices gave some children in town a ball and the children began playing soccer on a small plot of cleared land so often that they essentially annexed a dirt patch into a public playground. The story ignored the fact that this plot of land is also used as a donkey parking lot, which leads to potentially slippery hazards on the field and a very serious out-of-bounds line that might try to kick you or the ball back in play if you're not careful.
I could go on for a lot longer about how the trip made me realize the privileges I enjoyed growing up and how I took them for granted, but that would draw a much starker distinction between my campers and myself than I truly experienced. As I discussed with another counselor, Frank, one of the most comforting parts of this experience was knowing that no matter where we were and how different Haiti was from Queens or San Francisco, kids are still kids. You still had bullies, tattletales, line-cutters and combinations of all three. There were the bad sports and good sports and the criers and the laughers.