As many of you know, Jacob was invited by Coach Jerome Peterson, President of H.Y.D.E. Soccer Association in Haiti to participate in an All-Star tournament in Cap Haitian this past week. Monday we loaded up on a commuter flight from Port au Prince and we returned on Thursday. It was an amazing week of soccer for sure!
When we arrived, Coach Peterson was waiting for us at the airport. He whisked us away in his car to go to a practice field for Jacob to meet the team members. They had been practicing for three hours so they were very tired, hot, and sweaty. They were so very nice though. Each one of them came to each of us and shook our hands and introduced himself. They all visited for a few minutes, then we went to the hotel. The hotel was right across the street from Coach Peterson’s house, so it was very convenient. It didn’t take us long to realize that we are very spoiled in Ganthier. Ha! The little air conditioner in the room did not work very well and most of the time the power was off all together. The bathroom had cold water only, and it didn’t have a door on it but rather just a curtain. Needless to say Vladimir is officially a member of the West family now that we have experienced such “togetherness”. Ha! The hotel restaurant served very good food, but they were very limited. For instance, they would not serve coffee only for breakfast. We had to order a full breakfast of eggs, toast, avocado, and coffee for breakfast or nothing at all. Of course, it was very good and cheap as well, so most of the time we took advantage of it. On our first day, we were told that we could only have two towels. Now we love one another very much, but we just couldn’t imagine sharing two towels between the three of us. Since Coach Peterson is good friends with the owner, Joe, we had Joe’s phone number, so we quickly called him to make sure his staff understood that we needed four towels. Quite the first impression, I gotta tell ya! All-in-all, it wasn’t so bad. After all, we ARE in a third world country. Like I said, we are just spoiled at Hope Center, and the experience made us all the more thankful for what we have.
Anyway…on the first night, we went to watch a soccer match at the big stadium. There was a full crowd, and it was lots of fun. Jacob became pretty excited about playing the next night. On day two we were pretty lazy. We slept late, ate breakfast, and went back to bed until about 2:00 in the afternoon. I guess we were all exhausted from our trip over. Around 3 we went to a press conference at a restaurant on the edge of the water at the port. They had great food and great atmosphere. There were many dignitaries and famous soccer players there. Coach Peterson was at a table with several players from the national team, a couple of former pros, the mayor of Cap Haitian, and the Adviser to the President of Haiti. We got to meet all of them and hang out there for a while. That was pretty cool. Next, we went to the field and got ready for the game. On the way, however, there seemed to be some confusion and the driver of our car thought we wanted to take a tour of the World Bank there in Cap Haitian since they had opened up especially for the Presidential Advisor, Roro Nelson. Once we finally got it across to them that we needed to get to the field, they rushed us out of the bank and over to the stadium. Jacob joined his new teammates in the dugout area and Tony & Vladimir & I went up to this rooftop above the locker room, overlooking the field. They set us up on these nice benches they brought out just for us. We felt very special. Several other Haitian spectators joined us up there, and we began to watch the game. Coach explained that the team coach would probably put Jacob in after we got a point or two on the board since he didn’t yet know how well Jacob could play. By half time, we were up by 2 points, so he put Jacob in. Jacob got a pretty good bit of action with the ball, but he also found out that the refs aren’t too fond of American white boys playing Haitian soccer. He had to be very careful or he would get called for a foul for the slightest thing. One cool thing was that the uniforms they were wearing were green – yes, JFC green. Even though his loaned uniform was a bit snug on him, I must admit it was good to see Jacob back in green. We felt like he played very well. Jacob, on the other hand, wasn’t too pleased with his play. He felt awful, and kept thinking he was going to get sick. (He actually did get sick in the locker room after the game.) However, we couldn’t tell it at all except for one time when he seemed a little winded. However, we give MUCH GLORY TO GOD that Jacob was able to play without any pain in his ankle at all. As a matter of fact, Jacob said that after he and Esther prayed over his ankle, he had not felt any pain at all and had no concerns whatsoever about playing on it. Hallelujah! God is our healer! He did wear his brace though to prevent any injury to the ankle, and he actually came very close to getting a goal. One cool thing was that every time he got the ball and started dribbling it down the field, the crowd in the stands went CRAZY. Unlike the ref, they were thrilled to see him play. The coach liked what he saw too because the next day Jacob started and played the entire game! They even honored Jacob with the #10 jersey which is Pegeuro’s number – he is currently one of the most honored Haitian former pro players (Jacob got to meet him earlier at the restaurant). We ended up winning this first game 2-1. At one point in the game, Tony even got a chance to be the team doctor. One of the players hurt his wrist, and they called Tony over to help him. Tony gave him Ibuprofen and he was feeling great in no time. After the game, we went out to eat at a Haitian BBQ place with our driver, Denny, and then headed on back to the hotel for some much needed rest.
The third day was even more interesting. After having a HUGE lunch on the balcony of Coach Peterson’s home with his parents, sister, and some cousins, we traveled to a little remote village outside of Cap Haitian to a field out in the middle of farming land for another soccer game. There was a highway on one side of the field and rows and rows of some sort of crop on the other three. There was a little grass on the field, but mostly it was dirt. We watched a U14 game first while throngs of children crowded around to love on Ody. Yes, Ody is a hit in Cap Haitian as well as Ganthier. Jacob and Vladimir hung out with the team while we watched the game. I am SOOOOO thankful to have had Vladimir on this trip with us. He is not only a very good friend to Jacob, he was Jacob’s only ability to communicate socially with the team and coach. We are glad Vladdy hung close to Jacob’s side. As time progressed, we began to realize the fans for this local league were VERY loyal yet hostile fans. Towards the end of the game, a rather robust Haitian woman in spandex approached me and Tony and told us to give us our dog because she was hungry. When we refused, she demanded we give her our water. We probably should have given it to her, but because she was so mean spirited, we refused. She proceeded to cuss us and make rude gestures, so we decided it was time to move to the other side of the field. She was drawing a rather large audience and feeding off their laughter, and we knew we did not need to hang around. We politely said we needed to move on, and as Vladimir approached us, she moved on herself. Whew! That was a close one. Shortly afterwards, Jacob’s team took the field. They gathered in a circle around their goalie and had prayer together before warming up on the field. We realized this was not going to be your typical game when one of the opposing players elbowed one of our players in the face 30 seconds into the game. I began praying for not only Jacob’s safety, but the safety of our entire team. This team was obviously going to play dirty, and these refs were not going to give Jacob any protection or chance with the ball here either. He played great though. He held his own, and when disruptions occurred on the field, he just moved aside and juggled the ball by himself off to the side until things calmed down. Let me explain. You see, Haitian soccer in the village is quite different than anything we have ever experience. Before the game began, there were no less than 40 people on the field screaming over a contested player. They thought he was too old to play U17 soccer. As the game began, we noticed that the fans stand directly ON the field line and sometimes even stand ON the field when the play is happening on the opposite end of the field. A man walks along the line with a big stick beating people off the field. Most of them refuse to move and there is a stand-off. The adamant fans usually win because the guy doesn’t want to use his stick. When the opponents scored, the entire fan base poured onto the field and celebrated for no less than 3 minutes. Finally the fans trickled back to the sideline so the game could continue. At half-time, they all poured back onto the field and gathered around their team and listened in on the half-time speech their coach was giving his team. Finally the second half began and about 15 minutes into the half, someone sent three goats and a sheep onto the field. Someone said it was a voo-doo curse. We just decided they were delaying the game to prevent us from scoring. About every 45 seconds one of their players was flopping onto the ground saying he was hurt, or one of their players would clobber one of ours, and we would have to wait for him to be helped off the field. At some point in the second half, I believe I began praying that we would NOT win. I realized it would not be a good thing at this point to win. I can tell you that I have never in my life WANTED to lose, but I knew that if we did win, we might be in danger. We ended up losing 1-0, and our tired, beat up players dragged themselves off the field, huddled up for a team photo with Jacob. At the end of the game, the players were asking Jacob if he could continue to be on their team. What an honor! We said our good byes, then we rushed back to our vehicle to get on back to the hotel. It was a night we will never forget. Ha! We thank God for the opportunity He gave Jacob to play some amazing soccer with some super friendly guys. When it came to playing on the field, language barriers didn’t matter. Sure, it probably would have been nice for Jacob to have been able to communicate verbally with them more, but they all played very well together, and we are PRAISING GOD for Jacob’s healing, safety, and great experience with Haitian Soccer.
The next night we went to yet another soccer game at the BIG stadium, but this time it was a HUGE event. All the dignitaries arrived in a grand parade. There were two Haitian bands playing their hand made instruments in two different parts of the stadium. MUCH FESTIVITY! They had us sitting in our box seats again, and after the game, we were going to get the opportunity to enjoy a concert by Haiti’s most popular current rap star, Izolan. During the game, a deluge of rain came through, but most of the fans hung in there and braved the storm. The teams on the field never checked up. By half way into the second half, the rain cleared and we enjoyed watching some amazing soccer in this finale to a BIG event. The team Jacob was pulling for won, and it was now time for the concert. Once they got all the sound issues worked out, I realized that the seats they had for us were not just front row seats; we were ON THE STAGE. I was literally sitting 5 feet from this rapper who was singing stuff I had could not comprehend, but the beat was great and the fans were going crazy! Ha! At the end of the concert, he let two young rappers that were around 12 years old have a rap-off (which was my favorite part) and then it was over. One of the big pro soccer players (Pegeuro) had taken a liking to Jacob and he made sure that Jacob got his picture made with Izolan at the end of the concert. After pictures were made, they whisked our family out through a back door to a car that was waiting for us and took us to the hotel. I told Tony I felt like Elvis or something. It was pretty crazy.
On our last day in Cap Haitian, we packed up, ate a good lunch at the hotel, and got ready to go. One of the young rappers came by after we finished eating to say hello and get his picture made with Jacob. After that we went back over to the Jerome’s house to say goodbye to Coach Peterson’s family, and then off to the airport we went. The flight home was much smoother than the flight over, so Vladimir has decided he actually enjoys flying. Ha! All-in-all, I think it was an amazing experience for Jacob and lots of fun for all of us. Coach Peterson said that he likes the way Jacob plays and he is very fast. He said that he believes Jacob has a long future ahead of him in soccer and he looks forward to being able to give him more opportunities to play in Haiti.
Even though we thoroughly enjoyed the experience, getting back home to Ganthier was wonderful. Tonight we ate spaghetti with our new friend from Thirst No More, Gary, and we sat outside eating watermelon from our garden and enjoying a spectacular lightening display way up in the mountains. Tony and I went up on the roof and enjoyed a cool breeze and tried to get pictures of the lightening, but my camera wasn’t fast enough. Tomorrow we are planning to go to Pastor Mathurim’s church up in the mountains. I am looking forward to that very much. Slowly but surely, we are making ourselves at home, and that is a very good feeling. Thanks be to God for all of the GREAT things he is doing. Sometime this week I will try to get in a post with pictures and a report on some of the patients Tony has seen.
Thank you all so very much for following us and praying for us. Your prayer support is AMAZING!!!
Blessings to you all!