By Molly Boes
I wove through the crowded airport, my bag digging into my already sun burnt shoulder, my eyes set on the food court. After a week filled with fish, potatoes, fresh fruit, rice, and chicken, I was looking forward to a meal of deep fried, completely unhealthy fast food.
As I placed my bag down on the floor at the back of the long, slow moving line, I realized how much I stood out. I was in the same boys’ basketball shorts from the day before, a hoodie, and a pair of beat up and muddied tennis shoes in a sea of tourists; of dads sporting colorful Jamaican shirts purchased in the gift shop of their resort, of moms in flowing summer dresses, of little girls with freshly braided hair. I looked at these people who looked refreshed with newly tanned skin as they excitedly chatted about their adventures on the beach and then looked at myself, with the smudge of dirt discoloring my leg, my frizzy hair pulled back, and my skin a splotchy canvas of tan and red. I looked at my companion and knew he was sharing my thoughts – these people hadn’t been exposed to the true nature of the island – they had only seen the side of the island that money can offer you, but we, we had seen the part that is hidden in the mountains, beyond all of the resorts.
They did not have the opportunity to be swarmed by children fighting to hold your hand, they didn’t have the opportunity to help a fourth grader understand long division, they didn’t have the opportunity to be outrun by an eleven year old, they didn’t have the opportunity to eat fruit handed to them by the farmer fresh from the tree. They had the opportunity to experience the side of the island that everyone sees in commercials, the side of the island that is catered to make people have an enjoyable vacation and bask in the Caribbean sun.
I look down at my dirtied finger nails as a man in line behind me scolds his daughter for not obeying orders and threatens to not give her lunch. I think of all the kids I left behind as I see people rush by with a bottle of rum tucked into a bag on their way to their terminal. I think of my host family as I see a newlywed couple sit in the hard plastic chairs, both clearly exhausted. As I observe these people, I realize that I would never exchange my experience with any of these people. I wouldn’t trade my experience of riding three miles up a mountain in the back of a pickup truck in the rain for a day of basking in the sun. I wouldn’t trade my experience of eating liver for breakfast on my first morning there for a McDonald’s breakfast. I wouldn’t trade my experience of helping students read a book for a day of shopping.
I look at my companion and know he feels the same – we have both been touched by this experience in a way that typical tourists will never know. While they will hold memories of days spent on the beach, sipping margaritas, we will forever hold the memories of long days spent tutoring kids, playing football, learning about the culture of the island, and of taking adventures.