As the bus pulled out of the airport parking lot, narrowly avoiding cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians alike in a flurry of honking horns, I was hit with a feeling that I had never felt before. Seeing all of the Haitian people going about their day, selling food and clothes and trinkets on the street and walking around without a care in the world, made me feel like the smallest person in the world. Back home, in my sheltered existence as a college student in the United States, I was completely focused on things that mattered just to me; from politics to entertainment, the only things that concerned me were the ones that directly affected me. Being on that bus showed me that in reality, there are millions of people around the world who are just living their lives in ways that are radically different to mine. They all have their own experiences and memories and families and problems that are so important to them, but I never think about that because I’ve been so used to focusing on me, myself, and I. Fun fact: the word for the feeling you get when you realize that every person you see has lived a life as vivid and full of memories and emotions as you is sonder.
Needless to say, my bus ride through the city was a sonder trip to remember. I think that one of the most important things people can take away from this trip is an increased sense of empathy for our fellow humans around the world, recognizing that their way of life and their viewpoints are unique to them and making an effort to understand them in that context, rather than as an “other” who lives differently and needs to be fixed. I also noticed that the Haitian people were not constantly burying themselves in their phones, like the way we do at home. Driving through the city on the bus showed me hundreds of people, all talking, laughing, and connecting on a human level rather than using their phones. It provided a shocking contrast to the moment at JFK Airport where I watched as, one by one, people would pull out their phones as conversations died and eventually, I was staring at a sea of people close together in proximity, but mentally far away from each other as they searched for refuge on the internet.
I think we can all take this amazing opportunity to appreciate the ability to connect with these wonderful people, learn from them, and try to understand who they are. Recognizing that we are not the only people in the world is the first step to developing that connection to people so happy and relaxed in the digital world we are all slowly succumbing to. By sharing our cultures and interacting in this setting, we are developing that global perspective needed to create meaningful change in the world, and I cannot wait to see what else this trip will bring.
–Francis Ledesma, tuba