Serve. Learn. Reflect.
My Transitions class this past year was Race, Gender, Class, and Sexuality in Film with Jimmy Whited. Jimmy became one of my favorite professors by the end of the semester, so when I found out he was taking a group of students to Trinidad & Tobago, I signed up and never looked back. I’ve always wanted to travel the world; the opportunity to give to a new country, serve others, and be with an amazing group of students was something that I did not want to miss out on. Not to mention, this trip was through Habitat for Humanity which was one of my service sites as a Bonner Scholar. After listening to people talk in class about their previous trip or trips with Jimmy, I thought I was mentally prepared for this trip; however, it was completely different for me than what those people had experienced in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Flying in a plane was awesome! I had never been in a plane before! I had also never been to another country before, so I was naturally a little nervous. After being in Trinidad for just less than a day, however, my nerves had left me which was something I didn’t expect. I expected a lot from Trinidad mainly because of everything I had heard from others who had gone on trips with Jimmy before. I expected there to be more people in need, more crime, and less American items, but that wasn’t the case for Trinidad and Tobago; it was Americanized, and I felt safe. This wasn’t at all a bad thing, but I wasn’t expecting it. I thought the food would have been more different and unpleasant than it actually was, the sun would have been a lot hotter, building the house in Trinidad would be like building a house in the USA, and that the hostel we stayed at would have been a lot bigger. Again, none of the realities were bad; they just were not what I expected based on my preconceived notions of the trip.
For me, the biggest expectation that was not met on this trip was that I didn’t feel my life had been changed. “What am I doing here, and how did I get here?” I thought to myself one night after seeing everyone else take in so much from this trip that I just wasn’t getting as much out of. “What are you trying to teach me here, God?” At the beginning of this trip, I was very confused about these few questions. Nevertheless, after much reflection, I am able to answer those questions more confidently. Although I had never taken an Emory & Henry study abroad trip before, I took many mission trips with my youth group. Through these mission trips, I felt that I was in the process of switching from servant to servant leader. Whereas many were experiencing all of these emotions about God, service, and life for the first time on this trip, I had already experienced them on other trips with my youth group. I had the same type of emotions then as some of those on this trip did. For example, my trip to Camden, New Jersey convinced me that I want to be doing service for the rest of my life, and hopefully it will be specifically with children.
Thus, when I heard we were building a house for a family, I was thrilled! This meant that I didn’t have to be working out in the hot sun the entire time (which again wasn’t as hot as I expected). Unfortunately, the family wasn’t there until the last day, but one of the neighbors had a little toddler named Tajay. Tajay was a perfect stress reliever. Many members of the group enjoyed his company around the worksite. Personally, I developed a strong bond with him. As I was taking a water break and thinking that I would never be able to interact with this kid because all of the members of our group were giving him attention, a huge moth landed on me. This happened to be the same moth that Tajay was chasing around. It was a miracle to me! Tajay naturally came to me, but our adventure didn’t end there. The moth flew under the house, and we followed after to chase it. What I thought would be a ten minute play date turned into an hour and fifteen minutes of one of the greatest moments of my life. After the moth had disappeared, we just sat down and played with rocks and bricks. I taught him as many words as I could, and while I had difficulty understanding him, I seemed to always answer his questions and do what he wanted me to do. When he was tired of that, he just decided to sit down.
While sitting under the house with him and holding him, I wondered and worried what Tajay’s life would be like in the future. Would he have friends to play with him and watch him when people move into the house we were building? Would his skin condition get better? What would happen to him? I couldn’t and didn’t want to let go of him then. I held him for a long time. I already knew that I want to serve others when I got older, but Tajay reinstated that idea in my head. How could I go on in life and not help kids like Tajay?
The next day, Tajay had found a lizard, and he immediately came to me when he wanted someone to go under the house with him to chase the lizard. After we were done with the lizard, Tajay wanted to play in the dirt. It was a wonderful thing to realize that the simplest of things could amaze Tajay and keep him busy, entertained, and happy. Whether it be a moth, a lizard, rocks, or dirt, it didn’t take much. Here again Tajay taught me something: a simple life is a happy life.
Still, I felt as though I hadn’t changed until just a few weeks ago when my mom said that I had been acting funny lately. ‘Really? How?’ I thought to myself. I didn’t even have time to answer before Mom was talking again. “You don’t seem as happy as you used to be.” While I disagreed at first, I slowly came to the conclusion that she was right. I had changed, and it was directly because of my study abroad to Trinidad & Tobago.
Although I am very happy with the life I have now in America, I don’t enjoy all of the distractions and materialistic objects we have in the United States. Serving abroad helped me realize that the best life is one where you live simply and for others. I love to do service. It is my passion! Who knows, maybe I would’ve realized my change sooner if we were in a less developed country, but I’m not complaining one bit. I still took out a ton from this trip and was able to bring it home with me and put it into practice. Tajay taught me the importance of living a more simple life with his amusement and entertainment in nature and the earth and not a piece of technology. Additionally, the other kids in the family helped me see how important it is for these children to grow up in a home and not just a house. They were very appreciative, and I’m glad we were able to serve them. Finally, I hope I was able to help other members of the group on this trip in some way, shape, or form. I have thought that maybe God used me on this trip to help others become servant leaders as well. Although I am not completely sure of this yet, I do know that God blessed me with this trip. It has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of my life. Between building a steel frame house, the six hundred pound leatherback turtles, snorkeling in Tobago, bake and shark sandwiches, and steel pan drums, I’ll never forget any of it, and I cannot thank Jimmy enough for being the reason I chose to come on the trip.
BY: Jake Caudill ’18
Photo Description: Emory & Henry students work together to put the roof trusses on the Habitat House in Trinidad & Tobago.