I squinted my eyes in the glaring sun, staring down the rickety pick-up that was slowing down in front of us. Lining the bed of the truck were wooden planks, propped up to serve as benches, shaded from the brutal sunlight by an aluminum roof supported by wrought iron fence work. The "tap-tap" -- as these public taxis are affectionately known in Haiti -- was crammed with maybe 11 or 12 Haitians, all of whom were eying our group of upper-middle class Caucasians with intrigue. We were in Port-au-Prince doing work for our non-profit, Poverty Resolutions, and trying to make our way to visit with a partner organization -- hence the need for public transport.
Seeing that there was no room for us, I started to proclaim "Bummer, this one's full --" before I realized that Matt -- our fearless leader -- was moving towards the jammed vehicle.
"Come on, gang, hop on!" he exclaimed effervescently, waving us over enthusiastically.
I stared at him. I stared the tap-tap. I stared at our group -- 5 of us in total, two of whom were grown men well over 6 feet tall. How on earth were we possibly going to fit?
But, fit we did. We crammed into the back of the truck, nestling shoulder-to-shoulder with Haitians on the way to the market or heading home. And, believe it or not, that tap-tap was not the most crowded one we rode on -- a few days later, we smushed ourselves into a tiny truck that somehow rumbled down a highway carrying 25 passengers.
Prior to my trip to Haiti, and that ride on a tap-tap, I considered myself pretty well-traveled. I'd studied abroad twice, ventured to Africa, explored Eastern Europe. I thought that I knew what it meant to have an open mind, to be culturally aware, to grasp the many intricacies that color the global community.
I was wrong.
Cramming into that rickety tap-tap was my moment. The moment when I realized that I didn't know anything. That I wasn't as worldly as I had thought. That despite the plethora of stamps decorating my passport pages, there was a lot I had to learn about other countries and their people.
That moment was one of the most valuable moments of my life. It shook me from my complacency, made me stare down the unsettling fact that I really didn't understand the world. It's a scary thing -- realizing just how limited your perspective is. There's so much I don't know, so much I will probably never know, about the 196 countries in the world and the 6.84 billion people who inhabit them.
What's scarier than that realization, though, is thinking about how many people may never have one like it. There are still countless people who take their perspective for granted. Maybe they've never traveled, maybe they don't watch the news often, maybe they just don't care. But for whatever reason, there remain far too many people who don't realize how complex the world is and just how limited any one person's perspective is.
To these people, I say: I dare you. I dare you to have your moment. I dare you to take off your blinders and look around. Experience the feeling of knowing that you don't know, and realizing just how much you're missing.
Maybe it will be by riding a crammed tap-tap down a Haitian highway. Or maybe it will be by having a conversation with your neighbor who emigrated from a foreign country.
Either way, it will redefine your world.
And you'll be glad it did.
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