Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Trojans share Haiti experiences
By Pedro Moura
Here are some of the more interesting stories that the 16 USC Trojans who trekked to Haiti last week to build houses have brought home to the U.S.:
Barkley speaks Spanish
Quarterback Matt Barkley recalled one of the more unusual experiences from the five-day trip with a big smile.
On one of the days, he spotted a local teenager with an old chalkboard in front of him and a textbook in his hand sitting down under a tree. At first, Barkley thought the kid was practicing Algebra, based on what he saw on the board. But as he walked closer he realized the 18-year-old Haitian was practicing Calculus -- "doing functions and all that kind of stuff."
Most of the Haitians didn't speak English, but there were interpreters translators available when the athletes wanted to talk to the kids. Barkley couldn't find an interpreter in sight, so he tried to strike up a conversation with him in English.
His English was spotty, so Barkley asked what else he knew. The teen said he knew Creole, as all Haitians do, as well as French, Spanish and a bit of English. Cue the conversation.
"We ended up talking for like two hours," Barkley said, "in Spanish."
"It was pretty tight."
How good is Barkley's Spanish?
"We both knew enough to understand each other," he said. "But the grammar was probably pretty messed up.
"If a Spanish speaker heard me talking, it probably wouldn't have pretty."
Looking like a cow
The first day, USC redshirt freshman center Cyrus Hobbi passed out due to heat exhaustion as the Trojans packed into the bus to go back home for the night.
He had been instructed to drink tons of water and attempted to do so. But he later learned he didn't drink nearly enough considering the intensity of the work he was doing in the village of Sous Savanne, the humidity in Haiti and the temperatures approaching 100 degrees.
He said it was "basically like heavy lifting in a sauna."
But he made it through the day, then boarded the school bus back to Leogane after Khaled Holmes and tried to sit behind him. He couldn't.
"I tried to sit down, my legs started cramping," Hobbi said. "I tried to stand up, my abs started cramping. ... Everything just got slow and I fell on him."
Trip organizers took him off the bus and sent him home in a separate car, but not before he was subject to a makeshift treatment session in the village in front of dozens of interested Haitian children.
"It was funny," Hobbi said. "They took me off the bus and I had my shirt off and my towel on and all the little kids had never seen a massive white man on the ground like that.
"They probably thought I was a cow."
By Day 2, Hobbi said, he smarted to the conditions and drank upwards of three gallons of water per day. He didn't let up on how hard he was working.
"They told me to lay low the second day, but I think I worked even harder," he said. "I got used to it."
A number of Trojans raved about spending time in Haiti with cornerback Nickell Robey.
Robey, a junior from Florida, is typically one of the most exuberant people in any room, but he was extra excited last week because of a special connection with the country of Haiti: He has a Haitian grandparent.
"Everything he said, I just enjoyed listening to and being around him," Hobbi said. "Nickell's fun because he's such a real dude."
Said Barkley: "Seeing Nickell interact with the kids was pretty cool."
Dripping sweat -- on each other
Punter Kyle Negrete was teamed up in a four-man group with Hobbi, defensive end Devon Kennard and linebacker Hayes Pullard. Together, the four were responsible for one house.
Midway through building, Negrete volunteered to go up to the top of the house to hammer in some necessary pieces. What he didn't know was that he'd be up there for three and a half hours without a break.
By the end of it, he was sweating at a rapid pace and creating a mini-lake beneath him.
"I'd be on top of the rafters and there'd be a puddle of sweat below me on the ground," Negrete said. "Then I would look and see the family we're building it for, and that puts a lot into perspective."
Hobbi also had to spend part of the time working directly underneath Negrete and had the pleasure of getting all the sweat dripped onto his hat until he finished the particular task and moved to a different portion of the house.
Continuing the tradition
Sixteen players went, and another 10-15 wanted to go but weren't able to because of logistics. Several Trojans said the trip will end up impacting the rest of the team, too.
"Stories are trickling around the locker room and the other guys are feeling like part of it as well," Barkley said. "Even though every guy couldn't come, it was a way for our whole team to grow closer."
Barkley knows he probably won't be able to go back to Haiti at any point in the next year but hopes to in the future. And other non-seniors said going to Haiti every summer could become a USC football tradition over the next few years.
"I hope I can go back to Sous Savanne," Hobbi said. "I don't know if it's a possibility but I hope I can."
"I would definitely be interested in being in control of it or getting guys together to do something similar to this because I think it's a really good experience."