Chris Cvetkovic is used to looking at the world upside-down. He’s a long snapper, after all.
But the eight-year Winnipeg Blue Bomber has had his perspective turned completely on its ear this week.
Cvetkovic and Bomber teammate Yvenson Bernard are among a group of CFL players in Haiti, marking the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left a million homeless.
What the 33-year-old has experienced has hit him harder than any opponent ever could.
“There is no comparison to anything I have ever seen or could have imagined,” Cvetkovic said in an e-mail exchange with the Sun. “Our initial drive through Port-au-Prince was easily the most painful two hours of my life — an incomprehensible sensory overload.”
People living in the rubble, bathing in the streets in polluted water. Dogs, goats and pigs roaming through garbage piled eight feet high. Raw sewage flowing in the streets.
The carnage along one block would be the most horrific thing he could have imagined. Then the next block was worse, and the next one worse than that.
“Simply unreal,” Cvetkovic said. “Compound that with the smell of rotting garbage and the deceased that are still trapped under the rubble...”
The only way to combat the smell was by smearing Vicks VapoRub in his nostrils.
If you think all this hit Cvetkovic hard, imagine how Bernard feels.
Haiti is his family’s home. He still has all kinds of relatives there.
This is the two-year running back’s second visit since the disaster, and it doesn’t get any easier.
“I can’t describe Haiti today. I think of Haiti before, and see it now, and I’m just shocked,” Bernard said. “No one can comprehend the distress and devastation without actually experiencing the sound, smell and sights themselves. We as North Americans truly take for granted the life we have been given.”
The e-mails paint a pretty bleak picture. Hopeless, even.
The players, staying with Bernard’s aunt, are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem.
But looking through the rubble, they’ve discovered a tiny glimmer of optimism.
The players attended a Wednesday service marking the quake’s anniversary, and came away inspired by the people, as they’ve been since they arrived.
‘Pride, faith and spirit’
“Unbelievable atmosphere,” Cvetkovic said, via Twitter. “I am amazed by (the) pride, faith and spirit of the Haitian people.”
Cvetkovic says the high point has been meeting a 19-year-old elementary school teacher.
“He speaks English, Haitian, Creole, French and is learning Spanish — at 19 years of age,” Cvetkovic said. “To say he’s a role model for Haitian youth is an understatement. Johnny teaches Grade 2, and is truly an inspiring young man who wants nothing more than to be, in his words, the best teacher Haiti has ever had.”
I asked Cvetkovic to tell me one thing we need to know about Haiti.
“Haitians are heroes,” he said. “They are strong, proud and resourceful people. Despite losing their homes, their belongings and their loved ones — everything they had — they are still smiling, plugging away each day to provide food for their families, to build homes out of the remaining rubble and start life from scratch.”
They’re doing something else, too.
Giving a Blue Bomber who hasn’t had things go his way recently — Cvetkovic blew out his knee and missed all of last season — a new way of looking at things.
“I have now witnessed a society where people have been pushed to the edge of survival,” Cvetkovic said. “I have gained a new perspective.”
Bent over, with his hands on the ball, the view back through his legs will never be the same.
Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or 632-2788.