Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"it's Haiti"

My newest catch phrase is “it’s Haiti” this is my explanation for anything and everything that goes wrong.  Many of you have heard me say it when Skype intermittently shuts down, or as a response to your inquiry as to what that strange and deafeningly loud sound is in the background. It’s often the answer I give when people ask how much I’ve accomplished in a day. But nothing has been as much of an “it’s Haiti” day then today.
Today was the first day trying out my new translator. First I should explain that my translators nickname as I found out on the way back is “Sex” yep, Sex, that is just one inkling of what a character he is. Additionally me being trusting (no not gullible, trusting) I believed him when he said he was good at driving a moto. In his defense he is quite good, although that is by Haitian standards. Also in his defense he rented a crap motorbike and so we were bound to have some issues. Mom and Dad please stop reading here.
The day started with a five minute endeavor to get the thing started. I should have seen the foreshadowing in that but like I said I’m trusting. We did get it started and yes it did stall a few times but usually it would start back up again within ten to twenty tries. However getting it started wasn’t the only problem. Balancing also seemed to be a bit of a challenge, as was navigating the hundreds of potholes (if you can call them that, some made ponds in the middle of the road). Add to that Haitian traffic and already you have a heart stopper. We weaved in and out of oncoming traffic, narrowly missing trucks that where literally barreling towards us. Seriously I’ve never clenched my thighs so hard for fear of my knees getting clipped by either trucks coming towards us or trucks that we were passing. Sex AKA Daniel, kept telling me to “hold him tighter” which I was reluctant to do, at which he laughed and said he thought I was being shy because of my boyfriend (yes I told him I had a boyfriend) to which I agreed. However after the first five near death experiences I began to be more comfortable clutching to him for sweet, dear, life (no I wasn’t wearing a helmet…).  Throughout the ride he found me endlessly entertaining, declaring that I “really was a girl” (something I have entirely no problem being). He would vacillate between laughing at me, swearing at the moto, and waving and yelling at people we passed that he knew (which is EVERYONE in the city of port-au-prince).
I don’t mind his popularity, in fact it’s actually quite nice because it opens up a lot of doors for me and has facilitated a pretty genuine peek into local Haitian culture thus far. But the fact of the matter, is that when he waves and shouts at people, he simultaneously looks back at whoever he’s yelling at and is therefore not looking at the road ahead of us. Add to that the fact that he inadvertently swerves in the direction of his wave and the inevitability of this then causing us to hit a pothole head on giving my bum a couple seconds of free throw.
Then we ran out of gas.
Thankfully his popularity secured us some gas that was sold out of a dirty old cooking oil container from an equally dirty street vendor. Although it still cost us 4 times the amount then what it’s sold at the gas station, but hey “it’s Haiti”. We then proceeded to precariously make our way to the camp only to find that the people I was meeting were running an hour late.
Yesterday I had been quite excited that a random person had called me. He was from Canaan 1 and had gotten my number from a local psychologist (yes I’m getting famous too) he wanted me to come and meet him so that I could do work with his camp as well. Seeing as Canaan 1 is right beside Canaan 2 I thought it would be nice to walk there. However because my first meeting was delayed by an hour our stroll ended up being situated right under the midday sun.
Two MOUNTAINS later we finally made it to a quick five minute introduction between me and the director. We had to rush back so that I could be in time for my Creole lesson, although looking back I laugh at my naivety.
The Haitians, bless their soul are for the most part very helpful people. So on our way back when we got lost the first time there were some very kind people that willingly walked us towards the “correct” direction. Thank goodness when I travel my sense of direction is at it’s best so it only took me an hour to realize that we had gone quite awry. Enter the second batch of “helpful” Haitians. This time it only took me 30 min to spot that again we were quite a bit off our target destination. Being “clever” as Daniel calls me, I decided to not to follow anymore Haitians and finally, with me leading the way, made it back to Canaan 2. The hike was actually quite nice and Daniel (who is amongst other things also a famous rapper) played a bunch of songs on his phone and gave me a mini introduction to Haitian hip hop so that often our steps were light and accentuated with raising-the-roof motions. We miraculously arrived at Canaan 2 with enough time for me to get to my Creole lesson, but not enough time for me to lead a group. That was until someone pointed out that the tire was flat on the moto.
It only took a couple of minutes for the repair guy to get the tire off. This led to the discovery that the hole was not a new one and had been previously repaired by simply tying, with string, the segment of the tire into a bunch, so that the hole resembled a deflated balloon. It did take them an hour to try and melt some rubber over the hole to seal it and then give up and resort to returning the tire to it’s previous condition albeit with more air. This then gave us a limited amount of time for us to go home before I assumed the flat tire would return. That added pressure (pun intended) to the fact that the moto wouldn’t start. At first I was laughing at the site of Daniel on the bike and two guys pushing it running as fast as they could. But after another two hours the joke got a little old even for me. Then Daniel disappeared for about and hour, my phone died, his ran out of minutes, and I had long given up my hope of making my appointment and instead was trying to stay optimistic about getting home before dark. Finally after what felt like hours and hours Daniel and co got the bike started again. The tire was still functioning but we were both all to aware of the perils of stopping lest the bike would never start again. Off we went on our journey home, which was again filled with the chaotic-too-horrific-for-a-videogame way home. Seriously there was a point in which a truck (which never would have passed aircare in a million years) blew out this giant billow of totally black smoke so that there was definitely a few seconds were we couldn’t see anything and other cars therefore could not see us coming. But we managed to get through. Eventually when I stop feeling the need to clutch on for dear life I will take a video of it from my perspective. Really it’s beyond words.
And then we hit a dog.
Now, now people it is only a dog, there are thousands of people starving and dying of cholera here – but I did look back to see it safely stumble to the side of the road.
Needless to say I made it home, and Daniel has just called me to let me know that he made it home too and that he misses me. Really what more can I say then hey, “it’s Haiti”.
P.S. election results got delayed so all’s well here, I’m also heading to the DR for a couple of weeks tomorrow so I don’t think I’ll be updating this thing… xoxo

Friday, December 17, 2010

day and the life

So the last couple of days have been pretty non descript, either that or I’m getting used to life here. We went to the camp we’ve been working in called Canaan 2. This is the camp where the pastor got attacked and we’ve been trying to do some conflict resolution. However this day we were trying to do an assessment, which is what a lot of time here is spent doing. Trying to get truth in this country seems like almost an impossible task and the more research you do the more variety of answers you get. Our main concern is whether or not the 20 thousand people are going to be able to stay in this area or if they will be eventually kicked out. It’s difficult to create safety and security if you don’t know if this is actually going to be your home or not! We talked to some UN officials there from Mozambique who were wonderful, and also got a tour of many of the homes by some of the residents. But we still haven’t gotten any closer to our answer. I then led another group which was so incredible. One man opened up in front of everyone (around 45 adults!) that he was suicidal and that he had no hope anymore because all of his family was killed in the earthquake. His vulnerability just dropped the group into a way deeper level of healing and made people more open to the necessity of what I describe as “calming the mind and healing the heart”. I am just constantly amazed at the strength and yet vulnerability of these people!
The next day we met with Fonkoze to try and follow up with the micro-financing plans. They were incredible, so friendly so informative and really seem like they have the interests of the poor at heart. However it doesn’t look like our original plan is going to work and that we are going to have to move at a slower pace, which is a little disheartening but I know it’s necessary. We then met with the group of 50, which was very intense. I know I’m using that word a lot but these women are living in tents that are literally spilling onto one of the busiest roads. Their camp is in the heart of downtown Port-au-Prince and during the manifestations they get tear gas in their homes, and have stray bullets going into their camp, not to mention the constant yelling and gunshot noises as well as the violence and theft inside the camp and of course the cholera. Yet they file into our cramped meeting space cheerfully their throats gurgling with laughter every five minutes, even if they’re talking about how they haven’t eaten in two days. Really how am I so lucky to know these people exist?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Post Election Haiti

Alright so I’ve been informed that I should be updating a blog everyday or two days, so I will try and be better at this and then at least I can avoid writing such long entries.
Phew! A lot has happened in the last week! After the election results came out, there was total chaos in the streets. I was woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of protesters shouting and marching. We heard gunshots and helicopters and there was smoke everywhere from all the barricades that were set up on every street.
On Wednesday there were zero cars out, anyone driving in a car got rocks thrown at them and there was no point in driving because of all the blockages. We were even told not to go on the balcony of our guesthouse for fear of people shooting at us as there is a lot of anti white sentiment (which I can understand). Thursday was a little better, still no cars but Remi, Adelle and I were feeling so cooped up that we went for a walk. It wasn’t long until we encountered a crowd of people protesting and then all-of-the-sudden they came running towards us so we stopped in our tracks. Then we heard gunshots and the three of us panicked. We all ducked into a side street. This amused a group of near by Haitian men who laughed at us, I laughed awkwardly and made signs of my heart beating way out of my chest which made us all laugh and they made motions of the gunfire just being the police shooting into the air. Sheeesh! It served to be a bit of a bonding moment between us and the Haitian men and we talked to them a bit about the election in a mix mash of languages but soon after we retreated back to our guesthouse.
Not to be defeated however, the next day we went out again (despite the city STILL being shut down) we walked around our area again and met some more Haitians in an IDP camp near by. We told them that we did workshops on techniques to deal with stress and trauma and met with the director of the camp who was extremely organized and set up a tent and benches for us to do our presentation. The presentation went alright, but it’s hard for people to understand how doing relaxing techniques can help them improve their life when they haven’t eaten for a day. I can understand where their coming from… we learnt that we have to frame it in a way that is tangible to them. Common symptoms of trauma are; not being able to sleep, lack of motivation, and increased anger, all of which inhibit their day-to-day survival. However, we are trying to work on a plan that can address their many physical needs as well as mental. That is the complexity of Haiti.
By Friday the roads had opened up again (although not the airport or my consulate) and so we went back to the camp we had worked with before on Monday. It was chaos there, with the pastor being in worse condition. We agreed to pay for him to go to the hospital and then tried to get more information on the reason for the camp division. We met with the other side and of course got a totally different story and our plans for conflict mediation began to fade as a religious theme began to emerge. I think there are going to be lots of religious fights in this country as Haitians are a very spiritual people, but neither Remi, Adelle or I felt comfortable being plopped right in the middle of one quite so soon. We’ve decided to back away from trying to mediate and instead will work in more indirect ways to build community cohesion and facilitated healing. I then lead my first whole healing group which was incredible, people were really open and although we still got lots of requests for food and medicine (and houses, and a medical clinic, and a school, and an ophanage) people really felt the difference from before we started the group compared to after, and they are excited to work with me throughout the year… so it was encouraging. Although I still think they think I have a school hidden up my sleeve, after all I am white.
The most heartbreaking thing for me though is the orphans, we did a whole bunch of interviews and it sounds like there are about 50+ orphans that live in this camp and no one looks after them. They “survive” by begging on the street or doing chores for people in exchange for food. I met some of them and many of them look only 3 or 4 years old! Ohhhh my heart just breaks! I want to just buy a big tent and live with them all so that at least they have a home and are a little safe! So that is something that needs to be solved.
The difficult thing about this place is that it has so many problems with so many layers and so many road blocks in trying to solve the problems, but it just requires one to be more creative right! The good news is that people were thinking that there were going to be lots of manifestations all this week and there haven’t been any thus far. Perhaps the UN trucks that constantly patrol the streets with their soldiers out and their rifles poised, are actually intimidating the public not to protest. But somehow I think all hell is going to break loose as soon as they declare the recount results. Which is December 20th. The people are so outraged at the seemingly blatant corruption (I’m not being political) that I can understand why there is so much pent up rage. People are saying that the reason “Sweet Mickey” is so popular is because he is “not a politician”, which is seen as the most redeeming quality of all of the 19 candidates.  But I digress…
So far, I am very happy, scared at times, as well as nervous and overwhelmed often, but really very happy. The people are incredible! and so friendly (despite disliking us whites in heated moments) and they are so strong! I have such an admiration for these people and I feel so honoured to be in this country! Not to mention the wonderful weather.
I guess it’s Christmas soon so I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday!
p.s. for those interested I’m linking you to some sites of the photo journalists I met. I can’t upload pictures yet and theirs are great!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In Haiti!

Phew! So I have arrived in Haiti and boy have we arrived! It is pretty chaotic here. Everyone talks about “Haiti time” but man I feel like I need to just catch my breath! We arrived Sunday morning (and today’s Tuesday) so I guess I’ve already been here three days. We started Sunday by going for a tour of Port-au-Prince (PAP) in a car, which was quite protective (and isolating) but the destruction literally hit me in the stomach, which I wasn’t expecting. The collapsed buildings, the destruction, the bodies that still haven’t been found… It’s a lot to digest, and it’s impossible to avoid. We then tried to go to the JP/HRO foundation, we accidentally were led to Sean Penn’s actually house by a very kind lady who offered to lead us- I’m sure she thought we were invited to whatever event was there. But me being annoyingly honest played my cards on the table right away and said we were actually looking for the camp etc. to which her demeanor completely changed and she said the camp was on “lock down” because of the protests and I returned sheepishly to the car.  Remi the director, however, is quite persistent and we promptly ended up finding the camp and driving through it all the way to the hospital. There we said hello to the patients with cholera who were surprisingly friendly and then tried to have a very confusing conversation with some UN soldiers who could only speak Spanish and our group only being able to speak English, French and Creole. However we managed to get what we wanted out of them and exhausted returned to our guesthouse which is home to a variety of other interesting characters.
            There seem to be a lot of people that come to Haiti once, and then either end up staying way beyond their expected duration, or come back year after year.  Many of these individuals are staying at Wall’s Guesthouse where we are privileged to stay. There are seriously about a dozen photo journalists who all talk about the election and were all the exciting protests (manifestations as they call them here). They talk about how they got tear gassed or almost got run over by a UN car that was getting attacked… and I can’t help but have a tinge of envy, I love being in the middle of the action. However, I’ve already gotten a lecture of how we can’t be political and I totally agree so I greedily listen to their stories. There are some incredible journalists one in particular who is British and so naturally has a dry sense of humor. I can and have just listened to him for hours about the history of Haiti and how what happened when he was here during the 1990 Coup.
            Yesterday ironically we started our day by meeting with the Aristide foundation. They do incredible work with children however their name is from the past president Aristide who actually got over thrown twice and exiled in before mentioned coup.  So not sure if we will be able to work with him as we need to be non-political, but they were incredibly friendly and it was wonderful to actually meet an organization. We then went there to try and visit more Internal Displacement Camps (IDCs) and our driver suggested we check out the Caradeux (sp?) camp. As we drove up he called someone over to tell us about the camp and to see if we could talk to the director (the camps are getting quite organized now that people have been living in them for so long and there is a protocol for visiting).  She told us the director had been arrested that morning and that they were thinking of doing a manifestation at the police station to get him released. We then made our way to where the vice director was and someone must have told him we were there as he came down to meet us, however much like many things it wasn’t quite true what she had said as it was the actual director that came to meet us and it was an elder that had got arrested. His demeanor was extremely pained and you could tell he was not only hurt and worried but there were stirrings of anger that were more clearly expressed in the people around him. We talked to him for a while explaining that we do healing work and want to help with trauma etc. he said there was a lot of need here and brought us to the pastor who had been attacked nine days earlier and who had several stitches in the side of his head. He was totally dejected; they said he couldn’t speak for two days after the incident. We did some healing work on him with the other elders and the director. At the end the Pastor was sitting up and the director was smiling as was everyone else. We all really bonded during the process and they and the pastor profusely thanked us. They’ve invited us back and depending on the election results we are supposed to go there tomorrow. There’s talk of me working with them long term, and they want to show us a mountain top where they take sick people and they are healed or partially healed. It was a profound experience which I can’t fully explain except to say that after we had left I burst into tears feeling completely overwhelmed with everything that is going on and everything I must carry out after Remi and Adelle leave. That was yesterday.
            Today has been tense with the election results suppose to be coming out, first at 10am, then noon, then 3pm, then 6pm and now almost at 9pm they are just being announced.  Everyone is worried about the manifestations as Haiti has a history of violent protests during these times. The worst is if they declare it a tie between the top two candidates that happens if no one wins by 50%, which is a certainty… However life goes on and people are thinking that perhaps it won’t be so violent so please those that know me don’t worry J. 
            So today we stated by meeting with a local named Geto, who actually has his masters in community development from the USA and so speaks perfect English (a rarity here!!!!) It was wonderful to meet him we are defiantly going to collaborate and he is going to try and set us up with Foncoze so we can do micro financing with a group we are already working with. It was very encouraging but none was as encouraging (for me at least) as meeting with Grass Roots United. I’m quite sure this will be my home for the next year. They seemed just incredible, supporting any volunteer organization that they feel is trying to do good work in Haiti. They will provide me with other organizations to collaborate with, translators, tap tap drivers, as well as a home that is home to a whack load of other volunteers so I can have a support system and debrief with others who are going through the same thing! My heart is singing for joy, I didn’t realize how petrified I was of Remi and Adelle leaving and me having no idea what to do or where to go and being completely overwhelmed. Ohhhh I feel like I have my power back having this home! I’m to live in a tent for the next year so I’m not sure what’s going to happen during hurricane season… but one hurdle at a time eh?
So now the evening is ending with a deep discussion of the top candidates and sporadic moments of all of us freezing in order to try and translate the results that are being announced over the radio. It sounds like tomorrow is going to be a very interesting day… Not sure if we will be meeting with that group after all.  Not sure if I’m going to get that breath. I promise I’ll be safe.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Leaving in three days!

So this is my first posting, hard to imagine that I'm leaving my life here in 3 days! I don't really think I've completely processed this minor piece of information. How does one pack for a year? Especially when I really have no idea what this trip is going to look like... I've made email contact with a couple people in Haiti and they sound nice so hopefully someone will have pitty on me and I'll be given a place to pitch my tent and a group of women to work with. For me a big part of this trip is to just trust in the universe and not make too many plans. (And this is coming from the person who's first words of the day are "what's my game plan today?") Eek, not sure what I'm getting into!
I'm feeling pretty excited/nervous/sad it's hard to be saying good bye to all my loved ones. Especially when so many of them are worried for my safety and seem to have to say this like they have some sort of tourettes! Ha! It does feel nice to be so loved though. I've already got a couple friends who have bought tickets and are going to meet me in the Dominican Republic for Christmas and New Years. Horay!
Well not to much time left soooo fasten your seatbelt here I go! I'll make another post when I arrive.