25 December 2011

A Displaced Christmas

A Haitian Christmas - Here

Today is Christmas and round the world, people are celebrating the birth of Jesus. Or maybe they are getting together to just drink a lot and share presents. Whatever their reason, a typical Christmas includes family, food, sharing, traditions and general merriment with people you care about.

But there are those of us who spend Christmas away from home, in a place that may be unfamiliar, with people who you have just met. This is my second Christmas of that sort. My second in a row.

Last year, my first Christmas away from home, was very difficult, because I had just arrived in Haiti, was living alone, and even though there were people around, it felt very lonely and unfamiliar. Also, Haiti was still in a time of shock - Christmas, a normally festive time of year, was quiet and somber. I decided at the end of last year that I did not want to have Christmas out of the country, away from people I love again.

But here I am, second year in a row, away from home, in an apartment by myself. But this year is very different. First of all, Haiti has its celebration back. There was a Christmas market in Place St. Pierre; fairy lights are on houses and stretched across the roads; Christmas eve resumed its normal night of craziness. But secondly, I learned a lot in 2011 (post on that likely to come), and one of the things I learned more about was how to adjust. 

Just as when you get married, have children, you start forming your own family traditions outside of what you grew up with, so it is when you are away from home in a foreign land. This year I learned to adjust to that displacement, and to form my own traditions, as the grown-up woman I am. 

Check out those choices!
On Christmas eve, I made an amazing meal for colleagues who were here as well, and we ended the night by dancing - as you do... But I woke up this morning with the intention to walk to church, worship with others, come home and relax and skype with my family, intermittent with watching Christmas movies (current choice: Home Alone!). Tonight, I will sleep early, and I will love it. Because Christmas does not always have to be about the hubub of merry-making. It can instead be about rest, relaxation, getting to spend quality time with friends and family, even if it is over the internet, and most importantly, celebrating the promise of Christ. 

I plan to keep this tradition whenever I spend time in a foreign land away from family - eat lots of food, spend time with the people around, but of course, make sure to make plenty of time for conversations with people back home.

Just because one is alone does not mean one is lonely.

To all my friends and family spread throughout the world, I send you love and cheer on this Christmas day. I miss you and cannot wait for the next day I see you.

21 December 2011

Religion and Human Rights: A Response

This post is a response to Kate from Wronging Rights' post entitled: 'Trying to Think about Human Rights and Religion'

As a Christian and student of Human Rights, religion and human rights is actually something that I have thought about a lot, more specifically on the linkages between human rights and religion and how we can use religiosity in favour and as a complement to human rights.

At the beginning of my studies, the first thing we discussed was the philosophy and history of human rights. In our lecture, our professor repeatedly said that as human rights activists, we need to be able to convince others that human rights exist and why they should believe in and uphold the rights themselves (which now, come to think of it, sounds exactly like proselytism).

I am also an aid worker, so throughout all of this, I was interested in being able to communicate the importance of human rights in emergency responses. But going to someone in Haiti or Kenya or Afghanistan and telling them, well, John Locke said this, and Rousseau said this, so logically you see, there is a natural law surrounding human rights, nd this is why you should believe in them and this is what you should do to uphold them, and what your government is responsible for as a duty-bearer just sounds difficult. How do you thrust the thoughts and opinions of Europeans and Americans onto those who are not, and convince them that this is what they should believe. Yes, this is where the neo-colonialism aspect comes in. 

In her article, Kate referenced the story about the success of the Tostan campaign against FGM in Senegal, which is a UN-led campaign that "seeks to build consensus, African-style, on the dangers of the practice, while being careful not to denounce it as barbaric as Western activists have been prone to do." They link with local women and men to train on health and human rights issues in the locally-approved way. The main starting point, though, included - interestingly enough - meeting with the village chiefs and imams to convince them that in Islam there was no religious requirement for cutting. The practice, in fact, pre-dates Islam by centuries!This process worked. By having the support of the religious leaders in the community, they were able to move to a community-based, human rights-based campaign and training programme to end FGM.

This example shows that by using 'localisation' tactics, as coined by Kate, there is actually a better opportunity to work with the local culture and context to bring different cultures,  communities, and governments to an agreement around supporting human rights. Where is much of this work needed? The developing world. And, as noted by many, the most religious people in the world can also be found in the places where some of the most atrocious human rights abuses exist. 

The Tostan campaign is just an example of how human rights and religion should work together to actually change in a locally-based, community-owned way. 

Now, I am not saying that I have all the answers to linking human rights with religion (especially when you throw into it the ideologies of all the varieties religion can take - fundamentalist to liberal), but while I was a student and we were looking for the philosophical base behind human rights in order to convince those who's rights have been abused or those who have the duty to uphold rights, I never felt satisfied with the answer. One of the principles I commit my work to, is to always consider the local context, to refer to local staff and customs and of course to collaborate with communities. Human rights should not be discluded from this. Neither should ignoring the religious viewpoints of those we are trying to help.

Perhaps religion actually is the answer, the logic, behind human rights. We need to not be so scared to explore what religion can bring to human rights because we in the Euro/Aus/American world are so afraid of church and politics. It might just be the winning argument to change.

*I am sure I will develop more thoughts on this topic as time passes. This is just my preliminary dump.

14 December 2011

With Just A Little Time

Five months ago, I left Haiti, after 6 months of rediculousity. Of course, I know that is not a word, but my word for Haiti, the entire time I was there was "rediculous." Because it was. Something new happened in Haiti every day. And I loved it... earthquakes, rains, cholera, hurricanes, political violence, corruption, ex-dictators returning to the country. We had it all. And had to adjust accordingly.

So it was no wonder that the media criticised all the UN agencies and NGOs here for being slow (as discussed by a fellow blogger here and here and many other places on his blog). How can you be quick when the situation changes every week, sometimes every day???

Well, as I said, 5 months ago I left Haiti. And when I left, it was still a mess. Cholera was rampant, we were coming into what was promised to be a banner of a hurricane season, there was no prime minister, and no one knew what would happen with MINUSTAH (UN peacekeeping service here), kidnappings were increasing.

But coming back now, I am impressed. I love walking / driving around the town to see all the changes. Because there are many. There is a fountain at Place St. Pierre (no water of course), and there is no longer a camp in the park (which also begs the question of what happened to all those people...). More businesses are open, construction is happening EVERYWHERE! But it seems to be organised construction! Not just people tearing at old buildings, or digging holes. Things are going up! Even the trees seem more bushy! Electricity is more stable; last night I was up the mountain and you could actually see the whole of Port-au-Prince valley's lights!

And let me get started about the streets! All the potholes I remember have been filled up and smoothed over, not just with dirt, but with actual asphalt too! Many of the roads are wider now too! Its actually a pleasure to drive (not that the driving rules have changed at all). But even traffic seems much less now!

As we are full and into the Christmas season now, there are Christmas lights hanging and trees in certain shops. I came home this evening to see our guards had decorated (including a horribly annoying Christmas song that is playing an unrecognisable tune in unrecognisable, squeaky notes...but hey, they tried).

Reading through the latest OCHA SitRep, the situation is less urgent and stressed (although there are still lots of people in tents who are threatened to be evicted), the cholera epidemic is calming down into a nice disease that will resurge every rainy season, there were no hurricanes this last season (although there were monsoonal rains), and hey, there is even excess food around (not that food prices reflect that)!

Of course, there is still lots of work to be done. Lots and lots, which is reflected in the amount of work I have to do. But these last 5 months were the most stable that Haiti has had in the last 2 years. And its amazing the difference a little stability can make. In some cases, it is unrecognisable.

10 December 2011

Reunited, and It Feels So Good

Well, I have arrived in Port-au-Prince.

I am just so happy to be here!

In the last 24 hours or so, I have:
- had a Christmas party with lots of Haitian food, and Christmas goodies.
- received an awesome Christmas gift of a traditional Haitian arts and crafts souvenir
- moved into my new flat, and I love it. I am not super thrilled that my room is on the sunny side (its not as cool), but I will adjust. Hey, I have curtins and a/c
- felt all the lovely changes of the humidity and dirt. Dirty feet, sweaty skin, hair that is a little more monstrous (and not that it ever is), and skin that glows because it is full of health and sun!
- been recognised by people who didn't know I was back. 2 people actually!
- went shopping. bought stuff for the house to make it just that much more homey
- talked security and work with my new manager (who is so far, so awesome!)
- given myself a lovely list of to do items to conquer this job
- took pictures of the hills and valley from my roof
- made a hatian woman laugh, because I was up on the roof and she was looking at what I was doing from the street. So I waved. She laughed and waved back.
- researched potential Christmas holiday treats for myself and my family

And in the rest of tonight, I am off to dinner with a view, and once I finally receive my phone, to make lots of phone calls to long lost voices.

I am so glad to be here.

27 November 2011

Haiti Theme Song: Rihanna

My first time in Haiti was both challenging and addicting. I felt as if my theme song was this:

As I head back to this difficult context, I plan on it being: 

I never liked Rihanna until Haiti. 

22 November 2011


P/C: Shine Phinao
Every action has its consequences. Good or Bad. Sometimes you treasure them; sometimes you regret them. 

When I was 18 years old, I chose to attend a conservative Christian university to continue my education. There are many reasons why I chose the school, but I must admit, my attendance led to many frustrations. Frustrations with the institution, with its beliefs, with its policies, with the education received. 

There are many moments where I have wondered, "knowing what I know now, with all its frustrations, would I do it all again?" Sometimes, I have responded "NO!" wishing I had considered all the options and chosen a different course; thinking that I would have been happier.

But then I realise - no matter how frustrated I was, no matter how non-prestigious my university was, it led me to some really awesome people.

People I am proud to call some of my best, and longest, friends. People who share like mind-sets and worldviews, who love and can be loved, who bring joy and laughter. Who, no matter where we are in the world, or how long we have been apart, we can pick right back up where we left off.

When I think about this unintended consequence, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

18 November 2011

Redefining Home

A few months ago, I wrote about my life in boxes and questioned where home was for me. My conclusion, somewhat, was that "my home has to be wherever I am."

I am retracting this conclusion for another...who says you only have to have one home? 

In that post, I examined the three options I felt I had to call home - LA, London, and Haiti. At the time, none felt like home - I think because I was looking at the "typical" definition of a home. According to my favourite dictionary.com, the first definition for home is "the usual residence of a person," which was how I was defining what home is. 

But if you look further down the list, home can also be defined as an idiom: "in a situation familiar to one; at ease." Now this definition is more relevant to the life of an expat, and the life of a traveler. We have many places that we are at ease; many locations in which we are familiar; loved ones in these homes that make it such.

In this case, then I have more than one place to call home, more than one situation with which I am familiar. Three at this point in life, although I am sure this number will increase. 

And it is with excitement and anticipation that I am able to share that I am leaving one home to return to the second via the third. 

In more clear terms, I am leaving Los Angeles to return to Haiti. I have been offered a position with a British organisation, and therefore will be returning to London for 2 weeks of orientation (27 Nov - 8 Dec), before heading to my beloved Port-au-Prince (9 Dec).

According to my dad, I live my life atypically - by this point, he expects nothing less. So then, it is only expected that my home is not according to the typical definition. To these "familiar situations" then, I will be glad to be welcomed home, not once but twice. 
LA, a la prochaine
Bon Retour, Haiti

29 October 2011

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

a road under water and monsoonal rains will not stop a good time

In June of this year, I took advantage of living on the island of Hispaniola by visiting the other country on this small, Caribbean paradise - the Dominican Republic. Obviously, this decision was augmented by the fact that I have had multiple friends live in and fall in love with this Spanish-speaking nation - I mean - I had to go. 

I decided to head for Santo Domingo, as I had heard very good things about it, and did not want to chance having rainy weather at the beach. I hear there are some absolutely gorgeous beaches in the DR though. Next time around...

getting there:
super small planes for the super small airport.
Since I was living on the same island as the Republic, I decided to travel there a bit unconventionally - by road there and by plane back. I loved doing this, as it allowed me to experience the gorgeous jungle-y scenery of the island, while allowing the maximum time to adventure in the city.

A word of warning, should you decide to travel this route - the road is notoriously bad and unpredictable. Oftentimes, vehicles cannot get through and/or get stuck. We happened to plan our trip during rainy season, which allowed us the fun (and a little stressful) experience of driving through the lake, which had flooded the road. I am amazed our little vehicle made it through. But an adventure it was!

There are also buses to take from Port-au-Prince and other areas of the DR, as well as 2 airports to service your needs. I flew out of the smaller one, as I was just making a short hop. Do not be surprised to have to pay an airport tax in cash upon arrival. And if you do decide to make the short hop over to the other side of the island, also do not be surprised to have hand-written boarding passes and no computer to register your payment. Some of the airlines have yet to enter the computer age - as much charming as it is strange.

to stay / get around: I ended up staying more in central Santo Domingo, which was not super convenient for doing what I wanted to do. But it was cheap. And close to a Taco Bell, which, after almost 2 years away from the US, was a HUGE plus in my book. 

just off the Malecon - not much of a beach,
but still with Caribbean views
On the other hand, I would recommend staying in an area close to Zona Colonial, which will likely be where you will want to spend your time wandering. There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs to choose from on Avenida George Washington (also known as the Malecon) and Avenida Independencia. A search on your favourite travel site should find you some great options ranging from as little as $20 per night for a homey B&B to upwards of $175 for a more ritzy hotel.

Should you choose to stay on one of these roads, getting around will be very simple. Santo Domingo is a very walk-able city, with lots to see and experience. And for times when your feet are just too tired to take another step, taxis are plentiful and cheap. My experiences with them proved them to be very knowledgeable of the city and willing to hand you their cards should you want to hire them for further services. Don't expect much English though.

As with all travel (and arguably with life), be aware of your situation, whether it is walking around, in a taxi, or at your hotel. I had no bad experiences myself, but that does not mean that all tourists are left alone...

to see:
Contrary to the belief of the average American, the New World did not begin in the good ol' US of A. Au contraire, mes amis, Santo Domingo boasts being the oldest European city in the Americas, founded by the Columbus family, whose influence can still be seen throughout the city.

This is most notable in the Zona Colonial, where one can find:
Calle Las Damas: the Oldest European Street in the Americans 
- Fortaleza Ozama
- Alcazar de Colon: the former residence of the Columbus family, now a museum
Me and the Alcazar de Colon!
- Panteon Nacional
- Ruinas de San Francisco

The river of water emerging from the
Ruinas de San Francisco
- Iglesia Regina Angelorum
- Catedral Primada de America
The gorgeous Catedral Primada de America
- La Puerta del Conde or Puerta de la Independencia, which leads from a major shopping street to the plaza where the DR proclaimed its independence.
- Altar de la Patria, which houses the remains of the DR's founders
- And lots of other beautiful pieces of the Americas' history. 

Ruinas de la Iglesia y Hospital San Nicolas de Bari
I highly recommend just taking your time and exploring Zona Colonial. You never know what you will find.

Should you desire, there are tour guides available to explain the history of the area. Of course there is a small fee (negotiable). Beware, though - they may try and force themselves on you. At this point, I was touring alone and had not done enough research, so I welcomed the information from my friendly tour guide. He offered to take me around the city, which I didn't have time for, but walked with me as I finished my visit around the Zona Colonial. I learned much more than I would have if I had been by myself, including information about the Dominican crest, the first sundial, and the Columbus family. But it's up to you... (I think my guide was also excited to do something - there were not a lot of tourists around in the monsoon I found myself in.) 
Take note: most museums and indoor experiences are closed on Sundays, much to my detriment. If you plan your visit to the Zona Colonial better than I did, you will get to experience the magnificent finds in this historic city.

don't forget:
  • to enjoy Dominican life through observation.
There are lots of lovely plazas and parks to just sit and relax with a book and a Presidente, watching life pass by. Don't forget this integral part of your cultural experience! Recommendations include: Parque Colon, El Parque Independencia, or Plaza de Espana.
Parque Colon: a place for pigeons and people watching
  • to dance the night away. 
Music and dance flood the streets of Santo Domingo. While the DR's national dance is the merengue, latin / haitian-based rhythms can be found at most clubs, including salsa, bachata, and kompa. Clubs playing other types of music can be found, but don't miss this opportunity to move your body to the Dominican beat.
And don't be surprised to find live bands playing on any old street corner or plaza. Enjoy! This is the Caribbean! 
No, I am not talking about the well-known plant. Mamajuana is a traditional Dominican drink, which infuses Dominican rum, red wine, honey and locally-sourced bark and herbs to produce a sweet-tasting potable with medicinal properties. It is said to aid digestion and circulation, cleanse blood, livers and kidneys, and cure the flu. And for those who are interested, it is also known to be an aphrodisiac with Viagra-like properties. 

25 October 2011

The 5 Most Interesting Ways...

I've been meaning to write this for a long time - just never got around to it. But today, I decided, is the day to write the story of my last week in Haiti. Because it's a good'un. 

I believe I said over and over again (verbally, if not in written form) that Haiti is crazy. (in the best way possible, of course). Crazy in that every day something new happens. Sometimes it was scary; sometimes it was random; sometimes it was just plain AWESOME!!!! Well, my last week in this ever-changing country is just an example. One that sums up the entire experience. So...here it goes.


1. You get pickpocketed. (I'ts only $15 - not the end of the world. And definitely not worth fighting over, mi amigo)
Back up the river. We wanted to go home too...

2. On the way to the beach, the bridge is out. So, you have to drive down into the river, down stream until you get to the beach, drive along the beach (tires in the waves), through a jungle, and then have to pay to exit the land to get back on the road. 

3. A streetchild attempts to steal your purse. Attempts, being the operative word. As in, you fought back, got the purse, cursed after him, then climbed into the car as if nothing happened.

4. There is an earthquake. Being a Californian, this is no big deal. But Haitians are still scared to death of them. (Rightly so, of course - you never know if the building will come crashing down around you). 

5. You are forced to leave the country within 24 hours of your contract ending, regardless of the fact that you and the HR representative signed a document saying you had 30 days to relocate and repatriate. HUH?!?!!?

ahhhh. this is the way to travel.
*both photos from a colleagues Facebook. Hey, I was driving. 
Down a river - and you expect me to take photos too?
Yes - those all happened in 1 week! Surrounded by other interesting experiences, such as goodbye lunches, dinners, dances, and finalising all my last bits of work. 

I am not sure if Haiti was telling me that it did not want me to go, or if it was telling me to get the hell out. But no matter what, it stuck with me. 

Haiti, I miss you and your unpredictability. Do you miss me too?

07 October 2011


When I was living in Pasadena a few years ago, I had a fig tree that hung over my balcony. It was intermixed with a Jacaranda tree that bloomed lovely purple flowers every spring. 

This sounds amazing, right? Beauty every spring, and fresh fruit every summer? To me though, it was annoying. The purple flowers would fall on the balcony and litter the ground with slippery, dried up, dead flowers. It was a terror to clean. The fig tree, on the other hand, went unappreciated. I am not a big fan of figs. 

Literally or figuratively. 

You see, in my life, it seems like every choice, as so eloquently put by Sylvia Plath, is a fig. But if I choose one, I cannot have the others. They will just wilt and die. 

Every woman has this choice. It is particularly strong in the humanitarian field. It is very rare to find a woman who has spent the majority of her life in the field, who is married with children. In fact, the great majority of people in the humanitarian sector are either single, or divorced. 

So what is the most important? What is your priority?

This question - which fig to choose - and even, do I have to choose a fig - are thoughts that regularly fill my mind. 

I only hope I choose one and am happy with my decision before they all fall, rotten, to the ground.

19 September 2011

The Big Picture

The Big Picture - Griffith Observatory
Looking up, I, with tear-dimmed eyes, saw the mighty Milky-way. Remembering what it was - what countless systems there swept space like a soft trace of light - I felt the might and strength of God. Sure was I of His efficiency to save what He had made: convinced I grew that neither earth should perish, nor one of the souls it treasured.
- Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Look at that smog! You can barely see the Hollywood sign!
Last week, I decided to get out of the house and get some culture. So, I drove myself out to the Griffith Observatory, which is free and in the amazing Griffith Park in the view of the Hollywood sign. Before entering the observatory, I took a stroll in the park and watched the sunset over that infamous monument. The park was peaceful, as I took time to breathe in the lovely California smog and think about life - trying not to stress about it is more like it.

One of the things about being "in between contracts" is that it gives one a lot of time to think, aka get discouraged and worry about what is next and when it's going to come about. Some days, I am able to be positive. Some days, positivity is just not possible. Most days, it is about just focusing on the here and now. 

My visit to the observatory was one of those days. Just trying to enjoy the present and trust that better times are to come. One of the exhibits actually really brought this point home for me, and it keeps being brought back to my attention. 

They have this amazing exhibit called "The Big Picture". What it is, (pictured above) is essentially a big picture of space - of stars, galaxies, and the universe. Yes, it is awesome to look at as you walk around a room exploring space. As described on the website, the photo shows just a tiny slice of the universe - about the amount of sky that your index finger would cover if you held it about a foot away from your eyes. Viewed through the telescope that took this picture, there are over one-and-a-half million visible stars, galaxies and other celestial objects! And that is just what 1 index finger covers! 

In one of the videos about the photo, it showed the scale of the stars and galaxies seen. Now, anyone who has been to an observatory or taken an astronomy class knows that the light from stars that we see here on earth is "in the past" - that is that the light that the star gave off had to travel so many billions of light years to get to us here on earth. And that takes time. So, essentially the light that we are seeing was emitted from the star in the past. But we are seeing it in the present - we are looking through time into the past! What a crazy concept right?!

But what really got me was the depth of space video. It showed the depth and scale of the sliver of space we were viewing in the Big Picture. From this video, you could see just how small and tiny we were in the scale and depth of the universe. And how what we can see in space is just a minutiae of what exists. 

How do you see stars with all that light / smog pollution!?!
It got me thinking. There is a bigger picture out there. As that quote from Jane Eyre (read just this morning!) emphasises - we are so small in the grand scheme of things, in the big picture of the universe. But just as God neither prevents the universe from imploding, so will he protect us and implement his plan for us. But, just as we view the light from stars that radiated out of it billions of years ago, when life is rendered, when we see the light, will be at the right time for us. 

I didn't mean for this to get all spiritual or contemplative on you, but when the Big Picture is put in front of your eyes, you really start to put into perspective all the time spent worrying about your own small slice of the universe. 

14 September 2011

5 Stages

It has been a long time since I have written. 4 months to be more specific. I have tried to write. I have so many blogs I have started and then deleted, started and couldn't finish, wrote in my head. But I didn't understand why I couldn't just get it out there. 

Recently, though, I have been beginning to feel like I could again. Write blogs, live life, get back out there. I began to feel good.

I have been back in Southern California for 2.5 months now. My contract in Haiti ended in June, and I had no other option to come back to LA - I was literally kicked out of the country (another story for another day). And I was broken, emotional and at the bottom. It took a long time and a lot of patience to heal. But I have - mostly (sometimes what happens still haunts me...literally. Last night I dreamed I was yelling and swearing at a former colleague). At least to the point where I can deal with it in a healthy manner - while awake at least haha.
The other day, I was reading something that mentioned the 5 stages of grief. This struck me, because while I am not mourning the loss of an individual, I was losing. I was losing a situation and losing myself in it. And with that came all 5 of these stages. 
  1. Denial — "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me."
    Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after loss.
  2. Anger — "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; '"Who is to blame?"
    Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy.
  3. Bargaining — "I'll do anything for a few more ..."; "I will give my life savings if..."
    The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay loss. Usually, the negotiation is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will lose, but if I could just do something to buy more time..."
  4. Depression — "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "It's going to end soon so whats the point... What's the point?"
    During the fourth stage, the losing person begins to understand the certainty of the loss. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.
  5. Acceptance — "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with her/his loss or tragic event.
Some happened while I was still in Haiti, some happened here. And I will not be explaining everything that happened. But I experienced all these emotions. It was difficult. Some days it was hard to get out of bed. Some days I thought my life was over. Some days I was angry. Some days I fought to stay afloat. Some days I drowned. Some days it affected others in my life more than I wish it would have.  

But I am back. And I will be better than before. Haiti broke me; Haiti taught me. But I know I will be better because of it.

I am on my way to beauty.
From the Originator of the 5 Stages of Grief

30 April 2011

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

Here in Haiti, we drive on the right side of the road - as in the US. And you would have to be living under a rock to not know that in the UK they drive on the opposite side of the road.

While I was living in the UK, I drove on quite a few occasions. I have to tell you, the first time that I drove in the UK on the opposite side in a small, manual car, I was nervous.  How would I do? Would I be able to stay in my lane? What about those crazy roundabouts? Would I hit someone!?!? (actually happened while I was a passenger with a person unfamiliar with driving on the opposite side.) But I took to it like a fish to water. 

I must admit though. I am not as comfortable with driving on the left side of the road as I am on the right side. When I am driving on the right side, I relax. It is like second nature for me. I don't have to concentrate so hard on making sure I stay in the lanes; my reaction time is much quicker. It is "home" for me. 

This does not meant that I do not enjoy driving on the opposite side of the road. Rather, I find it very enjoying, even if I am not as comfortable or feel a little out of place. It is a bit of a challenge, one which I relish and look forward to becoming fluent in. 

The BF (who learned to drive on the left side of the road) with our weeny rental car in Scotland.
 We shared driving on the left-hand side of the road.
I was talking to the BF this morning and realised that this is an analogy for my personal interactions with cultures. Living and working here in Haiti, with a plethora of different cultures and nationalities represented, I have been able to get to know, love and hang out with people from all over the globe.

I love it. I am able to learn so much about people and places that are unfamiliar to me ("how are you" in Sierra Leonean Krio, growing up in 1-room houses in South Asia, the politics of washing your dog in Uganda, the proper way to have a dinner party in Lebanon). But while all of this is interesting and great to learn / discuss / hypothesise about future visits to these locations, I often feel unable to contribute to the conversation and there is a small part of me that feels out of place.  

Last night, I went out to dinner with some American and Australian colleagues. And it was good.  We laughed, talked the politics of vegemite / marmite, debated on the best water-saving technique, and reminisced about family pets.  It was easy. It fit. 

For me, hanging out with US / Oz / Western individuals is like driving on the right side of the road. It's second nature. I don't have to think about it. 

Spending time with those from non-Western cultures is different. It doesn't fit. I am not as comfortable. But I still revel in it. 

And just as with driving on the left-hand side of the road, I look forward to the day when there is no difference  between Western and Non-Western to me. Just friends, colleagues and sharing life experiences.  

22 April 2011

I never thought I would be so excited...

to be HOME!!!
*stolen online
Los Angeles - this is what I plan on enjoying while I am here:

  • Mom and Dad
  • Friends
  • Skyping with friends from a similar time-zone
  • Time to reflect
  • Blueberries and Bananas for breakfast (currently in the mouth)
  • Target
  • Forever 21
  • Victoria's Secret
  • Hiking in the Hills
  • Mexican Food
  • In 'n Out
  • Watching trashy TV while working...
  • Weighing myself (actually am... as I have not weighed myself in 16 months!!!)
A short, but sweet visit. Wow, am I glad to be here...

21 April 2011

An Open Letter...

"Even though we've changed and we're all finding our own place in the world, we all know that when the tears fall or the smile spreads across our face, we'll come to each other because no matter where this crazy world takes us, nothing will ever change so much to the point where we're not all still friends."

Dear Best Friends,

I just wanted to tell you all something - I miss you. I miss our laughs; I miss our tears; I miss our moments that we were so frustrated by at the time that are now one of our most cherished moments (Big Sur?); I miss our inside jokes (sword?); I miss our dances (82?); I miss our paintings; I miss our breakfasts, lunches and dinners together; I miss our drinks; I miss our crazies; I miss everything that we had.

Haiti is teaching me a lot. It is teaching me a lot about work; it is teaching me a lot about humanitarianism. Most of all though, it is teaching me about friendship and relationships and what it means to find people who you are able to be yourself with - support you, frustrate you, encourage you, and most of all who love you unconditionally. People like you are not easy to find. 

People like you remind me that there is life outside of here, and that even if things are difficult here that there are people like you in the world who I can not see for years, and then pick up with as if we had never left. 

You are always in my heart. And until I see you again, know that I love you. And that in you, I find strength. In you, I find courage. In you, I remember how to love. 

You are everything to me. 

For all of you, from New Zealand to Australia to Singapore to India to Italy to the UK to the US to whatever country you are heading to next, I love you. 

And I will always be there for you when you need.


16 April 2011

The Waiting Game...

*I wrote this yesterday by hand while I was sitting around waiting for IT to finish working on my computer. For the entire day. I hate waiting. Patience is not my virtue...

I must admit... this week has been - as I told my manager the other day - well...boring. 

Which may sound weird coming from last week where I was raving about my work and expressing my frustrations about having to postpone again. 

Well, this week, the waiting has continued, and there are still no guarantees.

Granted, I have not been sitting around doing nothing... Oh no. The long hours have continued; the work has not ended. Rather, I am picking up small projects, doing what needs to be done, and at slower moments, reading documents that are good to learn from. 

But, the "waiting game" is really not very fun... you see - my job now within WV is as a DME Officer. My JD, while it includes a variety of tasks, focuses mostly on the organisation,  facilitation and follow-up of a baseline assessment. 

For those non-social scientists out there (Mom & Dad), a baseline assessment is...well...an assessment, or survey, that measures the current status of a problem - in this case, the knowledges, attitudes and practices around cholera - at the beginning of a programme / project in order to be able to measure the full impact of the project at the end of it.

Now, the reason I am playing the excruciating waiting game, maintenant, is because the project I will be establishing the baseline for is taking forever. FOR-EV-VER! (in classic Sandlot expressions). Literally, months. 

You see, the contract between us and the donor has to be signed before I can begin the assessment. Of course, we have to have the guarantee that the money will be there for the project we are establishing before we can actually begin activities. You can't pay for something without money, right?

And so, we wait. We wait for the IFI donor to look through our project plan and make sure all the documents are in order. We wait for the government agency partner to talk to the IFI to make sure what needs to be shared is shared. We wait for the other organisations we are working with to ensure that they are ready to move forward with the project as well. 

This raises one of the biggest frustrations any NGO worker has in responding to emergencies - everything boils down to the money; everything boils down to the grant. 

The grant is what defines the project; the donor is the one you have to report to because they want to know that their money is being used effectively; all activities have to fall specifically under the remit and within the specific time-period of the grant, otherwise you can't charge the activity against the available funds; you have to ensure that all the money is spent within the agreed upon time period, otherwise you have to give the money back and your relationship with the donor and potential for future partnerships will suffer. 

Geez. It sounds like the donor holds all the power here, doesn't it? Including, at this point, my schedule and feelings of being bored / feeling useful. 

I suspect that as I become more and more well-versed in grants, donors, projects and my job, I will be writing more and more about my frustrations with the system. Consider yourself warned. 

09 April 2011

Expectations Fail.

Well, it has been 2 weeks since I re-arrived in country. And what a 2 weeks they have been. Sometimes I wish I could write a book about my experiences here, just as they are. No hiding, straight talking, maybe even venting a little. People would not believe it. Drama.

These last 2 weeks have just added to this desire. But I have to preface this statement - 

I love my new job. Seriously. This is the first time in years that I have really loved it. I am growing so much, it challenges me everyday, I learn something (s) new everyday. And I love the DME team. 

So after that caveat, let me tell you this - I am FRUSTRATED!!!

I am here to manage a baseline assessment. Pretty much what that means is that there is a new project coming for the cholera response and we want to know what the current situation is in order to measure how the project changes the situation at the end. By managing this, I have spent the last 2 weeks creating lots of documents, hiring enumerators (people conducting the survey on the ground), working with the budget, creating the plan, organising training, and in general making sure everything is in order for both the training AND the data collection.  

Yesterday, I made the informed decision to postpone the training. Again. For the 2nd time. This is the 3rd reschedule. And we do not know when we will start now. But because of this, we will have to call all the enumerators today to let them know, promising them that we want them, but we cannot tell them when they will work - and work is hard to come by here. I feel TERRIBLE about this. I do not like promising something and then having to go back on it, particularly when its affects people. I do not care about adjusting my schedule...yet again (ok, I am frustrated, but I will get over it). 

We went through such a process to hire these enumerators. First, we posted the job descriptions on university campuses here (students are always eager to work, have flexible schedules, and are a great investment). We received over 400 applicants. So, we had to go through them. We then had about 125 come this week for a test on their critical thinking skills. And let me tell you, that was a lot to organise. And then, we had to grade them. I felt like a teacher. 

Overall, we had about 50 out of 400 that we will want to work with on various assessments. Grading the papers, I was struck with an interesting fact about Haitian students. One thing we always joke about here is how slow Haiti is. We gave the students 30 minutes to finish the test - one which would have taken myself and my colleague about 15min to complete. I was shocked by the amount of people who were not able to complete even half of the test in 30 minutes. And I am saddened that out of 400, we were able to gather about 50 for our needs. 

I do not want to comment about the Haitian workforce. Work is hard to come by here and everyone wants a job. With these 50 individuals, I hope that I can help them on that path. 

So after grading the tests, we called all the people that we wanted to let them know to come on Monday for training. Now, we have to change because the contract is not signed and we cannot spend money before its there (an obviously good practice). The signing of the contract is completely out of my control, so now I just have to wait. And patience is not one of my virtues...yet...

At least this gives me opportunities to work on other things. But oh the frustrations of expectations not being lived up to - for myself and for all our enumerators!

In another note, last weekend, I drove up the mountain to spend a pleasant day with my friend and colleague, A. Here are some of the GORGEOUS photos (and lots of adorable puppies - maybe to become one of our own???).