21 February 2011

The Strength Within

I had a dream last night that I was on a cruise ship with a whole bunch of friends, but most of the time I was alone. Everywhere I went, I was either too late or people were doing something else without me. I felt forgotten.

I think this is very indicative of my life right now. Humanitarian work is tough. It is cut-throat. And at the end of the day, at the end of the contract, you have made a lot of aquaintances, a lot of colleagues, but you all will leave. I will leave. 

I don't mean to sound melodramatic about it all. To be honest, I somewhat have a peace about it all. But for everyone who glamourises humanitarian work as 'saving the world' or so active and exciting, let me tell you. If you want this sort of life, be prepared to be alone. Be prepared to trust no one. Be prepared to rely only on yourself. 

There are 2 weeks left in my contract. And all I have to say is "WHAAATTTT??????" It went by so quickly! Now this does not necessarily mean I am leaving Haiti. But is does mean that I have to explore what my options are. I think I would love to stay here (most of the time), and right now, that is what I am pursuing. My French is just getting somewhat manageable, I am beginning to develop those strong working relationships. 

But at the same time, there is a part of me that feels like I should go. There is a part of me that is tired of not being supported, of constantly having to fight for my right to have some sort of control in what I do professionally. I am tired. I need R&R. 

There are talks about a new role developing. It's a 6-week long contract, which is only like that as a 'trial' period, and hopefully there will be room and budget for me to continue. If not, who knows. 

One other thing about humanitarian work - be prepared for your entire life to be one massive question mark. Consistently. It is consistently inconsistent. That is the guarantee.

Obviously, by this post, you can tell that there are a lot of things going on. A lot of things that I cannot share here. But, what has Haiti done to me and for me in the last 6-weeks? It has changed me. It made my work style different. It has solidified the strength that I always knew was in me. If I can make it through this on top, I can do anything. And making it on top is what I fully intend to do. 

In the meantime, let me leave you with some recent photos...

This is the future of Haiti:

13 February 2011

Someone asked me how my week was going and all I could say was "ummm... (long pause)... interesting???"

This week was a week of some really exciting personal accomplishments - and also some of the most difficult professional issues I have ever faced. All while working way too much (a 16 hour day, everyday, anyone?), not eating or sleeping enough, and running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I spent 5 days in the field, and one day in the office (yes that adds up to 6 days...), but even the day I was in the office I was in meetings most of the day. Let's just say that it was a crazy week.

A Mobile Clinic in a camp at the Border

This week, I had planned to go to visit some camps with a few other colleagues. Myself, I was doing it from the cholera perspective - I needed to understand some of the activities that were going on at the camps, because we had some confusions about it, as well as getting the gps coordinates for some of our activities. So Monday, we met to discuss how we would go about it, and ended up leaving around noon. It was an awesome day. I went to camps I had not been to before, some which were particularly beautiful. We got to talk with camp committee members and viewed projects. I went with my housemate, L, who speaks French and English, and a few other colleagues. L was doing a great job translating for the rest of us non-French speakers. Well, something in me - impatience I think - just decided, "I don't want to wait for L to translate for me - I can do it myself." And all of a sudden, I was communicating in French! It was very helpful to have L around because if there were things I did not know, I could ask her for assistance, but just the fact that I was able to communicate, as in have a conversation with the people, is MASSIVE!!! Yay! Accomplishment Number 1! And as it turned out, I was able to go to other camps on Tuesday with just myself and the liaison officer  - My French is definitely not good by any means, but just the fact that I am able to communicate makes me say "Brain, it's about time" haha. But French lessons should still help some. 
Conducting cholera prevention awareness trainings to children.
Later on in the week, I had some meetings scheduled in the evening up one of the mountains here. And when I say mountain, I mean mountain. We hike it occasionally. But this mountain road is not like most mountain roads in the States. I mean, we are in Haiti - roads are bad here. This road is steep, slippery in some parts, not paved in others, and only wide enough for 1 car. I was driving a manual land rover, which is a very powerful, very big car. I am used to driving it now around all the small hills and traffic of Petion-ville, where our office is, but driving up the mountain was a challenge. Particularly, since I was not completely sure where the house was. Well, let me tell you. There were a few instances where the car was not going forward. No, it was going backwards...with cars behind me! I quickly became accustomed to using the hand brake to help me get going - but it was a stressful experience. When I arrived at the house, I wanted to just fall on the ground and breathe. Accomplishment Number 2! Making it up the mountain without dying or killing anyone else or ruining a very expensive vehicle. I think driving in Haiti is going to make me a much better driver than I used to be...

The other days spent in the field included conducting trainings, visiting cholera treatment sites, getting GPS information, and assisting with some trainings on cholera prevention. I went out to our projects at the border, visited some beautiful remote areas of Haiti, went to other camps - one camp I visited twice in one week! Days spent in the field are long, exhausting, but so invigorating at the same time. Being able to discuss with the community about our projects, to find out suggestions they have, and to get their feedback is excellent. Lots of time is spent in vehicles, but its great, and I hope it will help to direct the work we do. 

Rural Haiti. Much different than Port-au-Prince
This week, there were also some very difficult moments professionally. As my job comes to a close (in 3 weeks!), there are issues to be figured out - including what I am doing next - and conversations that need to take place. I do not want to go into details about what happened, but let's just say that it was very stressful, discouraging, and occupied much of my thought process this week. But I think I handled it in the best way that I could - Accomplishment Number 3! - and will hopefully know a bit more about my situation this week. 

There were other accomplishments and challenges this week as well, but these first 3 are the ones that I spent most of the time thinking about. 

This weekend I have been trying to relax as much as possible - but that hasn't happened that much. I am very much starting to feel like I need R&R. But that will come. 

Every week in Haiti is different, I am learning. And the need is great. There is too much work and too little time. Let's see what these last few weeks of my job bring. 

06 February 2011

Beach Days...

I just returned from another lovely beach trip. And let me tell you, it was great! So great! Better than expected. I mean, I expected to have a really good time and get to hang out with some really awesome people, but it was even better than that. Let me tell you why...
*Photos taken from last Haitian Beach trip. Forgot my camera this time!
The outing was planned as a farewell to one of our colleagues, R. He is moving home tomorrow. I actually had just met him about a week or so ago. You see, I was driving home from the office and he lives in one of the teamhouses just around the corner from me. It was maybe a few days after I had started driving in Haiti - driving a landcruiser on hills that actually need 4-wheel drive - and I was not feeling confident yet. So, I am 'assigned' to drive this guy, R, home, which is down a massive hill. First off, he started by joking that he lived at my house...almost fooled me for a bit (hey, you never know...), but it was soon established that I was the crazier of the bunch, as I sweated profusely, unable to do the introductory chitchat driving down this hill. So, when I found out the farewell was for him, I laughed and said, well at least I can make him see that I am not that silly (even though we all know I am actually quite silly). 

We went to Moulin-sur-Mer, a resort just around the corner from the one I went to on New Year's Day. It was much nicer than the other one, although smaller. Perfect for the 22 or so of us who carpooled out there for a weekend of enjoyment.

And enjoying it was. We started the day off too early, arriving at the beach at around 10am. Checked in, and headed straight down to the beach! The water was the same warm, clear blue Haitian water as usual and was perfect for tossing on some snorkel gear and heading out to the reef nearby! Which was exactly what happened. 


Side note: out of the 22 of us, we figure we have most of the globe represented - North America (I was 1 of 2!), Europe, Middle East, South Asia, Australia, Haiti, and of course the Africans. Since R is from East Africa, there were loads of representation covering the span of Africa, from East to West to South. I loved the diversity and let me tell you, lots of languages conversed in and lots of laughter was shared. What a great group to be a part of!

*Moulin-sure-Mer is just around the corner from that point.

While I was out snorkeling, lots of activity was taking place towards the shore. You see, many Africans cannot swim. It has a lot to do with lack of access to a pool or coast, not being able to afford lessons, and just a lack of general cultural emphasis on it, such as in the States or Australia. So the few of us who could swim were 'designated teachers' showing friends how to float, kick, use their arms and actually just relax in the water. And let me tell you - some hilarious moments appeared. Such as when a housemate was lifting a colleague by his belly, trying to get him to kick and use his arms at the same time.

My major...achievement?... for the day included getting stung by a jellyfish. Twice. The first time, I didn't realise that was what happened, so I just shook it off and continued on my merry snorkeling day. The second time was just as I was heading back into shore, and I must have caught it as I was stroking. My entire forearm was covered. And it stung. A little at first, then more and more and more. And then welts started to appear! I was recommended by the staff to put some lime on it and use some ice. That helped, and so did time. I still have some splotches on my skin, but am none the worse for the wear. Special thanks goes to my housemate, who kindly volunteered to 'open his shop' and pee on my sting. I politely replied - thanks, but no thanks. The pain is not THAT bad!

Our afternoon was rounded out by lunch, resting, kayaking, laughing, drinking, more swimming lessons, and jumping on one of those massive floating water trampolines. We headed to the rooms soon after to shower, change and get ready for the evening's festivities. 

We ate dinner on a concrete platform in the middle of the water, listening to music, drinking beers, looking at the amazing stars (I saw the moon-set in the water for the first time!!!) and then...the dancing. Oh, the dancing. Myself and another colleague were placed in charge of running the 'game of the evening'. Which involved a 3-legged dance competition. What laughter! Of course this led to much more dancing until the late hours of the evening. Nothing beats a night of dancing with friends and colleagues to electric, hip-hop, reggae, African, and latin beats, followed by a late night swim and falling asleep under the shooting stars. Well, this is true, but I didn't actually mean to fall asleep under the stars!!! Whoops!!!

Today, after breakfast, our morning of hilarity continued with water fights, dancing in the ocean, more trampoline jumping, more kayaking and snorkeling, and building a 3-man totem pole. Or more accurately, a man-woman (me)-woman structure. Can't wait to see the pics!

Now, at home, working for the evening, I am just reminiscent of an excellent time, with excellent people and the desire to share experiences like this more often. Haiti, you are definitely on my good side today!