24 March 2011

Back to Reality

Well, once again I am here. In a New York Airport Hotel. Thankfully, NOT stuck this time...as far as I am aware of...yet. I am, once again, on my way to Haiti - this time knowing a bit more what to expect, knowing the people that are there, and being really excited for the challenge that lies ahead.

But before all that happens, I thought I would give a quick update of the last 2 and a half weeks...which were awesome!

My arrival into the UK was marked with the surrealism, somewhat hinted at in the last post, of having been gone for 3 months and returning to a place I loved, but was not expecting to see for a while. You might even say I had a minor identity crisis...but only minor. Being surrounded by people I loved and a home that I knew made me able to adjust back in within days. 

And what days those were - days of surprised faces, exclamations, the Lion King in the West End, visits with professors, drinks on the river Thames, and dinners with the flatmates. Oh, and shopping. Can't forget that essential item.

The highlight of my trip though - barring the BF and our London fam - was a trip to the Scottish Highlands in the second week. I am not exaggerating when I place the Highlands at an 8 on a scale of 10. Mountains, lochs, snow, rivers, sea, waterfalls, sheep, highland cattle, remote islands, whisky, castles, pubs, and great company - all words that describe this trip. But I will let some of the photos do the talking. 

Loch Ness

What I Call: Mirror Lake

What a View!
Not a Soul in Sight!

Seaside Village

Scottish Highlands are highly recommended. And it was great and much needed to spend some time with just the BF. 

I came back from Scotland, super excited and ready to get back to Haiti. But I still did not have flights booked. Ha! Well, it actually worked out best. The BF, who is moving back to Oz via a 5-day visit to LA, left the same day - same airline, same terminal. And our flights were within 10 minutes of each other! While that just prolonged the teary goodbyes, at least we were able to spend our last few days, full of friends, laughter and drinks, up to the last few moments together. It will be about 4 months before I see him next and this is going to be difficult and long. TGFS - Thank God for Skype!

Before I get lost in my contemplation of the end of my London era, and a return to reality, I need to head to bed. But before I go, I just want to put out how thankful I am for my family in the UK and for all the times we had together. See you in Oz, dear friends! 

21 March 2011

Life in Boxes

Upon my arrival to the UK, I was excited and nervous and just so happy to be "home". Until I filled out the customs form. At that point, I was struck with a fact. When the customs form asked me what my country of residence was, I realised that at that point I was "homeless". None of the normal options for a home fit. Let me consider them:

1) Haiti: You see, as I did not have a signed contract in Haiti, I had to pack as if I was leaving. So I brought everything with me. As I was not confirmed to return, I could not consider Haiti to be my home, even though once my contract is signed, then it can be. However, because of this uncertainty, Haiti could not be considered my home.

2) London: London was my home once. And I still consider it a place I love. However, I do not live there any more, even though I have friends to call family and a house to call home. According to my visa, which allowed me to live and work in London before, I am no longer eligible for that. While there are visa options that I can pursue, at this point, calling London home is not an option. 

3) Los Angeles: While LA will always be a 'home' because my parents live there, I have no desire to have the city be my permanent abode. So, even though my 'permanent address' is there, I do not feel right calling it my home, since I do not live there, have not been there in over a year and will not be living there in any sort of long-term capacity in the near future (or perhaps ever). 

For me, my home has to be wherever I am. I know I will never be 'homeless' but when I actually had to think about what my country of residence was (I ended up putting the US), I realised how compartmentalised the life of an expat aid worker can be. 

Life exists in 2 places for us. Where we are physically and then everywhere else. Relationships develop in the country we are working with, dramas happen, stress exists, fun and friendship takes place. But then there are all the relationships that existed before we moved that need cultivating, stories that will be with us forever, skype dates that need to take place. 

One of the things I have realised through all this is that what exists in one "box" should not become the be all and end all of life. Responses will end, job contracts will finish, people will move. But its the relationships that are kept up-to-date that will be the saving grace through all this.

I have been particularly terrible at cultivating my friendships outside of wherever I am physically. This is something I know I need to work on, and is something that I hope I will change over the coming weeks once I return to Haiti. The life of an expat does consist of boxes - and I need to make sure that all of my boxes are full :)

10 March 2011

30-minute Haiti...

Yesterday, I went back to uni to visit my old professors for a catch-up. It was lovely. While I was there, though, I agreed to come back today and talk to this year's MA students about my experiences, how I got my job, and how what I learned in the MA in Human Rights contributes to my work. 

Well, that got me thinking, of course. How can I sum up 3 months into 30min with time for questions?

well, for starters - I started with WV when I was 20 years old...a few weeks before I turned 21. I started as an intern in their humanitarian department. I worked with them for about 3 months before heading back for my final year of undergrad. I came back post-graduation, as an intern again. And then have never left. Even as I moved to London to pursue a Master's degree, even as I actually tried to end my job, it didn't. I wanted to have a clean cut with WV to pursue a different path, but God had something different for me. So I worked with WV remotely and part-time. To be honest, one of the reasons I pursued it was because I hoped it would lead to a field-based job.

When the Haiti earthquake hit last January, I was broken. I wanted to be there. Something in my heart left me and flew to Haiti and it stayed. I was so upset that I could not go then, because of my commitments to school. I never expected that I would end up there almost 1 year later.

But that is what happened. Because of the job I was so eager to cut, I was able to move to Haiti. God knows better right? And I have never looked back.

Haiti is...different. It is complex. We always say that Haiti is different everyday, and it is. I love it. Something is always happening - from Duvalier coming back to political election violence to parties and parades in the street on a Sunday evening in the month leading up to Carnival. Haiti always throws something different your way.

My work with them has not been easy by any means. It was a level of difficulty I was unprepared for though. There are so many changes within WV and things going on internally so it is difficult to be prepared for something you are completely unaware of. But I tried to rise to the challenge. I hope I succeeded. Only time will tell for that one.

I think I have changed throughout this as well. I have become more self-reliant (if that was even possible - I was already VERY self-reliant before I left). Strength and resilience, while I always knew I had these traits, I never knew how deep they were. I truly discovered where my professional strengths lie. I love analysis, holding people accountable, improving programmes to be the best they can be, building the capacity of others - particularly national staff - and working with the communities to, as Clinton says, "Build Haiti Back Better." I only see the point of a project if it is sustainable - or a means to an end while the sustainable option is being developed. When I leave, I want to leave systems and things in place that are not going to die without my involvement. I want Haitians to be the proud owners of a better Haiti, not the receivers. Of course this is VERY difficult. And involves a lot more people than just myself. 

My MA in Human Rights helped me more than I realised in the last 3 months. Not just by getting me out of the US, but by being a massive stepping stone to getting to the field and by also showing me how essential human rights principles, such as equality, participation and inclusion, accountability, and increasing the capacities of rights-holders to hold duty-bearers responsible for their actions, are in programming. 

I also came to realise that the faults I have - I need to listen more, be less opinionated, and be more patient - need to drastically be improved upon. And I am working on it. I ate many pieces of humble pie while I was in my last role. 

When I left for Haiti, I knew it was the place I was supposed to be at. And I still stand by that comment. I know I am not done with Haiti yet - and I know Haiti is not done with me. There is still lots left for me to learn (and not just learning French - although that is a BIG priority too). Even though it has only been a few days since I left, and I am loving being back in the UK, I cannot wait to get back into action. Watch out Haiti, I won't know what hit me by the time we are done.

09 March 2011

The Cat's out of the Bag

I kept this a secret for so long. And let me tell you, it was hard. Very hard.

Are you ready? Are you? Are you?

Hello London. Nice to see you again!

That's right folks. I am back. Just for a short visit in between contracts. But I am here. To see all of you!

I'll be here for the next 2 weeks, minus a short visit to the Scottish Highlands.

Give me a call at my old UK number to hang out!!!

06 March 2011

Fingers Splayed

So its been 2 weeks since my last blog. For this I apologise. Especially since the last one was so cryptic and depressing. The past 2 weeks have been - well, busy. As usual. And eventful. As usual. 

I am finishing up my current 3-month contract and transitioning into a different 2-month long one. This one will hopefully be extended further. And its infinitely more in line with my interests and hopeful plans. I cannot wait. The team that I am joining is also all men. Haha. Super cool men, and I am excited to add a little bit of gender balance to the team. I think they need it ;)

So with that, I have been running around like a chicken with my head cut off most days - but its been good. I am glad to say that I got most things done and that I hope my multiple supervisors are good with the work I have done. We will see. 

BUT. The MOST eventful thing that has happened in the last 2 weeks - that deserves a story. 
So, a about 10 days ago - last Tuesday to be exact - I had just arrived into the office and had to rush over for an emergency meeting with our Health team. Just a quick consultation, because I had lots to do that morning. They are in a different office, which is about a 1 minute walk away, across a treacherous intersection. Treacherous in that the road is terrible and uneven, and the cars there drive very insane. 

Well, I have my meeting, it goes quite well and I am happily trotting back to my office to work on my various projects. When, all of a sudden, in the middle of the intersection, my show gets caught on a rock. And down, down, down I go. Now, normally I am pretty good at catching myself when I trip - I would say 9 out of 10 times. But with this, there was no way. As I go down, I am thinking, "Oh no! Cars! I am going to get run over!" I scramble back up, gather my things and then look down at my hand, because it feels weird. 

And my left index and middle fingers are going opposite directions. Definitely not normal. A WV employee who I had not met before was walking at the same time, so he saw me fall, ran over to help pick me up, and when he noticed my hand, he said "To the Health team." And all I could think was (sorry mom and dad, but this is what I thought), "Shit, I just broke my fingers...well, at least its the left hand."

So, not 2 minutes after leaving, I return to the Health team, completely covered in dirt, with my middle finger dislocated from the knuckle and my index finger displaced from the joint in the middle of the finger. I stroll in, walk up to one of our Drs and tell him calmly, "So I just fell in the street and I think I may have broken my fingers." Our doctors sprung into action. Thank goodness we have many doctors and nurses on staff and that I have worked quite closely with them because of the cholera response. They are awesome.

I tried acting very strong and stoic about it all, but inside, I could tell I was going into a small shock. I have never broken or dislocated anything, so I am not used to seeing my body like that. The doctors sit me down; I immediately put my head in between my knees. I was fighting a faint for about 20 minutes, I think. Dr. G pulled on gloves, E, the nurse, brought out some iodine and anti-bacterial liquid for my scratches, and with gentle fingers, my fingers were popped back into place (I was biting my knee for the pain) and I did not faint. Or cry. 

When the faint passed, I talked with the doctors. They thought it was not broken, but I went to a doctors office just to make sure. After the x-ray, it was confirmed that I had not broken my fingers. But I had to keep them taped up for 10 days. So, with 9 fingers, I have had to work for the last 10 days.

And my fingers are stiff, uncomfortable and it will take a lot of time before I have complete movement back in them. Geez. Haiti really does know how to through a curve ball at you. 

I look back on it now with a lot of hilarity and quite a bit of embarrassment and annoyance. There are so many much cooler ways to dislocate ones fingers than by tripping in the street. 

But as I go forward here at the response, I am making a name for myself. A name as someone who lots of stuff surrounds. Including now - stupid injuries. Haha. 

Well, onto the next position. Let's see what this one brings.