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???). 

Gunshots and Shouting

*started writing this on Monday night...never finished it, but wanted to post it anyway. sorry*

Tonight in Haiti, I heard many gunshots and lots of shouting. But it was not what you think. There were no riots and no fights. No, it was the noise of a people who are happy. Excited that the man they wanted was just announced as the likely new candidate of Haiti. A singer, a man with no experience. A man who wants change. A man who makes promises. 

I do not know what to think about this. The Haitians on the street are happy. But who knows if this will be good for the country.

Sweet Micky Martelly,
the Carnival singer in one of his more pensive moments...
One thing to be proud of - Haiti has a democratically elected president. And even though I question how he will lead this country, the people have spoken. 

Sweet Micky, I hope you will be able to lead Haiti to somewhere new and better. This is what I want for this country.

And if the Fugees do play at your inauguration party, can I have tickets?