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.