03 September 2012

Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

The past 3 weeks or so have been a roller coaster, to say the least. As I commented here, before Isaac came, I was exhausted. There had been a lot happening in life, I was getting tired, emotional, and was quite close to burnout, I expect. But Isaac rejuvenated me enough to get me here to today. 

And today, I am exhausted again. Impatient, short with people, curt, and just need to sleep. 

But you look at my past 3 weeks, though, you would understand. 

3 weeks ago, we had our security measures increased dramatically due to an increase in international female kidnappings. Now, our curfew is at 10:30pm, we have drivers all the time, cannot walk by ourselves anywhere, and have to text and discuss our movements down to the nth degree. When I am in Leogane, where I don't really know anyone, after the office closes, my only option is to stay in the house. Seemingly under house arrest. Oh, and this is only for women...and ANYONE who knows me would know how I feel about that.

Oh, and around that time, a great majority of our management staff were out of the country, which means there was an increased workload on us all around. 

2 weeks ago, we had a tropical storm hit Haiti, during which I was stuck in the house in Leogane. The storm caused damage in our operational areas, which means that I was out on the field doing assessments and planning a response. 

1 week ago, I initiated a more in-depth assessment, while also trying to finalise evaluations, donor reporting, finishing up reports that others never finished, manage consultants, and work with the rest of my colleagues to make the right decisions around our response. While it was great and exciting, it was exhausting. By Sunday, I was beat and needed a day at the beach to recover. 

And then this weekend happened. I had left most of my stuff in Leogane, because I knew I was going to be back there, come Monday, for the week. And I knew I would not need much over the weekend. So, hey, why not make life easier and only bring the essential items back with me (thankfully,  my passport and ipod were on that list)? 

And then the house was broken into on Friday night, any room which was open (mine included) was gone through and things were taken. Including my bag of clothes. With probably about 3/4 of the clothes I wear regularly here, underwear included. I didn't know about this until this morning, when I got to Leogane, walked into my room and the bag was gone. No hope of finding anything. Well, my trainers were recovered in the banana plantation out back. Woo. Thanks, thieves. 

So, I am back to being exhausted, frustrated yet slightly emotionless. I am ready for a break. Haiti can get to you, sometimes - as I wrote here - it can provide you with some interesting adventures. My friend today told me, well, at least you have a story... 

Yes. Haiti has provided me with stories. More stories than I could probably ever share. 

But they are not always the best stories. They are stories that are tiring, frustrating, where you just want to escape. 

Am I a fool for staying? Or maybe I just need an escape for a short while.

30 August 2012

Where Few 'Blan' Have Passed

Traversing the mountaintops
I could hear their voices in front of me before I could see their faces, as I marched down the small hilltop path:

'Bonswa!'
'Bonswa!'
'Kouman ou ye?'
'Pa pi mal!'

Greeting each other in the common way. My Haitian team continued walking, and the group returned to their normal chit-chat. 

I emerged from the tall grass alongside their front garden, only to be greeted with a large hoot and holler and laughter from the family members. 

Apparently, blans (white people) don't pass here often. 

I greeted them, as one should to be polite in Haiti, smiling to myself, while they joked down the path to my colleagues about the blan traipsing down the mountain. 

***
Yesterday, I went back out to the mountains to conduct another assessment on the situation left by TS Isaac, this time on the damage sustained to houses in the rural, mountainous villages my organisation works in. 

I ended up going on a 5-6 hour hike down the mountain. 
We were headed to that little peak on the left side of the photo.
and then just continued.
Sometimes its easier to just keep going forward.
***
We were dropped off at the top of the mountain, just where it crests and begins its descent down to the south coast of Haiti. We had every intention to take the car as far as it could go, which as it turned out, was maybe 2 minutes down the road leading to our targeted community. 

In previous days, we had been hearing lots of information from our governmental partners, from various team members, from key community partners about the amount of damage in the rural mountains and hillsides. We had heard of houses destroyed, crops damaged beyond repair, loss of livelihoods, animals killed, rivers flooded. The damage sounded massive and like it needed a dramatic, quick response. 

But, for a multitude of reasons, we didn't trust it - not that we don't trust our staff, but that we don't trust that we share the same definitions of what a word means. And in order to plan and implement a response, we first need to know exactly what the needs are. 

Assessment team - in action.
And, to be honest, part of that involves an unbiased, undramatic point-of-view, supplied by myself, and 2 other colleagues.  

Ok. We also wanted to just get out of the office and see for ourselves - our adventuresome streaks were kicking in. 

But really, it was just to make sure we understood what the situation was. 

So, when I found myself dragging along behind my team, huffing and puffing, stopping every few yards to observe (aka, catch my breath), as my self-assigned job was (non-Creole speaker here...), I did actually take the time to take in the full situation. 

We had heard that many homes were destroyed, many families were now homeless, some again. 

But I found this was not so. I had set the mandate that we were only to conduct our assessment at houses that were completely destroyed (to perchance end up targeting the person for emergency shelter), but after 5 hours of walking, we ended up with 3 questionnaires filled out. Only one was completely destroyed, in the terms of having to tear down the house and rebuild. The rest were missing roofing sheets, or their tin roofs had bent back. Terrible & damaged, yes. Destroyed, no. 

That is a pleasant thing to find, actually - that the storm was not too bad. 

We also found that people were living their lives as best they could to recover. To the man whose house was completely destroyed, I asked, what will he do to repair the house. He responded that he will just buy wood somewhere and rebuild. Matter-of-fact. That's just what you do. 

Back to work on the fields
Another family were so thankful to have a white person stop by their house, that one of the women kept hitting me and saying thank you for coming, and that they are so blessed by it, and that of course I will do something for them (non-Creole speaker, yes. Creole-understander, yes). 

We are so thankful that the damage to houses was not as bad as expected. The damage to crops, however, was. 

Damage to banana plantations, squash and bean plants
In the free moments I have, when not hiking over the mountains and fording through rivers, I am now sending our staff out to get their cars stuck in rivers, walking for hours upon end to conduct another more detailed assessment to look at what types of livelihoods were affected and the potential increase in food insecurity. 

Aren't I nice?

But based on this, we will now know what the true damage was, and how we can best respond. 

And that is just the beginning ...

26 August 2012

Sur la Terrain



Harvest in the Lowlands
To have a day like today, this is why I do the work I do. Adventure, experience, getting to see local culture, and gaining a better understanding of the needs of the communities we work in - this...this is what keeps me coming back. 

We went out today to do a rapid needs assessment in the communities we work in, looking at what happened during Tropical Storm Isaac. We had been receiving lots of information by phone yesterday, from our 'operations base,' also known as our kitchen table. And the information we were getting was showing that there was a great impact. But we wouldn't know for sure until we went out and verified it. 

We knew that need to verify would come soon, and come quickly, so I was prepped and ready to go with all the tools, the processes, the people we would use. All were aware it could happen at a moment's notice - the green light to go. So this morning when I was just chatting to friends on Skype, taking my time to get the day started, and I got the green light - well...we sprung into action. Our area coordinator had been at a meeting with other NGOs and the local governmental response body (the DPC) to see what needed to happen in our commune. So, when they said we need more information, we said, let's go. 

Within 45 minutes, we had the teams here, drivers here, vehicles waiting, questionnaires printed, areas assigned, and process to use communicated. I led a team going to the lowlands area of the Leogane commune, that which was accessible. 

Many of the communities we work in are only able to be accessed by driving (or walking) up the river, and with the amount of water that dumped on Haiti this weekend, some rivers are still impassable. The route taken by our driver today required the use of our sturdy Land Cruiser to manage the mud, crevices, rocks, and river traversing that was necessary to reach the two communities. 

Since I don't speak Creole, I was in charge of photographing (woo!), taking GPS coordinates and making observations in the area. The other 2 on my team went to houses to ask questions about what happened during the storm and what the need was. 


***
On a side note, I had free reign to walk around the communities, chatting with people, traipsing through mud, wandering through fields, petting goats, waving 'Bonswa' to children. Oh my. Just, maybe the best. I loved my job today.
***

At the first community we went to, I wandered, and we talked to 4 households and the local government representative. We found that overall, the damage had not been too bad in the community. There were trees felled, houses that were slightly damaged, and quite a few goats that got stressed and died (ok, there is a small part of me that finds that hilarious, but goats are a huge source of income in these communities, so the humour I find is just really really inappropriate. Bad thoughts, Ang), and there was a lot of mud. Local gardens were affected, but not many, and there were not really any that were completely destroyed. 

A good find. A relatively good outcome for the community. There will be affects, but walking around showed that the community was living life as normal - sitting on porches, braiding hair, gardening, taking care of animals, managing shops, and chatting with each other. 

We continued up the river to the next community. However, to get there, we had to drive up the river as far as the car would go safely, and then we continued the rest on foot. We removed our shoes, my team rolled up their jeans (damn skinny jeans and not being roll-up-able!), and we traversed the muddy, rocky water, joking about what a nice beach we were visiting! 

While this community was not devastated either, it still spoke the remnants of a massive storm. With all the rain, the river had swollen, taking down plantations and gardens, ruining harvests, and creating new cavernous water-ways on paths. Mud was present; more animals had died; and we heard of 5 houses that had been demolished by the wind. 

While my team questioned houses, I was shown around by various members of the community, all pointing out where the damage was. It was evident that this community would bear the brunt of the storm for much longer than the first. 

But still, the communities continued life as normal. Haitians are notoriously resilient, letting things like this storm come and go and just accepting that it is a part of life. Whether this is a good or bad thing, I cannot say, and that is another topic for another day. 


Life continues as normal - including Football!!!
The walk back up the river caused lots of laughter in the communities I think. It's definitely not every day that they see a 'blan' walking up a river in wet jeans and bare feet. I earned the term 'ou capable' (expressing shock at my ability to hike through mosquito-infested jungles, and traipse up a river in bare feet) by my team. 

The meeting upon my return to the office found that many of the other communities visited experienced the same sort of issues. We are so thankful that it is not worse than this. No deaths were reported; most houses survived. 

I woke up this morning bored at the thought of being stuck in the house another day. Instead, I am heading to bed with more mosquito bites than when the day started, dirty feet, sweaty skin, and a smile on my face. 

Isaac, thank you for not being as mean as you could have been, and for giving me a bit of adventure in the meantime. 

23 August 2012

And we wait...

Isaac over Puerto Rico - headed our way!
Until Tuesday, I was feeling exhausted. So tired, I could not sleep but it was all I wanted to do. It was hard to motivate myself; I was on edge; I wore my 'grumpy pants' way more times than I liked. 

Life was difficult and more than once, I thought, I just need to get out of here. My planned trip to the DR could not come soon enough. I want to walk around, sit at a restaurant, be by myself, shop, eat at Taco Bell, and just be more normal. And don't even get me started on all the dreams I was having about being in Europe. I was in the stages of burn-out. 

And then Tuesday afternoon came. I received an email in the middle of the day from my Dad, entitled 'Isaac', asking if my organisation would evacuate me. You see, Isaac was on his way. IS on his way still. At the time, he was a tropical storm, forecast to move right over Haiti, hitting hurricane strength around the time he breached the Port-au-Prince mountains. 

And we sprung into action. I began thinking about our response; our area coordinator planned our preparedness activities. We put our staff into place. Some were to fill up vehicles with gas; others were to board up windows or move items into more secure locations. 

We watched the movements, made decisions on an almost hourly basis as to what else needed to be done. Conversations were had with our HQ, we planned our money, our phone credit, packed our quick run bags, monitored the news again, made sure our staff were safe and knew how to respond. We know that we need to keep our slotted windows open 2 inches so they don't break. We bought food (ice cream and beer included!) and we have candles for when the electricity goes out. 

In response, we have organised teams who will phone and head out into the field to do assessments, to see what the impact is in the area we are working on. I am working on the questionnaire, our methodology, and making sure that we are getting the proper information about the needs in the communities here. I prepped our teams on the process, I am making sure they have the questions, they have the information. We are linking with the local government to make sure we are reaching all the communities in the area - we are taking the lead in much of the initial response. 

Our staff were enthusiastically available to come off annual leave to help, to stay later at the office to make sure we have everyone's contact information, no complaining about the chance to work on Sunday to respond. 

As we left the office, we pushed our desks together away from the wall. Tarps cover important documents that there is a chance for water to reach. Our staff know that the office is closed tomorrow in prep, and what we will do to respond. 

And now we wait. Wait for him to make up his mind as to what he will do. Wait for him to strike or not. Wait to see what happens. 

But Isaac woke me up. I am still exhausted, yes. But he brought my adrenaline back - enough to finish these next few weeks before my short holiday. 

Isaac, bring on what you will. We are ready. 

05 July 2012

Another day older, another year wiser

Image by me (St. Martin!). Quote by... someone?
Tomorrow, I turn another year older. Another year has past and in many ways, I cannot believe it. In other ways, I am so glad that it has. 

One year ago, I was reeling from being out of Haiti when I didn't want to be; I was in the throws of personal, professional and family issues and I just needed to escape and recuperate. One year ago, I ran to visit my best friend in Central California for a few days and stayed a few weeks. One year ago, life was difficult and in the deepest of the deep, I wondered whether I would ever recover. 

The only constant in life is that we are always learning, growing and changing, as the best philosophers say. One year ago, if you would have asked me what I learned during my first stint in Haiti, I would have bitterly responded that I learned to not trust people and I learned how I react when under extreme amounts of stress and that was about it. 

One year ago, I was angry, bitter, upset, a little depressed, confused, hurt, alone, emotional and just really, really struggling. 

Oh, how things change in a year. 

I describe 2011 as the most challenging year I have ever had (those who have read other parts of my blog will have noticed). But best part of the challenge was learning to not just sit and wallow in all those emotions. Instead, I felt them, and felt them fully! I gave each part the time it needed to work its way through my body, my mind and my heart. I went on lots of walks where I yelled at God; I shut myself in my room; I went on road trips where I could be alone; I took menial jobs just to keep my self and my mind busy; I went to the gym and learned what exercise does for my brain and my emotional state. But most of all learned how to work through the whole process, learned to recover, and, eventually, I sorted myself back to normal (well, mostly...). 

I learned that life is full of its ups and downs - you can't always control it. And in those moments you feel out of control, its ok! God gave us a vast scale of emotions, to feel them; they are there and they are valid and feel them, you should! So if you are grumpy, it's ok! If you are lonely, that's ok; if you are sad, that's ok; if you are anti-social, that's ok; iIf you are happy and bouncy, that's ok too! 

Life is too short to hold onto the past, to hold grudges to hold onto anger. Yes, feel your anger, but then let it go! Let it fly away with the wind! Only then will you realise, as I did, that letting go and letting yourself feel is the real path to freedom. 

One year later, I am entering my 29th year, living in Haiti, working in a job that I love (that challenges me everyday), adventuring regularly, loving great friends, making new ones, living with joy, with freedom and with spirit. 

As my tattoo says, "to everything, there is a season." My 28th year was a season. It was many seasons. But at this season, I am happy in the struggles, learnings, laughter, dances, late nights, stresses, hopes and dreams that my 29th year promises to bring. 

27 June 2012

I love my job

I love my job. 
Out for a wander through the community

I love that I love my job. 

I love that I am an aid professional. 

I love that even though I am an aid professional, I still have so much to learn. 

I love that there is always something new to learn.

I love that every day is different. 

I love that I spend some days in the office with a fan directed at my face using my creative juices to write reports to donors.

I love that I spend some days organising logistics to collect data for assessments.

I love that one day recently, the highlight of my day was negotiating to hire moto taxi drivers for the 5 days, for the above mentioned transportation. And succeeding - for the price and time we wanted. 

I love that some days, I work on budgets and with numbers and that it all makes my head go a little wacko (oh, numbers...). 

Crazy Rural Roads
I love that some days, I climb mountains and traverse horrendous mountain roads to prep communities for a donor / VIP visit. 

I love that I am passionate about monitoring and evaluating projects, constantly learning from mistakes, striving to create and implement the best projects.

I love that I get to consult with communities about what their needs are, and how we can work together to meet them. 

I love that I get to network with other INGOs  and local NGO partners to share information, build capacity, and provide assistance and advice. It feels like we are all in this together.

I love that I get to rub shoulders with people from the UN, EU, US government, and more. Ok, it makes me feel a little important (oh, it would for you too!). 

I love that adventure, travel, and new experiences are a constant part of the job. 

I love that by the time my passport expires, I will have (hopefully) been to 30 countries, and have needed additional pages, and filled all of them completely.  

I love that I can get frustrated, scared, feel inadequate, feel like I conquered the world, and feel extremely content and proud - all within a single 18 hour work day. 

I love that when I was looking for new jobs and actually got to the point to consider applying for work outside of the INGO sector that I actually had no idea what else I could do. 

***

I love my job. 

I love that I love my job. 

23 June 2012

6 months...


I just returned from the supermarket, doing our weekly shop with my housemate. We unexpectedly ran into 4 people we / I know. Apparently, the supermarket is a cool place to be.

A few months ago, flying out of Haiti, I randomly ran into 3 colleagues who were flying out at the same time (not same flight though). Apparently, the airport is a cool place to be. 

Last night, I stayed in, but I found out that two sets of friends, who, as far as I know, don't know each other were doing the same 'going out' route. Apparently, all the cool people do the same thing on a Friday night. (And the boring ones stay home. boring = me.)

***

I have heard it said that it takes 6 months of living in a new place for one to really feel settled. As in, for one to feel like they have developed a routine, relationships, habits, and a comfortability with life.

A few weeks ago passed my 6 month mark with my current organisation (which means I have in fact lived in Haiti for over a year) and I am noticing that this fact is true. Six months in, Haiti is my home and I love it in all its craziness and in all its social stability. 

But this also means I have 6 months left. I know I won't stay past my contract (don't worry, I know I won't leave early either!), and I am excited to start considering what is next. 

As much as I love my life here 6 months on, when you start looking at it from the 6 months left side, it starts to get difficult. 

Meeting new people is hard with the knowledge that you will have to leave soon.  

Making quality friendships is hard because you may never see people again. 

The work here never seems to lessen, only to get bigger and more intense. There has never been a day when my to do list has been completed. As Haiti moves from emergency response to development, the process needs to be integrated and it is hard having development professionals come into a post-emergency response, where there might be issues with systems set up, lack of institutional knowledge, or a whole range of things. Anyway, that is off the point and food for another post. In other words - there is still a lot to do. 

***

My first 6 months here were the most difficult time I have experienced. 

These past 6 months have been a challenge and a joy.

The next 6 months - who knows what they will bring. 

But for now, I know I am in the right place.  

16 June 2012

Alumnus

In the past month since I posted last, I have been working lots, travelling lots and have lots of blog posts started but not published. Need to get back onto them. In the meantime, I was asked by my MA university to write an article about my work in Haiti for the inaugural edition of their Alumni newsletter. What an honour! So for those who are interested, I publish it again below!
Link to the whole newsletter here


The day in January 2010 when the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti will go down in history as one of the most catastrophic days in modern Haitian times. Over 200,000 people were killed, 2 million more displaced, and countless others affected.

I remember that day vividly. It was a Tuesday, and I had just returned home from the Senate house library where I was preparing for our lecture and seminar in Securing Human Rights the next day. I turned on my computer to relax a little before bed, and opened up the BBC news website. As the site loaded a breaking news headline popped up: “Haiti devastated by massive earthquake.” As soon as I saw that, my heart jumped and I knew. This was the last thing Haiti needed.

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti’s history is filled with coup d’├ętats, hurricanes, dictators, occupations, and a constant stream of human rights violations. As the well-advertised statistic says, Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere with over two-thirds of its population living on less than $2 per day. An earthquake of this scale, with the epicentre located only 25km away from its populous capital city, Port-au-Prince, had just set Haiti even further back on the development ladder.

As an American attempting to learn French, not Spanish, I had always had a particular interest in the nation, being one of the largest French-speaking nations in the Western hemisphere. With previous work experience working in the relief department of a large NGO, when the earthquake struck, I wanted to go. I read everything I could about the response; I blogged on the topic; I even communicated to my previous manager about what the chances were of me going. But as it was the middle of the year for the MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights, I knew it was not the right time. Yet.  

I first arrived in Haiti on 10 December 2010, only a week after walking across the stage to receive my MA in Human Rights degree. At the time, Haiti was approaching the one year anniversary of the earthquake, a massive cholera epidemic had struck the country, the election process was in a stalemate marred by fraud and violence, and two of Haiti’s ex-presidents in exile had just returned to the country, which spurred questions on their return and what it would mean to the country. To put it succinctly, it was a mess. In the almost two-and-a-half years since the earthquake though, it is evident that the country has taken quite a few steps forward to “build back better,” now having a somewhat functioning government, IDP camps disappearing, a cholera epidemic that exists but is more manageable, and NGOs returning to long-term development projects. Complete recovery and stability, however, still yet remain elusive; the situation here can change overnight.  

I have lived in Haiti off-and-on since graduation, working mostly with a few humanitarian organisations with donors and reporting, and implementing assessments, and project monitoring and evaluation. While none of these positions have worked directly in the human rights field, the knowledge and skills I gained of human rights through the MA course has been very influential in the roles, as I am working to develop proposals, write reports, conduct assessments, and engage with donors, beneficiaries, and the UN and other NGOs here.

Working out in the field undeniably gives an interesting insight to the field of human rights and the work of NGOs. It is definitely difficult work! I appreciate how much the international community attempts to integrate human rights principles into the development of their projects and their organisational strategies, particularly the principles of impartiality, participation, accountability and advocacy. But just because we attempt it, doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially in an emergency response. Participation and advocacy take a long time, and it is hard to encourage duty-bearers to take responsibility if the government is non-functional! However, I have seen first hand how essential these principles are to respect and dignify the communities we are working with. For example, communities love being able to contribute to the design of their own shelters; the sense of pride is astounding when meeting with small business owners who have been able to bring their businesses back to life through partnering with our organisation!

However, the realities of the field, the realities of living in a developing country do bring to light how much further we have to go. How can we assure the effective implementation of a rights-based approach in an emergency response that needs to be implemented quickly? How do we hold a government accountable to their human rights obligations if it can barely function on its own? How can one change a societal perspective of power that leads to feelings of entitlement and selfishness?

Being field-based, I get to see the fruition of the work that we are doing, the projects we are designing and implementing, the impact we are making to the lives of those who are vulnerable and it is the best part of being out here. But I also see how much further we have to go. The work of human rights is a long, difficult, complicated process and I can only be thankful for the role I am allowed to play to uphold these important principles and the contribution I can make to give others the opportunity to live a life that is “free and equal in dignity and rights,” as the UDHR says. I know I will keep working and striving to reach this difficult and lofty goal.

Human Rights in Haiti Resources:
·          Haiti’s Human Rights international treaty adherence: http://www.adh-geneva.ch/RULAC/international_treaties.php?id_state=84
·          International Disaster Response Law in Haiti, IFRC: www.ifrc.org/PageFiles/87274/MAA0000410ar.pdf
·          Measuring the way forward in Haiti: Grounding disaster relief in the legal framework of human rights, Amanda M. Klasing, P. Scott Moses, and Margaret L. Satterthwaite:
·          Indicators in Crisis: Rights-based Humanitarian Indicators in Post-Earthquake Haiti, Margaret L. Satterthwaite, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1833530

14 May 2012

There's GOLD In Them Thar Hills!

Up in Northern Haiti, around the mountains where gold was found!
So, in order to remain the informed resident of Haiti that I am (:P), I subscribe to the Miami Herald news, getting email updates about Haiti and the Caribbean in my inbox each day. Sometimes the articles are just informational; sometimes they are interesting; sometimes they are sad.

Today, however, I was presented with some quotes that just... well...

This is Haiti. 

On the discovery of gold in the country! No, not pirate gold (like I hoped!) but an estimate of $20 billion worth in the Northeast:
"If the mining companies are honest and if Haiti has a good government, then here is a way for this country to move forward," said Bureau of Mines Director Dieuseul Anglade.
So. Let's look at the likelihood of this. 

IF the mining companies are honest...in one of the most corrupt nations in the world... 
* Haiti is considered to be the 9th most corrupt nation on the planet, according to Transparency International

Hmm.

AND! IF Haiti has a good government...well, considering it's current government has been functional only 4 out of the last 12 months... 

Yeah. I don't have high hopes for this. Bring on the "environmental contamination, displaced communities and mountaintops torn asunder"!!! Sigh. Ok, really I hope it turns out better than that. Really really hope so. This could actually be a great opportunity for the country. 

Next up - it's been 1 year since President Martelly was sworn in. And here is what Martelly has to say about the last year: 
Still known to many by his stage name "Sweet Micky," Martelly said governing was easier than he had thought and he has no regrets from the first year.
So...Martelly thinks governing is easy!?! And no regrets? His first year was perfect? Well, I guess it was pretty perfect (if you completely ignore the fact that he didn't have a Prime Minister for the first 5 months, the first one quit on him, 10 senators' mandates have just expired and there is no election set, and an armed militia is now wandering the streets...)

“This is the first time we have a government that cares about the people,” Pierre said. “Martelly is moving with the people, helping them find housing. A lot of children who were not in school are there today because of the free education. I would be happy if he were re-elected for another five years and then he can become president for life.’’
This man, who has no electricity, running water and who's 6 children are not in school, sure still loves him. He even wants Martelly to be President for Life!!!!

Well, we all know how well that goes (I'm talking to you, Papa Doc and Baby Doc.)

Sigh. Oh Haiti. 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/12/v-fullstory/2796979/haiti-marks-one-year-with-michel.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/11/v-fullstory/2795142/prospectors-ready-to-tap-haitis.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/12/v-fullstory/2796344/modest-gains-mark-haitian-leaders.html#storylink=cpy

04 May 2012

The Evolution of an R&R

One of the perks about being an expat aid worker (aka one of the ways our employers attempt to keep us from going even more crazy than we already are) is the fact that every so often - 6 weeks, 2 months, 3 months, 4 months depending on the organisation - requires you to leave for R&R. Rest & Recuperation. 

For those of us who are single, without families and want to evade paying taxes back home by not being in the country, often this time is combined with annual leave and used to visit any myriad of the interesting random countries that surround us. And sometimes even the ones that really just are not convenient to get to at all. Because the world is our playground. 

---
By the way, it has been my experience that those who have families often use this time to engage in a little 'R&R&R,' as coined by my old colleagues. Rest, Recuperation, and Reproduction. Literally. 

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And of course, one always wants the next country on the list, the next stamp in the passport and all that stuff that makes us feel somewhat well travelled or feeds our adventure appetite. 

Well, today I booked my next R&R. As in, the flights are purchased, I am researching accommodations and activities, but mostly I am flying by the seat of my pants (British or American - doesn't matter). 

But instead of just announcing where I am headed - which is pretty crazy, let me tell you - I need to tell you the process of how I got here. Because its a good, long story. 

It was agreed upon many many months ago that my next R&R would be scheduled for the first 2 weeks of June. I scheduled it far in advance to give myself plenty of time to decide where I wanted to go, to find a travel partner, and to organise. And so I set out to do so. 

The initial plan was Cuba (I mean what American does not want to try to sneak into Cuba through the back door!) and either Puerto Rico or Costa Rica. I hadn't decided. But I researched Cuba and found out all the ins and outs of how to travel to this country, while breaking US policies. And its actually quite simple (ask me by email if you want to know). 

However, I was still looking for a travel partner. After talking to people who had been, also after looking at the laws around being an American in Cuba, I decided that I need to go with someone who likes to go out and have a good time and is non-American. You know. Just in case. And I did also decide on Puerto Rico, because it was closer and offered some good options for scuba diving. 

Problem. Could not find someone to go with at that time. With my housemate planning to go in September, when I am next due for an R&R, and me not particularly feeling comfortable in a place I cannot speak the language or use the ATMs by myself, I decided to change to another couple of islands where I could understand the people. 

Guadeloupe. Found here.
Enter Guadeloupe. A country with a volcano, Jacques Cousteau's underground playground, beaches and apparently amazing French food. That speaks French. Done. Decided. Hmmm. What other country can I add to that? I know! Sint Maarten / Saint Martin! A French side that is filled with relaxing beaches and sophistication and a Dutch side filled with places to go out and city living. Deal. Sorted. 

But you know the Caribbean? Yeah, its not cheap. Not at all. There are not really a lot of cheap places to stay - well there are, but they are difficult to find - and there is little to no public transport especially on the smaller islands. 

So when I was looking at what the options were, it was looking quite expensive - car rentals, hotels, food, and still countries where there was the potential that I would do less relaxing of the mind and soul than more. 

I was still convinced. I talked with people who had been to both, started getting an idea of what to do, and how to do it. Then finally, I began the process to book tickets. 

Now this was where I got stuck. After much waffling about, and a few credit card mishaps, I ended up booking a return flight from Sint Maarten to PaP. And that was it.  Haha. Well, its a start!

A start to rethinking the whole process. And talk with some friends. And think. And review. And revise. And I did. So what did I end up booking today? 
Sint Maarten. Found here

PAP-CUR-AMS-SMX-PAP

In non-airport code language, that is Port-au-Prince to Curacao. Curacao to Amsterdam. Amsterdam to Sint Maarten. Sint Maarten to Port-au-Prince. 

Oh. Well that makes complete sense, right? 

Yeah, not really. Well, in anyway, I am thrilled about all of it. Getting some Caribbean beaches, some European flavor, some easy living, some relaxation, some relatively safe walking and some culture. All in 2 weeks. 

And hey, they have hostels in Holland. And I have friends to visit. Oh, it's gonna be a great time!

Don't worry though, Guadeloupe, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica! I'll get to you! Eventually!



01 May 2012

Dear Mr. Cameron, I must regretfully inform you

Found here.
And let me tell you he makes some awesome faces.
 
Dear Mr. David Cameron,

I normally do not do things like this. I normally have my opinions about another country's politics, but I usually keep them to myself, or for a good debate at the pub. I mean, America has got enough to worry about that I might actually be able to influence, right? (I am sure you would agree). 

But I felt this passionately and regretful about this, that I must write you this letter. 

You see, Mr. Cameron, sir - your government's policies on migration suck.

Now, one might think that I am writing you to complain about your treatment of refugees, or even worse, your treatment of asylum-seekers; how you detain individuals who are claiming asylum treating them just as bad, if not worse than a criminal, guilty as charged. You might think I am writing to request the Home Office to reinstate its funding to essential refugee and asylum-seeker organisations, like the excellent Refugee Council, who are having to stop essential programming because you are cutting the budget. 

While I feel passionate about this topic (and trust me, I do), this is not the subject of my letter today. 

I will first start with a story. A story of regret. You see, in 2009, I moved from the US, a country that if I have anything to do with it, will never be my home again, to the UK to study. I came to complete a Master's degree at one of your well-known universities, and boy was I excited about it! And getting a UK visa to study there - easy as pie! All I had to do was prove I was accepted at the university and that I could pay for it. Yep! Easy. 

While I was there, I got to experience the weird and wonderful world of UK politics, watching you get elected and form a crazy coalition government with your liberal-democrat colleague, Mr. Clegg. 

Upon graduation, I had spent all the money I had arrived with (as one does), and was headed off to Haiti to live and work and try and put my education into practice. At the time, I considered applying for the visa that I was eligible for - the Post-Study Work Visa, but unfortunately, you had recently put stronger restrictions on it, and I could not afford it at the time. "No worries!" I thought! I will apply at a later date, when I could prove I had the funds in the bank for it. I mean it would have been nice to have that option of moving back to a place that became my home, right?

Well, life happened. I was in Haiti for 6 months, and then was unemployed for 5 months. And I mean, when you are unemployed, you kinda need all the money you have. Its not like the US government wanted to support me anymore, after I had been living out of the country for so many years. 

I could not afford the visa, and the timeframe for my eligibility relapsed and all of a sudden I was stuck. 

I am stuck. 

Mr. Cameron, since you have come into government, you have put all these restrictions on immigration, and now it is virtually impossible for me to ever move back to the UK. 

Let's look at the different options the UK has for visas:

We will start at the bottom:  - UK ancestry
Yes, Mr. Cameron, I have UK ancestry. My last name is Huddleston, for crying out loud. How more English can you get!?! The problem - my ancestors emigrated over 400 years ago, not 2 generations ago. Oh, and the US is not a part of the commonwealth. 

- Tier 4: A student visa
Well, I could actually try to get this again. Obviously, it would require me to go back to school in the UK. But, wait! You have restricted the number of visas that you will allow, so one doesn't even need to just be accepted and able to pay anymore! 

And even so, what's the point? I would not be able to stay after - you are no longer accepting applications for the Post-Study Work Visa(ok, that one is Tier 1)! What, you don't want to keep the people your country educated there anymore?

 - Tier 3: Temporary visa
Ok, I could possibly apply for a temporary visa as a charity worker. But that would mean I would not be able to be paid. Ummm. How would I live? Plus, I have student loans from this amazing education your country gave me that need to be paid!

And with the others - yet again - not a part of the Commonwealth, a diplomat, an athlete, or creative enough to get paid for it. 

 - Tier 2: Sponsored visa (aka Skilled workers)
Hey, here is another opportunity, right? I mean, all I have to do is get a company to hire me, right? WRONG! Sponsored visas are expensive for both the employer and employee and plus, the organisation must prove that the non-EU citizen has some sort of skillset or experience that is necessary to that particular role that cannot be found anywhere else in the entire European Union! Uh. Thanks. 

Ok ok, there is still a small chance here - but come on. It's difficult and slim. 

 And lastly - 
 - Tier 1: Highly Skilled (also called High-Value)
So, I was educated by the UK (with a Masters degree no less), the work I do usually requires someone with a certain level of education, experience, skillsets, and technical knowledge. One would likely describe me as someone who is highly-skilled. Except the UK government. Because according to the UK government, in order to be considered highly-skilled, one must: - earn over £150,000 and want to invest it in the UK, - be an entrepreneur and have enough money to open and manage a business, or - be a leader in sciences or arts. Pretty much, you have to have a lot of money. Which I don't have (charity worker with student loans here). 

Now, Mr. Cameron, I understand that you want to keep British jobs for the British. But I hope you see my problem here. I have invested time and money in your country, have been educated by it, and consider it more my home than where I was raised. But you won't let me come and live there! 

So, Mr. Cameron, I must regretfully inform you: Your immigration policies SUCK!

I only hope that the next government (Mr. Milliband?) will have an opinion different to yours, because I am assuming that the next 3 years will only have more restrictions. 

Yours respectfully,
Angela

27 March 2012

To settle? Or not to settle? That is the question.

When I was 20, I went through a bit of a...redefinition of who I was, is probably the best way to say it. I was in a relationship with my first serious boyfriend, and it was time. You know, that time that every relationship comes to - the time where you ask yourself, is this it? Is this the one? Is this forever? 

Me as a 20 year old on my first big adventure abroad!
As I asked myself these question, as I even talked with him about these questions, I realised I was undecided. (A great question to ask your significant other... "Will you wait for me?" NOT!). I loved my relationship with him; I loved that we got along so well; I loved that he was so secure. I, however, was not. I was in the middle of realising who I was, who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do. And in that, I became very uncertain in what our relationship would provide to my life! I talked with it about him, I talked about it with others, I thought about it always. And I loved who I was becoming, what I was discovering! But it was completely outside of who I was in that relationship.

In the end, he broke up with me. He was protecting himself from getting hurt by me, or so he says. But it was for the best. I continued on my path to who I am today - a path that has included traveling to many different places, living in many different places, meeting so many people, and just enjoying my single-dom (even in the relationships I have had since then). 

After that relationship though, I realised something - and this is how I told myself this realisation...

If I would have stayed with him, I would have had a good life. I would have been happy. I would have been settled. But I would not have done everything that I have been able to do since then. I would likely have started holding a grudge against him for making me choose the simple life. I would have felt like I...settled

And I made a pact to myself - I would never settle again. I would never allow myself to choose a man over the next adventure, the next thing. And I don't think I have! I have been constantly striving towards greatness. (Not reaching it yet, obviously). 

But I recently came across something, while working on a document here at work. I thesaurused (is that a word? haha!) the word 'to settle.' And this is what I came up with:
- resolve, reconcile, clear up, straighten out, mend, patch up
- stay, inhabit, put down roots, set up house, establish yourself, colonise, stay on, remain
- land, perch, alight, roost, come to rest
- become peaceful, become calm, settle down, calm down, relax
- sink, drop, descend, fall, go to the bottom, lie
 And I realised. All this time, these many years, I have been looking at the word 'to settle' in a very close-minded way. I thought when people settled, they sank, they fell to the bottom, they stayed. I thought that if I settled, I would just drop. My roots would sink down and I would never move again. 

But look at what else 'to settle' means - to resolve, to become peaceful, to come to rest. I realised that in that moment as a 20-year old when I came into my own as a woman, I was doing just that - I was resolving who I was with who I would be. I came to rest in my full being. I was finally at peace with who I am - a curious, world travelling, woman who does everything in her own individual way, with a passionate heart, a strong tongue and a stubborn mind.

I was working so hard to not settle, that somewhere along the way, I settled.