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.

22 March 2012

Set Fire to the Rain

And the rains came down
Today is World Water Day. A day dedicated by the international community to focus on water - lack of access, usage, and how much we need it to live.

Interestingly enough, rainy season has started here in Haiti. For someone, like myself, who grew up in consistantly sunny weather (Oh, southern California!), this season is a favourite. I get to experience rain, cool(ish) weather, thunderstorms and all the glories of living in a tropical climate that experiences torrential rain.

This is not the same for many Haitians though. For them, the rain means an additional trouble when trying to traverse and live their lives. The streets turn into rivers; floods happen not only in rivers, but also in fields, downtown, and with it comes the garbage, landslides and rock slides. Because of the floods and lack of drainage, any improper sanitation facilities (i.e. toilets), leak all of their lovely goodness out into the streets, increasing the chance to contract cholera or some other water-bourne disease.

With Haiti's current transition from responding to the earthquake, to longer-term development, this poses an issue...how do we respond to the annual 'emergency' of the rainy season. This comes every year; every year we have a spike in water-bourne disases; every year we remember that sanitation, sewage and drainage here is lacking. But also, every year we remember how difficult it is to build up the sort of infrastructure that will prevent this kind of damage from happening again.

As the saying goes, 'Rome wasn't built in a day'. Neither was Haiti. But until 'building back better' actually leads to something improved (which it will - it has to, or else what am I here for), I will have to temper my love of the rain with the affect and difficulties it brings to everyone else.

18 March 2012

A Little Schmooze

Field-based Assessment
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the interesting dicotomy aid work has in regards to professional / social life differences. While all aid workers have their own motivations for doing the work they do, I would bet that one of those reasons is because of their desire to give back to those who have less than we do. 

So, we spend all our work days talking about how to develop, how to respond, working with beneficiaries, spending days out in camps and 'in the field' collecting information, managing the teams that are building infrastructure and conducting trainings to bring a benefit to the communities, and more. We have our days when we are dirty; we have our days when we are sitting under a mango tree having a community meeting; we have our days when we are frustrated with those who don't work directly in this sector because of their lack of understanding; we have our days filled with meetings about strategy and future. 

But that's just during work hours. 

Outside of work, it is possible to live quite a nice, particularly here in Port-au-Prince. We have the restaurants, the pools, the parties. But particularly, we have the people we socialise with.

While here in Haiti, I have socialised with businesspeople, owners, restauranteurs, entrepreneurs, heads of organisations, UN liaisons, and even at one point, the entourage of the President's son. In other words, the influencers on society.

Pool Day Sunday
In life, it is common that getting things done is all about who you know. That is no less true here, and in many cases, is that much more relevant. I received a text today saying that if anything happens while out at our field bases, give this person a call because he knows the head of MINUSTAH (the UN peacekeeping force). Because of my housemate's links at the gym, we have gotten into multiple places for free, gotten invited to parties, and found out about the best new things to do. Because of my manager's network, we stay abreast of the political situation and we get some insider knowledge, or at least additional context, around what is going to be happening. 

What I find fascinating about living the life of an expat is that the people we are here to help, are not necessarily the ones that we get to know. (Before anyone freaks out, we do get to know them too. It's just in a much different context). We get to know the people at the top of the social strata. We get to know the 'somebodies'.

I don't know how I feel about this; I don't know if I would change it. But I can say that I could never have said that about life back home.

It's just...odd. And a part of expat life, I suppose.

12 March 2012

Colour Focussed

I love being able to work and live all over the world. Because of it, I get to meet many interesting people, and am constantly learning about new cultures. Imagine: discussions about voodoo over lunch, getting to know - and understand! - the Ethiopian calendar, being a translator between a Canadian and a Brit (you guys really do talk differently, you know), being able to understand what the Indian head shake really means. 

These are all things I would never have known, had I not worked abroad! 

In my previous position here in Haiti, I loved the diversity of my department - in the expat team, there we 2 Zimbabweans, a Cameroonian, a Sierra Leonean, and a Sri Lankan. As well as plenty of Haitians who contributed to our madness. I felt like I was learning something new everyday - including a lot from them about our team's work! They were quite the intelligent, and funny, bunch! 

But one of the things that has arisen while working with many nationalities for an international organisation is the relationship between white and non-white staff - even white and non-white expat staff. 

When I was discussing my previous role and its responsibilities with my last manager, a Sri Lankan, he asked me how I felt about reporting to a non-white. I, slightly incredulous to be asked that question, thought for a second and responded, "Fine. Why, are some people not?"

He had to explain to me that actually many white people have trouble working and supporting someone who is not the same colour as they are. I could comprehend what he was saying at the time, and even see how it would work in reality, but at the same time, I was also shocked, dismayed and very embarrassed on behalf of my colour. I confirmed this statement with the rest of my team, who were also not white, with them verifying that most of them had, in fact, experienced this sort of difficult working relationship in the past. 

Sadly, my dismay quickly subsided when it became apparent to me that this is in fact true. You see, on my team, I was rightfully the lowest on the totem pole - at least among the expat portion -, in terms of experience and knowledge around the sector. I was also the only white person on the team. 

The office that our team functioned out of existed more as a corridor than an office - a corridor that held up to 20 people at one point or another. Constantly, throughout the day, I would observe as people would walk through the office, their eyes skimming past all the darker faces, focussing on mine alone. And then there were the multiple times when I was approached to answer a question about the team as a whole, whether it was to add input to a greater strategy, or to be introduced to a new staff. That was always a nice awkward moment of: "Well, I am not actually the best person to answer that - how about you talk to my manager?" or, "Oh, it is very nice to meet you. Let me introduce you to my manager as well; he will be your best point of contact here." 

I found this particularly frustrating. Not only did it put a lot of pressure on me, I was embarrassed to be the one white person; I was frustrated that people would automatically assume that I held the knowledge of the team, when I most decidedly did not. I think it might have annoyed my manager as well. 

What is the best response to this? I don't know. All I know is that in my experience, colours permeate our interactions more than we realise. And maybe as an expat in a developing country, I notice it more, because I am very much a minority here, and the expat staff force is actually quite diverse.

Have you had any experiences like this? How would you respond? If you are white, how would you feel if your manager was a black African, who spoke with an accent? Or what about someone who didn't speak much English at all?

10 March 2012

Catch Phrase

President Martelly, aka Sweet Mickey, just can't miss Carnival!
Last time I was in Haiti, my catch phrase, or in this case catch word, for Haiti was 'ridiculous.' Everything that happened was so out of this world, unlogical, changing, it was ridiculous. 

Well, Haiti hasn't changed. That is to say it hasn't changed to become unchanging and logical. But my catch phrase has changed. 

Now, whenever anything happens, my response to it is 'This is Haiti.'*

So, when there are 2 earthquakes in one week, and people in PaP freak out and sleep on the streets?

This is Haiti. 

When there are speculations about political unrest?

This is Haiti.

When 2 senators resign over the dual-citizenship debacle?**

This is Haiti.

When the president decides on Wednesday that for the first time in however long, Haiti will move to Daylight Savings, the following Sunday 

This is Haiti.

When work is let out early and NGOs go on lockdown, because the president has to speak - and his speech ends up being just him showing his 8 passports?

This is Haiti. 

When field based instutional donors move the deadline for their funding proposals forward a month and a half!?

This is Haiti.

When you are never sure if human rights are being abused or protected?

This is Haiti. 

When the woman doesn't have the cell phone you want to purchase in stock, and says that she will have it this week, but wants you to pay for it before you receive it and come back to pick it up later in the week (yeah, right, like I would do that!)?  

This is Haiti.

When you get to watch a lightning storm in the distance? 

This is Haiti. 

And oh what an adventurous place it is. :)  

* This has a story - I was out to dinner with colleagues at a nice, local restaurant, when we were approached by the owner asking if we would mind being filmed for a Haiti Ministry of Tourism video they were filming. As a part of this, the videographer would like to have one person look into the video and say, 'This is Haiti' Well, that person ended up being me. Keep watching their website to see if I show up on there! (I haven't yet). 

** There is a current debate about the President as to whether he is Haitian or not. Constitutionally, he must hold only a Haitian passport, as Haiti does not recognise dual citizenship. If he has 2, his presidency will become null and void. The president only commented this week on it, when another group of senators signed. Previously other ministers have resigned and the Prime Minister was pretty much forced out. We will see what becomes of it. Only time will tell. 

*** This is also the Catch Phrase of the Ministry of Tourism. But they mean it in a good way:

06 March 2012

Back in the Habit

Is it March already? Where does the time go? Seriously, I feel like so much and so little has happened in such a short amount of time!

But it is March - and at the moment, I am meant to be working. Writing that is. Well, you could say that I am writing now - but this is not what I am meant to be writing. I am meant to be working on a proposal for my organisation, which is quite large (guessing it will be about 50 pages) and due quite soon. At this point, I am 20 pages in. And most of that is just notes or the template! 

And this whole thing - it sounds familiar. Not very long ago, I was a masters student of human rights. And us human rights (human tights?) fannies worked hard and procrastinated harder. Many a late night was spent writing page after page the day before it was due, running from the library to the office to hand in the paper 2 seconds before it was due at 5pm (sometimes later!), freaking out about the printers being stupid, deciding what library to work in (the one with the windows, even though its really hot? the one that has lots of stairs? the one that has the best internet access? the one with NO internet access? or just a coffeeshop?). Oh, those were the days. 

The days spent cracking open books that haven't been opened for years. The days of leather satchels and wool coats and boots and London weather. The days of Hare Krishna in the common room, the days of treking big fattie (our massive human rights reader) around on the tube, the days of jacket potatoes. The days of drinks after hand-in at the local uni bar, chearing whenever someone new walked through the door.

This time around, my "uni experience" is much different. My internet access is so molasses slow that it can take up to 30 minutes to upload a photo (hence no photo here!), I have left the comforts of my home and bedroom (where I locked myself in my internet-free bedroom to work on the report and proceeded to...edit photos), to trek out to our field office for meetings all morning, researching all afternoon (on the molasses internet!) and writing in the evening. In each of these locations I am either (a) covered in sweat, (b) covered in dust, or (c) covered in mosquitos. 

Yep - times have changed. 

But habits don't...yet.

Now, once I get this done, who is up for drinks in the local?