Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day 92: A Glimpse Into What We Do

Updates to come, but in the interim, check this out:

All Hands Volunteers' Flickr Photostream

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 83: A Long Overdue Update

12:09PM. It is the first day since I arrived in Haiti where the rain has been constant since I awoke. It’s nice. Cool. I like the sound of it trickling off our roof and onto the concrete slab of the base’s courtyard. It is an easy atmosphere here right now, and that’s a good a time as any to write. There is much to write about.

September. A powerful month. Mom died in September. September 7th. I was born in September. The 24th. For some reason, those two events feel amplified in this environment. I suppose it has something to do with the lack of distraction here. Yes, we work, and work very hard, but when we aren’t working, the time is spent in something of a repetitive loop – go have a beer, or mess around online (assuming the internet is working), put on a movie, read a book, sleep. The reality in a place like Leogane is that the want for so much leaves very little room or resources to provide the little distractions we in the developed world surround ourselves with. The few distractions that do exist are quickly rendered ineffective through sheer overindulgence due to the simple fact that they are pretty much it. And yet, while reading this it may sound as if this is something I don’t enjoy, but in some respects it is the exact opposite. In lieu of the distractions of my past, I now have time and space to simply be. The connections I make with my fellow volunteers are more powerful than those I would make in the States, particularly given the time and frequency with which they occur.  The time I have to be with myself and simply think about what kind of life I am living, and what kind of life I want to live is a blessing, especially now that it comes amidst the feeling of being on my way. That is very different than the majority of my young adulthood, where I had a sense of what I wanted to try and be, but had no idea or perhaps even the capacity at the time to be it. Some things only come after honest self-reflection. I avoided that for a long time. These last five years have been that time for me. And now, on the brink of my 29th birthday, my final year of the “tumultuous twenties” I’m finding something akin to peace in my own skin. It’s wonderful. It allows me to go places, internally, that I simply couldn’t before.

That comes at a cost of course, but a cost that is unquestionably worth it. Because, when you let yourself simply be, you truly see the what and where and who all around you. And Haiti, in her nature, once again amplifies it all. My understanding of the reality facing most Haitians, many of whom are now my friends, frustrates me, because they are as capable as I am, and yet they will likely never have the same opportunities I do for the simple fact that they are Haitian. The dice rolled. I was born in a certain time and place. They were born in a certain time and place. In many ways, that is truly the only difference. Many of my Haitian friends humble me with their outlook and work ethic and sensitivity. They are capable, beautiful people caught in a very unforgiving, desperate place. You can’t help but be affected by that over time. There is a sense of powerlessness in looking at their horizon, even if in the here and now you may feel as if a positive impact is being made. But you can’t let that stop you. Just push on, and do what you can.

The other cost, of course, is in the relationships made here. At All Hands, doing this type of work, incredible people come, and incredible people go. It is never enjoyable to say goodbye. I wrote of this before, after about a month of being here and beginning to feel it, but now, this week in particular, it hits me hardest. I’ve become very close to someone - largely inseparable for the past month (which had no small part in the lack of updates…) - and now she is soon to leave, returning to London and her second year in medical school. Originally planned for the 14th, we postponed her flight eleven days, but time continues, as it tends to do, and the days go by. So now we have four days left. Friday, my birthday, we’ll spend together, and Saturday, the 25th, we go to Port-au-Prince, the airport, and her departure. It makes me sad, but I wouldn’t for the world change the root cause of the sadness: our closeness. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll cross a beautiful path. I just did. I’m thankful for this time I’ve had walking it.

And it continues. The biosand filter project here at All Hands, which I run along with Henri, one of the staff, is exciting in its ramp-up. We’ve hit full production now, pumping out four biosand filters a day in the workshop out back that Paddy & I built, and I’ve begun the first step of our roll-out. Before installing the filters in the community at large, All Hands has decided to provide them to our local volunteers and their families. I think it is an excellent decision, as it allows us to both invest in the health of local people who help our project every day, and gives us an early sample group to study prior to delivering them to local schools and the local community at large. Part of making that happen is interviewing the locals about their living conditions, which is what I’ve been doing for the last several days. It is eye opening, and I appreciate their honesty with me (assuming they’re being honest, but I have no reason to doubt them). Once I’ve interviewed all of them (about thirty) Henri and I will begin to visit their homes to assess whether or not a biosand filter is the right fit for their current living situation, and, should that be the case, we’ll load up some of the filters my team has made and get them installed. I can’t wait for that. I get a little stir-crazy here in base, given I’m here all the time. The biosand workspace is attached to the back of the base, and by the nature of being the team lead, I need to stay near it, even though at this point my go-to guy James, a previous All Hands local volunteer from their project in Gonaives (flooding & mudslides, 2007) can run the entire thing by himself. He’s incredible – soft spoken, with an endless work ethic and great laugh to boot – and he makes my job much, much easier, especially since he can speak Spanish, English and Creole. My Creole, while improving, definitely isn’t good enough at this point to be able to effectively lead a team of the local guys. James makes that entirely doable. You’re the man James. Much appreciated.

So there it is – a quick and much overdue update. Obviously, I’ve more to write about, and I’m still planning on doing a video catch-up, especially to share my Dominican Republic adventures, but for now, I need to go interview another one of our local volunteers, and turn on the generator to get the water pump pumping water into my biosand tank. The rain has stopped. Seize the moment!

Oh, and before I go, I've uploaded a few more albums to Picasa. Check them out here:

La Republica Dominicana - August 2010

All Hands Haiti - September 2010

Hasta pronto.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day 70: Not Dead Yet

I'm still alive, just been very busy and am dealing with the whole "there is so much writing I have to do to catch up that I almost don't want to do it" thing. I've figured out a solution though - video blog updates. So, sometime soon here I'll catch up with this via video. It'll be a lot faster to just tell you all what has been happening rather than type it. And yes, a lot has been happening. Life here in Haiti continues, and my spirits are great. Details in a bit...

Yesterday marked three years since mom passed away. I went out back, behind the Joint Logistics Base, and found a little sand pile. Built a small fire. Lit it at 6:48PM (mom died at 4:48PM and it is two hours ahead here) and spent some time alone just appreciating her.

Life continues, and life is good.