Saturday, October 29, 2011

Day 149: The Honeymoon Is Over

A few days from now I’ll have lived and worked in Haiti for a year. I’ll have lived in Belval Plaza, in our base, an unfinished nightclub, for a year. I’ll have called two small tents home for a year. I’ll have met, and said goodbye, to too many beautiful people to remember. I undertook this adventure, if that’s even an accurate description of what this is, hoping for something big to shift in me. It has. Haiti has fundamentally altered who I am, how I act, what I believe, what I put out into the world.

How? In some ways, my skin is much thicker now that in was before. My patience is not what it used to be, nor my willingness to play nice to avoid potentially sticky situations. I am far more inclined to just tell it how I see it, be damned if feelings get hurt in the process. I have a hard time playing at things that don’t hold meaning to me. It makes me remember a question I answered when I was filling out an old Blogger profile – “If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?” I answered shapeshifting, and at that point in my life, that was the truth. I could wear any number of masks, each tailored to advance me in any given situation or relationship I found myself in. I suppose that now retired superhero evolved from the upbringing I had – a constant changing of locations and friendships that demanded I expand outward if I wanted to be accepted, if I wanted to belong. I got very, very good at it. I still am very, very good at it when I choose to engage it. I am willing to bet if you didn’t know me, and you met me, I could make you like me, and make you think I like you, even if I found you repulsive. The difference is now, I won’t, because even before that superpower developed, before maybe even I was aware of my own identity, I’ve had one quality that defined me and continues to define me – sensitivity. Haiti, in breaking me open, which she has, and I knew she would if I gave her the time to, cut through those countless layers I’ve allowed myself, and exposed the core. For that, I’m thankful, even if, ironically, it has made it harder for me to be here, to continue to try and give of myself, to find a way to love this country and hold onto hope for her and her people.

Haiti is broken. I’ve written that many times before. But during my honeymoon with her, I found something redeeming in that, and in some ways I still do, because, in being broken, you are not awarded the luxury of a front. A truly broken thing cannot hide her brokenness from those who are willing to take the time to study her, and have the sensitivity to see the truth. But a broken thing is more often than not an ugly thing, and there is so much ugliness in this country. I don’t want to define her people that way, because, while many Haitians infuriate me with their mentality - “You’re white. Give me something. Give me money. Give me food. Give me your iPod. That’s what you’re supposed to do.” – I also know they are victims. They did not choose to be poor. They did not choose to be without proper education. They did not choose to suffer from the trauma that follows an event that kills 300,000 of your fellow people - mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, children, friends. Many of them are innocents. The little girl I watched die was far too young to have made any mistakes that would deserve her punishment. She was simply born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In writing this I get confused. My feelings for Haiti have become a twisted mess of love and hatred, of empathy and the total lack thereof, of hope and of hopelessness. I suppose navigating that in a way that enables me to continue to be useful here it is a matter of perspective, and allowing myself blinders. I have to focus on the small changes I am making. If I look at Haiti in her entirety I feel a sense of defeat, because I know that I cannot fix her, nor can any of us that do not call ourselves Haitian, and because, and I hate to admit this, I do not place faith in the idea that her people can rise to the challenge and fix her themselves. It reminds me of something I read in Jeffrey Sach’s “The End of Poverty”, in which he compares human development to a ladder – all of us on a rung somewhere. The First World sits at the top of the ladder, the highest rung. That’s me. That’s most of you who are reading this. Then follows the developing world, those countless millions of people struggling, some more successfully than others, to reach one rung higher, then another, then another, slowly but surely improving their lot. Finally there are those other countless millions that cannot reach the ladder to begin with. They can see it, they know it exists, and cruelly, they know what the top rung looks like because most of the mass-produced culture bombs that get dropped all across this fucked up, beautiful planet of ours are manufactured by those of us at the top. It comes as no surprise to me that so many of Haiti’s young men have bought in 100% to the bullshit mainstream hip-hop culture that comes out of the United States and offers absolutely nothing of value. It is a vapid, empty pipedream, and yet so many of my Haitian friends, and hell, so many of the people I know in the US for that matter, buy it hook, line and sinker. But here it is particularly cruel, and absurd, and ultimately sad. Haiti isn’t on the ladder at all. Her people can only see it, but cannot reach it. The lowest rung is beyond them. Be it through their own actions, or the realities of their situation, or usually both, they can only simply stay where they are, in a truly exhausting, repetitive, difficult existence, and know that it isn’t this way for other people, left with little hope or even the know-how to see themselves joining those others – to find that lowest rung and start climbing.

And yet even in writing that I feel like I’m shortchanging this place because now, having been here for the time that I have, I know that there are always exceptions, that there are people here who have the know-how and the will and the ability to make this place better. Some of them are my friends. But can they? I like to think they can, but the skeptic in me is always there, on my shoulder, reinforced daily by the beggars and the thieves and the filth in the streets and the dogs with their permanently broken legs scurrying out of the way of the motorcycles and the people who will kick them, by the people I met in July 2010 who have no more to show for themselves now than they did then. Still, there is a resilience in this place that I must acknowledge. The people here persevere. They may not seem to do much to improve themselves, but they do continue. I have respect for that. I have not traveled to any other countries as poor and devastated as this one yet, so I have no way to compare how other people in equally difficult situations behave, but I do know this – if the United States had to switch with Haiti for even a week, maybe even a day, the entire place would fall to pieces. We may have once been the people who could have risen to the occasion (I think of my grandparents and their generation) but that generation is old now, and tired, and passed on. The people of today would collapse in a mound of self-pity and defeatism, angrily placing blame as they wallow. Patriotic aren’t I? Fuck it. It’s what I believe. It’s one of the core things driving me – to prove to myself I’m not one of those people, that I can carry a burden that, while never matching what countless millions carry every day, still puts me apart from some of my more pathetic kin. I went to Malibu High School. I’ve done the bottle-service nightclubs. I’ve watched Paris Hilton make her way down a flight of stairs at a house party, and felt the absurdity in the energy that it created in the room. I reject that wholly. I will never buy into it. I can’t. It’s wrong. I’m at the top-rung of this ladder partly through my own actions, but mostly because of the conditions I was born into. I didn’t earn it more than anyone else. I didn’t deserve it. It just was. The die was cast, and I came out on top. Another die was cast and a little girl came out on bottom. She died alone surrounded by strangers and was left on a porch in a coffin any of us would be ashamed to bury someone we love in. It’s wrong not to acknowledge that simple truth. So many of us who feel we deserve the success we have need to wake up. It has far less to do with us than we'd like to think. Life is so much a game of chance. Yes, we all have choice, and that is a beautiful thing, but it is a na├»ve man indeed who believes choice alone determines fate. Who knows how many amazing people – people who had drive and intelligence and sensitivity enough to drive them far beyond anything we could hope to be – were snuffed out before they could ever rise because of the crushing conditions into which they were born?

Confused indeed. As the title might suggest, I started this entry to come to terms with the reality that maybe Haiti is fucked because her people are fucked. And yet here I am at the end feeling something different. Yes, Haiti makes me angry, and yes, my honeymoon with her is indeed over, and yes, many of Haiti’s problems stem from her people, but that doesn’t change the fact that I cannot simply write her off. “It’s Haiti…” That seems a cop-out to me. It’s an easy cop-out, and one I hear often, sometimes from myself, but the truth is far more elusive. As is usually the case in living, there are no black and whites here. Shades of grey define this place. Shades of grey define most everything. They define this entry. So no, I have no answers, and no, I’m not done yet. I’m not throwing in the towel. Yes, I’ve been beaten down by this place, but as I wrote before, I’m thankful for it, because in being beaten down I’m being forced to choose which parts of myself I want to devote my energy and time to, and which I want to discard. It brings to mind the final verse of Rainer Maria Rilke's The Man Watching - "Whoever was beaten by this Angel (who often simply declined the fight) went away proud and strengthened and great from that harsh hand, that kneaded him as if to change his shape. Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows: by being beaten, decisively, by constantly greater beings." I no longer desire shapeshifting. I am retiring that superpower. I opt to pull out those parts of myself I know to be closest to who I really am, and strengthen them. The others I’ll shed, and that is a good thing. It only brings me closer to myself. Comfort allows people to choose who they want to be. Hardship exposes people for who they truly are. Haiti is not a comfortable place. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Day 142: Rambles

There are moments in my life where I wait. They are usually fleeting, and come in unexpected hours that pass quickly. I sit and drink my beer and I think that maybe, in those moments, I’m trying too hard. It’s an uncomfortable but important process in trying to continually define myself, to decide what matters and what is superfluous, to allow myself distraction, to come to terms. It isn’t something unique. Anyone hoping to breach themselves, to find something akin to peace, which I’m not entirely convinced plays any role in an awakened presence, does this. We manifest it differently, but the goal is the same.

I think often of the people I love. I think of what makes me happy. I think of the little girl I watched die this week. I think of what that means, what she could have been. I think of what she did to me, what she did to those few people there that bore witness to her death. I think about what kind of man I am, do I live up to what I propose to believe in? I think about my father. I think of about my grandfather. I think about my mother. I think about my brother. I think that maybe I’m incredibly selfish. I acknowledge the fact that I’ve left them, I’m far away, and I don’t want to come back to where they are. I miss them, badly, but they aren’t where I feel I need, or want, to be. “You are doing the work. You are amazing.” People tell me. I believe that, maybe, but it’s easy. Just go somewhere people don’t go, do something people don’t do. When you do, you’ll hear the same. It might be true. It might not. Their opinions cannot bring peace. That is something we all have to do alone.

In writing this I feel the limitations. I realize I’m telling my own story. I know it isn’t the entirety, it’s my interpretation. I feel lonely. I know I want to share. I know you can read this, but it’s not yours. It’s mine. I want to share it intimately. I know right now, I can’t. This public confession doesn’t keep me from a tent I sleep alone in most every night. It doesn’t stop the desire for  connection.

I feel incredibly capable, and completely out of my league, but I know I’m alive right now, really alive, and that gives me hope. I cannot become the man I want to be if I cannot write this.

I know I’m drunk, and I’m OK with that.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day 138: How To Build A Coffin

I've always known the work I do here in Haiti shields me somewhat from the most painful aspects of what this kind of poverty can produce. Yes, it is hard not to be affected when you see a family of five sharing a tiny, dirt-floored shack, or an old woman stooped over knee-high in a filthy canal digging through the waste looking for ... what? I don't even know what you could find in that cesspool that could be of any value. Haiti, now as before, does not attempt to veil her troubles.

But I hadn't seen death, even though I know it is all around me. With the exception of a horrible motorcycle accident I passed by in January that left two young men dead in the highway, I hadn't had any relationship with it. I know it's there, the statistics are well-known and the spectre of cholera looms over this country. Inevitably some of those caught in its shadow won't find their way out again. Still, to know something exists is very different than to witness it.

I've been spending some time with a girl I met a few weeks ago, Sabrina. She's here for three months and is volunteering at a very small NGO that operates out of a house in Chatulet, near the Route National. The NGO, Espwa Berlancia, is run by a young woman, Rhyan, who I met last year when I installed biosand filters in an orphanage she was helping. Since then, she's transitioned into focusing on helping pregnant women and infants who are HIV positive. It's a tiny operation - right now just the two of them - but it's clear they are passionate about it. When I came over to visit them a few nights ago and forgot the money I needed to pay the moto-driver, a young man in his late teens or twenties, the girls offered him the choice: 50 gourdes (just over a dollar), or an HIV test. He chose the test. So, 9PM at night and the four of us are sitting on the porch as he waits to get his results. After a false-positive scare, he could breathe a sigh of relief: negative. He left smiling.

But that isn't always how it ends. A few days ago, Sabrina told me that a baby girl had been dropped off at the orphanage and was to receive no care because they didn't think she'd live. When you don't have a lot to work with, you have to make ugly choices. But Rhyan and Sabrina weren't having that, and brought the little girl back to their home to try and pull her back from the brink. She was somewhere between one and two years old, a skeleton in every sense of the word, and HIV positive. Her mother abandoned her at the orphanage when she thought death was inevitable, maybe to avoid the pain of watching it, and maybe to avoid the cost of burying her. Probably both.

The first day the girls had her, they didn't think she was going to make it. She wasn't eating, wasn't drinking, and was slipping in and out of unconsciousness. Sabrina committed herself to that little girl, and spent the whole day with her, holding her, sleeping next to her, feeding her and changing her. I didn't see her that day, she had her priority.

The following day, Saturday, the little girl began to turn a corner. Her eyes cleared, going from yellow to white, and showed focus where before there was drift. She stopped moaning and began to make noises that babies are supposed to make - gurgles and giggles and squeals. Most importantly, she ate. Mac and cheese and avocado and other assorted delectables. When Sabrina came out that night to go dancing with a bunch of us, she looked happy, and told me the good news.

Yesterday morning I could tell Sabrina's mind was elsewhere. She was thinking about the little girl. We walked back to her house together, and I got to meet the little one for the first time. She didn't look healthy. She'd taken a turn for the worse over night and wasn't eating again. Sabrina began to feed her Pedialyte, which she kept down, but as I held her I could feel it pass right through her and into her diaper. She was tiny, her head rolling weakly into the nook of my shoulder where she settled into a half-sleep, making her little moans again. The smell coming off of her smelled of sickness. After another attempt at feeding, she vomited, and the reality of what it means to try and care for an incredibly sick baby hit me. We had to leave her on the cold tile floor as we put on gloves to protect ourselves from the virus she carried, and was in her diarrhea and vomit. It felt so cold. Clinical. Rhyan, who has been in Haiti for four years and has been exposed to this many times before, was doing what needed to be done - cleaning, organizing, doctoring. Sabrina and I were more focused on trying to show the little girl affection, to push back against the cold tile floors and injections and baby wipes working methodically to "make things better". Things weren't getting better, and I knew it was time for me to leave Sabrina and Rhyan alone with her.

After a morning that saw me back at the base feeling ready to burst into tears at any moment, and an afternoon of meeting with an interesting NGO that wants to potentially partner with our BSF program next summer, I found myself en route back to the house to bring the girls some BBQ chicken platters. My friend Andy, who just moved to Leogane and is getting the lay of the land, was driving. Thinking the little girl would likely be doing better or perhaps be asleep, I'd brought a few beers and a bag of Doritos, simple pleasures really, but they go a long way sometimes.

Knock knock. Rhyan opens the gate. "Do you have a driver? I need a driver, I think she's dying. I need to go to the orphanage." OK, this is happening. "Quinn, stay here with Sabrina, I'll go with your driver." OK, this is happening. I went inside, the house was dark, as the electricity to it hadn't been turned on yet. I found Sabrina in her room, huddled over the crib where the little girl was laid out with a wet cloth on her chest. A tiny clip-lamp was attached to the lip of the crib, casting pale light down on her. She looked much, much worse than when I'd left her that morning. It brought back images of my mother in the final moments before she died, lying in the adjustable bed provided to her by hospice. The little girl's eyes were open, weakly, one more than the other. She didn't seem to see anything. Her ribs expanded and sank gently, pushing against the skin. Her old man legs coming out from her diaper were collapsed outward, her arms at her sides, palms up. There was a tube in her nose. My mom had a tube in her nose when she died.

Sabrina was quiet, her hand on the little girl. I didn't know what to do. I put the chicken platters down on the ground, but had forgotten to close the front gate and soon enough had a rowdy puppy wanting to get into everything. "Sota, out!" I took her out, closed the gate, came back to the crib. "Hey little one. How you doing?" Stupid question to ask her, hand on her swollen belly, both because it was clear how she was doing, and because I said it in English. We just sat there with her for a while in silence. I thought to myself, "This is Haiti. This is the true reality just under the surface." For every smiling kid asking you for a sip of your soda, there are children like this little girl. I thought of my friend Christina, a nurse here last year who worked at a field hospital. She'd sometimes come back from work and cry. "We lost a baby today." I didn't really know what that meant then, but was now in the process of learning.

Andy and Rhyan came back with Madam Claudia, who runs the orphanage. Andy looks down at her in her crib. "Ah, poor baby." It's a little awkward, but genuine - Andy's a bit of a cowboy. He pulled bodies out of buildings in Port-au-Prince. He drives a heavily-armored car. He smokes a lot. "L'ap mouri." "She's dying." Madam Claudia would know, she's seen this before, many times. I ask her questions. She tells me she lost a baby yesterday, and another just before. She tells me about a woman who has given birth to a total of nineteen children, all premature. All of them were brought to Madam Claudia. All died. "This is Haiti." It's stuck in my head.

The little girl is getting worse. She's vomited. They take her out of the crib, she's completely limp, stick-figure arms and legs hanging. They face her forward, one hand under her, her head down, and they slap her back. Vomit comes up - yellow brown and full of feces. There's a lot of it. We put our gloves on. I'm crying quietly. Sabrina is silent. Andy's holding Gup, Rhyan's adopted toddler, in another room so he doesn't have to see it. Rhyan and Madam Claudia sing a song from the Bible. They say a prayer in Kreyol. They pour a little water over her head, and it trickles down her skull into the vomit bucket. They lay a towel down in the crib and put her back in it. Andy says goodbye. "Give my chicken to Madam Claudia. I'm not hungry anymore." I do. Madam Jimmy has joined us now, the young wife of a man named Jimmy who is a neighbor and helps Rhyan and Sabrina with random odds and ends. She and Madam Claudia eat the chicken on Sabrina's bed as Sabrina sits by the crib with me. We talk in Kreyol. Madam Claudia states the sad truth - "It doesn't have to be this way. If she had someone who could afford to care for her, and HIV medicine, she wouldn't die." That's true. "This is Haiti."

The sadness has abated a bit, the shock with it. Sabrina and I go out to the kitchen and try and eat our chicken with the aid of a flashlight. We manage to laugh a little bit - "I don't really know what I'm eating right now. I can't see anything." Me neither. I'm drinking one of the beers. Sabrina's happy about the Doritos. There's a baby girl dying in the room next to us. Should we be doing this? I don't know what the rules are.

The electricity comes on. "Yes! Mesi Jezi!" Rhyan says it, but I'm the one who confuses it. Jezi? Is that the name of the electrical company here in Haiti? No, it's Jesus in Kreyol. Sabrina laughs hard. That makes me happy.

The little girl and her crib are moved from Sabrina's room to the living room. Madam Claudia is talking to Rhyan, Sabrina avoids the living room, Gup has been put to bed. I'm by the crib, talking to her. "You're a little fighter you know that?" She is. Her breathing is weak, but her heartbeat is strong. It's the first time I've used a stethoscope. "What were we saving her for?" Rhyan asks the question. "She's an HIV-positive orphan in Haiti. What kind of life will she have even if we could save her?" It's a question I imagine all of us have been thinking, and is clearly one that has tortured Rhyan before. Sabrina's still quiet. "I'm OK, " she tells me, "I just don't want to look at her like this anymore." I get that. I think about the day my mom died.

"Her heartbeat is a lot weaker now." A few minutes have passed. The little girl is still alive, eyes open but unseeing. "She doesn't see us anymore, she sees Jesus." Rhyan says it, Madam Claudia and Madam Jimmy nod. I have my hand on her belly. "Be careful, when she dies she might vomit on you." She doesn't. Her passing is peaceful. The breaths come short and drawn out, her eyes still open. Her little jaw works in a three-part jerk as she sucks for the final bit of air, then she's gone. Rhyan begins to close her eyes, which are still open. I try and help her but do it wrong. "You have to hold the eyelids down for a while."

I go out to the porch where Sabrina is smoking one of her menthols. "She's gone." She nods. Gets up and goes inside. The waiting is over. We start doing things again. The girls bring some clothes up from the basement to dress her in. As they lift her out of her crib to put her on the ground to clean her, the image burns into me - a dead skeleton infant, surrounded by nobody she knew when she was alive, lifted and set down like some morbid ragdoll. No amount of tenderness, of which there was plenty, could have changed it. "This is Haiti." Rhyan is careful with her as she removes her diaper and cleans her wrinkled legs and butt. They dress her in a white fluffy gown. Her hands are bound together in a prayer shape, as is Haitian custom. They've forgotten the bonnet, so I go down to the basement and bring up the suitcase with the death stuff in it. It's full. Two others are down there, empty. I don't know what that means.

We need to get the body back to the orphanage. How? Jimmy doesn't want to take a dead baby on his motorcycle. It's too far to walk. It's too late to find another moto. Rhyan approaches me, "Quinn, do you know where we can get a coffin, or build one?" We could build one on base, but it's late on Sunday and none of the people who know how to do that are around. Lots of people have gone to the beach to camp for the night. I try to call Elivert, but he doesn't answer. I try my other local friends. They don't answer. I don't know where we can buy one. Jimmy says he can go get wood, and Rhyan has a circular saw and some nails. We'll build one.

Jimmy and I do our best cutting the wood but it's cheap plywood and damp and the electricity running to the house isn't enough to fully power the circular saw. It jams a few seconds into every cut. The lines are all wrong. Jimmy does his best to fix them. Once we've cut the pieces we realize the nails are too small. They don't have any others. "I'll go get them." "OK, while you do that, can you call Andy and ask if he'd be willing to drive us to the orphanage with her?" I do. He is.

I walk out the gate and head left up to the Route National. It feels like a long time since I brought over the chicken and beer and Doritos. It's only been a few hours. I walk to Ocean Grill, a restaurant nearby run by my friend Jacques, a Haitian guy who lived in Boston for many years and makes some mean seafood. He recognizes me as I come in and jokes, "Hey Quinn! You look hungry." "Nope, sorry Jacques, not tonight, I'm just hear to ask a favor." I tell him what happened. He nods quietly, finds some nails but they are used to nail tin, and too big for the little coffin. They'd split the plywood. "Ah man, I'm sorry to hear the news." "It's OK, life right?" "Right." Right. Right? I'm not sure if that's true, or if it is, if it should be. I buy a beer. He lets me take the bottle with me. I grab a moto and stop by Klinik Kominote, which is run by my friend Jason, to see if they have nails. Nobody is there. I get back on the moto and head back to base. Joe's, the bar next door, is blaring music, as usual. Black Eyed Peas. "Tonight's gonna be a good night, tonight's gonna be a good, good night!" People are laughing. I hate the Black Eyed Peas. I grab a can of nails, a bucket of paint and some brushes. Paddy and Dylan know, offer to help if we need it. I'm OK. I'm back on the moto, and then back at the house.

We finish the coffin. It's decided there isn't enough time to paint it, so we opt to line it with some white cloth. The little girl is bound up in a shroud now, a rigid something on the floor next to the crib. There is a note taped to her releasing Rhyan of any responsibility for her death, signed and stamped by the orphanage. She has to take photos. Sabrina is still quiet. Andy is there. "That's a good coffin. Quinn the carpenter eh?" Anything but, really, but it'll have to do. It's better than a suitcase, which is what they had to use last time. The orphanage can't afford wood or coffins. Sabrina lifts her. "She's stiff." She sets her in it. The lid is too small, it doesn't fit right. There are gaps. Duct tape? No, they'll just have to open it up again anyway to check her.

I carry her in her coffin to Andy's SUV. I'm afraid the nails will slip. I have a vision of the bottom falling out or the walls giving way and her falling and hitting the street. The coffin holds and I put her in the back. Madam Jimmy and Jimmy leave, Madam Claudia is gone. We drive to the orphanage. I recognize it. We installed filters in it last year. It's late, people are asleep. "You need to let me carry her in." Rhyan does. She talks to the orphanage staff for a bit. She unwraps the baby girl and shows them her face. They nod. It's decided that she'll be left in her coffin on the porch. That's it then. There's nothing else to do. We leave. Andy drives us back to the house and says goodbye, offers to help dig a grave the next day with one of his excavators if need be.

The house is quiet. Sabrina and Rhyan are talking. I'm exhausted. Sabrina makes me a bed on the couch. I grab a book about village medicine when no doctors are present. I read about malaria and dengue and typhoid fever. Sabrina comes and sits at the end of the couch. She tells me stories about her scars. I want to listen but I'm so tired I can't stay awake. My eyes are closing. She laughs. "Fine, well if you don't want to listen..." She's kidding, and we both know it. "Goodnight." "Night."

It's 8:30AM. I need to get back to base. Paddy and Jenni, my two BSF coworkers, are both leaving for a vacation tomorrow. I have a lot of things to do. I say goodbye to Rhyan. Sabrina is still asleep in her room. I leave her be.

I'm on the motoride back and I'm thinking about something I saw on TV the day before. An Indy car driver named Dan Wheldon died in a car crash. The sports world is in mourning. It's all over the news. I can't help but feel a bit jaded. He drove race cars. He knew the risks. He made the millions. He died doing what he loved. I think about the little girl, maybe still in her hacked-together plywood coffin on the porch. I don't even remember her name. I doubt many people will. It seems wrong.

I take a deep breath and refocus. The motorcycle engine whines and the kompa music blares and the people are everywhere and I'm still alive and moving, on and away, and this too is Haiti.

- - - - -


R.I.P Little Girl

- - - - -

Edit: To be clear about something I unintentionally omitted in writing this -  yes, Rhyan and Sabrina attempted to take the little girl to get medical treatment at numerous hospitals and clinics. None would accept her given her HIV positive status, and the belief that she would die regardless of any care received. 


Edit: Rhyan updated her blog to write about her experience with the little girl, who's name was Miguerlene. Read it here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day 132: To Make It Official...

All Hands Volunteers - 250 Biosand Filters Installed In Leogane

250 down, a lot more to go.

Day 132: Things To Celebrate, And Things To Miss

2AM here in my tent. It’s raining, has been for hours. It was a wet weekend.

Why am I awake? I don’t really know to be quite honest, I went to bed exhausted and fully expected to sleep through the night, but every now and again that doesn’t happen. It usually has to do with a certain someone I tend to think about a lot in my quiet moments, and tonight is no different. It’s frustrating, and whereas before it still hurt, as it does now, it also seemed to nurture some sense of connection between her and me that gave me hope for an eventual re-connection. It felt like I was simply paying my dues for still having the desire and capability to continue to love her. As anyone who’s been there knows, it is anything but a painless process. But now I’m mostly just annoyed with this. There isn’t anything to be done right now with these feelings, and there won’t be for a while still. Graduate school is still just under a year away, and by then, who knows? Life is nothing if not a changing proposition, and this is a two-person dance after all. There's no guarantee that, if my feelings remain unchanged, her's will be too. I suppose if I do what I always intended to do – put myself back into a situation where I could be physically close to her again, thus cutting out the main reason for us having to grow apart to begin with – then one way or another I’d get the answer to what has been and continues to be a giant, lingering question mark in my life.

But again, that’s quite a ways off, and I might get a different answer than I expected I would when I first made the decision not to go to London and instead continue to try and be out in this kind of work, doing it, and becoming someone I can honestly say I’m proud to be. And in the end, it was the right decision, because that is exactly what is happening, and if I didn't give myself the chance to do this, I'd have regretted it, no matter how happy I might have been with her. In truth, I'm incredibly happy right now because as of Wednesday just past, the biosand filter program has hit our primary objective: building and installing 250 filters in three months. That’s 250 families with clean water, over 1000 people. The organization is proud of the program, and I can honestly say Paddy and I worked our asses off, sometimes truly winging it as we learned on the fly, and the results followed. A lot of people didn’t think the task given to us was something we’d be able to pull off. But, we did, with two days to spare, and despite the best efforts of two hurricanes and other things that shut the base down for multiple days at a time. In the process, I've managed to get a small monthly stipend which takes some of the pressure off financially, and, most importantly, I've settled something inside me that had been bugging me since I first left Haiti in January - the feeling of having squandered a fantastic opportunity. So yes, this is a good time in my life, all things considered, even if I do still have those moments where the gap that she used to fill in me makes itself felt. That's not something I'll probably be rid of until the I take the steps needed to get an answer to that question, and that's in the future, so hey, nothing to be done about it now. Accept it and continue.

Filters 248, 249 & 250 are loaded for installation...
...which makes Quinn happy...
...because he's part of a truly kick ass team...

...that got a lot of families safe, clean drinking water. Bon bagay!
Speaking of bon bagay, even more good news in regards to the work being done here: a decision has been made from the All Hands Volunteers board to extend Project Leogane into 2012. That means that three core All Hands programs will continue into next year, with biosand filters being one of them (the others being our school build program, and our livelihoods program). We’ve purchased four more molds and are ready to double our rate of production, and we are playing with the possibility of quadrupling our production output to 16 filters a day. If we do that, I believe that would make us the largest biosand filter program currently in Haiti, and would see us able to get clean water to over ten thousand people in under six months. That’s no small accomplishment. However, quadrupling production poses some significant challenges and would require a total rework of our production yard. It can be done, but at the moment Paddy and I need to figure out if it is worth it give the timeframe and the fact that we both know All Hands will eventually leave Haiti. Regardless, we will, at the very least, be doubling our production and will have a longer time-frame in which to install the filters, so we'll be able to get clean water to far more people. That's a good thing.

Another side project I'm working on is helping a friend of mine get back into high school and get her diploma so she can pursue her dream of being a nurse. At the moment, my friend Prakash, who I went to high school with in California and who now works for Google, donated enough to get her prior school debts paid back, and I got her set up with her books and school uniforms, so I'm happy to say as of last week, Jenny was back in high school. Seeing her turn up to the base after her classes got out in her school t-shirt made me smile. But tuition for this year still needs to be paid, and I'd like to raise enough money to see her through the remaining years of high school she has left (three in total) and maybe even help fund her if and when she gets accepted into nursing school, so yea, I'll post more about that project when I'm done setting up a website for it, and getting a fundraising campaign live on one of the online fundraising websites.

3AM. Tick tock tick tock. Online now, down in the office, but not much to do, truth be told. I could use a day off this week to refocus on graduate school applications, as powering through biosand stuff has been the top priority. I'd also like some time to plan a trip I'd like to take before I head over to London or somewhere in the UK to start school. A good friend of mine, Nuria, who worked at the Oxford study abroad office but is originally from Spain, extended an invitation to me to come and stay with her at her house in Madrid, no cost to me. It's an incredibly generous offer, and I really want to take her up on it. She's from Madrid, and the thought of spending a month or two with her, getting my Spanish back into shape after the beating it has taken at the hands of Creole, and just reconnecting with her after ten years, sounds wonderful. She and I have managed to stay in touch since my time at Oxford, and we've always had a special something in how we relate to each other. Before mom passed away, we both wanted to reconnect with each other in India and go hiking around there for a few months, but that never came to pass - mom's health was in decline and that wasn't something I was going to risk not being around for. But mom's gone now, and if I'm frugal I can save up enough cash to get to Madrid no problem, and once I'm there costs will be minimal, so hell, if the pieces fit...

Right then, if I don't at least attempt a return to my tent and hopefully the sleep that will follow, I'm going to be useless tomorrow. 

Until soon.