Ke Kontan

Ke Kontan

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Dekole, Ole, Ole...

Sitting in Miami airport .. It is currently 6:12 pm and in 2 hours I will be headed home to the great north and strong. It seems that whenever the plane begins to descend to touch down on Florida grounds, my heart races and my eyes fill with tears. It happens every time I leave Haiti. And for these last couple trips I keep asking myself why ? Why at that exact moment do I feel as if my entire body was hit by a freight train. I still don't fully understand it but maybe I'm not meant to. I think a part of it has to do with finally realizing I'm away from my comfort zone, that I'm missing my babies and Haitian family already, that I'm anxious to see my Canadian family, but most of all because I know that every time I leave, a part of me changes. I know that when I return home I will not be the same person I was when I left a few short months ago. And I know that when I return to Haiti I will have also changed. Going home to Canada is where I have time to stop, reflect on my absolutely crazy and chaotic life on the small Caribbean island, and it really makes me realize how ungrateful I once was as my small childish self took everything for granted. Stepping back into the house I grew up in brings back memories that flood my mind .. Good and bad. In my small town im bound to see the people I have eliminated from my life due to fall outs, heartbreaks, or just for obvious reasons and I'm also bound to see those who I have been trying not to eliminate but to put in the back of my mind .. As thinking of them while over seas hurts more then salt water in a cut. Going home is always mixed emotions. However, as like any thing that is difficult or uncomfortable in life .. You grow from it.

My heart aches leaving Haiti because I so desperately wish they could come up with a cloning machine so I could be in two places at once.. Instead .. My heart is stretched and pulled at both ends. I miss my babies, my Haitian family, friends, and my wee best friend already. Today has been one interesting day - forgot my passport and was stuck at the port au prince airport- thanks to Val who rushed over on a Moto with my passport (my life) in his hands. Make it just on time for my flight. Haven't been feeling well the past two days and of course as the plane jumps into the air my stomach jumps into my mouth. Thank god for the little bags they leave at the back of the seats. I slept most of the way to Miami and woke as the plane was beginning to touch down and while I fought with all my might to keep my raging emotions bottled inside. I got off the plane and headed to customs. I began to become frustrated with the customs officer as he wasn't understanding what I was saying - that was until I realized I was no longer in Haiti but the United States- a country that does not speak kreyol.. I now understand why he was looking at me as if I had 5 heads.

Anyways .. I'm here in Miami safe and sound with a crappy cold/sinus infection that my best friend so generously gave me (yes that's you Maeve). Although that heart of mine is being pulled in so many directions right now .. It begins to beat faster knowing that I get to see my baby brothers tonight !!! Can't wait to run and kiss them and hug them in the airport and of course embarrass them- something I am very talented at :)

Be back soon Haiti. Take care of my babes and my loved ones until I get back. & Canada .... Please be gentle tonight as I step out of the airport in my Capri pants and not make me into a human icicle.

Going back to listening to some jperry, kreyol-la and shaggy now and pretending I'm still under the hot sun dancing like beyonce (or pretending I'm beyonce and making a fool outta this blan) before reality hits me.

Love to you all.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas in Haiti ..

It is Christmas Eve And as I sit here tonight with a heavy heart and a head full of thoughts I look back on the last 8 months of my life and all of the things that have nearly broken me, the things that have tested me, and the things that have impacted my life in such a great way that I will never be the same person I was last year, yesterday, or ten minutes ago. I am still learning more about myself, this world, Haiti, it's culture, and why I'm here each and every second that passes.

In two days I will be returning to Canada once again. Up until about a week and a half ago I was so excited to go home, to get outta here, and to have a little bit of normalcy in my life for two weeks. Oh right, and sleep. However, recently I had a large group of volunteers and watching them walk around Haiti and ask questions it made me think a lot about my life and why exactly I am here in Haiti as I have briefly touched on it in previous blogs but never sat down and just let my heart speak. I started crying. I have been stressing so much in these past few months trying to piece together my life and figure out my future. How am I going to make a living ? How am I going to be able to support myself and hopefully a family one day? I can't do that by just simply volunteering and living off the $100 a month I get from my mom. As one of my volunteers said "do you think you are actually going to stay here or do you think you can go home and live there and just know that you can come back whenever you want?". This question tugged at my heart and made me admit something's I have been trying to deny to myself for the last few months. This is my life. This is my home. This is the place where I truly feel alive. Where I have the freedom to be myself and not be judged. To make the most radical decisions and to literally live each day as if it was my last. I feel comfortable here. At times I get so down and wish my life could just be normal and consistent. I sometimes wonder if I ruined my future by making this huge decision at such a young age. I think about having a family, a husband, a salary...
And then I think about Haiti. About my children and my friends and my life here. How can I leave that behind ?

The sad truth is .. I can't. As much as I desire the luxuries of home some days, I know that in my heart as soon as I return home it will be aching to come back. I know that although I am frustrated and stressed and feel as if I'm going insane, the depression when I return home would out do that.

Why am I in Haiti ?
I used to believe I was in Haiti for everyone else. But recently I have realized I am in Haiti for selfish reasons. I am in Haiti for me. Because when I see people smile after one small gesture of kindness.. It makes me feel good. It makes my entire body dance with joy and makes me feel like I am doing something more then sitting In an office or inside a building collecting zeros on my pay cheque. I am in Haiti because this is where I have found my heart. This is where I am happy. Every day I cross paths with the most amazing, interesting, and wise people.

As I sit here tonight I am missing Christmas. I am missing hot chocolate, stockings, the smell of a fresh cut tree. And most of all my family. Christmas in Haiti is not as well celebrated as back home, however, while I'm currently driving in a taptap I am passing loads of people on the streets wearing Santa hats and laughing and drinking and it brings a smile to my face as Christmas here has true meaning- being together is all that matters. The government decides to give electricity all night as a gift to the city. It looks so beautiful all lit up. I can honestly say that I love this country. As much as I curse it out and as much as some days I feel like taking a step off my beautiful balcony .. It owns my heart in a very twisted way. I guess you could say "its a love haiti relationship". I am sad tonight as I know there are kids digging through the garbage right outside my door and families that are going to bed hungry. It hurts me to know how absolutely fortunate I was growing up and how I didn't realize it until now. I never really thought Santa was a big deal until this year .. Yes I am passed the point of believing.. But he is an important character in many children's lives back home and I wish it was the same here. Santa brings hope and excitement and teaches us about giving but most of all it allows us to use our imagination and believe in something even though you can't see it. But then again .. How are children supposed to believe in Santa when most have never had a present under their tree .. Let alone a tree to put presents under. All I want for Christmas this year is for people back home to stop and look at their house right now .. Look at the lights, the happiness, the presents and food .. And not to be saddened by it but to remember those out there that are sleeping on the streets or digging through garbage to find one small crumb of food. And please remember just how fortunate we all truly are no matter what battles we may currently be facing. I am so grateful to be able to spend Christmas with my amazing children, my staff, volunteers, and my best friend !!!

I love and miss you all back home and will see some of you very soon. Happy Christmas everyone !

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Oh for the Love of Haiti...

It’s not the middle of the night or anything, but I have already attempted to go to sleep once tonight. I was almost successful too. So much so that I kept nodding off while reading "A Fine Balance" and only woke up when my head hit my laptop with a thump.

I have a confession to make. It may be shocking to some of you. Here it goes. I’ve realized in this last week that yes, I'm actually human. I think I have finally hit the point of complete exhaustion and frustration and my mind has been sending mixed messages and doubts. I have never doubted Haiti.. ever. But right now my mind, my body, and my soul have possibly just reached their limits. My life is complete chaos. It has been for the last 7 months and 17 days but right now it is at an all time high. My head is constantly racing and I can't even keep up with my own thoughts. I currently have 3 teething babies, 1 of which is hospitalized at Hopital Espoir with a constant fever and distended stomach, another at home with Diarrhea and a chest infection, and the other.. well she's actually doing pretty well- finally has grown some hair and started laughing, playing, and talking. The biggest problem I am having in Haiti is how long it takes for anything to be accomplished or organized. When I set my mind to something, I do it. I do not like to put things off. However, in Haiti, that's all people seem to do. There is never any rush, the concept of time seems to be non-existent. To say the least, our desks that were supposed to be finished 3 weeks ago, have finally be completed today !!!!! I am also frustrated with being a "blan". I hate it and most of all I hate arguing. But in Haiti, it has become a constant thing. It seems like the majority of my time is consumed by arguing with people about prices and also about basic information and facts whether it be about hygiene, health, or discipline -it seems that since I'm a foreigner my advice is not valid as I need to do things the Haitian way- but for some reason I can't seem to stay in pissed covered clothes all day after a baby decides to go to the toilet on me- for me, its common sense that I would change my clothes due to hygienic concerns (bacteria) , for my kids, not so much. I wish they could understand that I am here to help them, not to harm them. And that by asking them to change their dirty clothes is to make sure that they stay healthy, not only for my benefit, but for theirs !!! Money has never been important to me, EVER, but doing this "job" and taking care of children and relying on donations to feed them, clothe them, and educate them, money has become everything and I truly hate this part of my "job". I have realized that money does turn one bitter- whether it be that you have too much, or if you have too little. I am so worried that most of my days are being eaten up with stress and with me sitting at my computer screen constantly trying to seek funding, answering emails, or doing paperwork that I am losing valuable time with my kids who so greatly need my attention. I think I need a vacation. I have never felt the desire to leave Haiti, but right now I am counting down the days until December 27th when I head home for a two week break to spend some time with my Canadian family.

Some days I wonder if I'm making a big mistake. I have those small moments when I wonder "Am I nuts for doing this, for living like this?" It’s easy to question my life here because let’s face it, normal hardly blips on the radar. After sitting down with staff and also the kids and going over some much needed rules, I am hopeful that things may start to fall back into place and I'm beginning to remember some of the wonderful things about living here. Things like the roosters crowing bright and early (something that most people don't find wonderful about living here until you actually leave the country and return home). The dogs barking. The beautiful mountains and sea. The stickiness of layers of sweat and body goo. The feeling of dirt gathering on the bottoms of your feet. The way a good breeze can bring back your sanity. I keep reminding myself why I am here and why I fell in love with this country. I am trying to spend less time on my computer and more time doing the things I love - watching my kids laugh, spending time with the boys from the tent city, and just enjoying the beauty of Haiti. Life has a way of passing you by when immersed in so much change. I know that this is just another test that God has put in my path and that I need to stay focused and be determined to overcome it. And I know that I will overcome it. Volunteering is my passion, my way of life. The stoke I get from seeing someone smile from a simple gesture of kindness is pure joy. Life is an adventure, and sometimes you wipe out and lose your way but like my Dad always says "you gotta just keep pluggin along" and as my favourite quote states "this too shall pass". I know in my heart that I can do this, and I know in my heart that this phase will pass. I know that I have to have faith that everything is happening for a reason and that once again, I will only grow stronger. I will not break, I cannot break. I have too many little hands and hearts depending on me.

Next week I have 5 volunteers (six including Justin who is already here) joining us. I am so excited for them to come as I know they will be a huge help with the kids and keep my mind off of the more stressful things. I know our house is going to be full or laughter and joy and warm hearts and I cannot wait. I am also trying to get things organized for Christmas, I had promised the boys earlier this year that I would buy them a bike, so I am on the hunt for a decent bike for a good price. I love seeing all of the Christmas lights up and it makes me miss back home. This will be one unique Christmas, my first Christmas without snow, without cold, without my Canadian family, and without the comforts of home, but I am totally looking forward to it and excited to see my kids faces on Christmas morning. I am currently working on a lesson plan for tomorrow's English class. This class has already brought me so much joy and smiles and I truly look forward to the classes to come and watching the kids learn and grow. As tough as things are, just writing this blog has helped me. I am currently smiling after typing about Christmas and my kids- two things I truly love. Life is good. And I can only think that it is going to get better. Thank you to everyone who has been praying for baby Jodnise and the rest of us at Ke Kontan and also thank you to those who have continued to support us on this journey. There is no way that we could have come so far without all of you.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Living in the Grey..

Today has been a day of mixed emotions. We have two new little additions to our home. They are unique and beautiful, they are twins. Jodline and Jodnise will be staying with us until they are able to gain some weight and muscles as they are very malnourished. They are one year and two months and are the size of my five month old baby. They live in Wharf Jeramie. As I sit here tonight holding Jodnise in my arms with Justin (our newest volunteer) sitting beside me and holding Jodline I can't help but stop and take a breath and realize how blessed I am despite the lack of sleep I will get tonight and the exhaustion I will face tomorrow. How blessed am I to have the opportunity to get to know these little girls, to develop a relationship with them, and to watch them grow and become healthy. I am looking forward to the day when they have the strength in their body to laugh, to stand, and to play.

I have really enjoyed having Justin here as we have had so many deep discussions about life, about Haiti, as well as many laughs- like right now as we watch the baby girls crawl from the mat onto the cold hard concrete floor and Jodline cross her legs like a little lady (this has now been repeated about 20 times as Justin and I keep getting up to put them back onto the mat). We also had a good laugh tonight as I started screaming as something was biting me in my shirt and finally it went away then Justin joked that I had ants in my clothes and that soon I'd have the ants in my pants. Sure enough, the next thing you know I'm dancing around going crazy and a huge "Prince Ant" (as Justin calls it) falls out of my pants. Not impressed.

Sitting here tonight and venting to Justin about the daily struggles in Haiti I have realized that I haven't taken the time to stop lately and breathe and to enjoy the beauty of Haiti that I once fell in love with. Haiti is the most trying country and it will push you to your limits and start to suck the joy out of you- but only if you let it. However, as I have said in my previous posts, it does offer you the most amazing gifts and unites you with people who will touch your heart and change you forever. We have talked a lot today about living on the edge and taking risks. Risks are all I have ever known my entire life. I tend to make crazy decisions. Whenever I feel that tug in my heart I always tend to follow it (& yes sometimes without using my head first). No matter what the consequences I know that if I feel the need to do something, I have to do it or I won't be able to sleep, to function, and it will just eat away at me. And to be honest, every time that I have listened to that tug in my heart I have always ended up being rewarded with something great, even if it was just another lesson learned.

Every time I think about all of the huge, self discovery-type lessons that I've learned in the past seven months, I find myself thinking, "well how much more could I possibly learn about myself?! I live with myself every second of every day, so why do these life changing discoveries still continue to shock the holy heck out of me??" The process of growth fascinates me. At this current moment, personal growth is happening in the most exotic of settings but in the most mundane of situations. I am experiencing some mind-blowing realizations about myself while sitting on my bed, doing nothing, in Haiti. What a paradox--you would expect these changes to occur while, I don't know, say, perhaps climbing a mountain, running between hospitals beds and saving lives, or doing something absolutely spectacular.

This may come as a shock to those who know me, but I have always been very "black or white." Something either is or isn't. I need concreteness. I need stability. I need order. I need to be able to label and classify. When all of these "needs" are removed from my world, my brain goes into overtime to try to reorganize, reclassify, relabel, etc. The absence of "is or isn't" causes me to over analyze EVERYTHING, while simultaneously stressing and worrying about things that would normally not require such thought and analysis. I was so intensely uncomfortable with the grey and the uncertainty that I found myself feeling like my life was spinning out of control and that there was nothing I could do about it.

Right now, my life in Haiti is nothing BUT grey and uncertain, the only thing I am certain about is my love for this country and my love for these children. It's unpredictable. It has no order. It is chaos. It is so unlike my world back home. When I came back from my trip home in October I found myself desperately trying to hang on to certain aspects of my life that I thought I wanted to remain the same. I wanted this "sameness" because it gave me a sense of comfort and familiarity, a feeling that has taken me a long time to develop over here. But naturally, nothing in my world right now has even the slightest chance of remaining the same. At first I was so worried that this change would force me to grow apart from the people I care about most. And so it scared me to start feeling these changes taking place. I felt like I was going to lose important relationships simply as a result of change and because I decided to follow one of those tugs in my heart. What it boils down to, in terms of my own life and why I am here in the first place, is this: I did not come to Haiti to remain the same. I came here to grow as an individual and to develop new relationships with people that could inspire me in great ways. Growth requires change. I do not expect to be an entirely different person from this experience by any means; but I do expect to be a better, "improved" version of myself. And just because I am experiencing these changes DOES NOT mean that my relationships with people back home will inevitably fall apart. In fact, I can now fully anticipate these relationships continuing to strengthen as a result of my changes, simply because I will be bringing back this new and improved person into the equation. I have now realized that the most important relationships withstand the most dramatic and intense changes. The relationships that matter will survive through the storms and the chaos. I have learned that uncertainty is what keeps my life exciting, never knowing what to expect the next day. It has taught me patience and to stop trying to make sense of everything and to just go with the flow.

I still need to constantly remind myself that it's okay to live in the grey and to face uncertainty. It'll be uncomfortable. It'll be painful at times. It'll push me to my absolute limits- if it hasn't already. But the rewards far outweigh the pains, even if it takes me months to fully appreciate the rewards. I feel like this is the reason behind my being here--to learn to live in the grey and, more importantly, thrive while doing so. If I can conquer this fear of the unknown, I will be so much better equipped to deal with the more "traditional" changes that I anticipate coming up in the near future. Surviving and thriving in this "world" of Haiti: yeah, I think I'll be able to conquer anything that's put in my path...

Well off to bed I go as I prepare myself for a night of waking to crying teething babies and bed bugs and more uncertainty tomorrow !

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Life As We Know It...

I have lived twenty years. For some of you reading this, that may not be long, but in these twenty years I have seen life as it is. Pain, misery, hunger, ... cruelty beyond belief. I have heard the cries of starving children, the screams of women being raped during the night, and I have seen babies left like bundles of filth on the streets. I have tried to be that "soldier" at times- the one who tries to save those around them- and I have watched my "comrades" die. I have held them in my very own arms during their final breath. I stared into their eyes hoping and praying for just one more. These are children and people who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no chance at life, no gallant last words.... only their eyes filled with confusion. And as I am sure they were asking, I was also asking the question... "why?"...

"Why?" - this is a question I have found myself asking a lot within the past two years . Why doesn't the government do more? Why isn't there better health care? Why do parents have to watch their children suffer? Why are so many children sexually abused? Why does slavery still exist? Why is cancer becoming so prominent in North America? Why can't people see others as equals ? Why don't people back home understand? Why, Why, Why, Why...

Not only do I ask this question for Haiti, but for every where in the world. This question could drive one insane. It's finally time for me to take a step back and realize that I may never find these answers.. that sometimes.. there is just no justification for things, no answers. I have learned that life can be brutally unfair at times and that although we wish we could, we can't change the outcome for some people, and yes.. even ourselves. I have now realized that instead of asking "why?" I should be asking the question "how?" .. How can we rid of these problems? What will it take to improve these conditions? How will the government handle the new security issues that have approached? How can slavery in Haiti be abolished altogether? And how can I make those back home understand?

I have noticed that since living here, in Haiti, I have developed a sense of pride for "my" country. Yes, I am angry with the politics, the violence, the lying, the betrayal, the corruption. But I am angry because I have so much love for this country that I so badly want to see it blossom and develop into the potential that I know it has. It hurts me when I see these things happen. And its the strangest feeling. Although I have written a lot of the horrible things that occur here (that also occur in most countries around the world) if someone talks bad about "my" country... I will go to war with them. Yes, Haiti still has a lot of work to do but the people here still never seize to amaze me (the majority of them at least). They continue to inspire me, to show me hope and courage and resilience. It is sad because for some people, the only way to survive is to engage in these negative events that their society presents them with.

No I am not in University, I am not sitting in front of a professor during a lecture, instead, I am surrounded by millions of teachers. Even those I pass on the streets and just happen to take a glance at are still able to teach me lessons here. These past two weeks have been hell since I became sick. 42 injections within 1 week and 5 days. Not to mention, I am terrified of needles. I had a fever reaching to 104 for 5 days. And yesterday while I was feeling sorry for myself I suddenly stopped. I laughed. I am sitting here feeling burned out, exhausted, sick of hospitals and doctors, sick of being sick and and asking the question "why me?"..I just thought.. what if it was worse? I took a look around me and realized just how much everyone here has gone through. If I really want to know what exhaustion is all I would have to do is walk down to the nearest hospital and visit the TB or HIV ward- children who have been in the hospital for months. Go visit cancer patients- look into the eyes of a small child who won't see their teenage years, probably won't even see their next birthday. Go and see someone who is mentally or physically ill and who is neglected because that is not acceptable in Haiti. Go visit the family of the children who had been kidnapped or the women that have been raped. Or see a child who has just been in an accident and is now paralyzed from the waist down. All that it would take is to look into that child's eyes and then look down at my two capable legs and realize that he would do anything to have the opportunity to stand in my shoes. Haiti gives perspective. When you are at your weakest moments it allows you to re-evaluate your situation. Instead of thinking of yourself, you begin to think of others.

In these twenty years of my life, I have seen more despair then some will ever see. And although sometimes I wake during the night from nightmares or just simply can't sleep because the image of someone else is so vivid in my mind, I don't regret seeing these things. I don't want to forget. I always want to remember because these peoples stories, holding these peoples hands in their last breath of life, watching them fight and then know when to let go, this has allowed me to experience raw and real life. I have learned the best lessons are in my moments of weakness. The moments where I kept asking the question "why?", the moments I felt my heart break, when I felt confusion and the fear, this meant that I am still alive. That I need to take these stories and to tell these brave comrades stories to others to try to make them understand. That I need to learn and grow from these experiences and that I need to do whatever I can to help the next wounded comrades.

I have had so many people ask me why I still want to be in Haiti. They say "haven't you had enough?"... No... No I haven't had enough of Haiti. When things get bad back home, do you just runaway ? Do you just give up on the people you love? On the country you love? Nope. For most of us, we will stay and we will fight and do what it takes to protect those we care for. Haiti has many problems right now- but this is when it needs us the most. If I just up and walk away because the country is in chaos, then how is that trying to make it better? I cannot change Haiti. I know this. I cannot make the difference that I wish I could make here. But if people like us, who do see the positive in the country and who do wish it would flourish into the great country that it could be, walk away.. then what is the country left with? If we all just give up on Haiti when its down, then it will always stay down. It's like constantly telling a child they are not good enough, that they won't succeed, and walking out on them. Chances are, they are going to believe the words you are telling them. They are going to lose self-esteem and the desire to even try to do better. Same goes for Haiti. We have to have hope that this country can improve. I am seeing so many positive things happen here. Housing projects are expanding, new businesses are opening, even the roads are having more signs put up, they are building new things. I can see Haiti's progress since my first visit. And seeing the positive changes enlightens me. I am here to stay and to fight the battles alongside my Haitian brothers and sisters in hope for a better tomorrow. I will not walk away.

"Perhaps strength doesn't reside in having never been broken, but in the courage required to grow strong in the broken places"- unknown.

Now onto a more positive note... Sarah Griffith joined us these past two weeks and has made our house finally into the home that we needed !! We now have tables, chairs, water coolers, my own office, a pharmacy, and yes... even couches :) oh.. and can't forget our new kitten- thanks to Val. Yesterday was my first full day out of bed and it couldn't have been better. We played musical chairs, danced, had an awesome feast, and also handed clothes out to the mothers of the children in the tent city next to my house- it was a great feeling as I have felt so useless since being sick. Sarah has given so much to us and I can't express how much we appreciate it. The kids did not want her to leave & neither did I. Safe travels home & we look forward to seeing you in February !!!! We are also looking forward to seeing our next volunteer, Justin Parkinson, next week !

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Independent to Dependent

The thing about living in Haiti is you learn to roll with the punches.

Flight delayed? No problem. I’ll just go to the bar, grab a pinacolada.

Flight canceled? Well, ok. I will get on the phone and re-book on another flight if the airline doesn’t do so for me. I’ve even slept in an airport to catch a flight the next morning.

Luggage lost? No sugar coating this one, it just sucks. Plain and simple.

Car broke down? Head to the nearest restaurant, grab a beer, some ice cream, and some good food and wait until it's fixed.

Basically, I have learned you just do what you need to do to make it from Point A to Point B.

However, sometimes, there is only so much you can do. In reality, it is up to others most times to get you to your final destination.
Never has this rang more true than during my work here in Haiti.

There is such a feeling of panic that rushes over you when you are alone and feeling helpless, in the middle of the night, in a strange and foreign place, with no phone, no resources, nothing. This is when you rely on others the most. Although I am a very independent person and have always enjoyed doing things "my way" I have begun to realize that to accomplish anything worth while, it takes more than one.

The friends you make in Haiti are the ones that understand you best. They know your frustrations, they know how it feels to be living here, and they are the ones that can bring back the smiles to your face.

This past week I met with a long lost friend of mine who I worked with in a medical clinic last year. We have both been dealt a tough hand lately and have experienced some pretty horrid situations. I was feeling so down and discouraged but a cold prestige and some good laughs sure changed that quickly. It made me realize that I am not the only one struggling here or feeling alone. We talked and laughed for hours, we shared tears and stories, but most of all- we shared the same passion and stubbornness. She read quotes to me and a speech she read at a university. She kept reminding me that I was doing good work here in Haiti (something that I really needed to hear). She picked me up when I felt like the rest of the world was pushing me down. This is a time that I truly relied on another to keep me going and to show me the light. And she did just that. She shared a particular quote with me that one of our mutual friends wrote- it is completely brilliant "Haiti can break your heart, shatter it into a million pieces and yet still be the reason it beats" - Holli Griffiths

This quote sums up my exact feelings towards Haiti. Some days I hate the country, I get so frustrated and annoyed, I just want to runaway or simply just strangle people- Its kind of like the feelings you get towards a parent growing up- but no matter how frustrated or annoyed you get- you still love them more than anything. And you know that with the frustrations, you are being taught the most important lessons.

I have been thinking a lot lately about us folks that work and live here in Haiti together and about the pressures we feel daily. It is hard being here, not just because of the suffering, corruption, and struggles we experience, but also because of the expectations that one holds. Everyone back home assumes you have to be a complete saint and they put you so up high on pedal stool that I think some of us begin to lose touch of ground (a.k.a sanity). And it's so wrong. We are just every day people chasing our dreams and following our passions. We make mistakes like the rest of you, we curse when we step in a pile of crap or when a man makes kissing noises at us on the streets, we grab a drink when we've had a long day, and sometimes we forget our kindness at home and begin to feel bitter. We are not perfect, but it seems like some of us run ourselves dry trying to be. I think that's what causes so many people to lose sight of reality here. I have often teetered between sanity and tears- and thankfully, during those times where I don't know up from down- it's my friends, my family, and my kids that smack me back to reality and make me realize that this is where I belong and bring me back to focus.

I have currently bit off more than I can chew- helping a tent city, running an orphanage, organizing a medical clinic, and doing loads and loads of paperwork on top of that. I have been amazed though by the amount of people that have stepped up and offered their assistance. Without Rigan Louis and Val, I would have not been able to pull off the tent city distribution. Without Sarah, Christian, Rigan, Mitho, Dr Gaspar, and others- I would not be able to pull off the medical clinic. I would also like to thank all of you who have donated supplies towards our upcoming medical adventure !! Also big thanks to Phil Salomon for his support and advice for the orphanage. This week I have been overwhelmed by kindness and support. All of you have kept me laughing when I have felt like crying- especially you Sarah Griffith & our mossie net & tarp dresses for my upcoming wedding- sexy scrubs- to our talks about "typical" blans and who you will be bringing along with you on your trip. As well as for my friends back in Canada that keep me sane and give me a little taste of "home".

“The human race, in all it's poverty, has only one truly effective weapon- laughter. Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”- Mark Twain

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Head Vs. Heart

"And once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won't be the same person who walked in."- Haruki Murakami

I started out writing this post, giving the facts of the hurricane and trying to put into words the feelings of my heart the past few days- but I am unsure of how to exactly do that. I felt anger within me when I heard of all of the coverage that the United States was getting about Hurricane Sandy, I know it is devastating there, but what about Haiti? What about the country that doesn't have the means or the funds to rebuild. What about the country that has confirmed 65 dead and has rapid cholera outbreaks due to flooding? The States is a developed enough country to recover, they have buildings and homes that are more likely to withstand the storms, they have proper health care. And then I felt sickened when I heard people complaining about the electricity going out- all I could think of was "welcome to reality". These past few weeks have been the most difficult for me yet, although I have tried to keep quiet. Sometimes I wish I didn't feel things so deeply, I wish I didn't care as much, and sometimes I wish I could just sit back and watch instead of getting involved with every thing that tugs at my heart. Life would be so much easier. I think that this part of my personality actually hurts me the most. I wish I was stronger, I wish I could say no to people, but then I realize that if I wasn't all of these things, if my whole body, mind, and spirit didn't thoroughly feel and over analyze every situation, then I wouldn't be where I am today. I think I am finally beginning to feel drained- emotionally, mentally, and physically. I am exhausted.

Today I spent my day walking through the tent city across the street from us. It has been something that has been weighing on my mind since Hurricane Sandy arrived. But I was unsure of how I could help and I didn't know how welcoming they would be of a "blan" walking through their tent community. Needless to say, I felt the need to help these people or at least offer them something. As I walked up the the entrance I was greeted by four people- the committee of the camp. I was completely surprised by their behaviour as the "committee" expressed to me their appreciation for whatever I can do for them. I was expecting fighting, begging, and hostility, however, it was the complete opposite. They welcomed me into their community and homes with open arms and explained each of their situations to me. I made a list of everyone's name- phone numbers- and ID numbers and then prioritized the list- with the most needy being at the top. I explained to them that my heart has told me that I need to do this. I told them that I will do what I can, when I can, however, I don't have much to offer. Every single person in this camp suffered from Hurricane Sandy. Each and every one of their houses did not withstand the storm. They explained to me how their houses broke, where their tarps became loose, where they slept that night, and that they were all wet and cold and lost a lot of their belongings. The elderly lady that is the head of the camp completely won my heart over. She is the most honest and sweet lady and she really cares about the people within her community. We agreed to help each other, to watch each others backs, and to prepare this camp for the next natural disaster that comes rummaging through. Val and Rigan Louis assisted me with this project. After sorting the list, Rigan and I headed to La Saline to buy tarps. We spent over 3hrs just in traffic, but we did end up buying 10 tarps for $200 US. This will at least be a start in aiding the 33 families that are living there. We will start with replacing the tarps that greatly need repairing and hopefully the funding will come through so we can also provide the others with a safe, and dry home.

Rigan and I have decided that we will also assist the tent city medically and we will be putting on a small medical clinic within the camp this coming weekend as fevers, scabies, and colds are rapid right now. On top of all of this, we are also putting together a mobile medical clinic in the south for the weekend of Nov. 10th. We have got a few people together and still in the process of collecting supplies, but both Rigan and I have been wanting to do this for quite some time, and now is the perfect opportunity and a time when it may be needed most. Although we know it is going to be exhausting and frustrating at times and that it is going to be a very busy next few days organizing, we both are very excited to take on this challenge. If anyone has any medical supply contacts within Haiti please send me an email-

One of the biggest challenges of living in a third world country on a long term basis is not to become bitter. To make sure that you keep loving, caring, and understanding people each day. Because the poverty is not diminishing. There will always be folks outside my gate, there will always be children begging on the streets. And its difficult because they look at me and see hope, they know that I come from a world where things come easily to us. They look at my skin and see wealth, freedom, and a chance to escape. And I wish this wasn't so. I wish I could offer them all shelter, jobs, and security... but I can't. Not being able to provide these things and witnessing this type of suffering daily, really does take a toll on you. I find it difficult driving down the street and looking into a man, woman, or child's eyes who are hungry or injured and not to roll down the window and give them my spare change. It has been very hard for me to adjust to this as most Haitians will warn you not to do this. And I do understand the precautions that need to be taken when handing out money or items- as riots and fights usually break out. But I guess it's just... I came here to help Haitians, not one specifically, but everyone as a whole. It's hard to chose who to help and who to leave behind. I reflect on my day at night and often wonder if I have actually let more people down than the number of people I helped. My insomnia begins when the faces I have passed that day, those who had reached out their hands to me, become vivid images in my dreams. When I see these kids, I tell myself "No, Emily, don't do it", yet I find my hand digging deep into my pocket or my purse. It is a constant battle between my head and my heart.

One of my boys asked me today "Why are you helping those people?" (Wendel, 8 yrs). I responded "for the same reason that I am helping you, because everybody needs to know that someone cares about them and these people aren't as lucky as you are right now, they don't have a nice house, a bed to sleep on, or enough food to eat, and some of the children have no toys to play with". He looked down at the ground and then asked "Do you think I can go with you tomorrow to visit them?". Later on I went upstairs to the boys room and found all three of them sitting on the floor with toys scattered around them and asked if they can give some of their toy cars to the kids in the camp. I couldn't help but smile. My children never seize to amaze me.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Two Places At Once...

Life is messy. It always has been and it always will be. You aren't given a set of instructions to tell you how to live your life. You have to figure that out on your own. You either wake up every morning and despise the life you have been given or you wake up and smile and be thankful for the challenges you are going to face that day. Because although it is going to be a bumpy ride, at least you are alive.

These past few days I have felt this wave of sadness overcome me as I watch people I love, and even complete strangers undergo a great deal of suffering. But the worst part is... I feel helpless. I keep asking myself what can I do? How can I save them? I was awake all night last night staring out my window at the tent city across the street being hit horribly by hurricane Sandy. I wanted to run out there and to bring them all into our home. I couldn't imagine how cold they were as I sat on my bed freezing in my sweater and pants. I wanted to bring them blankets, towels, clothes, and tarps but I knew that I did not have enough to go around and that it would cause problems if I walked in and only handed them to a select few. I sat up all night crying. It was the worst feeling.

But then the most remarkable thing happened, in the morning as I was preparing my bucket shower, I heard voices. At first I thought it was people fighting in the streets but when I looked outside across the road, I saw the people who had just embraced a hurricane that ravished their homes and washed away some of their belongings, dancing and singing together. I can't even begin to explain the feeling that overcame me at this time. I couldn't help but smile. How can it be that people who have endured so much heartache and so much loss still come out of it laughing and singing. It blew my mind. Once again the Haitian people have proven their resilience. This is what the people back home need to see, it is moments like these that forever touch our hearts and inspire us to keep pushing on.

I have recently returned home from a visit to Canada. As I was getting on the plane and heading to Florida I couldn't hide my excitement as I was going to see my family the next day (who had no idea that I was coming home). However, this excitement didn't last long as I stepped off of the airplane and into the Fort Lauderdale airport. I felt stunned. I felt out of place. I remember just standing still and watching everyone pass me by. Everything became a blur. I so badly wanted to turn around and run back onto the plane and instruct the pilot to bring me back to Haiti. I can honestly say that this was my first "real" experience of culture shock. After living in Haiti for six months without electricity, running water, proper buildings, comfy seats, plumping, restaurants filled with people, bathrooms with more than one stall and toilet paper, etc, etc, etc. The only thing I could think about was how many people this airport could shelter. How it could better so many peoples living conditions in Haiti. I sat down in the restaurant and kept staring ahead. Finally my focus was interrupted by a man who was arguing with the waitress because he had ordered mild chicken wings, not spicy. He demanded her to take them back and to make him a fresh batch. It took everything in my damn body to not slap that man upside the head. This is when I realized that I could never come back to live in Canada. If I did, I think I would attain too many assault charges.

When I first arrived, I tried my hardest to shut out Canada, this way I would be able to shut out the reality of the greed and selfishness that existed. But that was impossible as I realized that by doing that I was stereotyping everyone into the same category in the country. I began to realize how generous people in my city have been. There have been so many folks that have reached out and helped the children and I when we have desperately needed it. I continued to experience culture shock up until my third last day in the country. Although for most of the trip I remained confused and in shock, I did have the most amazing time with my best friends, my family, and even those who I had never met before but insisted on taking me out for lunch & dinners just from hearing about my work in Haiti. I was moved by the love and bonds that have still remained even though we have been separated by border lines and seas, and by the new relationships that I had created during my short visit. The memories that were made on this trip home will be ones that forever stay with me- carving pumpkins with my little brothers, seeing my mom's face as I walked into the charity dinner, meeting Justin and Julia for the first time and laughing our butts off during the video interview, going to reapers realm with my girlfriends and being scared sh**less, sitting in the movie theaters with an old teacher and her daughter and hearing myself laugh hard for the first time in a long time, and hugging my dad and realizing how much I miss his hugs and how no man could ever even come close to measuring up to him. I realized just how much I need my family and my friends, as they will be the ones who will continue to keep me sane during my current and future struggles.

During my visit home I was asked many times "Are you sure it's still worth it Em, remember, there not actually your children?". This question has been haunting me ever since the day it was asked. Parents, what do you do when your family faces hard times? Do you abandon them during the struggles? Do you give up on them and walk away? No. You fight like hell. You do whatever it takes to protect them, to ease their pain. Although these children may not be mine biologically, we have developed a bond stronger than any DNA strand. We are a family. We have developed a connection based on love, trust, forgiveness, and second chances. What would it say about my character if I were to up and walk away from them? I came here to show love and passion for children who have only ever known abandonment and loss. I came here to show them that they are worth sticking around for, and that someone does love them enough to stick around through any bull that is thrown their way. We will battle these wars together, as one. We may have different skin colour, different texture of hair, we may speak different languages, but we have more in common than we do different. Is it worth it you ask? Damn right it is. These kids are worth everything I have and more. They are my babies.

As I lay here tonight listening to the rain fall down with one of my little guys passed out on my lap, I cannot help but think of those without proper shelter suffering tonight, and I cannot help but to miss my own family terribly, yet I still feel this sense of knowing that I am exactly where I need to be. The most difficult thing in life, the hardest thing to comprehend, is having your heart in two places at once.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Be Strong. Show Courage. Breathe. Excel. Love. Lead..

Haiti. Most people cringe when I tell them I'm living here. I've even had people actually take a step back from me. Like they can get AIDS just by hearing the word. And like many people, I thought of Haiti as an impoverished, AIDS ridden, crime filled country. I've spent the past 6 months since my invitation learning what's true, what's not, and gained a whole new perspective on Haiti, it's people, and it's culture. I have learned that we are far more similar than different. This is inclusive of our problems no matter where I have traveled, it seems that there is always a power struggle between business interests, governments, and the poor. There are many things in Haiti that are difficult for me to understand like why people have cell phones and minutes to talk, yet they are begging for money on the streets to fill their bellies. Or why people buy fancy cars and nice clothes when they could be helping their people or even helping themselves. But I have now learned that in Haiti, pride is everything. Without pride, you have nothing. People would rather go hungry then to look as if they cannot afford the finer things in life. This is a sad truth and what I find the most challenging thing to comprehend.

Many have commented on how brave I am to go on this journey alone. But believe me, if you saw how many times I've cried with my pillow covering my face to muffle the sound, you'd know I am not. The people who live in this part of the world and face daily hardships are the ones who are brave. The people who gather food and water for their families despite the distance they have to walk and despite the exhaustion and the dangers that they face are brave. The men and women all over this world who stand up against unjust governments, corruption, and injustices are the brave ones. The woman who have come to me that have been raped, beaten, and left in the shadows, yet still stand tall with pride and strength are the brave ones. The children who have been living on the streets or that are restaveks yet still smile and hold your hand as you pass them on the streets are the brave ones. Although it rips the heart out of my chest, it is a humbling and inspiring experience to hear their stories and each day I am more and more amazed by people who happen to cross my path. I struggle with taking photographs some days. I want to capture their portraits, to share what I have seen with others. Few Canadians had seen this: Strong people. Survivors. Soldiers. Steadfast. I know that these people aren't perfect, and that it is foolish to cast someone as saintly simply because they have suffered. These people might also be trivial and jealous and mean and small. But the enormity of their achievement has outweighed their human faults. These people have suffered more than I could ever imagine, and they were willing to welcome me, to talk with me. After all the betrayal they have lived through, all of the corruption, all of the hardships, they were still willing to trust a stranger. I had seen it before in Ghana and especially in Haiti where courageous people found ways to live with compassion in the midst of the most tremendous hardships. Across the globe, even in the world's "worst" places, people have found ways to turn pain into wisdom and suffering into strength. They made their own actions, their very lives, into a memorial that honored the people they had lost. If people can live through a disaster and traumatic event like the earthquake and retain compassion, if they can take strength from pain, if they are able, still, to laugh, then certainly we can learn something from then. The world is full of stories of courage, too infrequently told. Many people risked their lives to run into falling buildings to save others and many cared for the injured or orphaned. There were people, for example, who offered shelters and food to neighbors and friends who had lost everything. I have heard many stories of courage, many versions of Paul Rusesabagina and Hotel Rwanda, where people cared for strangers and offered protection, comfort, and love during a catastrophic event. These stories are the stories that need to be heard.

Over the course of this year my dreams have changed. I have changed. Almost everyone is asking, "what's next?" After being so goal-oriented most of my life, it feels strange to say this, but I have absolutely no idea ... and I am perfectly OK with that. Instead of trying to prove myself to the world, this year has really been about what the world has to teach me. I am slowly learning that I can't pin all my hopes of happiness to one thing, whether that be a certain job, a boyfriend, or the number of highlighted hairs on my head. Regardless of what the future holds, my current recipe for fulfillment is to appreciate the gifts I have in my life right now and stay true to myself. This may sound crass, but I care a lot less about what other people think. I've always struggled with being sensitive and tried to develop thicker skin. My skin is no different now, it's just that what lies beneath is a lot stronger.

I often think of the many well-intentioned discussions I'd had in university classrooms, about cultural sensitivity and cultural awareness, and I could imagine some of my classmates rolling their eyes if they heard aid workers/volunteers pray, "Lord, please help these Haitians". But the fact is that none of those classroom conversations ever saved a life, while committed volunteers were weighing infants in slings every day and providing food to lactating mothers, while people were risking their lives to save those that have been neglected, enslaved, orphaned, and abused, we sat in a classroom expecting to learn all of the great lessons in life from a professor standing in front of us. Although we were taught about issues going on around our world such as the conflict in the middle east, the corruption and injustices with governmental systems, the drought in Kenya, the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake in Haiti- instead of witnessing these events or being present during these struggles and offering the aid that was so greatly needed, we sat in the classrooms merely listening to someone else read from a textbook about other peoples despairs and traumatic experiences while we went about our daily lives, over-consuming, and indulging in our luxurious privileges of North American life . I have always said that a lot of the international aid that I have witnessed is not always helpful as it could be, and some of it is even harmful. The world, however, would be a darker and colder place without it. Whatever the flaws, they are attempting to change lives and to become a part of this struggle rather than sitting back and listening to or reading others stories, nothing is more important than that. For what is thought without action?

I was not- as many were in Haiti- an academic researcher bedecked with degrees. I was not an anthropologist. I was not a social worker. I was not a nurse or a doctor. With only two years of studying criminology and sociology, and spending the past year volunteering under my nineteen year old belt, I was an expert at nothing. My inexperience, however, had a double edge. Although I was unaware of some of the basic facts of the relief efforts in Haiti- it provided the perfect opportunity to absorb the things around me and learn from others. This experience has offered me the best lessons in life as well as the best gifts. I cannot help but look at my children singing and dancing to Justin Bieber and smile. These children have experienced many hardships yet they are still able to smile, dance, play, and laugh.. and I realize how truly blessed I am to have all of these little hands tugging at my heart. Forget Jersey Shore, the Bachelorette, or the Kardashians. This IS reality.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A Special Thanks...

People who want to make a difference in this world usually do it, in one way or another, no matter how big or small that difference may seem. And I've noticed something about these types of people, they tend to stand out in the crowd. They are the ones who tend to be more sensitive to certain situations, too trusting at times as they believe in the best of people, and often too giving to those who are not always appreciative. They hold the unshakable conviction that every individual is extremely important, that every life matters. They get excited over one smile, one thank you. They are willing to feed one stomach, educate one mind, treat one wound, and touch one heart. They are not determined to change the entire world at once; They are satisfied with small changes. However overtime, these small changes add up. Sometimes they even transform cities and countries, and yes, the world.

People who want to make a difference get frustrated, stressed out, and fed up along the way. But no matter what obstacle they are faced with, they don't quit. They just keep going. Given their successes, most of them are shockingly normal. They are just your ordinary day to day people going about their lives and seeking the same things as everyone else; happiness and satisfaction. They do not teach grand lessons that suddenly enlighten entire communities; they teach small lessons that can inspire and touch one man or woman, boy or girl. They do not do anything to seek attention, they simply pay attention to the every day needs that are at hand. They seem to be able to look past peoples imperfections and they understand that EVERYONE deserves second chances. They bring change in ways that most people will never read about or applaud, and they are content with that. And because of the way that these people are built, they wouldn't think of living their lives in any other way.

This realization came to me on my first trip to Ghana and has been with me ever since. It has followed me on all of my journeys as I have encountered numerous people who fit this description perfectly. These people have all given me a piece of themselves to me- they have taught me some of the greatest lessons that could ever be taught. Not all of these people traveled around the globe, not all of these people fed or held a starving or sick child, they are just ordinary people, people who do not get the recognition that they deserve. They are high school teachers, friends, family members, and role models that inspire you in simple, and yet sometimes very big ways. Without these people that have truly touched my heart and my life, I would not be where I am at today.

It is true; I cannot think of living my life in any other way. Through the hurricanes, the governmental obstacles, the illnesses, the filth, and the day to day struggles, I have never once regretted my decision to give up my past life, a life of luxury and perfection, for this new life that I have so fortunately been blessed with. The struggles are what keep things exciting. They really test your will and your strength. Last year, if I were to sit down and picture my future, I never would have imagined that I would be living the way I am now. I never would have been able to imagine that I would be able to overcome all of the obstacles that I have in these past few months. Yes, of course there are times when I wake up in the morning and ask myself "What the heck am I doing", and sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure that this is all real. But as much as it is trying and difficult, I love it and would not change it for the world.

In Canada I followed society's standards and what they deemed as 'normal' and 'acceptable'. I finished high school, I went to University, I juggled two jobs at once trying to save money and pay bills, I had a beat up rusty sunfire that I loved, I moved out on my own, I loved and had my heart broken, I played sports, and I partied. And although all of this seems great (and don't get me wrong, it was). I felt as if something was missing. I got tired of the same thing day in and day out. I felt as if my body was present but my soul had vanished. After my experiences in Ghana, after a living a life of purpose for the short month that I did, I couldn't seem to go back to a life full of wasted time. I wanted to be doing more. I didn't want to sit on a bar stool or in a classroom any longer. I wanted adventure, I wanted the passion that I had once felt when I was in Ghana. I had wonderful, supportive parents who so desired my success that they would have paid for me to go to university anywhere that my heart desired. But after two years of studying, my heart desired other things.

And the fact that my heart desired these "other things", it began to interfere with the plans I once had for myself and certainly with the plans that others had for me. My heart had been captured by a great passion, a passion that compelled me to live differently, a passion to help others, even if that meant risking my own life. I think its hard for some people to understand my willingness to give up everything and live in a country which contains a great deal of poverty and dangers. But I guess I have chosen to risk my own life so that I can feel alive. I feel alive here.

Everyone constantly asks me "Why Haiti" and honestly, I wish I could explain it. But I can't. It's just... Haiti. It is where my heart has lead me. How else can I explain that ? Maybe it was a greater force that pulled me here, maybe I don't even realize or understand why exactly I am here, but I am. And this is where I want to be. I know this. The people here have become my family, they have become my friends. People with nothing, people who have lost everything, they have touched my life in so many ways and inspired me to continue on my journey.

This blog post however, isn't about me. This blog post is about everyone else. Everyone who has walked in to my life, and even the ones who have walked out of it. It is to all of my dedicated fundraisers who have put their valuable time into helping me and these children, it is to my family that has continued to support all of my crazy ideas and passions, it is to my friends who don't exactly understand why I am here but still love me and will be waiting for me with a cold beer when I return home for visits, it is to the volunteers that have given up a part of their summers to come and help me out, it is to the people of Haiti that have given me more then I could ever give them, it is to the people who have hurt me for making me stronger, it is to the people who continuously challenge me (yes including the government) for showing me how truly determined I am, it is to the people around the world that I have never even met- yet they have sent donations or letters expressing their support, it is to the people that have stood by me even when I was unsure of things myself, and it is to the people who fit the description at the beginning of this post who have inspired me in so many ways and have taught me (and continue to teach me) the greatest lessons that I have ever been taught. Without all of you, I would not be "alive". You know exactly who you are, and I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to live out this passion and this dream.

A special thanks to Justin Parkinson & Julia Monk for hosting a Charity Dinner on October 11th. They have put so much time and effort into this and I already know it is going to be fabulous!!! I wish I could be there to celebrate with you. & Julia- thank you for painting such a beautiful portrait- you have true talent. Also, a special thanks to Mary Thompson and Rachel Mattsson for hosting another online auction- you guys have worked so hard in collecting items, organizing, and spreading the word. And finally thanks goes out to Sarah Griffith from Bridge2Haiti for her ongoing support and guidance- you are an amazing women with a heart of gold- I am so honored to have you with me on this journey. Love to all of you !

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Survive Now, Cry Later....

These past three weeks have literally been like an ongoing film jam packed full of action. It first began when I arrived in Port Au Prince on July 2nd. I began to feel sick and I developed a harsh cough that ended up leading me to cough up blood, pass out, and to become so weak that I lost the strength in my entire body. It hit me like a tidal wave. I hopped onto a moto during the evening of July 4th and headed to the Medishare hospital. It was dark and dusty and I barely remember the ride as I was going in and out of consciousness; I was barely able to keep my grip on the moto. The moto was stopped at a police checkpoint and the officers kept looking at me and trying to talk to me, I'm still not sure if they were hitting on me or if they suspected that I was on some sort of drugs due to the fact that I could not keep my eyes open and I didn't have the strength to open my mouth to talk. Finally I arrived at the hospital and was sent for a chest x-ray. As I entered the x-ray room, I lost all strength and fell and hit my head hard against the wall. After the x-ray they sat me down in a chair facing the road and I was still going in and out of consciousness when I noticed my friend standing at the gate with his co-workers and in his uniform. They would not let him through the gate to come and see me. Although he was on duty that night, he stood at the gate for two hours with his co-workers waiting for my test results and making sure that I was okay.

Finally the doctors diagnosed me with Pneumonia and sent me home with a small bag of Antibiotic pills and was told to return in a week for a check up. That night I did not sleep as I was having difficulties breathing. The next evening at dinner I felt so sick and so weak that I once again called a moto and rushed to Hopital Espoir- a hospital that I had worked at for two months during one of my previous trips to Haiti. I was brought into the ER and they began doing test right away. My cough became so bad that I could not breathe. They put an oxygen mask over my face and immediately hooked me up to an IV. The last thing that I remember was seeing my friend once again rush through the hospital doors and holding my hand as I received two needles (I am terrified of needles). The next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital room and being frozen from the air conditioning. What I thought was going to be a one night stay turned out to be a six day stay. Thankfully I was fortunate enough to have a private room (with a private washroom), an excellent staff who literally kept their eyes on me 24/7, and a great friend who was my "responsible" during my stay. I had many tests done and was loaded with meds every two hours. I completely lost my appetite and did not eat for four days. On the third day my breathing suffered once again and the nurses rushed in the room with another oxygen mask. I honestly remember looking up at the ceiling and thinking "this is it" and praying to God that it wasn't. I woke up three hours later soaking wet from a broken fever. Sometimes my fever became so high that I actually became delirious and started having conversations with people who were not even there.

On top of everything that I was facing that day, I received a call from UNICEF who not only told me that they would be closing my orphanage and taking my kids away, but also threatened to arrest me and to have me deported from Haiti. I was told that as soon as I step foot out of that hospital that the authorities would be after me. I had no idea what was going on and I became so overcome with shock and emotions that I once again started having problems breathing. I felt as if my heart had literally been ripped out of my chest. The lady on the phone did not let me get a word in, I could not ask questions, and I could not inform her that she had her facts wrong. I did not sleep that night, instead, I spent the entire night calling and texting everyone that I possibly could to help me and my babies. I could not bare the thought of losing the children I had grown to love. I was angry. I called my lawyer immediately and he came straight to the hospital to talk with me. After that, I was visited by a man from the Canadian Embassy who told me that the Haitian Police had been looking for me. I began to panic even more. But he assured me that I would not be arrested and that I would not be deported from the country. I still could not help it, I can't even express the emotions that overcame me. The tears would just not stop flowing. My heart had never hurt so much. I still had no idea what exactly was going on or what had happened, all I knew was that I came to Haiti to do good, solely good, I came here to care for and to love children who desperately needed any affection that they could get. I didn't know what I could do or say to fix this, I was stuck in the hospital and unable to be at the orphanage to protect my kids, my only option was to leave it in Gods hands.

Finally, I had some answers. My lawyer met with the Haitian authorities and it seems as if there had been a HUGE miscommunication. UNICEF had sent out an alert to the Haitian Government stating that my children were in EXTREME danger. They had cars with flashing lights ready to go and pick up my kids. They had been told that the children had been left alone while I was in the hospital, not realizing that Montanna had been staying and caring for them. So.. When UNICEF and the Haitian authorities arrived at the orphanage the next morning, they did not quite understand why such an alert was put out since our children appeared to be well taken care of and not in any sort of danger. They told us that they want to work with us and help us out to obtain the legal paperwork that we have been trying to have completed for the past two months.

On Monday, July 9th, I demanded to be discharged from the hospital so that I could surprise my mother at the airport that afternoon. I had been texting her all day telling her how frustrated I was that they would be keeping me until Wednesday when my test results were in. With weak legs, sore arms from IV's, and a very tired and heavy head on my shoulders, I marched out of the hospital leaning on my friend who had stood at my bedside for my entire stay at the hospital, who ran all over port au prince searching for my prescriptions, and who showed up everyday with gatorade, milkshakes, and even M&M's and who spoon fed me when I did not have the strength to feed myself.

I was granted access to go all of the way inside of the airport to wait for my mother at the luggage claim. I hid behind a sign and when I spotted her I jumped out and surprised her. I was so glad that she had come to visit and it made me feel better just by having her here. I was very sad to see her go after such a short stay- a week just didn't seem long enough; however, I am so happy that she was finally able to meet my babies.

Last week I received a call while I was in Port Au Prince informing me that our security guards house had been destroyed in the storm. Tiny is not just my security guard though; he has become a great friend and almost like a father to me. I love his family and all of his six children. I was sadden to hear this news as they did not have much to begin with. His small house on the top of the mountain was literally completely destroyed while his 15th month old son remained inside. We have opened our arms to his family and have allowed them to sleep at the already crowded house with us. We feed his children and wife almost everyday and we have given them some clothes, toys, and hygiene packages to keep them going. We are in search right now for a building team to come down and assist in rebuilding his small home as he does not have the funds to do so. If anyone is interested in donating to him please visit our website at and click "donate"- make sure to add in the comment box that it is for "Tiny's House Project". Thank you !

Although these last few weeks have literally been the most difficult and trying weeks of my life, there is something even greater than having the police after me, being threatened to be deported, being sick in the hospital, and even having authorities threaten to shut my orphanage down that is weighing on my heart. On Saturday morning as Montanna and I stood at the bus station in Cite Soleil waiting for our ride, a mother ran past us holding her grown child (about 10 or 11 years old). At first we thought he was just sleeping, but after a closer glance, we noticed that his feet were dragging on the ground. We realized he was more than sleeping. There was something seriously wrong. A man that I have become friends with at the bus station ran over to the woman and assisted her with carrying her son. He ran through the crowds and I was trying my best to see what was happening but after seeing the boys neck go limp, I lost site. My friend came back towards us and I asked him what was wrong with the boy and he told me that the boy had been possessed by voodoo and that his mother was bringing him to Saint Marc. I became furious, I wanted to shake the mother and tell her to get him to the hospital NOW, but I couldn't. I couldn't see her or the boy anymore and I had no idea what bus they had gotten on. I began to panic. All I could think about was how badly that boy needed medical attention. If he was not dead already, he would be by the time he got to Saint Marc. all I can think about now is that if I would have just stepped up and assisted the mother when I noticed her son's feet dragging on the ground, I could have possibly saved him, or at least attempted to save him. I thought that I had become desensitized to these types of situations after encountering so many of them here in Haiti, but now I realize that it is impossible to do so. I am a human being. My heart is aching so badly for that little boy and his mother as well as for the two other men's bodies I had passed on the side of the road the same week (one was that very same morning). Everyone tells me that I cannot save everyone, but it does not make it any easier when you know you could have at least tried. My insomnia has been reactivated and I have many moments where my eyes fill with tears. If only I could turn back the clock.

Right now we are still desperately searching for another house to rent since the Haitian Government did not desire us moving to Tabarre like we had planned. The house we are currently in is beyond unsanitary and has developed a great deal of mold. Right now we have two children that are sick, one of them being Christine who had a fever of 103 last night. Thankfully we have her on antibiotics and we were are working hard to keep her fever down. I am hoping and praying that we can find something soon.

Through these past three weeks I have had so many people tell me "maybe this is a sign em, maybe it's time for you to come home". And to be honest, I have thought a lot about that lately. I have thought about just giving it all up and returning home. I have thought about how much easier that would be and how much I am missing the comforts of home and my family and friends. But.. I have to keep reminding myself that this is also my family now. I can't just give up on them, I have vowed to never leave any of my family members behind. If I leave now, it would be the most selfish decision that I could ever make. To simply leave when things get tough. I know that I was born to do this, this is what God has asked me to do, this is why I wake up at the crack of dawn every morning at the sound of the roosters crow. This is why I endure heat rash, bug bites, ringworm, being covered in dirt and dust 24/7, illnesses, muscles so sore and tired that they feel like needles. And I have learned that through all of this, life is a lot like the ocean. Sometimes you get caught in the undertow and you have to use all of your strength and all of your faith to keep your head above the water, to keep you from sinking. As soon as you let go, your life is over. You don't get another chance. You have to keep fighting to keep your head above that water.. because you never know what could be over that next wave. And I truly believe that if you have faith, anything is possible, anything at all. But most of all, the greatest lesson that I have learned is that there is something much stronger then tidal waves that destroy lives, stronger than winds that blow away homes, stronger than rains that wash away one's only belongings, and stronger than earthquakes that allow one's world to fall to the ground around them and leaving them standing among the rubble... it's called love. And it is the most powerful thing in the world. Without the love of my friends, family, and children, I don't know if I would have been able to make it through these past three weeks. I know that God has a plan for me. I know that this is all part of His plan. I know that these trials are a test of my strength and determination. I know that this is one of the greatest learning experiences I may ever encounter. I have learned that I trust others way too easily. I have learned that the people you trust the most- may be the ones that you should trust the least. I have realized that the people who have forsaken me are merely desperate and possibly uneducated and were never taught proper morals or how to carry themselves. How can I hold them responsible when they have been stripped of life's most basic lessons? I can only hope that these people begin to realize that when we forsake others...we are actually forsaking ourselves. And although things have been tough, I would not change a thing. Because then I wouldn't have this chance or this opportunity, in front of all of you, to chase a dream, to show you that impossible possible, to show you how you can achieve anything that your heart desires, and to embrace more people then I ever could have before. I know that I must take everything I can from this and keep pushing onward. I know that I cannot give up.

Big thanks to my lawyer (Robert), Alison Thompson (my rock), Barbara Guillame (our new Haitian Director), Brunache (my amazing friend), my mother (for dropping everything and coming to visit when I needed her the most), Montanna Butler (for staying with the kids while I was in the hospital), Bill Farrar from Fountains of Hope (for continuing to encourage me and for helping me in any possible way that he can). And most of all my kids, who can bring a smile to my face even on the hardest day. Love you all !

"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win" - Mahatma Gan

Friday, 29 June 2012

One Love, One Life

Recently a friend said to me "I don't think you thought all this through... I thought you were going to Haiti to help the children, not commit to taking care of them until they are an adult? That's a huge commitment Em..I think we both now you simply wanted to do something GOOD opposed to rotting away in this sh**ty town"

This message really made me think about my decision. It allowed me to weigh the negatives and positives of my situation. My back aches from the moto rides and sleeping on a crappy bed, every day I feel disgusting because I am covered in dirt and sweat, my stomach hurts either from constipation or from diarrhea (there's no happy median), I eat the same food almost everyday- spaghetti and chicken and rice, I encounter cockroaches, spiders, and many other interesting creatures daily, I do not have electricity or running water, I have to shower with a small bucket and share a small bathroom with 15 people (you can imagine what that bathroom looks like and smells like with nine children running in and out), I have to deal with corruption and people constantly trying to rip off the "blan", I get furious because starving people would rather buy minutes for their cell phone then food to fill their bellies, I hate the fact that some Haitians do not have the most basic education because they cannot afford to go to school, I am sick of every Haitian man making kissing noises as I walk by or telling me "it was love at first sight", I am tired because I do not sleep at night due to the mosquito's, heat, and noise, I have become content with the fact that not many men will want to be with a woman who has nine children and who lives in a third world country, I am pissed off at the parents who are so willing to give up their children because if they don't have to pay for their school it means they have more money in their pocket for themselves, It drives me crazy when I see kids playing with condoms on the street or ripping of the rims and wearing them as bracelets, I worry everyday that something will happen to one of my children or that they will become ill, my life is full of chaos and uncertainty.

However, my life is also now full of love, joy, happiness, and simplicity. These children have stolen my heart- actually- Haiti as a whole has stolen my heart and I am afraid it will never give it back. In Haiti, I find purpose. I find a reason to live and to fight for what I believe in every day. I can be myself here and give out all of the love that my heart has to offer, because people here actually need that love and most of all- they want that love. Yes my life is chaotic and frustrating, but that is all wiped away when a child who has endured so much suffering looks up at me and smiles, or when I am walking down the street and they run up and grab my hand. I love the fact that in Haiti, you can be absolutely ridiculous- you can dance and you can sing in the streets, in a tap tap, or even in the middle of a market- and instead of people saying "wow, what is wrong with that person, they should be in a mental hospital", they will actually join in and cheer you on. The Haitian people are so resilient and strong. They have so much talent and so much potential. Haiti is beautiful. In Haiti I feel needed, I feel that this is where I am meant to be, this is what I am meant to be doing. Yes, there are so many struggles and obstacles, yes, my life is harder than it has ever been, and yes some days I break down and cry and I am ready to give up and return home, but to be honest, I am also happier than I have ever been. I spent my life watching, from a distance.. Behind tinted glass. And you know what.. I just couldn't do it anymore. So I stepped out and the most amazing thing happened. And suddenly, right in front of me, was reality.

It enlightens me to see children so eager to learn and so passionate about school and church. It's the simple things here that bring the biggest smiles to my face- like water gun fights on the beach, playing soccer with the boys, teasing my older girls about boyfriends, dancing and singing, giving endless amounts of piggy backs, having one of my babies tell me that they love me or that I am beautiful, having one of the kids fall asleep in my arms or across my lap, but the most rewarding thing is just watching them- seeing them be so happy with such little, seeing them laugh and play even though they have endured so much pain. I think to myself "if they can do it, if they have endured this their entire lives + more, then there is no reason that I cannot do it as well". Haiti has given me a deeper passion and understanding for humankind. Here, things are so different- there is no bullshit- just real life problems. It is all about survival and helping each other. It is a completely different lifestyle. And I absolutely love it. I will always care for these children.. that was my intentions coming here, not to care for them for only a year or two then abandon them just like the rest of their parents/family has done. How would that be helping them at all? The uncertainty in my life makes every day that much more interesting. On the tough days I just look around at my children, my family, and friends in Haiti, and remind myself that I have no reason not to smile. I have met the most amazing people who carry the biggest hearts and most giving hands. I want to spend the rest of my life serving these people and helping to better their lives.. even if that means sacrificing my own. They are worth it. My children are worth it. If you want to find the meaning in your life, come to Haiti. I didn't simply come to Haiti to escape my "sh*tty" town, I didn't come here to help these children temporarily, I came here to raise these children and to provide them with the best life that I possibly can. Most of all, I came here to once again feel alive and to do something I have dreamed of since I was a little girl. I don't know how long I will be here, I don't know what my future holds. Right now each day is a gift to me and I am living my life one day at a time. I have endured some harsh trials that have nearly broke me, but in totality they have allowed me to grow and become a much stronger woman. They have made me feel as if I can overcome anything I want to. For the longest time I was living a selfish life- it was all about me. Volunteering has made me realize how much better life is when it is no longer about yourself, but about everyone else. All of my experiences have allowed me to grow up and to appreaciate the things I once took for granted.

Yesterday was a great day. My hero, my inspiration, my dear friend, and someone who has continuously onmotivated and encouraged me throughout this journey, came to visit us at the orphanage. Alison Thompson is filmmaker, an author, a volunteerism and woman's empowerment advocate, and she is the most courageous and bravest woman that I know. We had a blast with her. We loaded the kids into the back of a tap tap and headed to the beach. We had water gun fights, played frisbee and soccer, and soaked up the sun and the beautiful scenery. I was so glad to have our two newest volunteers with us (Brooke Kivell and Madison Nelmes) so that they had the opportunity to meet this amazing woman as well.

On Monday, Brooke, Madison, and I will be making the move to Tabarre to the new house that we will be renting for the summer until we are able to find something more permanent. We are all excited and desperately needing a fresh start. We are going ahead of the children to prepare the house and also so I can take the girls around Port Au Prince and bring them to places that I also used to volunteer at. I am excited to share with them the experiences that changed my life and allowed me to fall in love with Haiti. I can only hope that Haiti gives to them as much that it has given to me.

Every day I am learning more and more and realizing how precious life truly is. I can't express enough how important it is to live it to the fullest and how important it is to do what you think you cannot do and to take that leap towards happiness. You've got one life. No else can live it for you. I can honestly say that if I were to die today, I would be content with that. I have had an amazing life full of great experiences and wonderful people and I have now done what I thought I could not do. I can only hope that I have many more years to continue accomplishing even more of my goals and to meet even more wonderful people that inspire me.

Sending my love back home. You are all in my heart. I wish every day that you were here to experience and feel what I am feeling. If I had one wish, it would be to get all your butts on a plane to Haiti to experience "real" life.