Ke Kontan

Ke Kontan

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.