Less than three years ago, Haiti was just a place on a map to me. To be honest, I didn't even know where it was. I knew what everyone else knew – about the earthquake, about the number of people killed and displaced, about what a tough time the Haitians have been through. I knew that it was the poorest country from a geography class that I had taken in high school and I knew that the Haitians had been led my a corrupt government. After deciding to travel to Haiti I decided to do a little more research. I found out a little bit more about their history, about the problems with disease (cholera specifically), and I tried to study a map and become familiar with the different areas. When I arrived in Haiti, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. But boy was I wrong. My mom summed it up perfectly for me- "I saw it on TV, I saw photos and videos, but you only think it was one area affected, but this- this is so much bigger. It is so much more than what the news shows". After spending a summer in Haiti and working in orphanages, medical clinics, and hospitals and learning some basic Creyole, I once again thought I knew everything about the country. When I officially moved to Haiti in April 2012, I definitely thought I knew almost everything I could know about the country besides the language and I thought I knew what to expect taking over an orphanage in the countryside since I had already spent a great deal of time there working in orphanages. And once again.. I was proven wrong. Haiti is a complex country full of amazing people, beautiful countryside, and the most precious little children. However, it is also full of corruption, crime, disease, and poverty. There are things in Haiti that I hear and witness that I won't ever be able to make sense of or comprehend. Even now, sitting here and typing this blog after living in Haiti for a year - roughing it for seven of those months- and being exposed to everything I thought I could be, I know now that I will never truly understand the complexities of Haiti. But what I do understand is that my heart is there. That is the one thing that I am absolutely certain about.
As most of you have already figured out, I have been away from Haiti for some time now. I spent two months traveling. I lived out of a suitcase and backpack and passed through fourteen different airports- some more than once. As a few of you also know, I left Haiti due to some security issues I had encountered as well as personal health problems including broken bones. I can say that although I missing Haiti and my beautiful babies more than anything, after two months of traveling and a year of living oversea's, I am happy to be home.
Sometimes it is easy to lose faith in people, or in humanity as a whole. But sometimes one act of kindness is all it takes to give you hope again. In April, after a series of dreadful events, I was left feeling completely drained. As much as I didn't want to, I became stuck in a horrible mental and emotional state and just knew that I had to leave Haiti. But I couldn't do it on my own. A group of friends came together and helped me to get out of Haiti because of course- working as a humanitarian and not receiving any kind of payment- there was no money for flights. I cannot thank those people enough that came through for me and who opened their arms, their wallets, their doors, and most of all their hearts to me. During my travels I met and stayed with the most amazing people. I visited Guernsey- a beautiful island between France and England which contained a vast amount of history (yes, I am a history geek). Then I was able to also spend some time in London, England. I cannot explain the connection that I felt with England, I think it may be because that is where my family is from. My Dad was born there and moved to Canada with my grandparents when he was a kid. I have a lot of family still living in the UK and had always begged to go and visit but this was my first time. I was fascinated by the buildings and just the entire atmosphere. I then came back to Canada and stayed in Claremont- a tiny little town outside of Toronto where my cousin lives. We played guitar and sang songs and caught up as I had not seen her in what seemed like forever! Then I was back to the airport and off to Los Angeles where I stayed with volunteers that had previously visited Haiti. We walked to the pier and visited some cool shops and also went for a thai massage. After that we headed to Lemoore, a small town that was pretty much a mini version of Mexico. I had a great time relaxing and we also headed down to Fresno for my friends graduation and then to San Francisco to a Giants game. After that I was once again back to the airport, spent four days in Canada and surprised my Mom for Mother's Day then was off to Vancouver where I spent three weeks. Vancouver was absolutely breath taking. I fell in love with the scenery and the people. I stayed with my friend Alex who had brought the band "The Boom Booms" down to Haiti. I had the best time of my life during those three weeks. They all made me feel so welcome and I have definitely made some everlasting friendships. I also got to go with the band to the studio where they were recording (the armoury studios) and was introduced to a man named Chin Injeti. To be honest, I didn't know who Chin was at first- I knew he was a nice guy with a big heart who became a friend very quickly- but I had no idea how talented he was. Chin produced for Eminem, Kanye West, Jay Z etc and was also part of the band Base is Base. He has won a few grammy's and other awards and is now producing "The Boom Booms" new album. I was privileged enough to be able to attend a few of "The Boom Booms" events including a gig at an art gallery in Robert's Creek. That weekend was a blast and I had so much fun with alex and all of the guys as well as Courtney- whose house we stayed at. She lives in a beautiful log house right on the ocean. It was the perfect getaway. I ended up spending my twenty first birthday there as well and of course Alex threw me a little party and Theo (the drummer) cooked me a nice birthday dinner and then we enjoyed some chocolate cake. I could not have asked for a more perfect way to spend my birthday. As my time in Vancouver was coming to an end I was not so content with leaving like I thought I would be. I had developed some awesome relationships there and had fallen in love with Vancouver completely. After Vancouver, I was home for another three days and then took off to Vegas with my Mom and Stepdad. Vegas was just a whole new experience. My Stepdad and Mom go every other year to attend the Celtic Football Convention, and this year, since I had just turned twenty one, I tagged along. My stepdad is from Scotland and is huge into soccer. It was nothing like I could have ever imagined. There was approximately 5,000 people there from Scotland, Ireland, England, Australia, the States, and Canada. They all sang scottish songs and danced. It was like they were all family. It was a really cool experience and I met so many wonderful people. I am looking forward to attending more often now !!!
So, now I am back home. I had a really hard time adjusting the last few times I had been home but right now I enjoying catching up with old friends and visiting family. So much has changed since I left, but so much has also remained the same. I neglected so many things here in Canada when I took off to Haiti so now is my time to play catch up. I have numerous appointments (doctors, dentist, physiotherapy, licence, etc) and so much paperwork I feel like it is never ending. But every time I check something off of my list I feel that much closer to sanity. I am working for my Dad and helping him out for the summer with his business and also just got a job at a restaurant out on the lake waitressing on evenings and weekends to make some extra cash. Although I want to rush back to the airport and jump on a plane to the Carribean Island where my heart is, I know that right now I need to take everyone's advice and focus on me. I experienced a lot of trauma this past year, whether is be constantly witnessing death, poverty, and disease or suffering from illnesses myself and even the trauma from a moto accident as well as my notorious paragliding episode among other things. My body needs time to heal (doctors words), as well as my mind. Right now, I don't know what the future holds. My heart is still in Haiti, my wish is still to be back in the house cuddling my babies and carrying on with my routine there, but I feel okay knowing that they are being taken care of by my friends and Haitian staff. I guess right now the best thing that I can do is make sure that I am 100% and to continue on with fundraising in Canada to support the kids. My goal is to take a year off from Haiti (however, still going back for visits) and work, get settled, and possibly finish my degree in Criminology & Sociology. I found a nice apartment out on the water in a small community where I will be working and move in August 1st. I am looking forward to having a place of my own with all of my personal belongings in it, and I could not ask for a better location. It is close enough to home, but also far enough away to not be overwhelmed. I think I just need some solid ground for a little while, some time to gather thoughts and process things that I was unable to process in the midst of my chaotic life in Haiti.
It's hard coming back to a developed country and trying to immerse yourself back into a life that once was the only thing you knew. I am still experiencing a great deal of culture shock. Sometimes I want to dance and laugh with my friends until midnight, and sometimes I feel like I just want to screen my calls and hide away in a tragic novel or movie. Sometimes I spend an hour getting ready and prettying myself up, and others I could barely be bothered to comb the knots out of my hair before I leave the house. Sometimes I want to be in the company of a loved one. Other times that seems as impossible as waking up in the morning and finding myself fluent in french. I find myself often wanting to be alone than with other people right now. But then again, that just leaves me feeling lonely at times. Everything is so up and down, and I know time will be the only thing to solve this.
I've really learned a lot this year whether it be certain tips or precautions to take while traveling in Haiti or whether it be life lessons. Here are just a few of them:
1) Carrying around a roll of toilet paper in Haiti is essential.
2) Things don't always turn out the way you planned, or the way you think they should. And I've learned that there are things that go wrong that don't always get fixed or get put back together the way there were before.
3) Beauty and poverty are so interlaced in Haiti that you see the both of them within each other. You see the unpleasant living quarters painted in bold bright colours. The naked children clothed in beautiful smiles. The crystal clear blue ocean water that is the backdrop of a small struggling village. The hand made fishing boats that are manned with hard working men and children who spend countless hours untangling their nets.
4) Although we may be separated by border lines, bodies of water, and different governmental systems, people are people no matter where you go. Teenagers still have attitude, little ones love to be cuddled, open arms and a big smile are always a great way to begin a friendship, hand signals are definitely a means of communication, candy and bubbles always make children happy. That each and every one of us strive for success, for love, for affection, and most of all, we all just want happiness.
5) At times we all fall down holes that we can't climb out of by ourselves. That's what friends and family are for- to help. They can't help, however, unless you let them know you're down there.
6) Always check your bed for cockroaches or any other unwanted species before crawling into it.
7) It is important to always conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart becomes heavy with remorse.
8) You can carry pretty much everything on a moto. Including boxes full of groceries. And you can even fit six people on at once- although it is not recommended.
9) It is nice to have money and the things that money can buy, but I am so much more whole without it. The struggle makes you truly appreciate the simple things in life that you once took for granted.
10) Once you have been confronted with a life and death situation, trivia no longer matters. Your perspective grows and you live at a much deeper level. There's no longer time for pettiness.
11) My dreams of working for the UN have been blown up completely.
12) Soup Joumou (pumpkin soup) should be mandatory in North America.
13) Do not show up ten minutes early for anything- including government meetings- because you will end up being an hour or even two hours early instead.
14) Do not ever expect to get more than one thing accomplished in a day in Haiti. If you get one thing accomplished, be happy. If you get two things accomplished, consider yourself very lucky.
15) Sometimes letting go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.
16) Never travel without medical insurance.
17) Make sure that when you eat pancakes for breakfast you put the bottle of syrup in a high up cupboard where your two year old will not be able to reach it, chug the whole bottle, hide in your curtains and attempt to scare you, and then jump on your bed until two am screaming "I LOVE YOU MAMA, MAMA SAY I LOVE YOU"
18) There is a story behind everything. How a photo got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. How you ended up where you are now. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are unbelievably hard and heartbreaking. Never judge someone because you will never know every single detail of their story. And most importantly, never minimize their story.
19) Everyone will always tell you what you "should" do. But only YOU know what you "need" to do.
20) Always follow your heart. It is good to take your head along with you but your heart is where your passion lies, and only by following your passion will you find your truest and most happiest self.
21) I learned early in life that if you discover something that makes you tighten inside, you had better try to learn more about it. If you simply choose to ignore it, then you will never know what might happen, and in many ways that is so much worse than finding out that you were wrong in the first place. Because at least if you are wrong, you can go forward with your life without looking back over your shoulder and wondering what might have been.
My heart is aching like it has never ached before knowing that I am going to miss out on so many awesome things with my kids over this next year. I can only hope that they are able to understand that I want to be there with them and that they know I miss and love them more than anything in this world. It's crazy to think that it was only a year and a few months ago when we entered each others lives, but within that year we have developed such an unbreakable bond, now, they are my entire world. We have had so many struggles and obstacles over this past year and there were times when I began to lose hope and also times when I wanted to rip all of my hair out.. but to be honest.. I would never take back one single moment I spent in Haiti. Through the pain, the tears, the struggles, there has been so many more smiles, laughs, and love. These kids have given me so much more than I could ever possibly give them. This year is going to be the most difficult year of my life, but I know that this too will only make us stronger. I am so proud of all of my kids and it is the most rewarding thing watching them grow up into the little people they are becoming. I never expected to be a single mom of ten children at the age of twenty one, but it is by far the best gift that I have ever been given.
Right now I am trying to plan a number of fundraisers throughout the summer ! We need to raise $10,000 by the end of September to pay the rent for our house for another year. If anyone is able to host a fundraiser or has any fundraiser ideas please contact me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or facebook. I truly appreciate all of your ongoing support and encouragement. I could definitely not do this without the help of all of you !!!