Ke Kontan

Ke Kontan

Sunday, 5 January 2014

From Chaos to Comfort

I awoke as I did every morning. The call to prayer erupted at 5:30 a.m and was so loud that I could have sworn the church had set it's amplifiers right next to my pillow. As I rolled over and looked beside me, Tyson was still sleeping like a log. Whenever the pastor paused, I'd inhale a deep breath, praying that it was over, but even during his brief pauses the silence was always broken by a choir of chickens, goats, dogs, or babies crying. I would finally pull myself out of bed and make my way through the dark narrow hallways to our small bathroom. The wooden door that has never been able to shut creeks loudly. Our toilet bowl is full of shit and flies. The toilet seat is broken and stained brown. No running water means no flushing. I head over to our sink that is hanging out of the wall and turn the tap just hoping that maybe a drop would come out. But that was wishful thinking. I would grab a pail from our cement slab that was meant for showering and head over to our water basin to the left of the house. It was small, holding only enough water to last us a few days. Many times we went without, but this morning I was fortunate enough to be able to fill my bucket. I carried it back into the dark musty bathroom and placed it on the floor. I grabbed the cup and filled it from the bucket. As I lifted my arms above my head preparing to release the cup of water onto my hot sticky body, I shivered. I knew what to expect as I poured the ice cold water onto my head. The hardest part about bucket showers was never knowing if the shampoo was actually out of your hair or not. It became a fun guessing game. After my shower, I grabbed a t-shirt to dry off. One thing I had forgot to pack when I stuffed my entire existence into two suitcases- was a towel. I quickly dried myself off and dug through my suitcase trying to find something to wear for the day. I didn't need a mirror to see how awful I looked in my faded soccer shorts and dirty tank top. I then grabbed my tooth brush and my sachet of water and headed over towards the water basin. I stood beneath a palm tree and beautiful fruit trees that the hummingbirds and geckos loved to swarm. I bit the corner of my water sachet to make an opening for the water to flow over the head of my toothbrush. I leaned forward and began brushing my teeth.

As most mornings, breakfast consisted of an oatmeal like substance. It actually tasted more like cake batter. We would each take a bowl and a piece of bread and mix them both together and sit on the floor and enjoy our meal. We only had three plastic chairs in the entire house.

After breakfast the kids prepared for school. They kissed me goodbye as they headed out the door and I patiently awaited their return in the afternoon. Some kids went to school in the morning, and some only went in the afternoons. Which meant there was always a few kids hanging around the house to keep me entertained.

My phone was dead as well as my computer. We had not had electricity for over a week now. I don't really remember what occupied my days when the kids were at school. I am guess quick trips to the market? Naps? The ongoing challenge of who could climb the hightest up the palm tree or seeing how many spiders and cock roaches we could blow up with our BB guns? Who knows... Dinner was cooked on a small cast iron stove (grill?) at the back of the house. When dinner was finished being cooked we would bring in the big pots of rice and beans and place them on our dirty kitchen floor. We would place just enough plates on the floor beside them and dish them out. The smallest kids would get their plates first. We didn't have enough cups in the house for each kid to have their own, so they often shared a glass of water. Night came early in Haiti, it was usually pitch black by 6:30 pm. The kids would run around avoiding bed time at all costs then when we finally won- they would decide tp hang out in their room talking and giggling until they finally fell asleep. All ten kids plus the nanny slept in the same room. Some slept on the floor. The room was tiny- smaller than mmost rooms back home. The heat was intolerable and bed bugs infested the sheets and clothing. After I had kissed the kids goodnight I would then challenge volunteers or staff to a game of dominios. Every night it seemed as if a fight broke out over who would get to use the only two flash lights in the house. However, some nights, when the batteries died, we would spend the night without any sort of lighting at all.

SMACK ! A cockroach would land on my face. I would awake at all hours of the night- either from Tyson waking up and wanting a bottle or from the infestation of bed bugs biting at my skin, cockroaches landing on my body, or the squeaks of mice and rats chewing the corners of my suitcases.

Living in Haiti, in these conditions, for almost nine months, I felt at turns dizzy, exhausted, depressed, and sometimes down right insane. I had adapted and accepted the living conditions quickly. But my body did not, leaving my sick for days on end. I never once felt sorry for myself for the way that I was living though. A part of me kind of enjoyed it actually, it was like a really long camping trip. However, a low level rage had slowly begun to build inside of me. I had witnessed people's burnouts first hand- I watched other foreigners turn bitter and cynical. I didn't want that. Really, all I wanted was some clean running water to be able to shower in. To get that sticky and dirty feeling off of my skin. My sanity relied on few things there- water and electricity being the primary ones. But even these seemed as if they were too much to ask for.

It's strange for me to state the the living conditions were also depressingly lonely since I was constantly surrounded by my kids... but I had felt lonelier than ever during these months. I also experienced the feeling of unsatisfaction with myself. The work that I and my friends were doing in Haiti was not ending the country's real problems: the ongoing murders, displacements, slavery, kidnappings, rape, and disease. All that I was doing was providing a shelter for a few of the hundreds of thousands of kids that were homeless and needing to be fed and loved. I was handing out medicine, clothes, food, to the villagers in the mountains and volunteering whatever extra time I had at other orphanages, hospitals, or medical clinics. But it just never seemed like I was doing enough. Ever. The need is just so great in Haiti.

It was now 2012 and the Haitian earthquake had already killed over 316,000 people and displaced over 1.5 million people. People were forced off of their lands, their homes lay in ruins, their belongings either destroyed or stolen, and the government was backing gangs who were firing guns throughout the streets. It was chaos. Although things had improved between 2010-2012.. chaos still erupted country wide. And I began to get a taste of the chaotic lifestyle. It became engraved in my bones.. now .. I find it hard to function without the chaos and constant go go go.

By now I have heard it all- "You're like Mother Teresa" or my favourite- "You're just like Angelina Jolie".. "The world needs more people like you". I am a humanitarian. I have worked in some of the worst areas in Haiti. I have held and fed starving babies whose bones were so brittle that I thought they were going to disintegrate in my arms. I have organized food, clothing, and medical distributions. I have comforted children who had been raped, abused, and rescued from slavery. I have taken those children into my home. I have road on the back of motos heading into the slums of Haiti (the most dangerous and poorest place in the Western Hemisphere) in search of a missing boy. I have exposed myself to cholera, TB, HIV, and many other diseases and circumstances trying to save lives of those who were in need. I have wrote up endless reports, done numerous funderaisers, and have hosted volunteers to share with them a taste of the Haitian culture. But I am not a famous actress, I am no hero, and I am most definitely not a saint. I can't really blame people for these assumptions, as I was once in their shoes admiring the lives of aid workers around the world. But then you realize that they are just human beings doing what they believe in their hearts to be right and following a calling of their own. Most of us humanitarians would agree that the countries in which we visit have always given more to us than what we could ever possibly give to them.

The summer of 2010 was the summer that I decided to jump on a plane and volunteer in Ghana, Africa- completely alone. It was my first time really traveling by myself, and my first encounter with such foreign conditions. I hopped onto to buses filled with people where the doors were hanging off and chickens were biting at my ankles. I got bites all over my body from strange insects. I suffered from constant diarrhea. I bartered in markets in a language that I could not speak or understand. But during this trip, something clicked. I was for the first time experiencing inequality close up. For the first time I felt the sting of being branded as an outsider, someone who was considered inferior- this experience led me to begin to realize how people from other countries must feel when they visit or immigrate to North America. This realization was the turning point from childhood to adulthood for me, it happened while I was just sitting on the airplane heading to Ghana. I began to embrace a different and intriguing way of life as I began venturing out to towns where there was no running water and where treatable diseases were left untreated. I saw something out there far bigger than my own Chatham-Kent existence, and I wanted to be part of it. I returned home determined that I would pursue this work. However, at that time I am not exactly sure that I fully understood what I was getting into. Even now it is hard for me to distill my thoughts and feelings into one piece of writing. Whatever my intentions were, subconscious or not, they led me to the conclusion that my life back home could wait. I was young and free and I wanted to find something meaningful to do with my life. I wanted adventure, chaos, and I wanted to help people. I wanted to continue to feel passionate about what I was doing.

These past few years have been the most challenging but rewarding years of my life. I wouldn't trade them for the world. They have made me into who I am today. When I first began my journey, I was naive beyond belief. It wasn't until this past year, after a series of unpleasant events, that I realized that I am not as indestructible as I once believed I was. I exhausted myself, I became burnt out, I lost my sanity at times. I grew up a lot as well. My kids have given me a new meaning of life. They have shown me what true unconditional love means. I am blessed like no other. I cannot even put into words how much my kids, friends, and others who's paths happened to cross mine during my travels have inspired me, motivated me, and pushed me to continue to keep fighting for my passion and for what I believe in. I owe everything to them. I am so grateful for my community and for their on going support- we would not have an orphanage if it wasn't for your ongoing donations. Although I have returned home to Canada, Haiti is still forever in my heart and I will continue to visit, fundraise, and of course support my children. However, I have decided that I am going to dedicate these next two years to finishing my degree at the University of Windsor in Criminology and Sociology and to get my health back in check as it has taken a hard beating lately. It has been one of the absolute hardest decisions that I have ever had to make, but I do believe that by continuing my education and having a degree in hand (as well as a strong immune system), I will be able to give that much more to the ones I love overseas. I will be able to sustain a career where I will not only be able to support myself- but also my kids in Haiti. This is crucial. With a degree in hand I will be able to work in Canada- but also I will be able to find a decent paying jobs in Haiti so I can be closer to my babies if need be. I am not exactly sure how I am going to be able to stay in one place for awhile.. it is going to take all of my energy... I have been so used to the chaos, the go go go.. Comfort scares me. Complacency scares me. Security scares me- how ironic? .. But I do know that no matter what- finishing my education and strengthening my health will be worth it. I have great staff in Haiti that are currently caring for my kids and I am hoping to continue to have volunteers going to visit to do check ups for me when I am unable to do it myself. I know that this decision will be hard for some of my supporters to comprehend.. trust me, its hard for me to comprehend as well.. but it is what I currently need to do. We still need all the help we can get with the orphanage and would truly appreciate your support. If anyone wishes to donate, sponsor a child, or volunteer please contact me via email or visit our website

Thank you for reading and sharing !