Ke Kontan

Ke Kontan

Monday, 21 July 2014

Burning out.. Is it worth it?

We are all warned about culture shock and what to expect when we first arrive on the field. But what about after that first year? What about three years down the road? Or seven? Or ten? What about the frustrations and tears, hurt and stress, internal (or external) cries for ‘home’? What about those days when you will do anything to

For most long term humanitarians, I think one of our biggest concerns is getting "burnt out". We all experience it. When you commit to working in developing nations, and when you have a big heart, the country can consume you quickly. It starts to slowly eat away at your social life, your youth, and your bubbly naive self. We come in with such passion and positivism and end up feeling beat down like one of the starving dogs on the street. We are faced with situations on a daily basis that friends and family back home would never even believe, let alone comprehend. And due to that fact we keep a lot of the heartaches to ourselves. We witness horrible things. We are exposed to bitter truths. We get angry and frustrated. The stress forces us to age incredibly. We lose sleep and our health slowly begins to diminish due to exhaustion or being exposed to strange parasites and diseases. Sometimes I wish I had a GoPro Cam attached to me just to show what my daily routine consists of. Most people would need a Xanax just to drive down the streets of Port Au Prince.

So how do you prevent becoming burnt out? You don't. For any long term humanitarian/missionary it is bound to happen eventually. You think "No, not me" or "I'm stronger than that". Stop kidding yourself. You experience it. You go through the hard times. You get stressed. You become bitter. You get depressed. You think about giving up and quitting. You think about how easier life would be if you just return home. You think about how many times you have been cheated or stabbed in the back by the ones you have helped. You get disappointed and let down time and time again. You get tired of asking for funding and support. You wonder if it's worth it anymore. You think you will never make the difference you were hoping to make. You get tired of being lonely or tired of being sick. You are exhausted and you've just had enough. You can't do it anymore.

And then... you pull up your big girl pants. You take a deep breath. And you open your eyes with a whole new perspective. You begin to see beauty where you once saw anger and pain. You embrace that this is your life, you are here for a reason. You are strong. You realize that the malaria, typhoid, Chickungunya, sleepless nights, chaotic days, and all the other obstacles you go through actually are worth it. You have learned hard lessons but they have forced you to do some soul searching. You've found yourself here. They are worth seeing a child that was once so close to death do a complete turn around and become striving and happy. Because you loved them. Because you took that chance. Because you decided not to turn your head. Because you decided to care. It is worth it when you have kids that have been abandoned or abused learn to trust again and you wake up every morning to them yelling "Mom wake up!!!!!". It is worth it watching a rural village learn to show compassion for one another, learn to share, and begin to prosper in ways they never could have imagined. It's the little things that we take for granted when our minds are constantly thinking we have to go, go, go. We never take time for ourselves. We never take time to digest all we have seen or all we have done. We never rest. It always seems to be one catastrophic event after another. There is so much need here. So much that we could be doing. But sometimes we have to sit back and just look around us. Notice those little things that can make you smile and fill up your heart again. Those are the things that will keep you sane. You have to remind yourself that you are human, you are allowed to grieve, you are allowed to hurt, and its okay to cry. Sometimes you have to literally force yourself to let go of the stressors. To take each moment as it is. I find that when I go out onto the streets my face changes completely. I scrunch it up and have this horribly angry look as if I'm ready for a fight. I know that I do this because I have come accustomed to having to barter or protect myself on the street. But sometimes, like when I'm driving through the mountains or along the ocean's shore, I actually have to force myself to relax and to smile.

After returning home for this past year and taking a "break". I began to realize how truly burnt out I was. I was angry and constantly stressed and worrying about the future. I had forced myself to become "hard". I stopped feeling the effects of trauma or dealing with what I had been exposed too. I became somewhat numb to things that would normally break my heart. And although some may think this is a good thing. It is not. I have learned that it is much easier to harden yourself then to endure. But it is necessary for healing purposes to go through the motions. To feel the pain, anger, and frustrations. I think way too many people here have become "hard" just like me. And it is difficult to undo that. Since returning to Haiti that is the one main thing I am working on each day. To become soft again. To love and trust again. To remind myself it's okay to look into the eyes of those on the streets, its okay to feel the hurt, its okay to want to help them and to cry because I can't.

In a month from now I will be once again boarding a plane home. My heart will once again break into a million little pieces. As I sit here staring at my University course schedule I feel terribly sad and guilty. I will have to kiss my 14 little ones goodbye. I will have to spend each and every minute away from them worrying about what they are doing, if they have eaten that day, if they are healthy, and if they are being told that they are beautiful and loved. Right now I don't even want to think about leaving. The thought hurts way too much. But this will also have to be something I will have to endure. However, we all know that I will be back soon enough.

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Struggles

Something has changed. I am not sure exactly when it happened, and only in looking back can I see that it did. But there is no arguing it; things are different now than when I boarded that first plane to Port Au Prince. Back then I was young, naive, and full of adventure. I was all fired up – and ready to take on the needs of the people in one of the poorest nations, even if it meant that I had to sacrifice anything and everything of my own. I had just given up the majority of my life and possessions back in Canada, and nothing had ever felt more right. I had never been so sure of anything before.

That was three years ago.

It's been three years of power outages, bucket showers, sweaty nights, bad roads, no money, cockroaches, dirty diapers, screaming children, missing my family and friends, water shortages, mystery illnesses, security issues, too many deaths, and countless cultural frustrations that have brought me to my knees on a daily basis.

Living abroad is an amazing adventure, but it does comes with some baggage. And sometimes, the baggage fees are hidden. I began to realize that my life choice of being a humanitarian is a blessing... but it can also be a curse. No matter where I am in this world I will always be missing one of my families. I will always be longing for someone or something, and there will be many things I will have to miss out on and give up.

During my time here I have had friends and family pass away and I was unable to get to say that last, fully present, goodbye. I was unable to attend funerals, unable to get the closure I needed. Family members celebrate birthdays, or the whole family celebrates a holiday, and you’re not there because the ocean is really big, and you’re on the wrong side of it.

And you being to realize there are just some things facebook, texting, and skype cannot fix.

They say that living in developing nations such as Haiti can bring out the worst in people. I don't know if I fully agree with that, but let me tell you .. It is hard. It's not always rainbows and butterflies like some people assume back home. I don't have a luxurious life here that is spent every day on a beach and playing with my kids. It drives me absolutely insane when I have people telling me "I envy your life". No, no you do not. Take that back. If you only knew what came with it. It's much more than the happy smiling photos I post on facebook. It's much more than the beautiful beaches and mountains and waterfalls. Living here... It's indescribable. You are CONSTANTLY surrounded by suffering, poverty, disease, corruption. It doesn't go away. You can't just take a break from it. You fight every single day not to lose compassion. Not to go completely insane. The hurt becomes deep and it's hard to even meet people and learn their names as you become way too familiar with death and saying goodbye.

Yes, life in Haiti can bring out the dark side, it can be extremely difficult. But — what if that’s not such a bad thing? I mean, what if it doesn’t end there? What if all the stuff that surfaces is supposed to surface? What if the only way to know what’s inside your heart is for it to come out? And what if the lessons learned, and the difficulties faced forces you to dig deeper and see yourself in a new light and see life with a whole new perspective? What if you are forced to see what our media hides? Forced to learn about the WORLD in which YOU live in? Is that really so bad?

So maybe those multiple anxiety attacks, sleepless nights, grieving days, and breakdowns do actually have a purpose. Maybe knowing your weaknesses means you know yourself more intimately than you ever have before. Maybe these obstacles and frustrations will teach you lessons no professor or textbook ever could. Maybe you are exactly where you need to be, right at this moment. Maybe living overseas means becoming the person that you were created you to be.

Lately I have felt more burnt out than ever with having new kids and trying to transition them, having Shellson sick in the hospital and trying to pay that bill, having a newborn baby to love and provide for, figuring out how we are going to pay our rent, finishing up paperwork, and trying to fix things in the house that the kids have broken since I've been away. It's exhausting. I am constantly reminding myself- You followed that damn tug in your heart across oceans and continents, across countries and cultures. You knew this life wasn't going to be easy when you got into it. You came this far for a purpose, because you are meant to be here. And now that you are where you need to be, people are not going to leave you alone and without help. They never have. If your heart and passion brought you to this place, don’t you think it will continue to fight for what you came here for?

And maybe they’re right. Maybe living overseas will draw out all our bad stuff. There have definitely been days where it has drawn out the worst in me. But I no longer think that’s something to be afraid of — life with passion and purpose is not something to fear, it is something to embrace.

So today, if you find yourself at your breaking point, frustrated with the country you have chosen to be apart of, tired of the corruption and the lengthy delays of paperwork, transport, or literally trying to accomplish anything here. Remember that you were called to do this for a reason. Don't be afraid to seek help. Believe that you will find the strength to put yourself back together again. Because we are so much stronger than we believe. We are so much braver than we could ever imagine. And we are built to survive. You can do this.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Every Dark Night Ends with Sunrise..

This morning I woke up at 4am. I picked Emilio up out of his crib. Made a bottle. Fed him. And rocked him to sleep.

At 4am, I cried.

I sat on the edge of my bed wondering when this Chikungunya epidemic is going to end. I cried as I watched Tyson sleeping thinking back to the first time I held his three week old body in my arms. How I instantly fell in love with him. How much he has grown. I cried because I am terribly worried about Shellson and what chronic illness he is suffering from. I cried because I was faced with a security issue Friday night that shook me to my core. I cried because I wish my best friend Maeve was here with me to make me laugh or to cry with me like she always did. Haiti isn't the same without her. I cried because I am constantly surrounded by suffering,poverty, and disease and I find that I am forcing myself to turn my head and to look away because I know I cannot help everyone. The faces I see, the cries I hear, they stay vivid in my mind.

I went back to sleep for a few hours. Woke up to Tyson pinching me saying "Mama get up", he wanted juice. This is when the chaos begins.

I opened my bedroom door and all of my other little ones came running in.

Lillian and Lunda grabbed me by the hand and Lilly says (as she does every day) "mama mwen ale Kanada" AKA "Mom I'm going to Canada". I ask her with who and how she is going to get there and she responds "With Lunda and you.. We can take a Moto". Gave me a good chuckle. How I wish it was that easy.

We ate breakfast. Took our bucket showers. Got dressed. Changed diapers.

Sabrina came running with tears in her eyes saying Lunda pushed her. Lunda screams and throws a fit as I put her on time out.

I quickly grabbed a banana, ran out the front door with four crying toddlers yanking on my shirt because they don't want me to leave, and headed out on a moto to Hospital Espoir to pick up Shellson.

We drive down our unpaved bumpy road and the neighbours all wave and greet me. I pass a goat eating garbage and a small child blowing up a condom- he's not wearing pants or shoes. This is normal.

I head out onto the main road and pass flying cars and the police station. The police stop and harass me. I give them a fake phone number, and I am on my way again.

When I arrive at the Hospital I argue with the moto driver about the amount I have to pay him. My hair is everywhere and I have a fine layer of dust/dirt over my skin that is sticking to my sweat.

Shellson is covered in sweat. He has a leaking diarrhea diaper. I am taking him home today. He will be continuing his medication at home with regular check ups as I try to get him admitted into another hospital. His hospital bill is $760 US. I am unable to pay it today so I leave my passport at the hospital so I can come back to pay it when we have the funds to do so. Although his fever has stopped, his arm inflammation has not, nor has his pain.

On my way home with Shellson on my lap, I pass a woman's body on the street. She appears to be dead, I think she has been hit by a car.. who knows.. People are just walking by. No one is attempting to help. I can't help. I have to keep driving because if I touch that body, I become responsible for her death and or disposal of the body.

I head to Tabbare to MSC plus to buy a few things for the house, including a new battery for the generator. While I am there I receive a text from Howard saying a bed has opened up in peds at Bernard Mevs Hospital. I have to get there ASAP. I call a taptap to meet me at the house, call Jenny to get Shellson's bag packed. I jump on my moto and head home as fast as I can.

The care we are receiving at Bernard Mevs is exceptional. He has been admitted and we are waiting for an orthopaedic to come and see him. As I am sitting in triage a little boy with big puffy eyes and a swollen face sits across and stares at me. He is with his Aunt (a big lady) and a woman from his church. The doctors examine the boy and then escort the women from the room. I figured he must be having an allergic reaction to something. He sat there on his own for awhile so I asked the Doctor what is happening. His aunt had beat him, the lady from the church went to visit and noticed his face all swollen so she insisted they go to the hospital. The police came and arrested the aunt. The little boy has two fractured eye sockets, his brain is bleeding, his skull is fractured, and he has lacerations on his arms and back. He didn't cry the whole time he sat there. He spoke in a sweet quiet voice. I cried for him.

I went home late last night after spending all day at the hospital. Chikungunya started setting in again leaving me barely able to walk. I thought Malaria was bad.. but at least that only lasted a brief period of time. I feel as if this virus is just never ending and it sets in at the most unexpected times. I am tired. My mind needs a rest. My body needs a rest.

Writing has always been my "venting" technique, however lately I find it a struggle to even do that or to even begin to think about what I want to say. Some days are too hard to write about.

If you want to keep your sanity as a humanitarian in this country, you have to find your own personal outlet. For some, that may mean hiding under the covers and exhausting an entire T.V. show series in one afternoon (I don't have a TV and my room is way too hot for covers). For others, alcohol becomes an enjoyable vice, and spending free time in a plastered haze in the nice beach resorts (which I don't have the money to do). So for me, writing and music have ultimately become the channel with which I am able to release the built up tension and emotions. And right now my guitar is sitting in my nice air conditioned home back in Canada. I am missing it more than anything.

This week has been tough. Too tough to even fully vent about right now. My mind is scrambled. There are so many things we need here but the funds just never seem to be enough. Everyone working here in Haiti faces this same struggle. There is so much good you wish to do, but money really limits that.

This is a hard place.

It has a way of exposing things. Most people would need to take a Xanax to even drive down the streets here.
One of the biggest struggles with working and living in Haiti is not becoming permanently bitter and angry. The simplest tasks such as driving, buying groceries, or bringing your child to the hospital will test every ounce of your patience. The lack of change, lack of progress, lack of truth, lack of trust, lack of security, lack of convenience, lack of compliance, lack of integrity, lack of healthcare, lack of justice, lack of sleep ... It all tries and tests.

"Every dark night ends with sunshine".. right ?