Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 150: And We Continue (Again!)

I wrote in an entry from months back that the early morning would be the time I'd likely choose to sit down and put pen to paper (not literally, being the age of computers and what not, but you know what I mean...) and it seems I've finally hit the point where that is the case. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm actually cold in Haiti at night now. I sleep in my tent up on the roof with a thin sleeping mat and two sheets. During the summer, even that was too much. I'd kick off everything, pull the rain cover back hoping it wouldn't rain, and strip down to my boxers to try and avoid the heat. Now, I'll be finally putting the sleeping bag I brought here to use.

I've been up early partly because it's been cold, and largely because I've had to get my thoughts together, or at least try to, around a certain someone who isn't here anymore, but who remains very much front and center in my mind. As I've written in previous entries, often the hardest part of this work is having to say goodbye to the people you become close to, and she and I became very, very close. Time and distance have a way of straining certain types of relationships, and we're both feeling that now. My default response in a situation like that, particularly when it comes to someone I care for deeply, is to try and do something about it, try and keep the relationship as it was, maintain what made it so special to begin with, despite the distance and growing time apart. That may seem like the right thing to do, but often it isn't - it adds even more strain to an already difficult situation. You can't force those subtle things that make certain types of relationships special. The real "best" thing to do, if such a thing exists, is to be as clear as you can with one another about where you stand, how you feel, what you want (or, if you don't know, that in fact you really don't know what you want) and be OK with accepting the separation. If it is supposed to be, or isn't for that matter, it will become clear. It can't be forced. It just has to happen. I know that in my head, but my heart, stubborn thing that it can be in moments, has a more assertive personality when it comes to this. It wants to figure out how to make it work. It wants to push and fight to stay close and hold on. I'm in the process now of learning how to acknowledge that's part of who I am, as I know myself to be a romantic idealist before a pragmatic realist, but refrain from engaging it. Hence the early morning wake-ups, which I actually really like (minus the mosquitoes). It gives me time to think, and be quiet. I'm sitting here at 4:51 with my headphones in, listening to one of my favorite tracks from the "Delta Heavy Essential Mix" Sasha & Digweed did back in 2002. Perfect for the mood. Not sad, not intense, just inquisitive.

The upside of trying to override the romantic in me is it does create more time and space for the pragmatist in there (not much of him, truth be told, but some) to get airtime and push forward with the work I'm doing here. As I wrote in my last entry, I had been feeling down about the biosand filter project not being running at the level I'd like, but that is going to change. It already has started to, largely because I've had a lot of energy swirling around this last week, and it's nice to have something to pour that into. A few days ago I went to install filters at a cholera treatment center set up here in Leogane. A few days before that I installed them in an orphanage, which proved to be tricky because all I really wanted to do was play with the kids. There's something about the kids in this country - they're incredibly beautiful, and so in need of love and affection. They soak it up like little sponges. You can't help but want to give them every bit of love you've got. They'll surely take it, and the effect is so immediate - big bright smiles, white teeth on dark skin, and eyes glowing. Laughter. It's wonderful.

Really though? This cuteness must cease.
Olivia, you had me at "Bonswa!". 
OK, that's it, I'm moving into a nursing home. I can't take it anymore.
I miss running the after-school program that I used to run, but it's OK, another long-term volunteer here, Aubrie, is running the children's programs (our after-school program, and the orphanage program) and there couldn't be a better person for the job. Besides, I really like my project, and the more I think about what I'm actually doing, the more I like it and it helps me to continue to stay interested and invested, even if in moments I wish I could just shed the biosand project for a week or two and be able to freely jump through the many other things All Hands does - rubbling, demolition, school builds, hygiene and sanitation training, a cash for work program, etc. But I actually think this is the program I'd choose to pick to run if I could pick any. The technology is so cool, and biosand filters are now a globally adopted solution to waterborne illnesses in the developing world. What I've learned here can be applied in Africa, Asia, India (technically Asia but fuck it, I'm giving it its own entry) and Central & South America. As long as the place doesn't freeze, a biosand filter will work. Sorry Siberia. You're on your own. Melt snow or something.

I've been looking around now, thinking about what the next steps are for me, and while I'm still set to go to London to see her and other friends, as well as check out grad schools, at the end of January, I do want to continue this work in the field. I've been wanting this for a long, long time, and now that the opportunity to do it is here, I want to grab it and run with it. In the next two years (the time-frame I'm looking at before I go back to grad school) I think it would be amazing if I could help with development projects in all of those places I listed before. If I'm careful with the money I have from selling my shares of a successful web start-up ( that I was part of, they may be able to carry me through up to a Fall 2012 return to school. I by no means have a lot of dinero (I can't seem to make it a priority) but that's the beauty of this work - you don't need a lot. Travel is the primary cost. Living in the developing world is cheap. So yea, school in 2012, although I'm still considering a Fall 2011 return if some amazing program or situation presents itself, but more and more I'm leaning toward getting more experience in the field, from the ground up, before pursing my Masters. Check out this degree for an idea as to what I'm interested in:

King's College London - Conflict, Security & Development (MA)

That sounds like such a cool degree, and it differs from a traditional development degree as it focuses on conflict zones. One thing I've come to learn about myself is that, despite the damage and unquestionable need natural disasters can cause, what I am most passionate about is people hurting other people. Conflict. War. Rape. Honor killings. Slavery. Torture. Genocide. That is the stuff that, when I read about it, my blood boils. It stirs up energy in me, every time. It brings out the part of me that cannot accept it as just "part of being human", even if, perhaps, that's true. I've always been that way. Many of my closest friends when I was a kid were the kids that were constantly picked on and made to feel bad by other "more popular" kids. It never sat well with me. And while I imagine most people in the world share my feelings around those things, I want to see if I have what it takes to put myself into those types of environments to try and help. It's harder to do that though, it isn't like this kind of work. You'd have to be very reckless to just randomly show up in Congo or Darfur or Somalia and "get to work!". Life is cheap, but particularly so in those types of environments. I don't have a deathwish. I can't help anyone if I'm dead. To do that work as safely as you can, you need to be part of an organization that can keep you alive. To do that, you have to have something to offer outside of just a desire to help, at least that's what I'm lead to believe. You need to know something and how to apply it - medicine, conflict resolution, security, engineering, etc. So that's why I like that degree I linked above, as it combines both development work, like what I'm doing with the biosand project here, with conflict studies. I think I could come out of that really set to find my place, and get my hands dirty. Haiti has shown me how rewarding that is - challenging and exhausting and exhilarating and overwhelming and worth it. Totally, totally worth it.

So there it is. We shall see. Life continues. Today is Haiti's election day. It will be the third democratic election in the history of the country. May it be a peaceful one.

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