Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 154: 5 Months

Today marks five months I've been living and working in Haiti. Wow. What a helluva five months. At six months and seventeen days I leave Haiti, at least for now, so the reality of that is always on my mind. That isn't to say I'm not focused on what I am still here doing, but the reality that life after Haiti can really be anything I want it to be, at least in terms of where I go - that's intense. It's incredible, but a bit overwhelming. A week or so I wrote as my Facebook status update: "Quinn Zimmerman... is beginning to realize having complete freedom is both an incredibly beautiful, and at times intimidating  thing. Haiti wraps up in two months. The future is... Yes, it is." That has been in my mind since. In some strange way, this time here has been as disconnecting as it has been grounding. I'm really out here alone, even though I'm surrounded by incredible people. That doesn't even seem to make sense, but it's true, and that's OK, I'm very comfortable doing my own thing, but sometimes I do miss those close to me.

I was in the back of the tap-tap on the way to the baby orphanage yesterday, en route to installing them a biosand filter. My friend and staff member here, Henri, was with me. We got to talking and she told me how it had been nice and a bit strange to go home for a few weeks. In talking about home, I realized that, yea, it would be nice to go "home" for a few weeks, except I don't have any true association when it comes to a place like that. The word "home" for me draws a blank. There's no obvious answer. Is home San Francisco, where my brother and my dog are, and where my mom lived for a few years before she passed away? It doesn't really feel that way. Is it Malibu, where my father and stepmother live, and I spent three years of high school? Again, it doesn't feel like that. Is it New York, where I was very happy and have a solid circle of friends? It could maybe fit the description but my history in New York is only two years old. The idea of "home" suggests a background, a longer history. New York isn't that for me. So then, is it San Miguel, place of origin, in Mexico? I doubt it. Not anymore. Nobody I really know is left there, and the town has been moving on without me since I last left it when I was eleven. Those are really the only four possible options, and none feel truly like "home". Home suggests a deep kinship with the place, and it being where old relationships still reside. My four options hold one of the two, but not both. So it made me think. I don't actually have a "home". For me, my home is in my relationships. It has to be, because no geographic place can claim that title. My "home" is with my brother, and my father and stepmother and grandmother and aunt. It was with my mother, before she passed away. It is with Mike and Helen and Brandon and Paddy and Blaine and the other people in my life who I am close enough to to just be myself without fear of rejection or misunderstanding. None of them are here. I don't need them to be, but I do miss them. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss personal intimacy, be it friendship, or something else. Haiti, while full of incredible people, doesn't really have that at the moment.

Actually, I take that back. I am very close with James, a Haitian friend of mine who I met in August. He and I can talk, and laugh, about basically anything. He's an anchor of a man, always there to let you share where you're at, and connect with it. I really appreciate that about our relationship. Something tells me when I leave Haiti, and James, that isn't going to be the end of our story. Some friendships you just feel will continue. I expect ours will. He's trying to get to Mexico (he speaks Spanish) to look for opportunities. Maybe I'll join him. I miss the country I most associate with my youth, and its people. I'm also close with Max, a guy just a few years older than me, who's from Arkansas and has the country twang. I love it. He and a certain someone hit it off immediately, and given how close she and I got, it wasn't too long before were a trio, all of us becoming very close. Once she left, and I was trying to deal with how much I missed her, something I'm still dealing with, he's been there. He gets it. Max has a great sense of humor, and is one of the most humble guys you'll meet. He's been wonderful to talk to, and just let shit out with. You can't carry everything inside. It gets too heavy. Max and James are pillars when I need them, even in spite of the fact that I tend to carry around this silly notion that I can do everything by myself. It's nice to lean, especially those times where you didn't even know you needed to.

James & me (on Short Shorts Monday).
Five months, yes, but I'm not done yet. The biosand filter project is still in full swing, and, given I've been running it basically since the day I got here, I'm committed to seeing it through to when I leave. I worked with Cassie yesterday to put together a video appealing for donations to support the project. It was funny - I really hate my voice when I hear it back recorded - but Cassie thinks it'll be good. It's also a bit awkward to talk from a script, but that's how they wanted it, as it needs to essentially be a short and structured fundraising pitch. We shall see...

Yesterday, another NGO approached me wanting suggestions on how to process a large amount of water (two 400 gallon tanks) for their base. At the moment they are using bleach, which is what we use as well, but they want to try and move away from that onto something more sustainable and non-chemical. We talked about biosand filter projects, and they're up for trying to make a big one - much, much larger than what I make here. I'm game. I know larger biosand filters have been made before, and I found a report on one such project in Africa, so I'm excited. I may not have time to do it during my regular work days here, but fuck it, I'll work Sundays. The project entices me. I don't see why a larger biosand filter wouldn't work just like a small one. We'd take a big plastic tank, layer it with gravel, coarse sand, and a LOT of fine sand (good lord that's a lot of sifting and washing) and introduce source water. In theory, it works. The materials to do the project are dirt cheap, so Richard, the guy who talked to me about it yesterday, is down to give it a go. I say let's do it. I'd like to leave Haiti with a really solid understanding of biosand filter technology, as it is something I can apply all over the world, and large scale filters are definitely valuable if I can get them to work.

7:10 now. The base is alive. People eating breakfast, getting ready for the day. Come 7:30, everything kicks off, including me and my team, so I need to sign off. These teeth aren't going to brush themselves.

Five months. I feel it. It's a mix of all sorts of something - powerful and beautiful and challenging. I told myself before I left that I wanted to go for it, to truly just jump into the deep end, to not hesitate. I did. It's been incredible, and opened many doors for me, and yet, and I suppose I should have seen this coming, those open doors leave me more confused about the next steps than when I started. My bigger, end-game goals are becoming ever clearer, and I know what I'd like to try and do with my life. That isn't where the confusion comes in. The doors I'm talking about are all those myriad options and paths one can take in reaching the end-goal. In truth, there are no paths, they don't exist until you create one through the act of choosing. And that's not a bad thing. Choice is never a bad thing. Choice is freedom, and yes,  that is both an incredibly beautiful, and at times intimidating thing.

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