Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 173: Mental Health Break - Port-au-Prince

I'm writing this sitting at the wooden table at the rear end of the GrassRoots United (GRU) base here in Port-au-Prince. I've been here a few days on my mental health break, which was much needed. It's been largely uneventful, which is exactly what I want. I spent most of yesterday simply sleeping, or reading the book I brought down here with me - The Autobiography of an Ex-Couloured Man by James Weldon Johnson. It's good.

The people who run GRU are friends of mine, and I much appreciate being able to simply kick back here and see how they run this place. It's different than All Hands - much smaller and more loosely set up in terms of freedoms given to the volunteers, which is saying something because All Hands is very loose compared to the standard NGO. Of course, All Hands doesn't ask for any money to come and volunteer with them whereas GRU has a $15/night fee to be here, so I suppose All Hands has the right to ask their volunteers not to drink on base, when to have quiet hours, etc. I'm cool with both setups, I don't fault either, but right now this more relaxed atmosphere (largely due to the fact that there are far less people here) is really nice.

Last night, after finishing up a Skype call that turned my stomach in knots, I needed to get out, be present, try and keep my focus and attention in the moment. I got just that. Olivia, a new friend I met here, Rose, a fellow All Hands volunteer on break with me, and I went on a food hunt, and before too long we found ourselves sitting on a crowded street corner in Port-au-Prince, eating some incredibly tasty street chicken, and watching the charismatic chaos of this city do what it does. It was dark, the sun being down, and the headlights from the motos and the tap-taps and the dump trucks illuminated the smoke and dust in the air. The Haitians didn't seem to pay much attention to us. We simply got to be observers, which isn't all that common here. Most of the time, a random group of blancs draws attention. The last time I was here in a similar situation was with Mathilde, right before we went to the airport and she went home to London, and in that scenario the two of us got too much attention. It was a little unnerving to be surrounded by a large group of twenty-something Haitian men asking us questions and seeing if we'd be willing to part with some of the things we'd brought - Mathilde's boots, the Prestiges we were drinking, my money. It wasn't threatening, but it felt that way in moments, and I felt very protective of her, so we left to go into the gated area of the airport parking lot to spend the last remaining hour we had together in relative peace. But last night was nothing like that. I simply sat there with Rose and Olivia, eating my chicken and tossing the bones, drinking our beers, and watching. It was really nice. I wanted to blend in. I didn't want to be the focus of anyone's attention.

Today in a few hours I'll likely jump in the old yellow American school bus GRU recently acquired and head out to the main government-run storehouse for medical goods to pick up cholera treatment supplies. Cholera has spread at a rapid rate, particularly here in Port-au-Prince, and I'd like to see what people on the ground here are trying to do to aid those affected. Sam, the head honcho here at GRU and a friend of mine that I met through Paddy four or so years ago, is spearheading this little adventure and I like his energy and motivation, so it should be fun, if "cholera" and "fun" can ever truly be used together.

It's less than a month now that I have here in Haiti, and still the future remains unknown. It hasn't really set in for me yet that I'll be leaving Haiti soon. This feels like home now, even if it has been kicking my ass recently (abscesses, a nail through my shoe/foot, antiobiotics making me feel a bit loopy). Still, I feel the distance being here. I miss my family, my brother especially, and I miss my friends. I miss Mathilde. I miss my pup. So yes, I don't really know what is to follow this adventure I've begun, but I guess that's part of the beauty of it - allowing myself to accept that the unknowns are as wonderful as they are intimidating. In that, I'm trying, and truth be told, all hardships considered, I feel like I'm walking the path I want to walk, and have faith in where it might take me.

Until soon.

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