Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 12: Thoughts On Returning

I've not much time to write this morning, but I do feel the tug I sometimes feel when I get up, make my way downstairs, and sit on my computer sipping my coffee, reading the news or browsing emails or simply zoning out. Something wants to be said.

Haiti. This country continues to be one that inspires me and motivates me in the work I want to do. It also, as it did before, has a way of breaking my heart. I'm attached to this place now. A short stroll down the street to Little Venice or Jackson Bar to grab an egg sandwich or a Coke inevitably results in many of the locals calling out to me, "La Loz!", "Qwen!". It happened from Day 1. No reacquainting required. They remembered. La Loz is the name of a short Haitian song and dance I learned last year. I don't remember where I picked it up, I think from Berlyne, one of our translators who has an affinity for dancing. But once I did learn it, it was an immediate source of interest and enthusiasm from the many Haitians in the neighborhood, and indeed just about everywhere I've been in Haiti. It is one of those little cultural things that every Haitian knows, but doesn't expect any blans (foreigners) to know. I do, and because I do it results in immediate acceptance of sorts, and has become my nickname among many of the locals. Anyway, I digress. The point is, when I'm walking down the street, I'm reminded that I'm part of this community now. It makes me happy, but it also hurts. I'm distinctly aware of the options I have that many of these people never will. Having been gone for four months, which found me bouncing around as I pleased - New York, England, North Carolina, Los Angeles, Mexico - and then returning here to find everything exactly the same for the majority of the people that live here, well, it's a stark reminder of the lack of choice people in Haiti have. Most simply look to find something that works - something that allows them food on the table and enough money to stay off the streets - and once they have, they stick with it. If making egg sandwiches all day, every day makes that possible, do it. If selling cold sodas and beer all day, every day makes that possible, do it. Indeed, the old lady who sold cigarettes, popcorn and marinade (fried dough balls in a red onion sauce that I used to get for breakfast a lot) right outside the gate of Joe's Bar (attached to our base) spent all day, every day in her little lean-to stand until the day she died, which was just over a week ago. I didn't get to see her this time around. I wish I had. She and I had a fun rapport with one another. She was always wanting juicy details about my love life. It made her laugh to watch me try and deflect questions in my broken Creole. She had a great laugh. Full of spirit.

Paddy, James and I went to the local Red Cross base near our base yesterday, invited over by a group of pretty Haitian nurses. It was a fun little shindig - music, a Haitian MC, a bunch of different kinds of food. We lingered for a bit, had a smoothie and some local grub, then decided to head back. The path to the Red Cross base goes through a small IDP camp (internally displaced persons). As James and I walked ahead, Paddy stopped and looked around silently. Doubling back I called out to him, "You OK mate?". I stopped to stand next to him, looking around at the dilapidated shacks - tarp-covered tin boxes baking in the heat and dust. "It's been a year and a half." He said it, but it must be something anyone paying attention here has to think about eventually. A year and a half. Yes, it has. A year and a half, and still so many people in this place live interrupted lives. It can be disheartening. We took a bit of time, just looking at the families - women with their small children gathered near, scrubbing away at clothes in front of their once thought temporary but now proving to be more permanent homes. "Blan!" "Hey you!" The kids call out. They always do. There's something wonderful in that. You don't see the same fatigue on the face of the young ones. They're more adaptable. It's the adults that carry the weight.

So yes, coming back is hard, because while I know progress continues, it sometimes seems to crawl, if not all together stop. So much seems as it was before. The variety of my experiences since I left Haiti are humbled by the necessarily repetitive grind of the people who call this place home. It feels indulgent. I can because I want to. They must because they have to. Choice. A key difference. It reminds me time and again that, as ingrained in this community as I sometimes feel, with my nicknames and friendships with the vendors and popularity with the kids, I also know I'll never truly be part of it. I'm here until I decide I want to leave. That alone sets me far apart.

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