Saturday, January 29, 2011

Day 0 - Oxford! I've Missed You!

Nice. Sitting here on the sofa at Simon's house, one of my closest friends from Haiti. His lovely girlfriend Jodie (also in Haiti, and also bad ass) met me at the bus station yesterday after I took the Oxford Tube in from Marble Arch in London. So great to see them both. I didn't realize I was as lonely as I was. I do have people I know in London, but for whatever reason I opted to basically just do my own thing. I saw M twice. The first time was wonderful, as I wrote about earlier, but (and I suppose I should have expected this) it reminded me of why I love that girl so much to begin with, so when we saw each other again, only briefly, it was harder. I can't fake it with her, and she can see through it even if I try, so yea, coming back to an empty apartment was hard. Thank god for great friends. I spent the remainder of that day and night (and very early morning) talking to Max, Dan, Leslie, Cassie, and my brother via Skype. People I can turn to when things get rough. Still, at the end of the day, amazing friends or not, it hurt. London felt very heavy.

But then you make moves, and things shift around a bit. I saw my friend Miriam, whose apartment I was staying in, and that was great. Got to catch up with her about life and Yelp, my old company that she still works for. It was a lot of fun. Then I packed up all my stuff and headed out en route to Oxford. At the Marble Arch station this funny old man took an interest in me when he heard my accent - "Where is that accent from?". "American." "American!?" He was genuinely excited. So he stepped away from his walker, took a seat next to me on the bench and started to talk to me about his 'connections'. Apparently he had contacts in Mobile, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia, and other places in the South. He had been to New York, so we shared that in common. He'd been to Las Vegas. Every time he mentioned a place he'd been in the US he asked me if I'd been there. For many of the places in the South, I hadn't. It is an area of the United States I really haven't covered much ground in. Every time I conceded to him that I hadn't been to a locale he'd been to, he got really excited. "You haven't! Hahaha! I have, I have my connections! I have my connections, maaate". That's how he said mate, a long drawling mess of a word that he used after almost every sentence. So yes, he had me beaten in the Southern department but as soon as he mentioned Las Vegas, I was in my element. The West is mine. "Have you been to Las Vegas?" "Many times." "Oh really maaate?" Now it was my turn - "Have you ever been to California? "No, maaate." "How about Oregon?" "No, maaate." "Washington? New Mexico? Idaho? Wyoming? Montana? Arizona?" I was clearly playfully teasing him. "No maaate. No maaate. No maaate." We laughed. He brought it back to the South. Asked some funny questions: "There was a war there right maaate? A big one right maaate?". "Yea, the Civil War." "That's it maaate! The Civil War! Who won that maaate?". "The North." "The North. Right. Right maaate." Such a character. I couldn't help but laugh. Eventually he opted to move along. I asked him his name. "Mobile, Alabama maaate." Perfect.

After a relaxing bus ride into Oxford I connected with Jodie, which was great. Such a big hug. We headed to the house she shares with Simon, in the Oxford suburb of Barton, and dropped off my bags then did a quick pitstop at a kebab shop (yes!) and a supermarket to grab some beers. I'd forgotten how rich kebabs can be. My stomach wasn't quite sure what to do. I've really not eaten a whole lot of heavy foods since Haiti. My body can't handle it the way it used to. To top it off, Jodie, being awesome, made bangers and mash, which I also devoured but definitely paid the price for it - an upset stomach for most of the evening. We settled in on a makshift bed of sorts we built in the middle of the floor out of sofa cushions, both of us exhausted - her from work, me from lack of sleep - and put on an Aziz Ansari stand-up skit I like. We laughed. A lot. It was perfect. Before too long we were both out.

(Unfinished post.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 0: A Breakdown On Baby Doc's Return

Here's a great breakdown of why Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, a one-time dictator that has been exiled from Haiti for the last twenty-five years, may have returned:

On The Goat Path - Dissecting Duvalier's Return

On The Goat Path is a great blog that anyone interested in Haiti should follow.

On an unrelated note, people have asked me what's with the "Day 0" in my titles. Pretty simple really - when I'm out doing a project I feel is worth writing about and is about more than just me and my life, "Day 0" goes away and the time I spend doing that project is tracked, starting with "Day 1". Haiti, for example, ended on "Day 201" because that's the day I left. Think of "Day 0" as my holding pattern - keeping you guys up to date on what I'm doing while acknowledging that it really doesn't have much to do with anything greater than my own life. At least that's how I think of it, maybe it's all ridiculous and unneeded, but hey, this is my blog. In the immortal words of Cartman - "I do what I want!".

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day 0: London

And just like that, life reaffirms.

In London. Got here earlier today, after a pitstop in the Reykjavik airport. Stupid jetlagged and happy. Saw she who I most wanted to see, sick to my stomach with the buildup, and there was no need for it - it was wonderful. Clarity comes in funny ways. This one was simple - if we're apart, we don't work. If we're together, we work. Beautifully. Nothing on paper changes in regards to what is happening in our lives. The timing is still off. We still have to say goodbye in three weeks. And that's OK. I know now that, despite time and distance and lives unfolding independently, when we overlap, we're good. Better than good. It's something unique. We had it in Haiti. We still have it here.

That means more to me than I can express. I sleep tonight with a smile on my face. Tomorrow, it's time to enjoy the hell out of this city, and this country.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Day 0 - Transitions

This last week has been a very strange one. I'm once again sitting on my friend Helen's couch, having just come back from crashing with another friend of mine after a night of karaoke in the East Village. The XX's song "Intro" and its bootleg remix is on loop. Good stuff. Feels appropriate right now.

I saw a lot of friends I hadn't seen in a while last night. "So tell me about Haiti." "How was Haiti?" "If you had to sum up Haiti in a word, what would it be?" "You survived! Welcome home! Gotta feel good to be back."

Home. Nope. Not here anyway. Not anymore. And I can't possibly sum up Haiti in a word. I can't sum it up in a sentence. I can't in a paragraph. I could write a ten thousand word blog entry and I still wouldn't get it. You just can't. It is part of me. I don't even understand it. I can just feel it. My friend and old coworker Deena perhaps nailed it more than anyone else. "You're not the same person you were before." No, I'm not. I mean, I feel like me, I can still go through the same motions as me, but there's something deeper in there, something rooted. That is new. It's as if I've found my center. I have a place to plant my feet in myself. I don't have to play the old game of "Be what you think they want you to be." anymore. I'll just be. Me.

And in good time too. This seems to be the period for me to deal with all of those parts of my life that are needing something akin to closure. I'm saying goodbye to the life I led before this - I'm not going back to it. New York City is not my home any more. I don't have a home any more, and I'm OK with that. I want my home to be in the projects I commit myself to, and the people I try to help. I don't know if that will work, but home seems much more there than here.

I also have to force myself to fall out of love with the girl I am still in love with. It's painful, but needed. Out of respect for her and our privacy I won't go into details, other than to say the timing wasn't right. Things could be different had I chosen to relocate to London, but I didn't, and I won't. I need to continue to try and become a man I respect that is doing something he deems to be worthwhile in the world. Loving her and treating her well makes me happier than anything, but I can't do that and chase my better self at the same time. London isn't where I'm going to find me. I know that. So does she. I don't know exactly where I'm going to find me, but it will be out in the broken places. Haiti showed me that. So, out of respect for her, and myself, I have to let my love for her go. It's too intense. It is disruptive in my life now, and I'd imagine probably in hers as well. I leave for London tomorrow on the flight she booked for me four months ago with hope of closure. I'll see her. And when I do, I hope I can be a man I respect, and a man who earns her respect. Being in love with her has been a defining aspect of my identity since I met her five months ago, even despite not having seen her since September 25th. It isn't going to be easy to let that go, but I know when I do I'll create space. I wanted a blank slate in doing this work. I wanted a chance to reinvent myself in an image I respected. Letting her go will help me get closer to that place, because I know she needs me to, and because I need me to, and because I want to do right by the both of us. I can never erase her impact on me, and I never want to. She reminded me that I am a man who is happiest when he is in love with someone and making them happy. She showed me that I'm ready to abandon the idea of going it alone, should I find that rare someone who wants to walk a similar path, and wants to walk it with me. In some way, she helped me become more of the man I want to be. I'll forever be thankful for that, and for her. Mesi belle, por todo que tu me has dado. Te quiero. Anpil.

I bought a new camera. It takes pretty pictures.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Day 0 - I'm Not In Haiti Anymore

No, I most certainly am not. This video is from my first day back.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day 0 - The Reset

Wow. And just like that, everything changes.

I write this in the dark and early hours of a New York winter morning, lying on my friend Helen's couch. She's sleeping. I can't. I feel strange right now. I can't tell you exactly how. It manifests itself in funny ways - finding myself surrounded by close friends who are so hospitable and happy to see me, and yet feeling lonelier than I have in a long time. Needing to take care of a million different things, but wanting to simply sit, alone with my music and my thoughts, letting the minutes tick past. Being back in a city I love, and yet wanting to escape it as quickly as I can. I suppose I am doing that - I'm off to London in five days. But that too will have its own set of challenges, and that too will end.

I do have my plan though, and two wonderful friends committed to making it happen with me. That keeps me moving forward, and we will find ourselves back in the raw places of the world again.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 201: Orevwa Ayiti

Headed to the airport in an hour. Enjoying my final minutes here before I go over, sit on the stoop Mathilde and I sat on when she left, smoke a cigarette, and leave.

Mesi Ayiti pou tout bagay. Mwen renmen ou. Mwen pa bliye ou.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Day 198: Goodbye All Hands Leogane

Today is my final full day at All Hands Leogane. Tomorrow, early in the morning, I get on a shuttle with Max and Dan and leave. It's surreal. I was planning on leaving yesterday, but Dan was committed to finishing a foundation build for one of the schools which didn't happen yesterday, so we postponed a day so he could. He finished this morning. Tomorrow is the day.

This is my home. I've been here, uninterrupted, for over half a year now. The people here feel like my family. The local volunteers and many of the Haitians in the nearby community are good friends of mine. My broken Kreyol is getting there, slowly. My tent, falling apart though it is, is my little refuge. It isn't much, but it is what I want it to be. Tomorrow, I break it down and throw it away. I give away any half-decent clothes I have left. I leave my books at the All Hands library in the office. I drink one more cup of Miso's morning coffee. Then, I toss my pack on my shoulders, give my hugs goodbye, and walk out the gate.

I don't know what to expect on the flipside. I know what the plans are - New York City for a week, then London (going after all, which makes me very happy) then back to NYC and off to North Carolina for a week or so, then Los Angeles to see family. I have a project in my head that I'm committed to making a reality, working in tandem w/ Max and Dan. I truly hope the three of us remain tight and focused on making it happen. As it stands right now, the three of us want to start a small biosand filter project somewhere in Latin America - we're thinking Chiapas, the southernmost, and poorest, state in Mexico. None of us have tried anything like this before, but I real feel that, if we stay on course and are willing to put in the work, we can do it. That keeps me smiling. It keeps me focused. It gives me direction. But still, it can't change the fact that Chiapas is not Haiti, and the people I will inevitably meet there are not the people I leave behind here.

This place, this experience, changed me. I don't see how it couldn't. Anyone willing to surround themselves in a place like this, doing this kind of work, meeting these incredible people, for any substantial length of time, will walk away different than they were before. I know I am. I can feel it. I'm still me, obviously, but something has shifted. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, but I can feel it. As I wrote in an earlier entry, this country brought me to life while it broke my heart. That's a beautiful thing. It rehumanizes you. You'd have to be one cold, callous bastard to be able to be here and not feel it. Of course, if you were such a person, you wouldn't be here to begin with.

This, along with taking part in the long process of my mother dying, has been the most intense and wonderful experience of my life. I hope I can live up to what it has opened in me.

Thank you All Hands for allowing me to be here. Thank you Haiti for giving me more than I could ever give you in return.  I will miss you dearly.

Mwen pa bliye ou.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day 196: One Year

One year ago today, at 4:53 PM, the earthquake struck Haiti. Today, in memory of that, All Hands canceled all work projects. Instead, we took part in the memorial procession, at the request of the mayor and the director general. The procession started at the mayor's office in central Leogane, and made its way through the city to the outskirts where the graveyard is. Right outside the graveyard there is a empty plot of land that you wouldn't think twice when looking at it unless you knew it was a mass grave for about 2,500 people that died this day last year. The mayor asked All Hands if we could put together some sort of memorial at the site in time for the year anniversary, and we did. That site is now surrounded by a white picket fence of sorts, that twists and bends (I imagine to bring a visual reminder of the earthquake) and we put in a rock garden and planted plants. In the middle there is the metal cross in a concrete block that was there before. People in the procession that were carrying wreaths of flowers left them on the cross. Mirlande Manigat, who is the current front-runner in the Haitian presidential election, joined the procession about half-way through it, just jumped in right in front of me and a bunch of other All Hands volunteers. At first there was a bit of nervousness, as Haitian politics have a rather volatile element to them and we weren't sure what her presence would do, but other than an initial murmur through the crowd - "Manigat is here!" - everything went back to the way it was few minutes prior to her making her presence known. The day was bigger than the person.

After the procession ended, we made our way to a stage that had been set up for some speakers to talk about the year anniversary from. At 4:53, a moment of silence was observed, if there ever truly can be such a thing in a city in Haiti. The hum of generators and growls of mototaxi engines are everywhere. But it was pretty silent actually. I felt the impact of the moment, but what caught me hardest was when a friend of mine - a local volunteer who's name I don't want to share simply because I don't know if he'd want me to - crouched down, clearly upset, and scratched, "Sandra mwen pa bliye ou." into the concrete. "Sandra I won't forget you." It makes what happened very real when you see it hurting someone you care about.

Thank you to Alistair Sathananthan Bremnath for these photos.

We have a meeting in just a few minutes so I need to cut this short. We're gathering so that the local volunteers can show us a slideshow they put together about the earthquake, and so they can share their personal stories with us about that day.

Write soon.

Pou tout zanmi mwen nan Ayiti jodia:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Day 192: A Day In The Life Of Biosand Filter Installs

Epic hair and idiotic "Biosand filters are so cool even Americans want them!" comment provided at no extra cost!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day 190: I Love This

The biosand filter project is my baby. I've been running it for six months now. I'm going to miss it, especially because I really feel the ramp-up. Having April on-board full-time with me, given I'm training her to replace me, has made it much, much easier to get things done. Two is definitely better than one in that respect. And Henri, the project coordinator here at All Hands overseeing the project, has been really up and excited about it as well. Sad to leave now that it feels like it's truly hitting its stride, but so, so, so thankful I've had the chance to learn how to run a project (even in those moments I doubted my ability to do it well) and now, to see the impact it is having. I love it. It makes me smile, and makes me proud. This works means something. I've been looking for that for a long time.

Thank you All Hands for giving me the chance Thank you Haiti for giving me the place, and the people.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Day 187: 2010

2010. Maybe the biggest year of my life. It's the past now, but just barely, and the impact it has made on me lingers. I imagine it will be a while before I figure out just how much. This post can only scratch the surface.

In 2010 I had love, walked away from it, found it again, and had to step back again. In 2010 I lived in a country that brought me to life while it broke my heart. In 2010 I created friendships that are temporary in nature, but have something to them that will last forever. In 2010 I began to live up to my potential, but didn't quite get there. In 2010 I fully realized the duality of the person that I am, equal parts social and solitary. In 2010 I sought to figure out what my purpose for being here is. I didn't, but the process has begun. It will continue.

Two weeks from today, I leave Haiti. I don't really know what that means. I have my plans. They're completely liquid. I could go any direction. I'm not sure of any of them.

I leave 2010 changed. I can't say how. It's felt. It isn't explained.

I leave 2010 thankful. And for that, I have only a simple "Thank you." to offer in return.

Thank you.