Sunday, September 16, 2012

Day XX - Restart: London

London. I’m here. Two years ago nearly to the day I had a feeling I would find my way to this city eventually, and it’s happened. I’m sitting in my friend Briony’s room in her flat north of city center, listening to Dug G, a Haitian rapper, and waiting. Waiting for a phone call from a friend, yes, but also waiting to see what’s going to come. This is the first time since leaving New York for Haiti on July 1st, 2010 that I know I won’t be needing to pack up again and shove off once more. London is home, at least for the next year, but perhaps longer. This year is only transitional if I choose it to be. My roots could eventually be English. Knowing that, knowing that this is where I stabilize, leaves me waiting for the post-Haiti fallout that hasn’t happened yet. Yes, I left Haiti at the end of July, nearly two months ago now, but in that time I’ve bounced from New York to Madrid to SE Asia and back to Madrid before landing at Gatwick last Tuesday, which is simply to say I’ve had no real chance to just be still and see what happens.

Not that I’m all that still here. I’ve got a lot of things to do before my course at King’s kicks off on the 24th, my 31st birthday as it happens. If it plays out as I hope, I’ll be getting a flat with two friends from Haiti, one of whom was there for just about as long as I was. That will be great. We’re pretty tight, and she’ll be someone I know will understand when the conversations inevitably drift back to the Caribbean, and the last two years. We’re very different in many ways – she inspires me and makes me realize that I’ve a long way yet to go – but we have Haiti in common, and have a tendency toward making one another crack up. It’ll be good.

People have been asking me to write something akin to a follow-up to the unexpectedly popular entry that I posted back in April of this year. I’ve thought about how I’d like to do that, and the simple truth is I haven’t followed that entry up because I don’t know quite what else to say. This isn’t that follow-up entry.  What resonated with people about the original entry isn’t my highlighting of Haiti’s problems, or my description of my work there, but rather my coming clean about my experience. I’m no expert on Haiti, and while I know quite a bit about a very specific technology that I worked with there (biosand filters), and about a community (Leogane), and I can speak to what it is like to live there, I’m not an aid expert by any means. Haiti was my jumping into the deep end – my attempt at challenging myself to see if the humanitarian world is something I can both do and been fulfilled by in doing. It was my Step 1. I’m just getting started. I’ve made the decision to remain committed to the field, hence my pursuing a degree in conflict, security & development for the next year, but I’d be very hesitant to ever try and write as if I know something fundamentally true or real about Haiti that many others before me know better and can probably explain in much better detail. I don’t want to provide a weak second voice if there are so many powerful primary voices already in the discussion. Two years, even though it is longer than most internationals spend in the country, is still just scratching the surface when compared to truly committed humanitarians that have decided to make Haiti part of, or the entirety of, their life’s work. Their answers are the ones that should be listened to.

So no, don’t ask me to give answers. I don’t have that many, and the ones I do have will just be simplified versions of what much more capable people have already said. I won’t give you answers. But I will try and give you a continued glimpse into what my experiences in Haiti have done in me: how they’ve changed me, how they linger in me now that I’m not in Haiti any longer, and how they might manifest themselves in my life going forward. I’ve no doubt that the academic challenge coming my way in just over a week, in which I’ll be taking a much more rigorous intellectual look at elements of development, and at conflict, an area I’m particularly interested in (even though it was not work I was involved with in Haiti), will bring out questions. I’ve also people here in London that I shared the Haiti experience with. And, my ties to Haiti are not severed completely. I am still working to make sure Jenny gets through high school, and I do stay in touch with my friends there. Which is simply to say there are things in my life that will keep me connected.

I can feel it right now, as I sit in this chair staring at my laptop - that unknown something, the cumulative effect of that beautiful, devastating, and even absurd experience. It is so big. The energy in me is palpable. And yet, the result, at least for now, is silence. It’s thinking. It’s stillness. It’s sleeping. A lot of sleeping. It’s internal conversations that go in circles and don’t quite come away with anything. Not yet. It’s big, and it’s led to my choice to commit myself in ways I’ve not done ever in my life prior. And yet, it’s just beginning. It’s over, but it’s just started. That’s what I have to offer right now. It’s not much, yet, but it’s growing.

London. You’ve been a long time coming.