Monday, March 22, 2010

Preliminary Thoughts about Haiti

I wrote this post before I went to Haiti after the devastating earthquake there in 2010. I was very burned out and very tired and struggling with the death of my father and hating my job. I was reprimanded for it at work but I no longer work there so I'm publishing it again (for whatever that is worth).

Haiti is a tough country and the earthquake has taken an already poor country that was devastated and made it even worse. What I see in Haiti is the worst poverty I've encountered - it was true when I worked at JSI and hadn't seen much of the world and its true now that I've been to some of the worst places in the world. I went with the nurse outreach workers on Thursday to a little shack in the median of the national highway where an old woman who was naked with a broken hip from the earthquake who has lost her reasoning takes care of a little severely malnourished girl. We bought them out for the Therapeutic Feeding Centre. It was one of the worst places to live I've ever seen. The passing giant 18 wheeler trucks were constantly honking as they went by, the rush of their wind caused the bed sheets that served as her wall to fly in and dust covered their meager belongings. The heat and the noise was unbearable. The floor was muddy and the old grandmother sat on a piece of cardboard and the 2 year old girl just sat their listlessly as we tried to examine her. I've been to India, Congo, Zimbabwe, Darfur, Somali border of Ethiopia, Guatemala, Liberia, and other hotspots and I don't think I've ever seen as much misery as I see here.

Of course, life goes on for those with money as well. The markets are booming and people are selling things. In the guest house that I was in by the Caribbean in Carrefours, men paid prostitutes to have sex with them in the ocean in front of our patio and music, beer, and good times flowed on their side of the wall and if you hadn't seen the collapsed building in front of the entrance to our compound, you
wouldn't know that anything was different from 2000 when I first came here.

I had a rough night last night. I'm in one of the expat houses and in this job, I am of course, the constant new person in the room. It's exhausting always being newly introduced to people and trying to be social and not a burden on the teams. I think Haiti must be affecting me more than I realized and a couple of beers unleashed some real sadness. But it was also partially due to the expat team here- I know that we have to be able to laugh at everything and the humanitarian aid workers of the world have a dark side but some of them take this world weary attitude too far. There was one woman in particular who had a cynical opinion about everything. But there are other colleagues who are proud of our work and fight to make us different from the others and to really stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti. Like anywhere else, with large groups of people, you get a mix.

I was talking with someone about a friend who killed himself a few weeks ago over a cultural issue in his country. I was trying to point out how fucked up the situation was with the arranged marriage and everyone jumped in with their opinions and attitudes and cynical beliefs - none of them knowing what a great person he was and I just couldn't take it - especially since I also lost a close friend of the family to suicide just a few months after my father died. Sometimes, our hardened "been there seen that" attitude really pisses me off. Why are we humanitarians if not to feel like humans?

Everyone here believes that someone has the right to die -which I believe too- but my point was that I wondered if he knew how loved he was and how it would impact people who barely knew him, if he would find life worth living. we believe that the little baby and the grandmother living in the median of the highway have the right to live -even though where they live degrades their human dignity, yet we accept without blinking when a talented and loving and warm colleague kills himself. Was it not mental health issues? Or a cruel and hopeless culture and society? Why were they not as outraged as I was? Or is it just a defensive measure taken to insulate themselves from the horrors around us?

I know I'm the "delicate flower" here (as my father used to tease me) and I sometimes think this was a bad choice for a career as I seem to be unable to block out the sadness and misery sometimes.

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