12 October 2012

Back to work, back to Haiti

[Published on 11 January 2012]

Happy New Year! It has been about a week since I returned to Haiti from my holiday vacation in New York City. It seems as if my life, for the time being, has returned to normal; during the week from 8AM to 12PM, I work at the PTA (programme therapeutique ambulatoire), return to the house soon after for lunch, complete work at my desk, and come up with ideas for CNP's strategic plans during meetings held late in the afternoon. During the weekends, activities vary. However, we have been instructed by the executive director to relax during that time. This past weekend, Katie, Jill, Alex, some Haitian staff members, and I went to one of our favorite low-key beaches in Grand Goâve. I have never been to a beach in January and for some reason the thought of doing this excited me. I just wanted to read on my beach towel and get some sand in between my toes. I returned to my favorite food stand and ordered fried plantains and two plates of  conch meat in spicy lime sauce. After that, Katie and I went snorkeling to explore the shallow reefs nearby. It felt so good to be back!

vacay the new york way:
I remember telling several family members and friends that I could not wait to see snow and make a snow angel when I returned. I do not know what I was thinking... After four flight delays, I finally reached JFK airport at 1AM. When I walked outside I was slapped in the face by 29-degree weather. "Wow", was really the only thing I could say. I knew it was going to be cold, however. The flight attendant had repeated the temperature several times and told us to brace ourselves for the cold New York weather. But, it was only when I felt the cold that the point was driven home. I wanted to return to the warmth of Haiti immediately. Fortunately, the cold of New York was not extreme and only warranted some fashionable riding boots, a good pair of denim jeans, and a warm fall coat.
I did not create a schedule detailing my plans over the next two weeks, but I planned to spend a lot of time with my family and some close friends. I visited Teachers College at Columbia several times during my first week to see my mentor, Ms. Lane, and my good friend Melcy. I used to work in her office a few years ago, so it was a joy to see and reconnect with my former coworkers. Throughout the first week and the next, I went out with and visited some friends from junior high school, my college prep program, high school, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and Cornell. I planned some of the meetings and was incredibly happy that people had set aside the time to see me and that I was reunited with some friends I had not seen in a while.

My sister and I went to the MoMA early Saturday morning during the first weekend. Starting from the top down, we first explored the new Willem de Kooning exhibit located on the 6th floor. It was truly incredible. I had not been to the MoMA in at least four years and when I was younger, I just wanted to see as much of it as I could. I am not sure if I took the time to appreciate the art in front of me. This time, it was different. I read every word written about de Kooning posted on the walls and listened to all of the audio files created to describe his most famous paintings. I felt as if I were taking an art course on de Kooning and abstract expressionism as I learned about his beginnings as an apprentice in the Netherlands, his move to New York City, his artist wife Elaine, and the meaning behind every brush stroke, color, position and object used in his work. This is when I think it hit me. It being the greatness of a city like New York. In my short adult life, I have not had the chance to explore the city as much as other people my age have. All of a sudden, while reading about a Dutch artist, I was overcome by such a positive emotion about where I was.  Maybe I was just super excited about the exhibit and perhaps this could have happened in another museum in another city. However, my other outings while I was home-made me feel the same way. A professor in my college prep program once told me, you need to leave New York City. Go somewhere else, but come back because you will learn to appreciate it more. Maybe this is what hit me.

I was about three-quarters of the way done with the exhibit when my sister suggested that we move to the other floors if we wanted to see the entire museum. We did not separate because I could not use my phone (I suspended my account for the year). We had been on the same floor for at least two hours. This was her first time at the MoMA, and similar to my first visit, she wanted to catch a glimpse of everything. I was sad to leave the exhibit, but it had done its job - I had been inspired to do some research on de Kooning and the work completed in the latter part of his life. For the next couple of hours, we worked our way to the second floor as we explored the works of several European and North American artists. We left the museum about 45 minutes before closing.

a new friend:
A friend of mine, Anu, sent me the link to a blog belonging to a woman from Haiti who lived and worked in New York.  I read a post from Paola's blog and found out that she was from Pétion-Ville and had been in the city for about three years. I was so happy to read this because I felt as if we had swapped lives. Moreover, she was experiencing New York in a way that I could not at the moment because of my work in Haiti. I wanted to learn more about her and sent her a message stating that I was from New York and mentioning briefly my job in Haiti. We wrote back and forth several times and decided to meet up once I was home during the holiday season. We bonded very well with each other over bread, cheese, olives, berries, and wine. Very romantic indeed. I told her more about my work in Haiti which led to a discussion about the many struggles Haiti has experienced and continues to experience. I learned that she started working at a high-end restaurant in the city, modeled for a short period of time, and currently works at Distrikt Hotel in midtown. It was a great pleasure to hear about her many successes and to take part in this unique experience. Our first encounter definitely felt as if I was catching up with an old friend. I definitely plan to keep in touch with her. You can read all about her and her adventurous life in New York at www.findingpaola.com.

home sweet home:
The first song I heard on the radio was Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You". It put me in such a good mood and made me think that coming home during the holiday season was the best time of the year for a vacation. Many people are in a festive mood, all of my family members are home and we can end the year and start a new one together. It was great to return home for a little while. My mother thought I had lost some weight and looked a tad bit too skinny (which is probably true since I no longer train as if I am a college athlete). After one of her home cooked meals, she told me that I was back to my normal self. I just laughed and said "Okay..." She was very happy to see me (although she will not say this, but show it via her tender loving care). Mummy wanted to know how things were in Haiti and I told her - people were incredibly poor and dying unnecessarily, car accidents were rampant (just before I left an accident involving a bus and a truck had claimed about 28 lives), and that under new President Martelly, changes for the better were slowly taking place. The elite of Haiti have a tight grip on their wealth, but the Republic of NGOs (as Haiti is known) was getting a lot of much-needed assistance from the international community. I took my time at home with my mother to learn more about her life growing up in Haiti now that I had a better sense of what the country was like. Similar to Paola, she had grown up in Pétion-Ville. Her favorite class in primary school was about the history of Haiti. After secondary school, she attended a home economics institution in Port-au-Prince where she learned to sew with embroideries, cook and bake. Her father left Haiti during her early 20's and once he settled in the United States, he brought almost his entire family with him, my mother included (in 1987). Although she visits Haiti to see family, she has not been back to live there ever since. She admits to me that she is scared of Haiti; people are constantly getting kidnapped for ransom and murder is rampant in the overcrowded capital. This is why she did not want me to go to Haiti in the first place. However, she was glad to hear that I was learning about and experiencing different parts of the country and that I was not in harm's way.

back to haiti:
It is quite surreal how the western hemisphere's wealthiest and poorest nation are separated by less than two hours on a plane ride. As I go back and forth between the two nations, I have not had time yet to understand the historical events that allowed this to happen, as well as the meaning and significance of my current experiences. It is about a four-hour flight between New York and Haiti, but the transitions are quick (hot to cold, unpaved to paved roads, low standards of living to higher standards of living, etc). Sometimes it can be difficult for me to focus and grasp what is going on internally when I think about my life in the states and my life in Haiti.  But, I know that I have a greater appreciation for my life in New York. I will not take for granted the clean and paved roads or being able to sit and ride on a bus without thinking that at any moment I can be killed in a crash because of poor infrastructure. I also realized that I serve a greater purpose in Haiti and am needed more by people there. By the end of my stay, I had seen who I was able to see, I had spent quality time with my family, I had also run out of money to travel anywhere else in the city, and thus I was ready to return to Haiti. It is definitely great to be back.

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