Travel, Earth Quake Shock and HAITI
I love, love, love traveling, wandering, exploring, finding my way, getting lost, learning to navigate a new train station, bus stop or airport. I find it thrilling to get off a plane and look around; take in the sights and sounds of a new country. It’s all one big adventure, with calculated risks and a significant amount of anticipating my next mistake, misstep or full-fledged embarrassment. I have learned to navigate in odd situations, student uprising upon arrival in Kenya; men with machine guns in the airport may or may not be every day security? Traveling with my sister in Paris or Istanbul where we created code words when there was danger, our security word was torpedo (as in the big large torpedo that we rode behind the speed boat and jumped up and down on) and we used it on the subway/marketplaces with success keeping our money and cameras ….
I love it. I might not want to climb Everest, but in Tibet we wanted to get close enough to feel it.
Arriving in Haiti this time it was different. I knew enough to be scared, hopefully good scared. For the first time in my life I wrote out a will before I left (at 4am). This wasn’t Istanbul or Kenya, this was a country ravaged by repaying foreign countries for the freedom after a slave revolt, and continual coup’s to further US interests and now a massive earthquake. And I knew I wasn’t on my own, I couldn’t just find a way to scream torpedo to my sister and slip out of it. I was worried to be with 11 women I didn’t know. I was worried about their fear and how that might put us in jeopardy. And in fairness to these new friends, we should have been on guard we hadn’t created code words. I met three lawyers in the Miami airport on our way down. I knew they were part of the group I was looking for when they walked into the gate. All three were somewhat blonde, they looked like human rights lawyers, had patterned bags, walked tall. They knew to find me as well, I am sure I was as recognizable with my Sherpani bag, REI sandals and IPOD. It was one of those flights when every time the jet dropped 10 feet and your stomach sank you wondered if you were going to make it to Haiti.
Once we arrived, got on the bus that you might see in a Swiss airport, got to the newly converted hanger that was nicer than other Caribbean countries we began to relax. All four of us helped each other with bags, sharing watch and support. We navigated men trying to help us with bags, found the driver IJDH had sent and climbed on top of each other in the car I finally relaxed. I remembered how I knew how to do all this. Hold everything on my body, walk quickly, keep moving and use my long legs and body to be a presence.
The Earth Quake Shock hit as soon as we left the airport. There were tented (internally displaced people camps) camps EVERYWHERE: across from the airport; along every major road; in every park; in every museum courtyard; across from the presidential palace; on soccer fields; on golf courses; in the street on the block we lived. We thought we were living in a palace because we had a secured driveway, behind a locked door with 24 hour armed security. Granted the security slept through our revelry and shenanigans, but there was a Haitian guy who was there to help if we needed it. I still think it was a palace, my sister didn’t really think so…
We all tried to take in the Culture to get over the Earth Quake Shock. You want to appreciate all that is Haiti. Right? There was commerce on every major sidewalk selling fruit, our daily Haitian peanut butter bread, sweat rags, drinks and flip flops. I was rather surprised this second economy seemed to be in full swing; we even found a grocery store that was air conditioned. We also continually noticed the well dressed school children in clean clothes, ribbons and braids in the girls’ hair. We could have been in Paris they were so well dressed. The Haitian women could have been in Paris too. In our first meeting with the Haitian women’s organizations I realized they had out dressed us; many had on earrings, necklaces, hair DONE, real shoes (not our house looking shoes). They also stood proudly, strong, and confident, this wasn’t an act, and this was how they dug deep and got through the day. They had it, the IT factor, and the belief in themselves that was from deep in their core. This appreciation guided everything I did all week. It was at the core of when I spoke about action steps, at the core of how I thought about strategy, at the core of thinking about race and class and culture. It guided me through the week.
In a very strong way, this appreciation and honoring the IT factor these Haitian women possessed is why I wanted to help and why I ask everyone to keep caring about Haiti. If you were born in the US, you won the lottery; you were born in a country that provided free education and an opportunity. Every day I thought about who I would be and what my life would have been like if had been born in Haiti. Would I have access to water every day? Would I take a bucket shower when I got to work as a driver at the law office? Would I have access to a flush toilet? Would I be able to travel the world for fun and a sense of adventure and learning? Would I be selling peanut butter bread on the street corner in Haiti?
We hardly made it through some days and we had access to water, a few meals a day and reserves of cliff bars or nuts in all of our bags and safe shelter at night. I am shaking my head and tearing up, I still shaking my head in amazement. I wasn’t raped at gunpoint in front of my children and I am crying. Tragedy has continually struck these families and they are finding ways to make their lives better and advocate for each other. AMAZING.
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