June 8, 2011

Dispatch From Haiti: “How Not to Despair.”

Photo: Jonny Kloberdanz

In the week before my trip to Haiti, I started to realize that any of my personal “problems” are pretty friggin’ trite compared to what I was about to walk into.

Really, how could I really be ruffled that a client is late in paying me, or that the guy I’m crushing on seems to have watched “He’s Just Not That Into You” too many times, or that my meditation practice hasn’t been so “rainbows-and-sparkles-and-butterflies” lately, when there are literally millions of hungry bellies in Haiti, many of whom are living in tents; and up to 1,000,000 children with no parents. And you’re bummed about a damn hangnail? Bitch, puh-leaze.

Photo: Lopa Brunjes

Being in Haiti is a bit like being in some kind of backwards nightmare-dream where everywhere you turn, there is some unsolvable problem, and everyone you meet has a ready smile in spite of it. This is the poorest country I’ve ever been to. I repeat: this is the poorest country I’ve ever been to. Now, I’ve only been to 15 countries. But Haiti has consistently topped the “Poorest Country in the Western Hemisphere” list, and that was before the earthquake of January 2010, which left 230,000 dead, 310,000 injured, and 1.5 million homeless.

Honestly, it’s a bit hard to not look around and think, “These people are totally f$%@ed.” The following Cherokee teaching story has been on my mind a lot and it has really helped my outlook:

A Cherokee Elder was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight between two wolves.
“One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride and superiority. The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
“This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”
They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old man simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Many of you know me as a bleeding heart biocharette. I’m also a bleeding heart environmentalist, and bleeding heart activist, and bleeding heart yogini, and bleeding heart humanitarian. OK, OK, my heart just freakin’ bleeds. What else is it supposed to do? Not bleed? It’s a heart.

Photo: Lopa Brunjes

So I’m down here in Haiti, working at an orphanage called Melissa’s Hope, with a few crazy friends and one stalwart videographer. We came down here with a pretty simple mission—to serve and to share what we have to offer. There are so many opportunities to serve down here, that one could easily tumble down a rabbit hole of idealistic hopes to revitalize a depressed country—and then tumble back up that rabbit hole backwards as you realize just how many barriers there are between Haiti and prosperity. Barriers including nearly all goods being imported (and expensive!), gas at $7.50 US a gallon, trash everywhere, poor air quality, debilitating traffic, eroding soils, disappearing forests, very little industry and fewer jobs.

Photo: Lopa Brunjes

It’s pretty interesting to hear Haitians talk about Haitians. Many of them have a bit of self-deprecating self-reflection. Our Haitian liaison, good friend, and director of the orphanage, Jean Pascal Bain, says to them, “You realize you are talking about yourself? ‘Haitians this, Haitians that….You are a Haitian!” He is one of the lights at the end of this dark tunnel.

Another light in this tunnel is Sweet Micky. This April, Haiti elected a new president—Michel Martelly, who is fondly known as Sweet Micky by Haitians. (he is also known as Tét Kale, or “bald head”, for his signature reflective dome). Sweet Micky has been one of Haiti’s most beloved compa (a style of Haitian dance music sung in predominantly Haitian Creole language) musicians for 22 years, before announcing his run for the Haitian presidency last year.

Photo: Jonny Kloberdanz

Micky represents to many people the possibility for Haiti to turn its bleak situation around and start to be the change it wants to see in the world. His signature colors are pink and white, and many Haitians wear those colors with pride, in solidarity with Tét Kale. There is a soft sparkle of hope in their eyes whenever Sweet Micky is mentioned.

At the top of Sweet Micky’s agenda is free school for all Haitian children. And in my next post, I’ll tell you all about how Melissa’s Hope is at the forefront of the movement to bring free education to Haiti. Stay tuned!


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