Month: September 2012

10 Most Difficult Things to Leave Behind

So, it’s true.  I am leaving my beloved Haiti for the time and moving back to the states.  After 5 years here I am moving on to a new phase in my journey where I will continue to work for Living Media stateside promoting and fund raising for all of the programs in Haiti while also setting up a US headquarters and art gallery.  I will still be traveling back to Haiti frequently and remain very active in what’s going on here, but will focus my energies elsewhere.  (I will also continue to keep this blog up.)  So, that being said, I have made a list of the things that will be the most difficult to leave behind.  Not after the first days or even weeks.  But soon I will realize they’re not available to me anymore an my heart will break a little.  At the same time, I can say they are the things that I am most grateful for.  Thank you Haiti, for the following gifts, and so many more.

1.  Guerda’s Grilled Goat

There are few places in the world where you can get goat to eat, let alone, good goat.  But I am convinced that there is nowhere on this planet where you can get goat as good as Guerda’s grilled goat at Lakou New York in Jacmel.  Every time I eat there I tell my boys that I don’t know how I could ever survive without it.  Now I’m going to have to find out.

2.  The Middle of the Night on My Rooftop

The sounds of the crickets and treefrogs, the cool mountain breeze, the starlit sky unpolluted by artificial light, the feeling that you might be the only person left on the planet, that’s what it’s like in the middle of the night on my rooftop.  If you are up there at just the right time, you can even hear the ocean roar many miles away.  It’s difficult to find that kind of absolute serenity in the States and I’ll miss having it available there for when I need to clear my mind.

3.  Jacmel at nighttime.

This is by far one of my favorite things in the world.  When the hustle and bustle of the city dies down and the vendors return to their homes and the tourists return to their hotels and the aid workers to their compounds, then Jacmel becomes a different kind of Jacmel a somehow purer Jacmel with everyone hanging out under their florescent lightbulbs on porches and in the street.  Music plays, jokes are told, and life is lived.  Whenever I drive through the city at night on a moto it always seems to me like the background to a movie that I really want to watch.  It’s mysterious, energizing, life affirming, and a little sexy.  It’s gonna be different walking down the street in the US.

 4.  The words “Poko” “Anvi” “Degaje” and “Vag”

These are four of my favorite words in Creole that simply do not have the same power if you try to translate them into English.  Technically they mean “Not Yet” “To Anticipate” “Do Your Best” and “To Not Care” but they mean so much more than that and it’s impossible to effectively explain.  And yet they are words that are extremely useful and I’m going to miss having their potential in my lexicon.

5.  Kay Woudy

This is the local club in Mizak.  It’s two large thatch roof shelters with bamboo walls outside of a one room bar with one larger freezer inside full of drinks.  Woudy, the owner, bartender, and deejay, knows how to make people relax, dance, and enjoy life.  It’s right at the bottom of the hill from my house, so even on the nights the I don’t go out, I hear his music pounding through the early morning hours, and I never complain about disturbing the peace in the neighborhood.  It’s one of those places where people can go to forget about their problems, which is a big deal in Haiti where many people’s lives seem to be dominated by the problems that their situations have dealt them.  And as a nonprofit manager, my life is also full of trying to solve people’s problems, so I’ve appreciated the presence of Kay Woudy.

 6.  The Cheers Effect

Where everybody knows your name.  And you’re always glad you came.  That’s life here and it gives a person strength knowing that you belong to such a community.  Although I am looking forward to the option of being anonymous as well, I will miss riding pass someone on a motorcycle miles away from my house and hearing them call my name out, or showing up at the beach and having all of the vendors run to me smiling calling me “Papa”.  I’ll miss being able to have a tab at the local bar without a deadline and knowing that I can walk out in the street and get a free ride from anyone passing by if I need one.

7.  Rainy Days in the Mountains

They’re not the same as rainy days in Iowa, and I assume Georgia, where I’m planning on moving.  Life stops in Haiti when the rain falls.  No one goes to work and no one goes to school.  Just sit while the rain falls.  This means that on rainy days I get to spend time just hanging out with my baz, which is the best.  But the atmosphere in general in them mountains when it rains makes you feel just a little bit like you’re in a different world completely.  Like the rest of the world has washed away or just disappeared into the fog and you are left alone with whoever’s near you, simply to enjoy one another’s company.  It’s one of the best times to really experience what community means in Haiti.

 8.  Radio Fierte 

I never set out to be a radio deejay when I came to this country, but it has been one of the most pleasant surprises of my time here.  A couple times of week I would be able to forget about everything that has to do with nonprofits and the other work that I do here and I would just get to play good music and let all my listeners forget about everything else in their lives and just enjoy good music too.  Some of the most beautiful moments of my time in Haiti were spent in that radio station.

9.  The Blank Canvas

There is so much potential for things to be created here that it makes a creative mind go wild with things to do, dreams to realize.  It’s not the same other places where all the things are already there.  Looking out over the community in Haiti and trying to come up with programs to knit together to make life more beautiful is just like standing in the studio looking at a blank canvas ready to create a painting.  I’m going to miss that wide open space for my creativity to work.

 10.  BAZ!

I’ve made a lot of good friends in my life, but nothing like the friends I’ve made in Haiti.  At this stage in my life I never expected to fall so naturally into forming such a fraternity of brothers that so truly support, depend upon, and love each other so much.  For the last several years I’ve been living with these guys and we’ve had a lot of fun, gone through some tough times too, but they’ve always been there for me and I’ve been blessed to be able to be there for them.  There’s really nothing more I can say about them.  There is nothing that I will miss more than my Haitian brothers.

The Politics of Caring

Somewhere in the world right now, in a country where children have playgrounds to play on, there are some children arguing on such a playground.  One says his dad is stronger.  One says his dad is smarter.  Another says that his dad makes more money.  Still another says that his dad is nicer.  A fifth kid says that his dad is the best looking.  Then one kid shouts, “Hey guys, who the hell cares?  The teeter-totter’s fun!  And I came to the playground to have fun.  Let’s teeter-totter!”

“My dad says I can’t teeter-totter with you because your dad’s just a little wimp.  Playing with you might make me weak.”

“My dad says I can’t teeter-totter with you because your dad doesn’t have a degree.  Playing with you might make me stupid.”

“My dad says I can’t play with you because your family doesn’t live in as nice of house as we do.  Playing with you would be an embarrassment.”

“My dad says I can’t play with you because you don’t go to our church.  He heard a rumor that you might not go to church at all.  Do you know Jesus?  I can’t play with you if you don’t know the same Jesus that I know.”

Teeter-totter boy responds, “I know Jesus.”

“Well I knew him first!  You don’t get to claim friendship with him.”

Number five: “My dad said that your dad used to date my mom.  Luckily my dad’s the best looking man around, so you’re dad never had a chance.  So I can’t teeter-totter with you.  My mom would be confused.”

“C’mon guys, all I need is someone who weighs about the same as me to come sit on the other end of this teeter-totter.  Who cares about our dads?  Who cares if I even have a dad?  Maybe I have a single mother.  Maybe I have two moms.  Maybe I was raised by wolves.  Who cares?  Let’s teeter-totter!”

Somewhere else in the world, in a country where children probably don’t have playgrounds to play on, nonprofit managers are doing the same thing.  Too often I feel like this is the world that I’ve entered into.  A world full of other nonprofit people all arguing about rules and principles and methods and models and whose is better when all I want to do is teeter-totter.  That’s what I came here for.  But I’m the only one who cares about the teeter-totter.  Everyone else is lost in pissing contests that distract them from the honorable missions that they claim to pursue.  No one cares who can piss farther when you’re all pissing into the wind.  Everyone just ends up smelling like urine.  We need to zip up our pants and start caring about things that really truly matter in the grand scheme of things.

The essence of being involved in a nonprofit is that we’re not looking for a profit.  This doesn’t just mean that we aren’t focused on making money but it also means we’re not interested in making a name for ourselves or even receiving praise for all the good things that we do.  Theoretically, people would get involved in a nonprofit because they believe that the work needs to be done despite it not being financially profitable, popularly glamorous, or personally lucrative.  It’s also pointless to get involved if it’s believed to get you a ticket to heaven.  And yet these seem to be the reasons behind many nonprofitty people’s missions, however not stated in word, but in their actions.  We are supposed to be in this line of work because we believe in justice and beauty.  Because we believe that every human life has value worth defending and every human deserves a chance to enjoy the life that’s been given to them.  We are not supposed to be in this to defend structures, including governmental, religious, educational, or whatever, even including nonprofit structures.  We are supposed to be defending humans and their rights to a more beautiful and whole existence.  That’s what we came to the playground for.  If the organizational structure that we work for is more important than the humans we were meant to serve then we should each just become politicians instead.

Of course, I wouldn’t get elected if I was a politician because I don’t play their games.  Unless of course I was a Haitian politician, because they like to elect men who have tendencies to pull their pants down in front of thousands of people and dress in drag, so maybe I’d have a chance then.  But I digress.  The point is that nonprofits shouldn’t be conducted like politics.  Too many involved in these noble works talk about caring like it’s a crappy used car that they’re trying to sell some sucker.  They talk about caring as if it’s some sort of campaign that they’re on to persuade the world to elect them as the new messiah sent to save the destitute and downtrodden.  They care only about what holds the potential of turning them into heroes, if not for themselves, then for the name of whatever organization they represent.  But in order for them to become heroes while everyone else calls their name for help, they have to make sure that all of those helpless, weak common-folk continue needing help.  They have to keep tight restraints on the common-folk to make sure that they don’t try to help themselves, because that’s dangerous and it breaks the rules of living dependent on heroes.

Lately I’ve been involved in multiple cases of nonprofit politics getting in the way of what I really need to be doing.  Drama, drama, drama impeding progress.  This rant isn’t directed anywhere specific, because the last few weeks I’ve run into multiple situations with people from several different nonprofits all arguing about things that have very little to do with the Haitians we are supposed to care about, and much more to do with our own egos and proving that one way is better than another.  And I’ve had discussions with other nonprofit friends around here who’ve been dealing with their own drama with other groups.  And while I’ve been having these discussions and sending emails and sitting in meetings to debate all this drama, I could have been teaching and writing and painting and inspiring others.