The Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Be sweet, and do awesome stuff all the time

Just when you thought it was safe to live outside October 31, 2010

Filed under: Haiti,New kinds of hell — themadmadmadmadworld @ 3:51 pm
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Hey, remember last week when Haiti was going through a horrible cholera epedemic? That sucked. Now this week we’ve got ourselves a category 3 hurricane headed for our messed-up little tropical paradise. It’s getting to the point where there are no longer separate disasters in Haiti…it just is one.

I’m not exactly stoked about the idea of living through a hurricane, although who better to do it with than a disaster response organization? I’ve signed up to be on the “emergency preparedness team” so that when the storm hits I’ll have a specific task to focus on, instead of just freaking out like I’d planned on doing. There are quite a few people here who are from hurricane-prone areas and they’ve all assured me that although we prepare for the worst, it’s never all that bad. And on the plus side, very few people die from the hurricane itself, it’s more the flooding afterwards that does the most harm.

This is a plus? OK! So instead of killing a bunch of people right off the bat with a swift impact, people get to suffer slowly through drowning and the (even further) spread of disease through the massive quantities of contaminated water that will be flying around the island? Great! And with all these people, some of my friends included, who are still living in tents and shanty towns (or IDP camps, for those in the know), a little flooding is going to affect their lives in a huge way.

Not that I’m panicking…(!!!!). I guess like everything here, we have to take this a day at a time and see how it plays out. The Haitians don’t seem nearly as worried as us Blancs do. I guess they get warnings like this every year, and sometimes it turns out really badly and sometimes it’s OK. Just in case it does get ugly, I’m supposed to let everyone know that they are not to worry, that we have a safe place to ride out the storm, and that we are as well-prepared as we can be. We might lose mass communication for a while, but our families will be updated as soon as possible whenever we’re able to get news out. So keep an eye on the news, and if you don’t hear from me for a few days assume that I’m fine. I will most likely be locked tight in a bunker playing charades and eating Kraft Dinner, which realistically is what I do at home all winter anyway so it won’t be so bad.


Leogane in the Time of Cholera October 24, 2010

As I’m sure many of you not on island time have heard, Haiti is going through some pretty rough times these days. Then again, when is Haiti not going through rough times? This country has been dumped on from day 1, and every week seems to bring a new kind of hell.

This week it’s cholera. If it weren’t for Garcia Marquez and the Oregon Trail, this disease would never make it into my daily vernacular. 250+ people have died north of Port-au-Prince in the Artibonite region over the past week. The disease has mostly been spread by contaminated water from rivers and open sewers. (Not-so) Fun Fact: 9 million people in Haiti, 0 sewer systems and wastewater treatment facilities. In a place that has a population density of 254 people per sq km (compared to about 3.5 people per sq km in Canada), and the high risk of infectious disease spreading through contaminated water, it’s not such a stretch of the imagination to conceive of this happening.

Leogane, where our base is, hasn’t been directly affected. Even in nearby Port-au-Prince, all the confirmed cases have been people who came to the city from Artibonite. We had a meeting today to discuss prevention, and suss out our contingency plan should the “pandemic” spread. Officially, All Hands is “cautiously optimistic”. On the ground, people are a bit worried.

My friend Christina is a nurse from California, and also my hero. She is headed to Saint-Marcs tomorrow, ground zero of the outbreak, to help out. I wish that I had the skills that she does so that I could do something other than hang around in Leogane washing my hands.

Even if I did know how to help, I’m not sure that I would be brave enough to go. It’s interesting to see what my limits are, and where I draw the line as far as what I would consider too scary to do. I am terrified to death of earthquakes, and every few days when we have a tremor in Leogane my heart races and I wish I were anywhere else in the world. It was the same feeling I had when I was in Chile, like the world could end any second now without warning. But that didn’t stop me from coming to an area for which the U.S. Geological Survey predicts “future surface rupturing earthquakes are likely”. (How reassuring!) I’m not especially scared of infectious disease (H1N1 is a hoax!), but I don’t know if I would go right to the source of a cholera epidemic to help out.

Anyway, the whole point of this post was to reassure everyone that I’m ok and that there’s no reason to worry about me. We have access to safe drinking water and our sanitation facilities on base are above the standard of the average Haitian household. The disease is transmitted through fecal-oral contact, so I’ve been going out of my way to avoid licking toilet seats and other un-hygienic practices. As is usually the case with most “scares” in foreign countries, reading the media at home will usually freak you out more than is necessary. The All Hands website is being updated with the latest information from the Pan-American Health Organization and local sources, so if you want more information that would be a good place to go. In the meantime I’ll try to keep everyone updated, and in the unlikely event that I get cholera you will hear about it.  I’ll be like those annoying people who spend the whole time they’re at a concert on Twitter, except I’ll be blogging from my hospital bed…

Stay clean everyone!


Goodbye, old friend! October 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — themadmadmadmadworld @ 2:18 am
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I have effectively become homeless. My tent of 3 years, which has been my longest-term residence since I moved out of my parents’ house on Fox Farm Rd., has become unliveable. If I really had to I could probably squeeze a few more weeks out of it, but as a primary residence…I don’t know if I could take 3 more months of constant leaking (especially when it pours rain every night), broken zippers (not so reassuring when their purpose is to protect against things that could crawl into my tent and posion me), and swiss cheese walls (letting all kinds of biting ants and mosquitos in). As a not-so-serious homeowner there is a lesson in all this – next time I invest in a place to live I should think about spending more than $40, and I will also consider looking beyond the “Supermercado Jumbo” in Valparaiso, Chile. It could be worse. I do have a generous friend who just “inherited” an extra tent (complete with air mattress!) from a volunteer who recently left, so it’s not like I have no place to go. My Haitian friends should be so lucky…

R.I.P. little silver, you’ve seen me through some amazing times!


Back in Haiti and Sweaty as Ever October 16, 2010

Filed under: Haiti,rubble — themadmadmadmadworld @ 2:30 am
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I arrived back in Haiti just over 48 hours ago and the amount that I have sweat can already be measured in litres. The seasons have changed since I left here in July, and everyone agrees that it’s much cooler than before. Great news! I no longer pour sweat out of every part of my body from just lying around; I now have to at least lift my little finger before I feel that familiar trickle.

Today I lifted much more than just my litte finger. It was my first full day back out in the field “rubbling”, and man was it ever amazing. When I first started volunteering with All Hands Volunteers in May, it was called Hands On Disaster Response and their main function in Haiti was clearing rubble and doing demolition work for residential properties. Over the course of my time here, and during the three months that I was back home in Canada, the project has changed a lot. Instead of having 120+ people living together on base all the time, we’re down to about 70-80 volunteers. And instead of sending out 5-10 teams of volunteers to rubble, today we were just one team of 12. More people are here long-term and are involved in more sustainable development-type projects like developing hygiene education programs and constructing schools. It makes for a very different feeling on base…fewer sweaty shirtless men, more people cooped up in the office or in meetings, and a generally elevated level of hygiene. Being a fan of filth, I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.

Not that it’s not great to be back. In many ways, I feel like I never left. A lot of my friends who were here before have either stuck around over the past few months, or have done as I have and left for a while and then come back. The volunteers who are new to me all seem wonderful, and it feels good to be back in this communal environment where everyone feeds off each other’s energy and ideas so readily. I’ve been blown away by how well received I’ve been. All our Haitian voluteers made me feel like a long lost sister when I walked through the door, and random people from the community who I never expected to remember me have been calling me by name to come get a hug and a “welcome home!”. We had a big dance party my first night back, and I’d almost forgotten how good it feels to dance barefoot to terrible Haitian hip hop in the pouring rain. (Still very sweaty!)

Whenever I’m about to set off on a new adventure (or set out to revisit an old one), I always have a few solid freak-out sessions during which I question everything and wonder what I was smoking when I decided to go through with this crazy plan, whatever it may be. (Usually this process involves  teary phone calls to my parents and at least 2 of my best friends, and eating my feelings through either ice cream or poutine. All of the above is sounding pretty good right now, actually…) The more I’ve experienced the easier it has become to reason with the voices inside my head, but they still pop up every single time. Even once I get to where I’m going and am doing what I’ve set out to do I can’t help but experience serious doubts now and then about the choices I’ve made and my reasons for making them. I tend to act on impulse or instinct (often confusing the two) and my “shoot first ask questions later” lifestyle does catch up with me from time to time.

But no matter where I end up, I always end up finding something that reassures me and makes me want to keep doing what I’m doing. In this case, it was my reception from the Haitians I was involved with last time. No matter how different or frustratingly the same things are here, I know I will be able to count on the personal relationships I’ve established, and the culture I’ve grown to love, to keep me going. I still have conflicting feelings and opinions about “the situation” in Haiti and my role as a volunteer here, but at the end of the day I know that if I have treated people well and kept a smile on my face, I’ll know I’ve done some good. This is one lesson that is amazingly easy to forget, considering how relevant it is to everyday life no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

I am excited about what the next 3 months have in store for me. Over the weeks to come I’ll figure out what I’m doing as far as work goes and what my role in the orgaization will be. But for the time being, I am just so unreasonably happy to be back with a sledgehammer in my hands and an obnoxiously repetitive song called “Anba Dekomp” in my heart (and in my head, 24-7). I can’t wait to build up some muscle again and get dirty cleaning stuff up. 

The generator gets shut off in half an hour, so I’d better wrap it up. Now it’s off to treat my heat rash, drench myself in carcenogenic DEET to avoid Dengue fever, check my teeny tiny tent for tarantulas and poisonous centepides, and curl up on the concrete floor on my yoga mat so that when it inevitably pours rain tonight I don’t get wet from touching the tent walls.

Wait…what the hell am I doing back here again?


Big Life Decisions October 5, 2010

Filed under: Professional Life — themadmadmadmadworld @ 5:13 pm
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Isn’t life funny, the way that sometimes you push and push and push and nothing happens, and then once you’ve finally decided to just give up and lie in bed watching Jersey Shore and eating Smartfood, everything all of a sudden falls into your crumb-covered lap?

That’s what has been happening to me this week. Louis and I have caught up on almost all of Season 2 of The Shore (he will kill me when he finds out I’ve outed him on the internet, but yes, he loves it as much as I do), and I have been offered an amazing opportunity to get paid to do development work in Peru. It’s a fantastic position, as an intern helping Peruvian farmers to get a canola growing and processing co-op running waaaay the hell out in the mountains, where not even piling on 20 alpaca blankets can help you sleep for the cold at night. Amazing!

But here I am faced with a dilemma: I just bought my ticket to Haiti. I’ve already committed to volunteering with All Hands from next Wednesday straight through to when the project ends in January. I’ve been fundraising for the specific purpose of living in Haiti without getting paid for the next 3 months. The position in Peru starts 3 weeks from now. There’s no way that I can have my quinoa and eat it too.

So it looks like I have to turn down the job. As a young professional, it really hurts to have to decline the first real offer I’ve had to get paid to do what I love.  The experience that I would gain would be invaluable, not to mention the contacts that I would make, and of course the personal satisfaction of having a job that I enjoy. But being a woman of my word, it would be pretty cheap of me to go back on my promise to get my ass back to Haiti and finish what I started down there. All Hands is an organization that I really beleive in, and I know that there is an amazing team of professionals and great friends waiting for me down there that will support me and sustain me through the next 3 months. I know that the experience I will have in Haiti will be rewarding and fulfilling, and that I will be a better person because of it in more ways than I can fathom. And as a young professional and a human being, that’s worth more to me than a paycheque.


Blog: effective social media apparatus, or something you find on your pant leg after a heavy taco night? October 2, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — themadmadmadmadworld @ 7:38 pm

Well, well, well. It would appear as though I have done the unthinkable, and joined what I so uncoolly refer to as the “blog-o-sphere”. The creation of this blog was apparently inevitable, according to my more social-media savvy friends (that is to say, everyone I know. Except for my boyfriend, Louis. I sent him a Facebook message in April as a joke, telling him he was dumped. Pretty sure he still hasn’t seen it.). And as my friend Jenna put it “How are they supposed to make your blog into a movie if you don’t even have one?”. Touché, salesman.

Anyway, all narccissistic delusions of grandeur aside (although where would I be without them, really? I gotta be me!), the main purpose of this blog is to keep those I love in the loop about where I am and what I’m up to these days. What with all the running aroud that I do, I know that I’m not always the easiest person to keep track of or get a hold of. The semi-monthly mass e-mail updates I was sending out apparently weren’t cutting it for some people, and this way you won’t have to wait until I have enough time and/or interesting experiences under my belt to hear from me. Now you get it all: the quotidian, the mundane, the “what I ate for dinner last night”, followed of course by the “how many times I went to the bathroom after said dinner”…all Madison, all the time. And the whole world can see it! Scary stuff.

I sincerely hope that people will enjoy reading this thing as much as I anticipate enjoying creating it. I am so seriously new to all of this so-called “technology”, so if you are a person who loves this stuff and would like to help a sister out, I would appreciate it if you would drop me a line. I’ve created a new e-mail address just for the blog, to make it feel special: (Or maybe you can contact me through this website, I really have no idea. Send me a telegram. Smoke signals. Whatever.)

Plenty more to come in the near future. Love!