The Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Be sweet, and do awesome stuff all the time

“Mesi bondye pou tou zanmi’m!” November 27, 2010

Lately I’ve been hearing from the people who know me best that my blog has been giving me away, indicating signs of wear and tear, exposing my waning optimism and questionable mental health. I just can’t get anything past you guys, can I, and mesi bondye for that!

I have definitely been feeling the strain of not only living and working in a challenging environment, but also the added stress of having multiple existential/moral/socio-economic/sexual (why not?)/political crises every single day about said life and work in said environment. When I said in my last post that I needed an extended mental health break, I was serious. It started out with just a week with good friends from base at an insanely luxurious all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, which was at the same time the most amazing and most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen. (Kind of like dogs wearing sweaters or Chinese children who can expertly play classical violin while still in their mothers’ wombs.) Crossing the border and seeing the difference in the quality of life was shocking enough (pothole-free roads! Christmas lights! Lights at all!), but the extreme excess of the Lifestyle Hacienda Resort in Puerto Plata was enough to send me into a frenzy. So I did what anyone in my position would do: I drank and ate as much as possible, then booked a ticket back to Canada to digest for a week.

My visit home was unexpected. Even I didn’t know I was coming! I had a lot of time to relax and hang out with the people who I love most of all. I got a lot of insight into everything that’s been going on in the past month, both inside and outside of my selfish self. I am uncomfortable with the situation in Haiti and how it’s being handled by all parties involved, right down to who thinks they have the right to even be involved. What am I, as a white Canadian from a privileged background with little to no connection to this country, doing here at all? Am I some kind of a saviour, or some kind of sick tourist on the ultimate off-the-beaten-track backpacking adventure?  Both of these ideas sicken me. I don’t want to be either, but I guess the best I can do is to fall somewhere in between.

I’ve decided that in order to continue with whatever it is that I’m doing here (helping? gawking? sweating?), there are a few things that I have to do. I’ve decided that I can’t continue with the project that I was leading before, which involved working with the local government trying to do capacity building and liason stuff with the UN and other NGO’s. I know that I don’t have the knowledge, experience, or resources to do any really useful capacity building, and I also feel wrong pushing for the local government to rely more on NGO’s when I feel like that’s a really terrible way for a country to be run (something I will rant about later…I’m trying to keep these posts a readable length). Over the 2 months I have left with All Hands I’m going to do more physical, outside-type work, and also more work that gets me into the community on a personal level. I’m not sure what exactly I’ll be doing, but I feel like by doing that I can help in a more sustainable way. Mostly because it won’t make me go crazy and I will be a happier, more productive volunteer.

Yesterday was American Thanksgiving, and because we are a US-based NGO, we had a huge party last night to celebrate. We invited about 60 people from the community, including all of our local staff and volunteers and their families, and there were volunteers working all day to cook an amazing, full-on turkey dinner. It was the best holiday we’ve had so far on this project, mostly because of the positive reaction of our Haitian guests. I tried to explain the conecpt of giving thanks in my sometimes passable Creole, and asked my Haitian friends what they were thankful for. It was so great to hear them say “Mesi bondye pou tou zanmi’m,” – I thank God for all of my friends – refering to us, the foreign devils who have infested their town and tried to take over their lives.

I know I’ve said this before, but if nothing else,  this is what keeps me believing that I have a place here.

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4 Responses to ““Mesi bondye pou tou zanmi’m!””

  1. […] mayor’s office project to assisting the coordinator of our local volunteer program (see my November 27th post for more on that). Since last April, All Hands has welcomed young men and women from Leogane […]

  2. anonymous Says:

    Mad Dog-
    my 2 cents–I had thought about some of the same stuff (why do we go down there, is it a responsibility, guilt, morals, interest), but it never really began to set in until a few months after returning from haiti. I started to struggle with what i’d call re-calibrating into society. All i could see around me were people who were oblivious about our friends’ problems down there and seemingly didn’t care (at times i wished i was oblivious too so i didn’t have to deal with constantly thinking about how productive i could be back in Haiti). But, I think the prospective that is gained by living in haiti meeting people and helping people is what is so valuable and is what drives these questions/crises that you’re talking about (its better to be faced with these crises than to not even know or acknowledge that the issues exist). One of the things i ultimately came to realize about doing work like this is that when it comes down to it you can try to analyze your actions and motives but things get ugly when you start arguments with yourself that you can’t resolve. You’re down there because you love to help people, you love to meet people, and because you can’t see yourself in any other place, simple as that. You can’t say that you don’t have the expertise to be working in the mayor’s office because even if you’re just doing the small things you have to remember that if you weren’t there those small things probably would not even get done. But, being a happier more productive volunteer sounds like a good thing, and everybody loves manual labor.

    thats all-send love to base
    -hodr friend

    also had a chance to re read the book on paul farmer recently and, though i’m not really religious at all, i thought this was an interesting passage. farmer or the author, not sure which, asks this haitian guy how he believes in God when there is so much poverty and trouble around him and he replies essentially that God gives man everything he needs, but cannot force man to share, that is something man must do himself.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. It always helps to hear from other people who have had time to gain perspective on the daily crises that volunteering overseas provokes. It seems like a taboo subject on base sometimes, and if anyone ever aknowledges it publicly the topic is quickly squashed. Sometimes it seems as if talking about it will break whatever fragile balance keeps us working here. I’m quite happy with the way you seem to have come to terms with the “argument you can’t resolve with yourself” (perfect analogy!), and will definitely take comfort in it on the difficult days that inevitably happen. Thank you again for reading and for sending your thought to us on base, as well as to everyone in Haiti.

  3. P.S. for those of you who donated to my efforts to get back to Haiti (I thank you again, both profusely and publicly!) don’t worry: the money I used for my extravagant vacation came from my own pocket, with what little I earned waitressing while I was back home this summer. Also, while I was in Canada I was able to stock up on some much-needed supplies that are hard to come by in Haiti, which went directly to the project. So fear not, that money really is going right back into the releif efforts here, and not just into my campaign to ruin my own liver and expand my carbon footprint with uneccessary air travel. Thanks again for your support!


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