Despite Haiti’s best efforts to keep me there, including the suprise arrival of former dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier, I arrived back home Wednesday night. This morning Louis and I are driving back to Ottawa with a bunch of my stuff, to start the slow process of “settling in” to my new old life.
Every time I come home from an adventure, people ask “How was it?” Depedning on who’s asking and how much they actually care about my experience, I’ll usually have a few stock answers ready and a maybe a couple of entertaining anecdotes (of varying degrees of PG-ratings) to give an idea of what I got up to while I was away. But with Haiti it’s a different kind of answer. How was it? Well…
Spending time volunteering in Haiti didn’t exactly lend itself to the tidy adventure stories or cute cultural mixups that everyone likes hearing about from other people’s travels. When people ask me how Haiti was, I feel like there are several scenarios that play out:
1. “It was crazy, I really enjoyed my time there, I met some amazing people and got to see and do some interesting things.” Done in under 30 seconds. Not exactly representative of how it really was, but perfect for casual acquaintances or people just asking to be polite.
2. We talk at length about what I did, who I met, and how I felt about things. This is usually reserved for people who know me well and are genuinely interested in my experience. The downside to this conversation is that it can take up to 3 days and often ends in Creole hip-hop on YouTube and tears.
3. We have the “Solution For Haiti” converstaion. I completely understand why people want to talk about this, and it’s probably the conversation I would want to have if it hadn’t been me that had gone there. This usually happens with people who are somewhat knowledgeable about development issues and the situation in Haiti, or who are just genuinely interested in learning more. It’s also the conversation I most dread having. I feel like since I spent half a year in the thick of the “development issues” facing Haiti, I should be in the know and have well-formed opinions about how things are going and how we can help things go better. The truth is, I feel like I know much less now than I did before I went. I could tell you lots about Leogane, my friends there, some of the ways that “The Issues” affect their daily lives, and some of the ways that various actors are trying to “fix” these things. I could tell you a bit about NGO stuff, but mostly just what was going on around me. I could tell you a bit about the local government situation, but again, only what directly affected what we were doing in Leogane. As far as the grand scheme of things, you probably know just as much as I do. We got a lot of our Haiti information from international news sources like the BBC just like everyone back at home. And as far as “The Solution For Haiti”, your guess is as good as mine. I figure if there was A Solution and I knew what it was, I’d be down there implementing it. Wouldn’t I?
I always feel like a jerk having these talks, but I figure the more time I have to process my experience the better I’ll get at it. I don’t want to make people feel like they shouldn’t ask me about Haiti, because I do want to talk about it and I do want to answer everyone’s questions if I can. I’m glad that people are interested in what’s going on in Haiti and want to know what can be done to improve things. I apologize in advance if you’re not happy with how I respond, but give me time and hopefully I’ll come up with something that will satisfy both of us and make me feel like I’m doing justice to an experience that I really can’t describe. In the meantime, I’m going to get reacquainted with my friends, family, my matress and my old friend cheddar cheese.