Haiti: New Life

I don’t know how to begin this blog. I left my Haitian home this morning, feeling tired after 11 days of teaching stacked up onto ceremony and cultural gatherings. I felt tired and gleeful. The sun was shining (despite warnings four days ago about Tropical Storm Dorian) and Haiti, for the first time in a long time, was sparkling like a jewel. So I thought about beginning like this: Ayiti Cherie, you are sparkling again, resurrecting your former place as the “Pearl of the Antilles”. By the time I was boarded on my plane and sitting at my computer, however, another beginning had emerged: The unexpected is to be expected. Actually, there is no unexpected in Haiti—expect anything and everything. I was upgraded to business class, and looked forward to a relaxing journey (3 flights!) home. As soon as I settled my luggage into the bin, I sat down. I …

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Haiti January 12, 2013

4:53 pm, 1/12/13. I am turning our car into Belvil, the quiet neighborhood, where I stay in Port au Prince. It is the precise moment when the earthquake of 2010 devastated Port au Prince 3 years ago. My friends, colleagues and I have spent most of the preceding week talking about how impossible it is that 3 years have past. As I observe the life on the streets, I see hundreds of people on cell phones, selling market wares, buying, walking and sitting while sad, thin dogs scrap for food. I muse at the thought that perhaps none of them are aware that 4:53 pm is upon us; 2 years ago, at the multiple 1 year commemorations, there were thousands of moments of silence around the country. Today, life is doing the usual, just as it was in the moment the earth opened up and shook, rolled and slammed. I …

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Port au Prince, Haiti, March 8-15, 2011

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I’ve returned to provide training in somatic and creative arts approaches to my beloved friends/colleagues at Haiti’s Psycho Trauma Center. We have talked about, and dreamed about, this for years. Finally, some funds raised through my non-profit enable us doing this.

Post-earthquake Haiti hasn’t changed much—still. Yes, there’s a little more rubble removed and evidence of new construction here and there. But really, not much change. Not as much as one would hope for—and would surely find elsewhere (i.e if the same were to occur in Hollywood or Dallas or Fairfield Country CT). Even I realized after 3 days that I was no longer seeing the rubble. Shortly after the earthquake that’s all I saw. Now, it seemed to take a much more conscious effort to really see the piles of rubble that still remain (and many do) and to realize how far Haiti has to go.

Why is it so easy to forget Haiti?

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Port au Prince Day 6, January 2011

Just as I was beginning to write a final blog for this visit, a friend called who I hadn’t seen since the earthquake, and asked me to meet. So I hastily prepared to go out. As he was pulling in the drive way the news broke that “Baby Doc” had just returned to Haiti. This was no rumor—my friends and I got it directly from the Haitian National Police—and within moments, the city seemed to urge with energy, excitement, fear, uncertainty, speculation and “surreality”. I don’t now what this means. No-one does, right now. His press conference was supposedly taking place as we taxied down the runway. I’m sure I’ll hear something later. My gut? Preval, who openly rejected the OAS and international Community decision that the elections were fraudulent and that he must step down and abide by the Constitution, is giving the finger to the International Community. The …

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Port au Prince January 12, 2011

This morning was characteristically fresh in Port au Prince. December and January are crisp, cool months, and there tends to be an energy of hope in this Caribbean nation after the holidays. I awoke to the sound of singing, chanting prayer. Already at 6:45 am, the air was music. It is hard to delineate the mood here. Since my arrival yesterday, I have tapped into somber, sad, joyful, hopeful, tragic, ecstatic, and more.As I drove through Port au Prince, en route to a commemoration ceremony with my dear friends from The Psycho Trauma Program, I see some people working, as if its any other day. I see others singing and wringing their hands, skyward. I see people praying. I see others just sitting. The ceremony is lovely. We light 3 candles:For those we lost, for Haiti, and for hope—for the “biggest” future possibilities we can imagine. We let a hundred …

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Port au Prince, Haiti Day 12, Trip 6

Last day in Haiti, and the final trip of this piece of work (developing staff support) that began very soon after the earthquake. Yesterday was “meant” to be a quiet last day spent with friends, in closure, taking care of things that needed tending to. Instead, chaos. Traffic–which feels terminally congested beyond any normal measure of congestion, since the onslaught of International Aid, was incomprehensibly immobilized. ANPIL ANPIL BLOKIS. Everything took 1-2 hours more than usual. And I had three stops, throughout the day, to close this work. When a friend promising transportation didn’t come through, when those who came through with rides were caught in the nightmarish “BLOKIS”, I was late for everything. And then, at the end of the day, my only way home was a ride in an insufficiently “up kept” car, with no defrost, barely functioning windshield wipers, driven by a lovely many who did not …

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Port au Prince, Haiti Day 10, Trip 6

Just came from Hotel Oluffson where RAM was warming up for their weekly Thursday night fet. Its very, very hopeful to hear that very familiar music again–music that carries Haiti’s root rhythms—in the very same place, same day, same time, as has happened for years. The NGO Staff Support Working Group that has been meeting monthly since January had requested that this months meeting be a self-care (practical) training. Today we spent a day at Management Sciences for Health, in a brand new, cool and comfortable conference room, where I provided this training. It was amazing–another splash of hope. We worked together (particularly MSH’s lovely HR Director, Joelle Larco) to make this workshop happen for as many psychologists, medical professionals, HR folks and others (who are over-extended, tired, and generally spent) as possible. I think it would be a boring read for me to review the workshop; its sufficient to …

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Port au Prince, Haiti Day 7, Trip 6

Have been in Cap Haitien to connect with my Lakou (community) and take a friend to Plan du Nord for the annual pilgrimage to honor Ogou. Plan du Nord is the site of mud baths in a river whose origin is in the mountains above Cap Haitien—I have heard the origin of the river is near the dwelling place of Ogou. This dwelling place sits below the Citdaelle, Haiti’s majestic fortress that was built between 1805 and 1820 to protect the newly liberated nation. I have visited Plan du Nord (google this for more information) each year since 2005, sometimes at a time other than the fet (festival) which takes place during the time of Ogou (St. Jacques) July 23-25 every year. It is always packed. This year, sadly, there were not nearly enough people as is usual, except at the actual baths–where it seemed more crowded and more difficult …

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Port au Prince, Haiti Day 4, Trip 6

Today we finished a three day “Psychological First Aid” (PFA) training with the Uramel Psychotrauma center. We is myself and Dr. Melissa Brymer of UCLA/NCTSN, a colleague and friend, who is one of the those who originally operationalized Psychological First Aid, a concept that originated in the forties (or fifties?). Melissa was one of the very first people to reach out to me after January 12th, and her support has been invaluable for my work here, and for my own heart. I began promoting the idea of this training shortly after the earthquake, to both Melissa and to my beloved colleagues at The Uramel Psychotrauma Center. Having first trained with Melissa, through NCTSN, many years ago, I knew the value of this work in the immediacy of a disaster. In the first three months after the earthquake, I provided over 350 individual PFA sessions and 20 something group sessions. It …

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Port au Prince, Haiti Day 8, Trip 5

As I write this blog I am also preparing to board my plane for the first leg of a three flight journey home. I have not written this trip, both because it was short, and also because internet was down most of the time. But there is another reason—the nature of this trip was quite different from others. I did not do much individual work with local people. When I returned to Haiti this time, there was a shift—a “quieting” is the only way I can describe it—amongst those I usually work with. Most of my work this time was programmatic; however, I arrived to find that while many Haitians were certainly still dealing with stress, trauma, loss and grief, they were quite busy in the remaking of their lives. The expatriate community, on the other hand—humanitarian workers, many of whom have been there since January—was unraveling. After a requested …

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