As is the nature of trips like these and the state of the country of Haiti right now, no matter how much one tries to plan ahead of time, lots of things have to come together at the last minute. Right now, we are feeling this crunch (and its accompanying nerves). However, our contacts in Haiti keep telling us to trust them, and that's what we are trying to do. Honestly, it's a good exercise in this area of trust, which is neither my mom's nor my most well-developed life skill. And while many details still feel uncomfortable and out of our control, when we take a moment to notice, things are coming together.
Here are some of our main challenges (and those which we anticipate continuing to be so):
Housing: This is something I will focus on a lot in my writing (as it will be a heavy emphasis in our work), so it is interesting that we get to (if that's the right phrase) experience it first-hand. Housing wasn't exactly Haiti's strong-suit before the earthquake; now, almost a year after the disaster, this issue is just that--a disaster. After all, the earthquake was strong, but not the strongest ever recorded; Haiti's already-delicate infrastructure and poorly-constructed buildings were more severely-affected than those of other places would have been by a similar-strength quake. Expect more on the broader issue of housing later, but in keeping with the subject of this post, what does this mean for our planning? Well, trying to find housing in a country where a large part of the population currently resides in tent cities is at best expensive, at worst, impossible. Fortunately, we have recently found a place more on the "best" end of that spectrum, and we are grateful to the family that has offered that their home be ours for the duration of our trip. It's amazing how much better all the other uncertainties can seem when we know we have a place to sleep at night!
Translator: Haiti has two official languages, Haitian Creole and French. We don't speak either one. The problem of finding a translator is exacerbated by the fact that the plethora of NGOs and other organizations that currently inhabit the country are utilizing the services of many. On top of this, the media that is beginning to flood the country for the upcoming elections also requires translation services. Thus, this challenge will likely be a recurring one during our stay.
Transportation: This is another thing that was not exceptional by our standards even pre-earthquake, but which is nearly impossible now. Tap taps (the Haitian variety of public transportation) are difficult to negotiate (particularly given our limited communication skills), rental cars are expensive, even walking can be challenging given the present street conditions and the markets popping up in the streets. We hope that if we find a good translator, she or he will also be able to assist us with this issue.
So, these are just a few of the things we are thinking about. They, in turn, bring up other issues, these more in our hearts than our heads. Questions, mostly revolving around the following main one: Should we even be going to Haiti? Should we be using our financial advantage to procure scarce resources like housing while others are living in tents? How will we be able to accomplish anything when we can't even speak the language?
The answers to these questions are certainly debatable, but the situation is also more complex than the questions might indicate. While we could probably just donate some money to Haiti, the fact is that the country cannot persist on handouts forever. Well, maybe it could survive, but it would be unlikely to thrive. In order to really get going, the country needs a major economic boost. Obviously, the spending Mom and I do while we are there will not make a significant difference; however, by going, we are transferring to Haiti the money we would spend on two months' of food and lodging in the States if we were to stay here.
As for the second question, I guess it depends on one's definition of accomplishment. As Americans, we tend to focus on tangible goals, arguably, to a fault. So, while we do have ideas and tentative plans for specific projects, Mom and I are also trying to re-orient our frames of mind. We wish to walk alongside a few Haitian people toward their goals. We wish to convey compassion, to show some people who have recently experienced an intense tragedy that they have not been forgotten. We wish to share our experiences with you so that you can join us in the same, regardless of whether or not you ever set foot in Haiti.
So I suppose that is the final challenge we anticipate: Our own insecurities. This is different than our anticipation of our many inadequacies, which we will not deny. However, we continue to take confidence from the fact that we are going to Haiti by invitation. Our plan? To be the most gracious guests we can be.
The 5k was fun (!) though not particularly fast. Considering my inconsistant and/or minimal training over the last year and a half, I was pleased with the effort. It was especially enjoyable because my mom made a last-minute decision to run it too, thus making her 5k debut. It was a good one as, much to her surprise, she was the top in her age group. As the run was a charity, half of the proceeds of which went to support Fuzzy Friends Animal Rescue, the prizes were designed with this theme in mind. Here is a picture of Mom and me sporting our "bone-tie" first-place medals:
The other half of the proceeds went to the Hall Steps Foundation, and the Halls themselves appeared at the event to advocate their charity, which they founded with the aim of making small "Steps" toward fighting gobal poverty. (For those of you who don't know, Ryan Hall is an Olympian and the top American marathoner these days. His wife, Sara, is also an international-caliber distance runner, though she sticks to the shorter distances between a mile and 5k, and hasn't made it to the Olympics (yet).)
Anyways, after the race those of us who paid a little more got the opportunity to go for a 5-mile training run with the Halls and then to eat brunch with them. So, I ran with Ryan and Sara, talked with Sara about living in Viet Nam and my upcoming (soon!) trip to Haiti, and listened to other people ask training questions. I found the Halls to be very down-to-earth and personable people who are passionate about what they do and what/who they do it for.
The whole thing was a bit strange for me. It was so reminiscent of the running-obsessed life I used to live. In some sense, it was easy to slip right back into it for a moment, but on the other hand, it seemed foreign and distant--I felt like more of a passive observer than an active participant. It was kind of like how my version of culture shock felt: strangely familiar. Furthermore, the experience was bitter-sweet, as it brought back to mind many of the hopes and dreams I used to run after so passionately; which I was willing to put incredible amounts of hard work, time, and dedication into; which I immensely enjoyed pursuing; and of which my self-labeled "failure" to acheive ultimately put me off of running and the entire sport for a while.
Thus, hearing Ryan and Sara talk about how they feel they have been given a gift and want to use it as a platform, but also how much they enjoy their lives as professional runners brought back some of those mixed emotions at the moment (but also profound respect for the couple and what they are doing). However, as I pondered my feelings later, I began to sort throught them.
My mourning of the end of my college running career isn't so much about running, but about focused passion. What I miss is not the act of running, or even of competing, or even being on a team. It is knowing my place and enjoying it. It is passionately working toward a goal. So my attempt over the past year to disassociate my identity from running has left me, at times, feeling meaningless and passionless--not a nice way to feel. It makes me doubt myself sometimes. I find myself wondering why, if I really am a passionate person as I believe, why I don't seem able to that one elusive thing that I am passionate about pursuing.
Yet I've had a few things remind me lately that even if there isn't always passion, there can be joy, regardless of the circumstances. When I was younger, I thought that people find one thing they are passionate about (when they are young) and do it forever. Over the past year, however, I met many people whose lives have taken surprising turns, whose careers and locations have changed often. This has been immensely encouraging.
So, while I hope I don't turn into a directionless wanderer, right now I am taking pleasure in the moments of my days instead of focusing on the results achieved in each moment. These days, my moments are rather full--helping to prepare my parents' new strawbale house for their open house party, getting up at 5am to swim, various preparations for our trip to Haiti, going to the library again, baking, running with the Halls--are often surprising (is there really such a thing as "healthy cookies?!") and have many reasons to inspire joy (I'm pretty sure my mom wore her bone-tie into Target to do her shopping after the race). :)