Staying grounded in Haiti: How do you do it?

Recalling my time in Haiti tends to go something like this:

I think back on mornings spent navigating traffic on a busy street, and a conversation in a crowded muggy kitchen, voices carrying the dinner hour well beyond nightfall, I remember my salty hair being yanked and pulled into a handful of messy braids by the kids on the beach, and that talk with a young guy at the top of La Citadelle Laferrière about what’s next, and what it’s like to make the climb to the top each and every day of his summer break to greet the visitors who come to marvel at the towering structure …

And then I wonder what opportunities await the girls who did my hair, it was a school day and they weren’t in school, or all the faces we passed on Delmas 33, and then how the conversation at the dinner table was brought to silence as one man shook his head, and exhaled: “Tèt chaje…” As if to say, What’re you gonna do? What can you do? Before I know it, I’m slowly submerging beneath an onslaught of big, tangled, and messy hypothetical next steps – for me, for you, for organizations and governments, for communities and leaders.  As the lens zooms out, away from those specific moments, nothing seems straightforward at all.

But if I go back to those distinct memories?

They come alive with a sort of clarity that temporarily stills the overwhelming incursion: Memories grounded and based in the reality of a moment in time, recollections of singular stories where I’m surrounded by individual people carrying out their lives and a minute when we overlapped.  And I want more moments like those.

Finding the right focus in Haiti is my biggest challenge.  Those specific memories are my anchors, my reference points in a world that constantly resets the focal length for my perspective.

Somewhere in there there’s a balance between looking at the big picture, and enjoying and serving the people around you today. A point of equilibrium between “living in the moment” and looking towards the future, struggling to see how we can make it better.

I guess it’s easier for me to look at things close up, where I can see real differences being made – but what about you?  Where do you set your focal length?

Written by Erin Nguyen on May 21, 2015

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