Back in the U.S. and trying to make sense of things

I just opened our “junk drawer” looking for the scissors and thinking about how there was probably no paper in there either, since my sister had been lamenting that earlier in the day…and I had to laugh to myself when I saw—carelessly tossed among the detritus—a U.S. passport.

Some of the conversations I’ve had with my Haitian friends:

One of our chauffeurs asked me to write a letter to the U.S. Embassy on his behalf to help him get a Visa. I said that while I would be happy to do that, being a “blan” (white / foreigner) did not mean that I had power in ANY way and that not all Americans are rich. He replied something along the lines of, “Even poor people in America have more money than Haitians.” I didn’t know what to say after that because I knew that in some ways, he was right.

One of our other chauffeurs—with whom I remain close friends—told me that he had something very serious to discuss with me when I returned to Haiti after Christmas. I was baffled, and a little worried…he then asked me in confidence if I would pretend to be his girlfriend so that he might be able to get a U.S. Visa to see his fiancée. I told him that I didn’t want to go to Haitian prison for lying to the government…and then we laughed until I had tears in my eyes. But underneath that, I know that he was serious, and I know that I was sad and frustrated that I was having this conversation with a friend that I love dearly.

I think the thing that disturbs me most is that I will never be able to truly convey what it is to live in Haiti, or another country like it…. I think of Haiti one hundred times a day if I think of it once. I think of it when I hear from my friends there (Zanmi m! Kouman ou ye?!), and I think of it when I don’t. I think of it when I go to work now and look in awe at the level of luxury we’re accustomed to here…I’m extremely fortunate to work at a world-class hospital that does inspiring work, but still, I find myself asking when enough is enough…the new NICU extension we built on the 11th floor has private rooms with en suite baths, TVs, iPads (iPads! What do you need an iPad for when you just had a baby and you’re in the NICU?!), and two (not one, TWO) fridges in each room…. It is a truly beautiful and well-appointed space. But then I think of my NICU in Haiti, where sometimes we ran out of IV catheters. Some days the water wasn’t working. Our linens (when we had enough clean ones) were old and recycled. We didn’t have formula. I still can’t wrap my head around the disparity, and often I just get exhausted thinking about it.

Living and working in Haiti left me with far more questions than answers, but one thing I’ve learned for sure is that being born in the United States (or any other “developed” country) has allowed me a level of luxury that permits me the leisure to even have time to ask these questions…. I don’t know the answers yet, but what I do know is that every day now, there are multiple times that I think—with gratitude—about the million little things we have in the states that I used to take for granted. Endless, sweeping, beautiful roads; who cares if there’s gridlock traffic, the roads are PAVED! The ability to walk safely down the street. Air conditioning. IV catheters and running water and diapers and linens and rooms upon rooms BURSTING with supplies at the hospital…all sterile and brand new…. Starbucks. Any restaurant pretty much, and the fact that I can go to one whenever I want, in a car that I can drive…. Lawns and green space. Riding a bike.

There are a million questions, and I never feel like I know any of the answers. But the one that always haunts me is, how do you find the balance??

by Katie Lawler on July 16, 2015

Be sure to check out Katie’s personal blog @ for more stories from her life and work at the Saint Damien’s Pediatric Hospital in Tabarre, Haiti.

4 thoughts on “Back in the U.S. and trying to make sense of things

  1. I think you just need to continue to speak about the disparity, as you are doing, and ask people to help these people who are living without basic needs. Praying helps, too. #haiti #volunteering

  2. Katie–I’ve grappled with the same question as an occupational therapist who’s served in both the developing and developed world. I have no answers but came to the point on one of my most recent returns of relative comfort in my discomfort sitting in the tension, staring it in the face, and calling it what it is, then using that tension to move to action. I even wrote about it …

    Best to you in your processing.

    1. Thanks for sharing your post, Emily–I have definitely had many of those same thoughts! I agree that sometimes the best thing you can do is just sit in it…there are so many thoughts and feelings that can arise and it can be overwhelming. But as you pointed, you can use the tension as energy to take small, productive steps. I love thinking of it that way! Keep up the good OT work!

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