Saturday, February 21, 2009

Back In Haiti

It has already been two weeks since I left Brooklyn, yet it seems so much more because of my busy schedule! My first evening here included a cocktail for the Regional Director. Waiters served hors d'oeuvres all evening and eventually desserts. Near the end, I heard a waiter behind me say, "Who wants the last ice cream?". I didn't know that they'd been serving ice cream, but I turned around and there on a tray was a cocktail glass of ice cream.

When I was starting to look for a job I gave up ice cream-- one of my favorite foods next to chocolate. I'd been eating it all summer and decided not to have any until I found a job. The heavens opened a light shown down and soft refrains of angels echoed all around. Okay, not really, but it seemed that that last ice cream on the tray was a confirmation that I am in the right place. I enjoyed every bite.

The rest of the weekend I caught up with friends and the week was spent meeting with my manager in Cap Haitien, a city on the northern coast and a 45 minute flight from Port-au-Prince. I found out a week ago that I will be based there rather than Port-au-Prince as originally planned.

The upside is that Cap is much less chaotic than Port and I'll be living in an adorable seaside apartment with a gorgeous view. The downside is that Cap, although the second largest city in Haiti, significantly lacks amenities. Not counting the Hotel Roi Christophe with typically only 5 of 20 menu items actually available or the guesthouse near the office, there is exactly one suitable restaurant, La Kay. It serves as both the popular lunch spot and the evening hang-out.

La Kay sits on a nicely paved boulevard running along the bay. Although it is small, it does serve great food. Yesterday, on a day-trip to Cap, I enjoyed a delicious lobster salad. It is less than a five minute walk from the office, an old two story house, which faces the bay only 100 feet away. There is usually a nice breeze coming off the water and I can see ships going in and out of the port throughout the day. Life is good.

I am currently in Port and will be moving to Cap by Thursday of this week. Brooklyn feels a million miles away- two weeks ago I was wearing three layers and boots and last weekend I wore a bikini on the beach!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In my search for jobs, I decided to do some volunteering to keep me busy and make new contacts. I volunteer for Doctors Without Borders and wanted to find a way to work on my creative writing skills. I did a search on and found an opportunity with a women's writing group--a woman of color writing group. I thought, "What the hell, I'll see if they can use me as a volunteer."

After sending in a writing sample, an hour-long phone interview (and my revelation that I am white), they accepted me! It's actully my experience in Haiti and my awareness of race that qualified me.

There are actually two parts to the group. One, a two-hour writing workshop on Friday nights which is pay to play, and two, a group of volunteers promoting a community of women of color writers with the hope of encouraging confidence and the number of women published. Because I am volunteering I will eventually get a free workshop, so there is a bit of monetary reward besides the joy of writing and encouraging others.

A few weeks ago during our writing workshop the prompt we were given was to write a story about a bridge and begin with a small detail. Here's the story I wrote:

My pinky toe aches. These shoes meant for walking need to take their own walk over the side of this bridge. Okay, it was my idea to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I usually like it. The view is gorgeous despite the packs of tourists. It reminds me that the city really is beautiful. Today I had the grand plan of walking across at sunset. RJ had the grand plan of going to Manhattan and walking back to Brooklyn, which meant we ended up taking the wrong train, and we missed the most beautiful part of the sunset.

Once these shoes take a hike maybe I'll tell RJ he needs to take a hike as well. One minute he's saying he wants to be with me, thinks about me all the time, and even brings up the "M" word, but the next week doesn't make an effort to spend time together. Between the pain in my foot and the pain of dealing with RJ I'd rather just..."Um, excuse me, m'am, could you take a picture of me and my wife?" a tourist breaks into my thoughts.


When I read it allowed to the writing group they all burst out laughing at the end with comments of, "That's so true!". Everyone in New York is in their own zone. We are all competing for and trying to protect our personal space, so when a tourist asks something like this they break into our personal bubble.

Aha! That's it, I thought. New Yorker's aren't trying to be rude, they're just protecting their valuable space. When it costs $1.2 million for a Manhattan one-bedroom apartment "ready for your renovations", I completely understand.

A little piece of New York life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Trusting God is Hard!

Two Sundays ago the church I attend announced a One in a Million offering that will go towards church planting, making contacts with one million New Yorkers this year and special needs projects. I thought about how I could be a part of it. I haven't had a job since June when I left Haiti, so I don't have income to contribute.

I looked at the memory verse for this week, "They should be good in good works and should give generously to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them." (1 Tim 6:18) I thought, well, the one thing God has given me is time. I can volunteer.

I've done quite a bit over the past few weeks whether for The Journey (my church) or for other organizations around the city. But, I still want to give money! I want to have a job with income so I can give money! Partly out of frustration and (in hindsight) partly as test for God, I thought, "Okay, God, any income I get this week will be yours." I had no idea how I would make any money.

When I arrived in New York last month, my friend Mary Anne asked if I'd gotten my economic stimulus payment. No, and I didn't expect to get one because I'd been living overseas so that probably disqualified me. She said I should check anyway. It so happens that my tax return was lost somewhere in the abyss between my office in Haiti and the weary federal worker charged with processing returns.

Mary Anne urged me to file again before the October 15 deadline and maybe I'd get $300 or more dollars. I was skeptical but did it anyway. Well, wouldn't you know, on that Monday I checked the status of my return and $300 was scheduled to be deposited in my account this past Friday. I also found my ideal job posted with the Clinton Foundation-- Program Coordinator for Haiti.

I gave the money joyfully on Sunday and thought to myself, "I just might be crazy, but God, I promised so here it is." On Monday night Mary Anne told me I need to move off her couch because she has relatives coming for the holidays. Eek! I need to find somewhere else to live! My underlying thought was, "I'm just going to trust God!"

This morning when I went to send my cover letter and resume for the job posted with the Clinton Foundation, the posting was no longer on-line!! Maybe they had already found someone even though the posting had only been up one week. I sent it anyway. It bounced back. I went on the website and found a different e-mail address and sent it again.

All day while I was volunteering at Doctors Without Borders and writing names on envelopes I kept saying, "I trust you, God. I trust you, God." partly as a mantra to not freak out. In 31 years He has never let me down. Why should I fret now?

I came home this evening and started looking for more positions to apply for. I checked my e-mail and found a request for an interview for this Friday for the position I applied for this morning! Amazing! I said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you" to God (and cried a little!).

I can't wait to see what happens next.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

One Month On: My Experience So Far

New York!

Appearing on The View and receiving free gifts(iPod speakers and a book)
Staying with a great roommate, Mary Anne
Receiving an iPod nano as a gift
Feeling blessed

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset
Walking in Prospect Park, on Broadway, Times Square, Columbus Circle on Columbus Day
Shopping for boots, browsing really
Walking on the beach, lots of seagulls, lots of wind
Feeling tired, but elated

Writing cover letters, cover letters, cover letters and resume updates
Interviewing for volunteer work

Walking, walking, walking catching the bus, catching the train
Seeing the neighbor in his whitey tighties strolling to his car
Seeing homeless and beggars, hustlers on the train
Feeling not too far from Haiti

Observing people, all nationalities- Haitian, Dominican, Pakistani, Indian, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Senegalese, Omani, Guyanian, Mexican
Being confused for Russian
Attending seminars and lectures- conflict mediation, AIDS, nuclear disarmament, Cuba
Feeling curious and intellectual

Eating food on the run
Eating sushi, stuffed mushrooms, spinach pie, baked penne, baby spinach salad, panceta panini
Meeting new people
Meeting more people
Sending out cover letters and resumes
Feeling frustrated
Attending church, attending growth group
Feeling encouraged

Volunteering for Doctor's Without Borders
Volunteering at church
Volunteering and writing with women of color
Feeling content

Enjoying New York!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Train Travelogue, Part 2

Riding the train is a good chance to meet some people that I normally wouldn’t intersect with during the day. My train ride is now long over, but there are a few personalities and one little story worth sharing.

On the last day of my trip towards Portland, I met a guy in the lounge car who kindly pointed out some of the more interesting landmarks. He had worked at the National Park and grown up in North Dakota and was on his way back to his home in Portland after his father’s funeral. A while later as I was enjoying the sunset in the lounge car he called me over to join him and a few others and help him eat the many snacks he had brought along on the trip. Upon sitting down, he invited me to dig in to the assortment of junk food. I nibbled on a few M and Ms.

- Help yourself to anything. I’ve got lots of snacks. You know, I had to clean out the house after the funeral.

My first thought was -I’m eating a dead man’s M and Ms??

-Really, I think I ate too much already....I brought a lot of snacks along, too, so you know, I don't want to over eat....

A bit later in the conversation the topic of Haiti came up (it always does, doesn’t it?). An older man with white scruff and his red baseball cap slightly askew piped in.

- I had a friend who lived there. He got kicked out by that dictator.
- Duvalier? Baby Doc?
- Yeah, yeah. He worked at a casino, was married to one of the locals and got himself real messed up. They did a number on him. Kicked him out of the country and hasn’t been the same since.
- Did his wife return with him?
- No, no. She stayed and he’s never been the same. I don’t know what they did to him.

Who knew I’d run across this story on a train in Montana? On the trip back I came across a few more interesting characters. I didn’t meet them directly, but they sat at a table directly behind me playing cards and I picked up on a few interesting stories. One, Buckey Allen, is a professional rodeo-rider. He happened to be wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt with his sponsor and his name on the back. This complimented his belt-cinched Wranglers with a flask in the back pocket. Another guy, Mike, was on his way from California to New York (that’s one heck of a train trip!) to get back together with a his “girl” that he’d dated 7 years ago and decided to get back together with. If he wasn’t playing cards he was on the phone talking to “my girl”. A third was a young woman with wearing cowboy boots, knickers, a loose jacket and a hobo cap with a long feather. She was on her way to New Orleans with her grandfather to meet up with his Marine Corps buddies. She smelled of patchouli and said she’d joined the circus at a young age. Currently she is living in Idaho making pottery that no one buys. They guys suggested she put in on E-Bay.

The interesting people part continued on my train trip to NY. (Thanks to Shan for dropping me off at the train station!) I sat next to an Indian engineer from South Bend to Penn Station, NYC. A real Indian- he came for a niece’s wedding in Chicago and was using the rest of his tourist visa to see New York and Seattle. I also met a Yogi and an elderly gentleman who’d lived in New York all his life and wanted to tell me all about it during the stopover in Albany. I was most impressed with how his T-shirt pocket was stuffed with stuff. Not only the pocket, but he was able to store Kleenex on his shoulder with the stretch of the shirt holding it in place. Interesting.

So, if you ever want to break out of the mold, meet some interesting people and enjoy the scenery, take the train!! And you might get to claim, like I can, that you’ve slept my way through Fargo, ND- twice!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Train Travelogue, Part 1

Jess, I know you're anxious to hear about NY, but I have to get these stories out of me and on to paper, too. I know I'm back tracking a bit, but hang in there and I promise to post more soon.

September 9, 2008
There are a lot of strange people in this world. I might be one of them. There certainly are a different variety of people who take trains versus those who take planes. Trains are so much more accessible than planes. Although, not many of us know this or take advantage of it. Most people are very friendly. Some of them are 'train fans', others just trying to get from one place to the next at the lowest price. The most striking person I came across today was a long-haired blond guy pushing his crate of belongings through the 'B' track waiting lounge. I'm guessing he's a 30 something with a solid frame, but not one that hits the weights if you know what I mean. He was loudly proclaiming something, but I didn't quite hear. Maybe something about justice or inequality of not being able to get his bags checked. The next time I saw him was in the lounge car hunched over and asleep in a pair of observer deck chairs. Other interesting people include a family of the Amish. They boarded on the same train I did this morning in Grand Rapids. I overheard that they're coming from Mio in northern Lower Michigan near Grayling. I'm curious as to where they are going. Everybody's got a story.

The train is a nice experience. A slower pace and certainly not as invasive as a trip through your local airport; no x-rays, body checks or bare footing through the security line. As I go through the day, I'm picking up little hints and tricks on how to make the most of the train. So far I've learned that if you aren't in a sleeper car, the lower level coach seating is the place to be- lucky me, I was intuitive enough to get a lower-level ticket when I made my reservation. It's a smaller cabin with only 12 seats, there's no through passage, so there aren't constant streams of people walking by, there are electrical outlets next to every seat, and it's only steps from the bathroom.

So far this train experience is a good one. For some reason or another as soon as I get on the train I feel like I took a sleeping pill. I have a weird drugged out sort of feeling and just want to close my eyes. I'm forcing myself to stay awake though because before too long it will be dark and I'll have a lot of hours of possible sleep time all through the night, all in this seat. But, back to the good experience part. The scheduled three hour trip between GR and Chicago was a little longer than planned due to a late train and, yes, construction on the track. Once in Chicago I immediately sought out some coffee and was directed to go up a few levels out of the bowels of Union Station (yes, we NEED to invest in better public transportation!) and found Caribou Coffee. And, I'm glad I went. Not only did I get rid of the caffeine headache with a Mocha, I also received a free bag of coffee beans which will provide me with a fresh coffee smell all the way to Portland. With coffee in hand, I spotted a few of the Amish folks going outside. I followed and found myself next to the river on Adams Street in downtown Chicago. It was a gorgeous sunny day with a cool breeze. Ah, to be outside in the city! I love people watching and this was a fantastic place to do it. People on their lunch break, people waiting for trains and some just milling about. I soaked in as much sun and people watching as I could before heading back down to the grungy train station and boarding for a two day ride to Portland.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Travel on my Journey

Over the years of flying back and forth to Haiti I often mourned the lack of journey- of feeling like I was actually traveling somewhere. It was a shock to my system to make the transition from somewhere in the sterile, prosperous States and being a part of the majority to humid, dirty, over-populated Port-au-Prince and being a minority within a few hours time (actually this starts at the gate in Miami...). I would simply climb aboard one aircraft pass through one or two busy nondescript airports (catching a Starbucks on my way) and suddenly arrive in Haiti with the only scenery being the clouds and a stranger sitting next to me.

Now is my chance to slow down and actually journey. Taking the train from Michigan to Washington will be incredible. I'll get to see parts of the northern US that few people take the time to enjoy. And I'll complete a cross-continental train journey when I go to New York! Yes, I'm moving to NY on the train! I'll get to enjoy the journey- see the lovely lake shore stretching from Michigan to New York. The bonus is that the ticket was only $80 and I can take 5 pieces of luggage at no extra charge! When I completed the ticket purchase, I felt elated. I'm actually going and it's going to be great!

I'd put off the actual purchase of a ticket to NY waiting for the timing to be right. Mostly I was just waiting to attend a re-entry and renewal retreat so I could process the last few months I had in Haiti and be ready to move on. I'm so glad I did. Now that I'm in recovery (from not being able to express my emotions!), I also feel ready to move on and tackle new adventures. And this will certainly be an adventure! I tell myself that if I could do Haiti for 7 years, I can certainly handle NYC.

Many people have questioned my desire to move there. At this point, it's just one of those things to check off on list-of-things-to-do-before-I-die. It is certainly tempting to go the easier route; stay here in GR and apply for the job at Grand Valley State that I saw in the wanted adds today. Not that that's a bad thing, but I'll feel like a cop-out if I don't at least give the move to NYC a try. What better time than the present? I have no real obligations except making enough cash to pay off school debt. And I can't question my sense of elation when I finally purchased the ticket. There's always plan B- move back to GR and live with my sister! And that wouldn't be horrible, just another part of my journey!