Back around the time that I got too busy to regularly stop, reflect, and write, I came across a thoughtful post on aid work in Haiti by Quinn Zimmerman called “The Aid Bitchslap.” I cross-posted it, and then, coincidentally, I stopped blogging due to time constraints. So Quinn’s post has been on my homepage for a very long time. I’m trying to find the time and energy to blog again, but in the meantime, Quinn emailed to let me know he’d written a follow-up to that first post. He’s put some space between himself and his Haiti experience, and it’s a good reflection. Here’s a taste. You can read the rest on Quinn’s blog.
June 18, 2013
It was never about Haiti
“My first months in Haiti were lived unquestioned. I made friends, I explored the country, I fell in love and drank and danced and swam the Caribbean and made a fool of myself in any interaction with the locals because I could not speak Kreyol and had no background in French, the country’s original colonial language upon which Kreyol is based. It was, in many respects, the happiest period of my life. It was also the period during which, in August 2010, I met James Fortil. A young man near my age who had come to Leogane from Gonaives, James worked with All Hands as a local volunteer in 2008 on another project in Haiti, and was returning to do the same again. Possessing a basic knowledge of English but stronger in Spanish (a language I also speak) given the few years he’d spent in the neighboring Dominican Republic, James and I bridged the communication gap, and he became my first true Haitian friend. In doing so, the process of a deeper, more personal understanding into the nature of Haiti and her people began, and so too the unraveling of my honeymoon with the country, with the work, with the people, and ultimately, with myself.
The process was a slow one. It came gradually, in those rare moments of silent contemplation, which given the nature of the base, and the constant attention that came from the locals upon leaving it, was hard to find. It came in drunken half-remembered conversations with James at the local watering hole (dubbed Little Venice given it sat on a drainage ditch), in which, tongue loosened by the alcohol, he would expose some of the fears and doubts he had about his future. It came in starting to feel disconnected from many of the newer volunteers, focusing most of my attentions on the long-termers, or, occasionally, on a pretty short-termer that made tent time more enjoyable. Mostly, it came from the gradual fading of the rush of being where I was. When the sensational transitions into the normal, and the normal is every day there, and you in it, you cannot help but begin to see things through a different lens. The rose-tinted glasses begin to slip. This was not a process unique to me. The discussions we had about Haiti were of two entirely different qualities depending on who was having them: the newer internationals fresh with excitement and seeing beauty in all things, and the long-termers engaging the cynical side of their characters. In retrospect, it was so cliché as to be embarrassing. In retrospect, many things.”