Reisebrev fra Maryia
Having gotten an opportunity to go to Haiti as an intern for Prosjekt Haiti, my head got overloaded with thoughts and concerns. All my previous knowledge about this country could be put into five words: revolution, earthquakes, poverty, floods and cholera. As an intern of PH I would be based in Port-au-Prince. Google search for “Port-au-Prince”, as well as for “Haiti” brought up devastating after-earthquake pictures of ruins, dead bodies, and armed soldiers. Will I be able to survive in Haiti for three months? My vivid imagination scrupulously drew pictures of me living in a tent, for some reason with a crying baby in my arms.
But the decision was made, the tickets booked, the suitcase packed. As I had lived in Norway for six years, I had almost no clothes to pack that would be suitable to wear when the temperature is higher than 20C. Saying good-byes to my friends… I am going to Haiti – not Hawaii, not Tahiti. HAITI. No, I am not going to spend three months on a beach enjoying cocktails. Yes, I will be careful about voodoo. No, I am not planning to return to Norway with a Haitian boyfriend and an adopted child. See you in December.
The first impression from Haiti I got while still airborne. While landing one gets a pretty good overview of the districts lying closest to the sea, i.e. the poorest ones. Ruins. A brown river. Almost no trees. A picture of devastation and despair. Slums and camps. People still live in camps after the earthquake, that are loaded with hunger and crime. Nobody knows how long they will live there. And what is better: to live in a tent that may be torn apart by the first storm, or be provided with a house built by certain NGOs where the main building material is plasterboard that gets soaked and falls apart after the first rainy season?
After exiting the airport together with two other guys from Norway and waiting for our ride, we attracted a lot of attention from the local drivers hoping to get a passenger. Curiosity is one of the guiding character features of a Haitian. He wants to know everything about you. The first two things you get asked are what your name is and how many kids you have…
As soon as the sun touches the horizon hundreds of mosquitoes attack all those who happened to be outside. As we learnt pretty soon, local mosquitoes are on duty 24/7. The difference between the species is in what kind of crap they may transmit. The malaria ones are those that bite in the evening. And the dengue ones feast on you during the day.
As an intern my main responsibility was to conduct workshops on non-violent conflict resolution, CPS. The secret decoding of the three letters was Center for Peace Studies that co-works with the PH on conflict prevention education. However, there were a lot of other interpretations of the secret letters, the best one of which was “Conflict and Peace Solution”.
My pupils were introduced to the subject of conflict, violence and non-violent communication and conflict resolution. A lot of roleplaying helped to model possible conflict situations in their everyday lives and the ways to emerge from the situations by using non-violent communication skills. That was fun. The sad moment was when talking about the “giraffe and jackal language” I asked them what language their parents used with them. All at once answered “the jackal language”… I do hope that these kids will use more of the “giraffe language” when the time comes.
Sandy experience… Something that was supposed to be “just a storm” suddenly turned into a hurricane. For us living in a well built house this word meant much wind, dramatic temperature drop (we actually put on all the warm clothes we had to keep ourselves warm) and being unable to leave the territory for three days. Oh, yeah, count in the 18 Study Away students stuck in the guesthouse as their plans to depart for Dominican Republic were a bit updated by the nature. For the locals, though, it was a very challenging experience. People living in the camps were particularly vulnerable as the wind in combination with rain and later floods, swept away all of their property, killing the domestic animals and destroying crops…
Haiti, once called “a pearl of the Antilles”, might well have become a Caribbean resort island with incredible nature, rich culture and friendly inhabitants. Dusty roads of Port-au-Prince with piles of garbage here and there are in strong contrast with the palms, fruit-trees, mountains and beaches of the rural areas.
The question is how, having survived so many disasters, lacking food, money and basic social services like adequate medical assistance, people in this country are still smiling. Being back to winter-dark frozen Norway I am now and then return in my mind to the sun-drenched Haiti and the smiley faces of the Haitians greeting us on the way to school. Bon jou! Koman ou ye? (Good morning! How are you?) When I entered the school where I worked I was met by tens of smiling and laughing kids, excited to see you and giving you a welcoming kiss.
Now, when I am back to Norway, I feel like I have been in a different world, a place so different from my every day surrounding that sometimes I ask myself: Have I really been there and experienced it? The answer is yes, and the proof of that is my new friends, knowledge and the changed world comprehension.
Haiti, ma Cherie, I miss you and I know that sooner or later we will meet again.