Was I Ever Really There?

I didn’t want a going away party when I left Haiti. I got sick the day before I left and used that as an excuse to avoid the fuss-making over my leaving. I ended up going out for a drink with some friends and then catching the tail end of a larger party that was apparently also meant to be a farewell to me.

The next day I crammed my morning so full that my office goodbye was nothing more than a fly by of waving arms, air kisses and brief hugs. I am not even entirely sure that everyone there knew I was actually flying home that day and not returning.

And I did this all as if I were the only one to consider.

I did not give the friends I had made there a chance to really look me in the eye and tell me goodbye. I did not let it settle in to the people I worked with that I would no longer be a part of their work lives. I did not give anyone a real chance to have closure with me. It felt clean and tidy at the time. Today it feels selfish.

Working on a three-month assignment in a country as intense as Haiti is really such a strange beast, after all. It is such a short time, as it turns out. Enough time to learn that what you had originally thought you would do was not doable after all. Enough time to determine the best path forward, which is always a looser, more organic-to-the-culture approach. But not enough time to get anything like that going. Not enough time to see anything more than the flickering of success somewhere far on the horizon. Not enough time to have something to hold in your hands to show what your time meant there.

But the hardest thing about three months in that kind of situation is about relationships. I lived in close quarters with some great people there. Every day we would either be in each other’s rooms or we’d have only our tarped walls separating us, which encouraged constant conversation. I had many more friends to whom I sent demanding emails all the time for them to “Get on Skype” so we could chat…or “don’t even think about going somewhere without me this weekend.” I knew more about the habits and needs of everyone there than I know about any of my very close friends here. And every day, we’d share the frustrations of the day, the weirdness everything going on around us and whine about stuff that would not be worth whining about back home, but which gave us something safe to bitch about in a place where none of us really felt we had the right.

I have been home now for a month and a half, and I have been completely disappeared from that place in a way you can only understand if you have been there to see it happen. No one emails me. No one asks me questions or looks for counsel on what I know. Short term volunteers must flow through there now who have never and will never hear of me. The international staff that was there when I was closed the gap around the void I left, before I even got back home. To a newcomer there, I never was.

And I know this with certainty, because I was part of that gap closing in the past. My hands too drew the curtains behind those departing for home. It becomes so routine that the day someone has left, it is as if they were never there. There are occasional mentions in the context of conversations, but nothing much more than that. I never called or wrote either. And I understood it then every bit as much as I understand it now, which is to say…not at all.

Except to say that, in an environment like that, it is hard to become attached and lose people all the time. And it is not just the mushy and emotionally expressive ones who suffer those losses. Even the solid ones who do not show it feel the chipping away until they cloister themselves away to avoid as much of the attachment as possible.

The strange and unfamiliar sadness I feel over this is so complex that it is difficult to explain and I don’t process emotional things as clearly as I used to before Haiti. But, if I were to try, it might look like peering through a foggy train window toward a spot on the horizon that you can’t quite see, but know is there all the same.

xo,

Kimberley

Fort

Some days, I wish my kids were very small

Like today.

Because today I want to do things that grownups just don’t do.

Like build a fort.

With blankets and chairs.

I would put it against the wall so that I could have pillows to lean on.

Only they would be beasts I had tamed.

And have little pin lights hanging from the chair backs.

But then again

The kids would want to play their games

And make it too much like a movie they saw

Or a campout

Or the jungle.

My tent would be in the middle of a crazy network of caves and tunnels.

And there would be no maps

Because the openings keeps shifting

And the tunnels move.

And, only I can find the way in

Because I am magic.

But I would bring a friend.

One friend.

Because she gets me

Even when I don’t.

She will say

“Oh, perhaps we shall have some tea then!”

When the roof starts to sag and I can’t figure it out.

Or

“Look! A new door! I wonder where that goes?!”

Because she knows that adventure

will get me all excited again.

And maybe I would have to get new chairs

And blankets

Because maybe that corner of the living room would always be a tent

In a cave

At the end of a wild trek through mysterious tunnels.

This Post is Empty

Today, the day that I have publicly proclaimed as the first official day of my life as a writer, I do not want to write.

I don’t mean that I cannot think of anything to write about. I don’t mean that I have writer’s block. I don’t even mean that I can’t get exactly what I feel onto the page and that it is frustrating. I have felt all of those things before at one time or another. Today, all I feel is resistance. My jaw is set against it. Yeah, I can feel my jaw tight and determined.

The logical part of my brain is pleading. I can feel that as well.

“It doesn’t have to be good!”

“It doesn’t have to change anyone’s life!”

“It doesn’t even have to be anything about Haiti, Nepal or the fact that you are blowing your life wide open!”

“Just get something down.”

“Just write.”

“Anything.”

But it is almost noon and I have cleaned the kitchen, finished some financial stuff that has been hanging over my head, I have made appointments and filled in more of my to do list. And all this was done with an undeniable air of defiance.

I am not your monkey.

And I don’t even know with whom I am fighting. Whose monkey am I not being exactly? There is no outside pressure on me to perform. I have no deadline pressures. I have no authority figure over me.

I am too new at this to know what to do with myself when I am actively and aggressively resisting something I want to do. How does one talk themselves down? And, seriously, what am I to do with the insolent child of myself, pouting with her ball in her arms, threatening to take it home?

Anyone?

Xo,

Kim

Haiti, A Wide Road and Two Boys

At the top of the hill above the camp is the MASH unit style tent hospital. A wide dirt road runs in front of it, scored by the hundreds of vehicles that have passed this way over the two years since the earthquake bringing medical supplies, workers, volunteers and the sick and injured. There is not any other traffic on this road as it dead ends shortly after the hospital at what used to be the helicopter landing pad.

I met Elius and Thierry on this road (I have changed their names). We all do eventually, the volunteers. These boys are as familiar on that road as the doctors and nurses. They live in the tent city below the hospital and spend much of their free time hanging around that makeshift clinic above the camp.

Neither speaks fluent English, or much english at all really, yet both are extraordinarily comfortable around strangers and strike up conversations with more ease than seems possible given their life. It is clear that NGO workers have been a fixture in their life.

Elius appears to be the ring leader…maybe of everything. He pursues language with a thirst that I have never seen in a child his age. He speaks bits of five languages…the languages of the UN soldiers permanently stationed in the camp where he lives. When I first met him a woman in our group told him she was from Pakistan. His first question to her, in English – “What is the language in Pakistan?” and then “Do you have an Urdu dictionary you can give me?” He is as proud of his collection of foreign language books and dictionaries as he is of his new soccer ball, which he protects to the point of obsession. He is chatty and curious. I love the fact that every single interaction with him leaves me exhausted from the work I do answering questions.

“What are you writing now?

“Does your son eat plantains?”

“Do you have a car where you live?”

He always grabs my arm, conspiratorially, and leans in close as he asks me things. He is unlocking the secrets of the world. Every question brings him closer in a way I do not understand.

Thierry is quieter. His angelic face adds to the impression that he is some kind of spiritual puzzle to figure out. And, perhaps he is. But he is also mischievous and fearless…he boldly asks me for money to purchase books for school and academic contests. And I always give it to him. Always. I know I am not supposed to, but when he asks, I am a mom and he is a kid who clearly needs a new pair of shoes. Badly. I smile broadly the next day when he shows me his beautiful new Croc knock offs.

Thierry is completely captivated by my camera. He and I fell into a routine…he lets me take pictures of him and then I hand him my camera for him to take pictures himself. I always sit, far longer than I had intended, on benches made of solid sandbags stacked under a tarp, and I watch him and the boys that follow him around to see what he is doing with this giant monster of a camera. While he wanders around with it snapping mostly useless shots of motion blurred dogs and cars, I rest. And this is really the deal we have struck, even if it is only me who is aware of it. There is nothing I can do here at the camp without my camera and there are times when I need to just feel the body of the group here without a camera between us.

Learning that moving the camera creates a blur...

Over time, he improves and toward the end of my three months, I can usually count on three or four decent photos from the hundreds he shoots. He gets some interesting angles as he sits with friends and when I give him a task, like moving up through the crowds at church and get pictures of the little girls in the choir, he boldly moves in and gets those shots and more. I am able to sit with him, look through the shots and tell him the story I see in what he has taken. He beams.

Theirry's photo of the church

It’s funny how little I anticipated their impact on me at the time. While living your life, you do not stop to think “These moments will define so much of my experience here.” But they do. And, as I remember them guiding me through the camp to the church or the market, I wonder what kind of options there are for them there. I worry about the fact that Elius is smart as a whip and a natural born leader. Most of the easy options for a child like that involve doing things that are not legal or safe. Thierry’s angelic looks are becoming a handicap as he slips easily into the hearts of the international aid worker community and the recipient of their easy money…because the problems in Haiti are too damn big for one person to solve, but $10 for textbooks is doable. And I am not the only one who starts to feel protective around these boys.

They were on my mind as I boarded the plane for home. I imagined bringing them here with me and wonder even today if coming to America would be better. The opportunity we have here comes at a cost, which I did not really understand until I lived somewhere else. But the point is moot, I cannot bring them home with me, even if I could discern if that would be better for them. But knowing that doesn’t stop the wondering.

xo,

Kimberley

And it begins…

When do you stop doing what you should do and start doing what scares the hell out of you? For me, it’s Monday.

I have always felt called to be a writer. But there was always too much work…too much family activity…too many excused why I can’t do it yet. But, as we all know, there is always time enough to do the things you make time for. It was always just easier to explain why I couldn’t instead of figure out when and how.

Tina and I have decided that I will not go back to work for now. For now, my work will be writing. We shall see in a few months what it comes to.

I appreciate every word I get from you on this journey. You can follow me here:

www.kimcambron.com

or on Twitter at kimcambron.

I am ignoring the panicky feeling in my stomach as I post this for everyone to see, and posting it anyway.

Xo,

Kim

Haiti, With Love

My Dear Friends,
Some of you have written me today already, on the anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. I am greatly humbled by your reaching out to me. It feels funny to be the one among my friends who is the holder of that tragedy in Haiti, but I am so honored to hold that place with you. And it is an enormous comfort to me that you care enough for me to not only remember the day…but to send me your love as well.
For those of you who do not know, and I have new friends who do not know me well yet (there is time), I spent a little over three months at the end of 2011 in Haiti, helping an NGO down there build their communications practice. We did much together, but leaving the country was still gut-wrenching because there is still so more much I could have done, and wanted to do. But then, there always will be more to do, and my family needs me too. I hurt today thinking about the lives in Haiti that I still so badly want to work with to bring their country around. The more you know about the country and its struggles the more you come to respect their strength, resilience and desire to thrive against so many challenges. Everything new thing I learned about their history opened up spidering networks of additional information that led to an infinite number of additional questions. But the thing I know with a confidence you can only feel after working with the people in that country, is that it is not only possible that the country can return to self-sustainability and strength…it is the likely outcome. You can’t spend time with them and think otherwise. They will return to their strength, stronger than before the earthquake.
The day I arrived, I was taken on a tour of the camp. Beth Milbourne walked me through our organization’s IDP camp (internally displaced persons camp) and watching her was amazing. She strolled through with a comfort I thought I would never feel (I very soon did though) and she greeted people she had come to know (as I came to do also). As we were leaving the MASH unit style hospital at the top of the camp, the make shift hospital she had directed and worked in for well over a year, a tap tap pulled up with men hanging off the edges of it. The screams of a woman in the back of the public transport made it clear immediately why the men were hanging off the sides. She was in active labor. She was too far along to move her the twenty feet to the maternity part of the hospital, so the doctor on duty climbed into the back of the car and delivered the baby there. Beth beamed as she carried the new born girl from the car to the tent to be cleaned up.  The baby wailed, as they always do.
I had been there just a few hours at that point and I remember thinking to myself that I wanted this wailing baby to have different opportunities than her parents have. I wanted her to become an adult in a world that she could be strong in. This new life was not broken, had not seen tragedy, did not yet have her limitations ingrained on her thinking. I think about that little girl all the time. I am thinking of her today.
I don’t expect any of you to hold a love for Haiti like I do in my heart. I don’t expect you to understand my confidence in the people of that country, given the massive messaging we get this in this country on a regular basis about the hopelessness of their circumstance. But I do hope, because you know me and love me, that today you will open just a tiny part of your heart to the possibility that something beautiful and strong can grow there. Because Haiti needs us to believe in them. They need us to ignore the data and naysayers and see with them what is possible and probable, if they are given just enough to stabilize the ground they stand on.
This afternoon at 4:53pm, I will be stopping everything and dropping into prayer for them. I would be so honored if you would join me.
Much love,
Kim