Why Kony 2012 Matters

It almost doesn’t matter what the “cause” is for the Kony 2012 campaign.

Almost.

At least for me.

I am coming at this from a particular vantage point. And I am writing this today, because I think I am not alone.

The glut of information of all that is wrong in the world has been overwhelming me for years. There is only so much I can follow, only so much I can research, before I begin feeling inadequate and unprepared for the task of doing anything about much of anything at all.

I only have so much in the way of resources…time…energy…money. Every choice I make to support a cause is also a choice to not support another, just as worthwhile, cause. And what is the tiny bit of money I can give against a tidal wave of need that rises into my world every day through the multiple media channels that surround me? Every effort I make seems consumed by even greater need, until I become paralyzed and block it all from my view.

Every day I learn more about how this government, that is supposed to be representing me, doesn’t. And that knowledge pushes me further into paralysis, because how can I possibly make my voice heard in the sea of lobbyists with bankrolls and party invitations? Can I really expect issues most important to me and my kids to be prioritized above the issues of those who have underwritten the campaigns of those in office?

Then, along comes Kony 2012 and I am transfixed. In the space of two days, my Facebook, Google+ and Twitter feed are all filled with posts about this viral video. It is what I always wanted the Internet to be, but what it has not been to this point…a vehicle for amplifying the voices of the many so that they could be heard above the cash that controls the government officials. The message has been distilled and simplified to the point that it is easy to deliver, easy to understand, easy to follow and easy to support. Someone has taken what is possible with social networking and turned it into something probable.

When we join this legion of voices, we are not only amplifying a call to the government to bring Joseph Kony to justice, we are becoming a community. With this campaign, we are sensing our power as a people. We are feeling what it means to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people…as the founders intended.

I have for years agreed that the government has gotten out of hand. I have not, however, been able to get behind those who would abolish the government or lessen its power. I have worked in the oil and gas industry too long to believe that self-regulation has any possibility of keeping us, as human beings, safe and that is just the tip of the iceberg. No, we need government. But I feel pretty confident that, if the founding fathers could see what this government has turned into, they would be horrified. And, if not, it is enough for me that I am. This government does not represent me or my kids. It is easy enough to see, in the decisions made by governing bodies every day, whose interests are being protected.

Kony 2012 is imperfect in its goals. I have done the reading and read the reports and comments on those reports until I am swimming in them. At no point do they outline explicitly HOW justice be served, but that it remain a highly visible priority until it is….but the critics have much in the way of material to work with in their criticisms. However, at the end of the day, three important truths remain:

  1. Joseph Kony is a brutal war criminal with a trail of brutal abductions, heinous rapes, atrocious murders and maimings using children as his army.
  2. He is still at large.
  3. We have had 26 years to bring him to justice and have not.

So, it is well past time for this to become a matter of large-scale public concern.

But this…this viral campaign…is more than that. It is opening doors to the possibility that we can, as a people, demand to be part of the conversation. That we can share information more easily than ever before and discover the truths that lie outside of the tightly controlled messaging being fed to us on any given issue. That we can find a way to join our voices of concern together in a way that makes it impossible for those in power, the ones with the ability to actually represent us in a tangible way, to ignore us.

That is worth supporting. That is worth fighting for. That is worth our energy.

 

Kony 2012, Charity Navigator and the Critics

My heart aches today and it has become too heavy for me to not respond to what I am seeing happening online with regard to the 2012 campaign. I have seen the criticisms. I have taken them very seriously. I read the blogs and articles. I read the comments on those blogs and articles. I looked at the financials and at Charity Navigator’s facts figures as well as the reviews posted by others on that site in the comments. I have done my due diligence, and I am continuing to do it.

I have lived as an aid worker in a developing country, which is something many of the people weighing in on this issue have not done. I also have a background in global communications (over 20 years in advertising/marketing and corporate communications). The combination of these two things…along with my emotional connection to the world and the problems in it, has made it impossible for me to sit silent in the face of the criticisms I have read. The critics, while sometimes making strong arguments, are dangerously and irresponsibly incorrect when looking the issue as a whole.

We live in a time where we are all bombarded with wild amounts of information and detail. We, as a culture, have begun to distrust all corporate media and for good reasons. We are aware that their job is to make money and to report things to get us to watch. We are clear that our government is controlled by lobbyists and have seen our elected officials fail, time and again, to live up to the promises made by them as they campaigned for our votes. And we are all keenly aware that injustice in this world is rampant and we feel completely powerless to do anything about it. Which causes are the most important and what can we, as voiceless and powerless citizens, do to change anything at all…anywhere?

So, there are two parts of this Kony 2012 mission…the one that is directly spoken about and the one that is hinted at. And the one that is hinted at is so important to us as a culture that it could change everything forever.

I want to address the overt mission first…the mission to stop Joseph Kony. I have read the academic arguments on why the Kony 2012 campaign is ill-conceived. One at a time:

“It is late/it is more peaceful now/he has moved and lost power already” Yep. This one is true. We should have done something 26 years ago. But we didn’t. And, while it is true that he does not have the power he once wielded and has gone into hiding, I can’t imagine how this is a good argument to just throw up our hands and walk away. His history is so virulent that it MUST be addressed…now. And to the children and families still living in fear in the vicinity of this horrible madman, and the ones who are still captive…it is not too late. If we do not find him now and bring him to justice, what are we saying to the children whose lives have been lost in service to him? What are we saying to the families who have lost children to him? What are we saying to those who would step into his place when he is weakened and gone?

“He is using children as a human shield and they would be in danger.” Yes again. This is true. But they are in danger now. They have been in danger. And, if we do not do something, they will continue to be in danger. Additionally, the Kony 2012 campaign is not advocating a specific military or diplomatic strategy for finding Kony and bringing him to justice. So to argue that because we are hanging up posters, we are telling Obama to send in troops is inaccurate and silly. They are asking us to keep this effort in our consciousness and to continue to advocate with our government.

“This is an African problem, not a US one.’ Not going to spend much time on this one, other than to say…we are a global community now more than we have ever been in the history of the world. The fact that this could happen, did happen, is a crime against humanity. Those children are our children. Those families are our families. Those dead are our dead.

We should be focused on empowering the people with education/jobs/clean water/etc. Oh, I love this one. We absolutely should be doing what we can to give these children a better shot at a healthy, educated and strong future. No question about that. However, that this even comes into the argument demonstrates an incredible “first world” bias. If families are terrified that their children will be abducted in the middle of the night…if children are afraid of going to sleep because they have seen their siblings and friends brutally murdered…education and medical care are an almost laughable approach. Maslow’s hierarchy of need, people. If I don’t feel physically safe, don’t talk to me about recycling. This should not be an either/or situation. And, while it is certainly true that the Ugandan people now need these things desperately, there are organizations already dedicated to this mission…and it is not the mission of Invisible Children, who have been dedicated to the cause of arresting Kony for nine years.

The Invisible Children foundation is spending too much money on film-making and media. As a Communications professional, I am always stunned at how completely clueless people are about what goes in to staging an effective campaign. The organization CLEARLY stated that their goal is to elevate this so solidly in the public eye, and insinuate it into so much of the social media, that those who have the power to impact change…will, if only because they will look bad to their constituencies if they don’t. This requires money and staff…good staff. People who know how to deliver a message in a powerful and compelling way across generations/economic divides/political divides/geography/etc. And those people who have this knowledge and these skills have families and lives to support. If you operate on a shoestring, you get a shoestring response. It is that simple. We would not even be having this discussion on this scale if the people running this campaign did not know what they were doing.

The film is centered on the little blond haired boy. Decades ago, leading international neurologist, Antonio Dimassio proved that it was physiological impossible for humans to make a decision, any decision at all, without engaging the emotion center of the brain. Facts, charts, figures…none of that does it for us. Ever. This horrible atrocity is occurring well outside of our Monkey Sphere (another study done that basically asserts that we can not hold attention for any person or issue that falls too far outside of our local experience of the world). What this means in terms of communication is that the event must be connected to us directly somehow in order for us to maintain the attention span for it. The film does an outstanding job of not only doing this, but also giving us an entry point into a story that most of us have not been following very closely as he explains it to his small child. His child is a perfect bridging element for us.

This is not simple. Nothing is ever as simple as we make it out to be. I realize that the campaign oversimplifies the issue. But 26 years to sit around debating what should be done is too long. It is past time to do something. Anything would have been better than 26 years of what these people had to endure, and endure still.

Tomorrow I will be blogging on the second factor in this Kony 2012 issue that, I believe, is FAR more important than the original objective and, if it succeeds, may change the way everything is done forever.

Here’s the 30 minute movie, if you haven’t seen it yet.

Words Fail Me

“Are these from Africa?

The woman in the frame store jolted me out of my own little world with that question. I had gone back to Haiti and a little tented art shop near the top of the IDP camp. My hands ran over the framed pictures marveling at how different they looked in frames. In the artist’s tent the pictures on raw canvas are pinned to rope and wood wherever there is space. I had chosen the ones I wanted to buy more than a month before I made the purchase. I finally bought two, one folk art painting of kids playing in the camp, and a larger black and white one, a loose interpretation of Fet Gede (a voodoo celebration I had witnessed). I was wondering if I had made a mistake in framing them after all. Did the frames box in the life of them? Did I like them better frayed around the edges and hung with small wires from rope?

“Pardon?”

“Your pictures. Are they from Africa?”

“Oh. No. They’re from Haiti. I knew the artists.”

“Why were you in Haiti?” (Always the next question.)

But my mind had stopped again on “I knew the artists.” I did know them. They made me a gift of a third painting before I left as a thank you for always bringing people by to see their shop. It seems my mind is always overloaded when the subject of my past three months comes up. Like every conversation opens a tiny hole through which tidal waves of words push to move through.

“I was working with a nonprofit down there for three months.”

“Wow. I have a friend who just got back from Columbia. She said it is awful down there. Truly awful. I imagine Haiti is the same way, with all the earthquakes and hurricanes they have experienced.” And I start to nod my head in agreement. These are such simple quick conversations, I never really want to go into it with people I meet like this. I never feel able to go into it anyway. Besides, she is actually very sweet and is not really looking for deeper information, just being friendly. But then she says the thing that cuts me so deep I have no idea how to respond.

“What is happening down in Haiti is not the work of our Lord; it is the work of the devil for sure. Makes me wonder what is going on down there for them to deserve that.” And, I know she is not really wondering at all. I know she has decided that this nation has brought this upon themselves with their “ungodly” behavior. I have heard this before, unfortunately.

I stumble through some bits of information about slave debt and the monumental task of financing infrastructure under the burden of those conditions. I tell her that the entire world was appalled by their revolt at the time so finding support was impossible. But this rings as hollow in my ears as it must ring in hers.

The truth is closer to a conversation I had with a well-studied international aid worker and friend in Haiti soon after I arrived. He told me there were so many versions of the “truth” in Haiti that there was no sense in placing much stock in any of them, that all we can do is move forward.  But, when I am in back in the car, I cry. My failure to illuminate even a single aspect of Haiti’s worthiness and beauty to this misguided woman is becoming too familiar. And this time the failure comes too close on heels of seeing the faces of friends in the paintings and the memory of sitting on a small hill above the artist’s makeshift gallery watching them paint. I have failed my artist friends and Haiti. I sink into a funk that has become familiar to me ever since I returned home. I just don’t have the words, and that stings.

I met a woman once while working on a documentary shoot above the camp who told me about the days after the earthquake. She told me story after story. She told them to me as if they came unbidden. Like she had to tell them over and over. As if the telling would bring some sense to the world. As I drove home I remembered her story of the singing.

The dust had not even settled in Port au Prince. Aftershocks and trembles were still so common that people refused to sleep inside the buildings, afraid they too would become trapped or worse. Wails punctuated the shouting of people who were finding bodies. Unstable buildings still crashed along every street and in every neighborhood, keeping people wary of even the slightest crack around them. And there was weeping…always weeping. As she became accustomed to those noises, she began to hear singing. She followed the sound, looking for the source of the music. Eventually, she realized that it surrounded her. The people were singing. They were singing hymns. Pouring love, faith and prayers into valleys and hills surrounding Port au Prince. Thousands of voices, singing together. That moment gave her peace and hope. These people were not overcome. They still loved. They still believed. They still had faith.

Maybe I should have told her that story, instead of bringing up slave debts and old policies from governments long ago. That story does not contain the whole truth of Haiti, not by a long shot, but I have yet to find anything that comes as close as one simple story at a time.

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

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

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

The Tap Tap and the Tent City

I’m lying in “bed” thanking to universe for the science behind wet+wind= cooling. I am thankful for a room to myself, indoors. I am thankful that we are not in the tent city tonight. Thankful for FaceTime…oh my God, I am thankful for FaceTime.

Today I worked for seven hours or so in the office. It felt good to be here working on stuff in my competency. Something calming about putting plans together and rounding up information. Felt routine almost, and routine is an amazing thing when you are this far outside of your element. And I am so far outside of my element that it feels fictional.

Late in the afternoon, Beth I was asked if I wanted to go tour the “camp” and if I had rain boots. We walked there down steep hills with gravely rocky roadways, and by structures that had various spray painted markings on them that I learned today indicates what state of disrepair they are in. It is sobering to walk by so many buildings with red spray paint markings, indicating that they are compromised even by Haiti building code standards, which, by all accounts, are woefully inadequate. We were soon to enter the tent city, and this would make those buildings look like bed and breakfast establishments.

The gate at the camp is flanked by men who look like they are casually guarding it. Like everyone here, they are friendly and gentle. We first pass by a tent that has been converted into a bar. We later get a beer here, will get to that. This is the first in a series of shops and restaurants set up to serve the people in the community. There appear to be more shops than actually homes, but I imagine they break down the shops and the tents are also their homes. The streets between the tents are so muddy that I am constantly sinking into it and then having to stop to pull my boot from the muck. I am so grateful for my boots. So grateful.

People and kids all around me are shoeless and the kids sometimes are unclothed in the rain…bathing. The tents are not tents in the way we think of them. Tarps mostly, supplemented with corrugated metal in places, burlap sacks in places and wood that has clearly been scavenged from somewhere. As we walk by, the kids shout out “Hey There!” the only thing they know in english, taught to them by the American military I am told. I respond with bonswa, and they giggle.

The Kreyol language is a bit of an adventure for me. As I hear things, I try and stop to see if I can connect it to something I know in French. Often I can…but not always. Bonswa, for instance, sounds just like bon soir in  French, but they take great pride in the spelling differentiation and having their own language. I am committed to learning.

I am stunned by how truly beautiful the people are. There are kids who could easily model in the United States. They are that beautiful and they are everywhere here.

On our way to the medical facility, we stop at the shop of an artist in the camp. She is a lovely woman, and her work is beautiful. The paintings are $25 dollars a piece, and are on canvas, but not mounted. I want to get some to bring home with me, of course. 

Through a heavily guarded gate is the climb up to the hospital. And it is quite the climb. I wonder how people who are truly ill can make it up this hill, but quickly check myself. This climb is hard from my perspective. From theirs, it is surely the least of their concerns. The hospital was formerly a relief hospital operated by the American military, at least I think that is what we were told. In any case, it did not work very well and was abandoned and donated to (organizaton). The reason it is so high on a hill was that it was next to the helicopter landing pad, which was in great use after the earthquake.

There is a canopy for triage, but this is not the first triage location. The first is before you even go through the gates to determine if you really need medical attention. This triage is to determine if you will be sent to the pharmacy, the hospital, the birthing dome or directly into the isolation tents if you are infectious. Only the birthing dome is fully contained without dirt floors.

We meet two very young boys there. One of them is chatty and clearly brilliant. He is curious, speaks English, French, creole and Portuguese and, while we are standing there, asks the woman with us from Pakistan for an urdu dictionary because he wants to learn this language as well. I am told later that he is indeed brilliant and quite adept at getting the other kids to do things for him. A bit of a scam artist apparently. This does not surprise me. He is quite charming. But it does make me a bit sad. I want to pluck him out of the mud and deliver him into some kind of apprenticeship. He is so incredible curious and resourceful.

The trees up here are native and wild, overhanging everything. 

As we turn to leave, a tap tap pulls up in front of the hospital and we can hear ferocious screaming coming from it. The midwife is emerging from the dome as our guide asks her “besoin d’aide?” and she apparently does need the help. She rushes over to help her…no scrub up, no gloves, there is no time. The woman has endured an arduous ride up an impossibly bumpy hill in the throes of extremely active labor, and the baby has crowned. As the woman screamed in agony, it occurred to me how removed we are from the birthing process in the states. I have never heard this. I was not even screaming during my births. Women give birth in my network all the time, and I have never heard this.
In any case, moments later, a very small, newly born girl, in a blanket, is carried to the birthing dome to be washed. The baby is screaming her beautiful head off, and I feel instant compassion for her to be born as she has been in such a dire environment. I know babies all scream, but this moment feels particularly poignant to me. This moment firms my resolve to do what I can to help this country build a different reality for her. I want her to have access to a different life. Her specifically. I want this for everyone…the two brilliant beautiful boys who are still standing just outside the emergency tent, the woman selling mangos in front of her tent in the camp, the little girl, wearing only a long shirt, walking through the muck of the roads after the rains. But this newly born baby fills me with a sense of urgency and hope at the same time. For her, life is not yet something to endure. Right now, nothing is defined. So, for her, things must be different.

On the way back to the house, we stop for a round of beers. Three citizens of the tent city are already in there and greet us warmly and are so friendly that I want to talk to them, despite the fact that I will have to crank out my rusty French. Fortunately, our guide knows one of them well and we begin chatting with him, in English. We are handed ice cold beers, colder than any I have been served in the states, and we pull three iron chairs around from the theater set up on the side of the tent (this bar also acts as a makeshift cinema on weekends at times, showing movies on a television screen that is about the same size as my laptop computer screen).
We talk with a man about the challenge in translating (he has done translating for the organization before), and that you must factor in the cultural relevance or much of the meaning can get lost. It is a truth one can only know if you speak more than one language and have spoken it in different areas, and this observation startles me here in the middle of this tent city, drowning in its own debris and muck. And this is what we need to know in the United States and everywhere where there is money. We need to know that there is a brilliance here that defies our “you must have gone through university educating in order to be valuable” mentality. Here in this primitive tent, with electricity stolen from the wires run above our heads, sits a man who has just communicated a concept that I have struggled to explain to college educated clients in high ranking corporate positions. He is not even aware that he has made this much of an impression on me. I carry that into my evening, however, and into my thinking. I later ask if anyone in the organization has ever seen anything written by this man, and she says she might have something.

I get back to the house and am just in time to get in on an impromptu trip to the grocery store. When we get into the store, I make a mental note that the volunteer materials need to be revamped. There is so much available here that I could have avoided packing into giant bags and bringing with me. I am thrilled to buy some rice and beans for the days when we are on our own for food. I meet a couple of the other volunteers who invite me to go hiking the next day…something I will not end up doing after all. Maybe another time.


Love,
Kim

Arrival and the Haitian Flop

Hi Kimberley fans. It’s Tina. With Kim’s permission I am posting a few entries in the form of notes I have received from her. I am taking out any reference to famous people and the name of the organization to comply with the media agreement she had to sign. Kim sends lots of love. She is receiving your emails and good wishes. She doesn’t have much time for personal correspondence. Being inspiring is apparently more than a full-time job. 🙂

I am sitting in the large living room area in the headquarters. I am sitting here, in the middle of everything and everyone because the room I am going to be living in for the next three months is currently full of someone else’s stuff who has not quite moved out yet. I am not upset so much as I am overwhelmed. Trying to find the fun and adventure in this. Not quite there. I feel pretty certain that everyone here thinks I am deadly serious. Maybe I am.

My room is quite a luxurious set up compared to the other accommodations here. As a long term volunteer (most are here for two weeks or so) I get my own space. A giant room upstairs has been divided into two rooms but a wood frames and partial walls of plastic tarp. I almost cried with relief when I saw it. There is a light, two electrical outlets and a small window. There is a standard issue cot there, not sure if I get that. I have my fingers crossed. There is no door, but at this point, I could not begin to care less. It feels positively palatial. I wish I could move into it right now.

It rained like crazy this evening. Wild lightning and thunder torrential downpour type stuff. I put on my swim suit to go stand in it on the deck outside of my room. There are two tents on that deck…all space is occupied here. In any case, a guy saw me go out and showed me a little secret. He has a covered front area and a bucket sitting on the ground. When it rains, you can go out and dump the water from the cover into the bucket and then pour it over your head. It is freezing and wonderful. I have done it twice already. No one is up there, and it is dark. Heavenly. I needed that.

The drive here was wild. Reminded me so much of Nepal, with beat up streets running down into winding roads with houses and buildings all over the place.

Anyway, the streets are tragic. Things for sale everywhere. Art, drinks,  something that looks like it might be cleaner…not clear. In any case, the people seem extremely friendly, just desperate. The airport was insane.

The minute I am outside of immigration, I am in the middle of a sea of people who want to be the one to help me out to whatever form of transport I need to get to. In this sea of faces, I am supposed to pick out two that are in a picture that was sent to me…a small picture. Fortunately, One of them is holding a sign with my name on it.  I have six men literally surrounding me, and more waiting to jump in if a space opens up, when I see him through the crowd. He is completely mute, and not impressive in stature, but he effectively takes over my case…though the six continue to follow us to the parking lot and will end up asking me for a tip, even though I was clearly taken care of. I totally get it. They are just trying to earn a living in a country starving for work. But I have maxed out. I silently pray for the power to shut down mentally, but it does not come.

I have been praying this prayer all day. Wanting to shut down and just barrel through. It eludes me, except in very small moments. I almost lost it when it became clear that I would not only not be getting a phone, but I would also not be getting hooked up to the internet tonight. I am breathing into everything. Breathing. Into. Everything.

I met two Haitian boys on the plane today. Early twenties. They live in Boston now and are visiting for three days. They were sitting next to me and very sweet throughout the trip.

All around me in different rooms, people are laughing and joking and chatting away. I know I should join them. I don’t want to. I don’t want to act. I don’t want to pretend like everything is peachy. I just want to disappear and process. I have decided to count the days after all.

Thing is, the people seem like people we would like to hang out with, at least at first blush. I find myself wondering what brings all these people here. So many are here for over a year.

The house is giant, but not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination. The view is stunning, so it must have been magnificent once. There are many more than 20 people here, however. Many more.

As we drove to the house from the airport, I was told about a medical condition here called “the Haitian flop” by the medical team. Apparently, people are brought in without any physical issues at all, yet they are completely unresponsive to any kind of stimulation. They do not respond to anything the medical community knows how to do to rouse a passed out patient…pricks, shots, aromas…nothing. They have found the only way to revive them is by doing something to the nose. In any case, they have experienced trauma so extreme that they are complete and in all ways incapacitated. Have lost all feeling and are in some kind of emotional coma. This brought up a conversation about PTSD (the other person who arrived with me is a therapist)…to which I eventually replied, “when do you determine it is post trauma? Seems to me it would have to end for it to be PTSD.” This produced an interesting conversation. It feels really weird. This country is so relentlessly battered. It is impossible for me to fully comprehend what that must be like. The sheer relentlessness is mystifying. 
Love,
Kim

The Bus Trip to Jhule (My Mount Everest)

This is a note to myself…while I will never forget yesterday, I might forget the details and the texture of the moment, and I never want to do that.

Renu asked us if we wished to take a separate car or ride on the bus with the children on our laps on the way to Jhule. Three minutes later, I was sitting in a seat meant as a tight fit for two people, with Srijana, Manju and Pinky, who insisted, despite the fact that their seat already was an excruciatingly tight fit, that I sit with them.  They had a mission. They wanted to teach me a Nepali song.
Photo by Manoj Jirel, Student Photographer and Joker
I positioned myself on a full half inch of seat available to me and began to try and do what they said as they moved quickly through the song, expecting me to pick up and repeat the simple words they were telling me. After a laughed filled five minutes, I redirected them. I asked “is there a song you teach the babies? Like a VERY simple song the very little ones can learn to sing?” They laughed wildly and then began teaching me this one:

Ma Janchu, Kathmandu

Motor chadera

Bholi parsi aune chhu

Ma doctor ba ne ra.

They tell me that this means “I am going to Kathmandu by motorbike. When I come back, I will be a doctor.”

I asked them to please write down the words for me so I could follow. They first wrote them in Nepalese, which is a truly beautiful looking writing, but one I cannot read, of course. They got help from one of the teachers to write the English phonetic spelling for me. I now have it in their handwriting in my little book, along with the words for parts of the face and the word for silly. They enjoy it very much when I identify several of the boys as jokers…and jokers they are.

I sat with them, trying to sing the baby song for a while (I plan to record them singing it as soon as possible, so that I can continue trying to learn it when I go home). Then Manoj asked me to sing an American song for them. I told Manoj (who, by the way, is quite the joker) that I was glad to see everyone happy and that I did not want to make everyone cry by singing. He laughed and asked me if I knew songs by Hannah Montana. I told him my favorite song of hers was Party in the USA and, miraculously, one of the teachers produced their phone playing the song for me to sing along to. So sing I did…at least the chorus. They watched me very seriously, studying me…like I held some kind of information in my random moves and singing manner. It was odd, but ok somehow. Then I sat back down (yes, I had to stand for this so I could turn to face the one requesting the song) and the back of the bus, where I was sitting, broke into Let it Be, by the Beatles. As I was sitting, I had to brace myself by placing my hands on the seat back and the seat in front of me. As I sang, my hand was stroked by the little girl sitting in the seat behind us. We only stopped singing because Manju said she wanted me to look out the window with them and see their country as we drive past.

The ride was hard. As uncomfortable as it was for me, kids all around me were throwing up from motion sickness into little plastic bags. The 30 minute bus ride seemed to last for hours. All I could do to comfort them was stand so that they had the seat to themselves, and offer the exotic wet wipes I had for them to wipe their mouths and faces. The remainder of the trip was them being sick and me wiping their faces, pulling their hair out of their faces and asking the teachers around me how much longer the trip was. I was glad when the ride ended so my friends could recover themselves, which they did with amazing alacrity.

But the amazing thing was how the other kids took care of their friends. As kids up and down the bus became sick, their friends would move them to the seat by the window, yell for plastic bags and water, and tend to them constantly. Some of the older kids, even the jokers, stood in the aisles to facilitate quick transfer of the needed items. They were all focused on taking care of the motion sick kids. And no one had to ask any of them to step up. Not one of them shirked the responsibility of caring for the others. Not one of them. No one wanted to change seats to get away from the sick ones. The seat in front of  me had kids in it who were probably 7 years old, and when one of them fell sick, the other two in the seat tended to them for the remainder of the trip. They would look up continuously and make faces like it smelled awful, but it never occurred to them to do anything other than what they were doing. And, for the return trip, they sat with the same kids…never once considering changing their seat mates as an option, though it most assuredly was.

Next installment will be about the trek itself.
xo,
Kimberley

To Be Willing to March into Hell for that Heavenly Cause

Yesterday was final exams results day at the Koseli School. Yesterday, each child found out if they were promoted or needed to redo the year. I had no idea this was happening, and, had I known, I would not have had any context for the experience of it. It was brutal.

Renu has a very tough job. She is actually trying to give these kids the tools they need for a better life. Some of these kids come from very bad backgrounds and all of them come from a culture of very low expectations. No one really expects much of anything from them. No one, that is, except Renu and the staff at Koseli. And these expectations are critical to their success. If they learn to rise up and continue on, despite the repeated failures, they can change their lives.

Most of the class failed their final exams. Renu explained that much of the schooling they had prior to coming to Koseli was really inadequate and did not set a foundation to succeed. She also confided in me that, she does not think it is a bad thing for them to fail. If they fail, that is one more year she has with them. One more year to imbue them with skills and knowledge they need to rise above the challenges that have been dealt to them.

But the air of disappointment permeated the school. The girls cried and cried. Parents came to the school (well, some of them) to hear the results and, coming from a background of no education at all, could not fathom how the kids had worked so hard and not succeeded. They were angry.

Renu is worried that some of the children will not return. She is worried that the disappointment will be so crushing that they will just return to the life they have always known. As she sat on the floor in one of the classrooms and talked with me, I could see the pain all over her face. It is a pain she deals with every single day of her life and one she has committed to enduring for the rest of it. The pain of losing some of these kids she loves so much.

When she verbalized all this to me, I could literally feel the pain in my chest. It literally felt like I had been hit. Something in me had imagined that, once in this place, a child would never choose to go anywhere else. And for some children, this is true. But the reality is present every single day, as some of the kids fail to come to school for days at a time and gamble on the streets instead. And some of the kids cannot take the crushing failure and never return.

In that unguarded moment, alone in a small classroom, Renu gained my commitment forever. Koseli is my school too. These are my kids. She communicated volumes in her hushed tones, slumped shoulders and distracted air. This is not a charity for Renu, this is a monumental quest.

And I’m in as a sidekick…for the long haul.
XO,

Kimberley
P.S. I have pictures to post here…but I am on a new computer and have no idea how to reduce the size of my pics so that they will upload. 😦 will work on that tonight.