Monday, October 18, 2010


Feel like I need to officially say Ta Ta for Now to this blog and any readers who might be hanging on and continuing to check in from time to time. I've got 6 months to finish this Phd thing... and well, every minute counts...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

inverse insomnia

I woke up at 6:30am this morning - more than an hour before my scheduled alarm. 6:30 am isn't too bad considering that over the last two weeks I've managed to open my eyes at 3:30 am, 4:20am and most days 5ish. Not quite sure what to make of this inverse insomnia. I've had plenty of periods in life when I toss and turn until 2am - but this consistent too early rising? This is something new.

Two weeks ago today I left for my 3rd post-quake trip to Port-au-Prince. I spent a good part of this summer trying to put this particular visit off. My last visit to Haiti was marked by some conflict/confusion that I wasn't sure had been resolved. Thankfully I arrived at the clinic to discover that overall, expectations and relationships were back to the way I knew them pre-January 12th. It's not possible to say that life in PAP is good/right/resolved (of course that wasn't exactly possible pre-quake either) but I got a sense at the clinic of a "new normal" in which people are making a way - with characteristic strength, dignity and maybe even hope. That said, I was not able to escape the feeling of fear/dread each time I had to ask someone I had not seen since January "how is your family?" - for every two smiles and graziadieus there was at least one quivering lip and tear-swelled eyes.

This time, the bad news actually came from lot bo dlo , the other side of the water, as the United States is often referred to in Haitain Creole. On evening 4 of 6, I received news through a cousin in Chicago that our uncle Steve, my dad's youngest brother, had died suddenly of a heart attack earlier that morning. Just a week before, Steve had celebrated his 48th birthday over dinner with my aunt and 10-year-old cousin. His death came as a total shock. Thankfully, I was able to easily adjust my existing travel plans to join my family in Chicago for the wake and funeral.

Bittersweet and intense are probably the best words to describe the 72 hours after I landed at JFK last Sunday evening. I honestly can't think of another time in which every single interaction I had somehow felt strangely significant - not even in those early post quake days in January. The bitter surfaced minutes after I arrived when the US Customs agent began to ask some questions about my reasons for being in Haiti. He awkwardly transitioned to his own earthquake story - how he had shared small talk with a transiting senior UN official on route to Haiti on January 11th only to discover 48 hours later that this man was among the dead at the collapsed UN headquarters. The sweet came shortly after as I left JFK in a taxi with four of my favorite people (2 big, 2 little) from the S family - their flight back from family vacation in Minnesota landed at JFK just minutes after mine came in from PAP.

And so the bittersweet hours unfolded. I landed early Monday morning in Chicago and listened to my parents share sad details of my uncle's death as we drove back into the city. From there we went on to enjoy a picture-perfect Chicago summer morning at an outdoor cafe where I met my lovely 3rd cousins who were visiting from Dublin, Ireland. The family ties were clear as they laughed and shared wonderful stories about my distant relatives. We went on to the wake where the bitter (grief, questions, hurts, prayers) and sweet (family unity,love,stories,laughter,prayers) came together in such a powerful way that I literally found myself waiting for the aftershocks to start. Apparently my own post-Jan 12 "new normal" is to always be ready for the room to start moving. At one point I had to escape the claustrophobic viewing room and walk around the block a few times before I could breathe freely again.

And on it went - Tuesday morning's funeral mass by a Baptist-turned-Catholic priest who I thought actually managed to bridge our own Irish American family's version of the Protestant/Catholic divide, catching up at the boisterous post-funeral lunch on the happenings of a favorite cousin's life, a treasured time to talk to Grandma L as we got a little lost driving Chicago's streets, spending several hours with a dear friend who is facing conflict/pain/confusion on a scale that I really struggle to know how to best love her through, returning Wednesday to NYC via LGA where I sat and had lunch with a grandmother from Queens who told me stories from her 17 years as a volunteer airport greeter (apparently the annual volunteer appreciation lunch is lovely), then on to an only-in-NYC afternoon/evening that ended at an only-in-Harlem gem of a nightclub with West African roots, followed the next morning by just a touch more interpersonal drama - for good measure I suppose.

There is a sweet side to my inverse insomnia that seems fitting to the mood of recent days. On Tuesday morning I got to watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan from the picture window of my parents' east-facing 16th floor apartment. It was beautiful. Something definitely worth losing a little sleep for.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Haiti is not Hell

Laura Wagner, an anthropology student who was doing research in Haiti at time of the quake, has once again captured many of the thoughts and feelings that blans like me are experiencing these days. Highly recommend reading the entire piece here.

Some highlights

"I am told that the American reading public has "Haiti fatigue," that they don't want to read stories about the disaster and its aftermath anymore. Part of me wants to retort, "You know who else has Haiti fatigue? Haiti." But in truth, I don't want to read about the earthquake, either. I don't want to read about the conditions in the camps, or the increase in violence against women, or hurricane season, or what Sean Penn is saying today. When news stories about Haiti cross my in box, I skim them and then move them to a folder that I imagine, maybe wrongly, that I'll be able to process someday. Most of the time, it's too much. Knowing about something doesn't mean you know what to do to fix it."

"Nearly seven months after the earthquake, strangely, I find myself missing the emergency. Amid the tragedy, the sickening uncertainty, there was hope for change. The hours and days after the earthquake were hell, but an urgent and emergent hell: Because everything was thrown into tumult, no one knew where the pieces would land. Now it is clear how much institutional brokenness has endured. The crisis that, just half a year ago, felt like the end of the world is now chronic and stretching into an infinite horizon. Disaster, it turns out, is not an event but a process; the real crisis in Haiti comes not from the movement of the earth but from those structural, social and political factors that remain, seemingly intractably, intact amid so many broken things.

This is my selfish wish: to have been involved in relief at a time when things seemed morally unambiguous and every action was useful, even limping around the U.N. logistical base trying to find food for the injured, even scraping hardened sugar off the counters to mix with the oatmeal powder I found in the pantry, even sitting on a pee-scented cot holding someone's hand and talking about anything. There was no question of what to do; the only choice was to do."

"Haiti is not hell, or even limbo, however biblical it may appear at times. Amid the suffering and the absurdity, it is still a place, as all places are, on this sometimes-shifting earth."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

6 months on...

Not easy to watch - primarily about violence in the post-quake camps - but important....

Friday, June 4, 2010


So my very good intentions of doing RAGBRAI with some old roommates where thwarted more than a month ago when I discovered that we missed the group registration deadline . So I've decided to train for a century (100 mile) ride right here in the Finger Lakes. The Southern Tier AIDS Ride for Life is on September 11 this year...which in theory gives me plenty of time to train. I just ordered a new bike from a local bike shop that is supposed to be ready early next week...and then... it will be time to start hitting the road with a little more discipline. All the sudden I find myself noticing just how hilly it is around here!