Tuesday, 18 March 2014

On feeling grounded

What a difference a month, or three, make! I just re-read my first post since returning to Canada and I think it did a really good job at translating how lost and confused I was. My grandma always says that "El tiempo cura todas las heridas". In my case, I don't think I needed time to heal wounds but I needed time to find my ground again.

Symbol for Ground (electricity)

It has been exactly three months since I came back from Haiti, but really I left Canada in May of 2012. That's only a year and a half. But it was a year and a half packed with new places, new people, new emotions, new teachings, and all kinds of new experiences.

After finishing my last semester in University in the summer of 2012, I left Toronto for New York City to work as an "education intern" at the NYCParks foundation. That Summer proved to be an epic one. It is still the best Summer I've ever had. You might even find a link to my old "NYC blog" somewhere in my older posts. I certainly don't encourage you to go find it!

After NYC, I went to Perigueux, France to teach english as an "English Assistant" and it was a fantastic programme. I met amazing people, gained a lot of experience, and got to travel all over Europe. Best 8 months of my life! If you scroll down enough in this blog, you can read all about it.

While still in France, I got an internship to go to Haiti. Actually, if I remember correctly, I had one of my interviews while on a train going to Spain. If I hadn't broken my ankle in N.Ireland, on my way back to Canada, I would have had only one week between France and Haiti. As my mom always says (in spanish), God knows what it does! It sounds bad, but I'm kind of happy I broke my ankle, as it meant I got to have a lot of quality time with my family. Anyhow, my time in Haiti, with all the ups and downs, proved to be the best experience I've had so far - personally and professionally.

Do you see a pattern here? I've been "high on life" (lol, sorry for the cheesiness) since May 2012. Constantly moving on to (what I think were) more and more exciting things. It was about time I stopped moving around and focused on creating and finding myself some stability and ground. So that's what I've been up to!

Volunteering, working, learning, spending time with my family, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. I am also slowly but steadily getting more involved with the latin american community in Toronto, which is so important! It gives me the opportunity to spend time with people who share similar experiences, or a common ground if you wish. I am not as scared and lost as I was a couple of months ago because no matter what happens, I know I have a home base.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

Cristo Rey Movie

Last night, I went to see Cristo Rey, a fantastic Dominican-Haitian-French movie part of the Toronto Black Film Festival (taking place in from February 11 to 16). The story takes place in the Santo Domingo barrio of Cristo Rey - itself a major character of the film - and follows Janvier, a young Haitian-Dominican man. The movie markets itself as the caribbean version of Romeo and Juliet, referencing the love story that develops between Janvier and Jocelyn, the sister of Cristo Rey's drug lord . For me, it was the tumultuous relationship between Janvier and his half-brother Rudy that really got to me. Although they share the same father, Rudy looks down on him for being Haitian and eventually become jealous of Janvier's relationship with Jocelyn, whom he tried to date in the past.

Cristo Rey, behind the scenes 


Cristo Rey, trailer

Rudy's racism and denial of his own afro-caribbean identity, which is at the very core of the negative relationship he has with Janvier, mirrors the conflict between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Specially, of the deeply rooted prejudice and discrimination that Dominicans and their government (often) display against Haitians. Even Jocelyn had some reservations about Janvier before falling for him. This is a pretty strong theme throughout the movie:
"Todos los Haitianos se parecen, eso lo sabe todo el mundo" (All Haitians look a like, everybody knows that) - Rudy
"Si no fuera Haitiano, me lo daba" (If he wasn't Haitian, I'd tap that) - Jocelyn's friend
"Cuando [Jocelyn] era pequena, le metimos en la cabeza que un Haitiano se la iba a llevar" (When [Jocelyn] was small, we put in her head that a Haitian man was going to take her away) - El Baca 
Actors James Saintil and Akari Endo 
Janvier and Rudy never make up. However, Jocelyn and Janvier's love story, as well as the appreciation shown to Janvier by many people in the neighbourhood, despite the social pressure to treat Haitians like shit, provides some hope for a future of reconciliation between Haitians and Dominicans. In order for that to happen, I wonder if there doesn't need to be an active effort to reconstruct the Dominican Republic's afro-caribbean reality/identity? It's already happening, especially within the diaspora.

Before you answer that, I leave you with this very "Do-it-yourself" soundtrack. The movie is accompanied by some amazing tunes and I am sad that I couldn't find a more legit track list.

DIY Soundtrack

1. Bylo Ultimatum - Cristo Rey No Bulto


2. Big Mato - Cristo Rey 



3. Poeta Callejero - Bonita, Bonita 



3. Poeta Callejero - Un Loco Como Yo


4. El Alfa - Cacao* 



*IMPORTANTE: Si alguien sabe que es el Vaceo, me cuenta. xoxo

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Rebeca in Haiti V: Homeward-bound

Hmm... I didn't do that well at keeping up my blog, did I? In my defence, I do microblog every day.



I'm writing from Canada at the moment, during an official snow day, and with about 40cm of snow piled up at my doorstep. I've been "home" for about a month and somehow, my mind is still in Haiti. It has been quite a change to come back, and not just weather-wise -- which seems to be all that people want to comment on. Yes, I get it, Canada is so very very cold and Haiti is so very very warm.... Ha   Ha   Ha.

~temperature~
Anyways, the hardest thing to let go, has not the weather or the people, but the sense that I was doing something meaningful and interesting. Yes, I was only an intern there but I rarely felt that way. At the beginning of the new fiscal year in October, the staff was cut down considerably but the workload stayed the same.  This gave the interns (there were two of us) the opportunity to take on tasks that were beyond out of our respective experience and areas of expertise. However, I really enjoyed it. Of course, sometimes I could feel like I was being a little bit overworked... but I always felt like I could say no to a task. I did say no a couple of times. It was challenging. It was stimulating, I was learning a lot, and I felt valued. In the end, I am confident that I managed to make a contribution to the office where I was placed.

The novelty of being back has worn off now (sorry, friends and family). I often catch myself being restless, anxious and feeling as though I've gone backwards in my nascent career. Following a required 
debrief workshop from the Centre of Intercultural Effectiveness, I know that those feelings are normal symptoms of "reverse culture shock" but knowing it doesn't make me feel any better... 

I am employed, which is lucky, in the customer service dept. at WV. The work environment is great and sometimes I can't believe how nice and helpful everyone is. This makes me see myself staying there for a while, even if it's not part of my ~career path~. I do only work part time and in the evenings so ideally, I will be able to get a second 9 to 5 job that is more aligned to the type of work I want to do.

To be honest, I have no idea what the future holds, which is scarier than it is exciting. I am a planner and I have so many plans at this moment that I might as well have no plans. You feel me?

My default strategy to cope with uncertainty and stress is to leave. Going through the process of settling in a new place is always the same and so familiar to me, it gives me a great sense of security. I have thought about going away to do my masters or finding a job abroad but I don't think it's such a good idea at this time. 

I have a lot of things to deal with, fears to conquer, and money to save. I also need to learn how to drive! In order to do so, I am choosing, for maybe the first time in a while, to stay put in Toronto... 

Less of this

Canadian flag in France

A little more of this
OK I promise to stay put in Canada, at least. Moving to Montreal would be pretty cool. 

P.S. sorrynotsorry for all the introspective bull


Friday, 1 November 2013

Rebeca in Haiti Volume IV: Paciencia, piojo

It's been a while! It is now almost the end of my time in Haiti and I feel like I should take a moment to reflect on the many changes that have happened during this internship -- I've changed, the work has changed, the country has changed, and my intestinal flora has definitely changed. This is Part I. 

Haiti has been, among other things, a lesson in patience...

In my everyday life, I gained some perspective. 

I've always been impatient and, maybe as a consequence, a bit of an instigator (note: if you are a potential employer, let me turn that around and say that I'm self driven and a leader). As a child, I would always come up with crazy (innovative) activities and incite the few friends I had to partake. As I got older, I would try to convince people around me to attend certain events, travel, go out, etc. (such a leader!). When I moved to Toronto, I discovered there were little to no barriers to doing whatever you want in terms of entertainment. There are a million options, available public transportation, safety, an OK nightlife, people everywhere, etc.

Haiti was an adjustment in that respect. The biggest challenge, as loser-ly as it may sound, was finding opportunities to socialize and make friends. I was so desperate for engaging in human interaction outside the office that I joined a running club! Me, who barely passed gym in high-school. As great as it is to be able to go out anywhere, anytime, with anyone in Toronto, it remains privilege rather than a basic necessity. It took me some time, but now I know that it's OK to stay home because you have no money, or no one can drive you, or there is a riot, or you have no one to go out with. It's important to keep your expectations in line with your context.

Work-wise, I learnt that there are too many variables for there too be a guarantee that hard work and good ideas will result in positive outcomes. You just have to use whatever resources you have, work as hard as you can, and hope for the best. 

In University, innovation and staying on top of the literature of your particular area seemed like the most important thing in life. Faculty members were always open to whatever weird idea you may have, as long as you found the right citation. Professors, were probably just happy that someone was engaging with the course material! In my final years at University, I was convinced that anything was possible with a good idea, a careful review of the literature, a sound methodology, and hard work.

In the real world, and especially in the Humanitarian or Development sector, things seem to be a bit trickier. Funding, staff, and time can be limited. There is also a considerable amount of red tape to navigate, guidelines to follow, and donor expectations to meet, which can be frustrating for the incorporation of new research and new ideas. You also might find yourself working with such a wide variety of viewpoints, expertise, cultures, etc...

To give you an example, there were a lot of times in Haiti where I would pitch some idea for a project (inspired maybe by something I had read it was the "next big thing in development") to my supervisor. Sometimes, granted, it was a bad idea. But other times I really believed in it but I had to let it go because we didn't have the resources or the time to develop it. It was frustrating at first but then I saw the importance of picking my battles, and focus on whatever seemed more possible and sustainable.

I guess, one of the most important lessons I learnt is that no matter the situation, I should keep in mind the context I am in, and always be patient and flexible. Not just with others but with myself.

Sunset, in Seguin near "Kay Winni"








Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Rebeca in Haiti Volume III: Crossing the border to the Dominican Republic

Expatriates working in so-called high security or hardship posts are often compensated with more vacation days and higher salaries or pay allowances than their colleagues working in easier/safer locations. The extent of these depend on the organization or company but it seems to be the norm. More than perks, these benefits are put in place to guarantee that people will be able to handle the stress of living in an unfamiliar and potentially dangerous location, often away from their families, and be able to successfully carry out their assignments. 

Most expats in Haiti told us that they needed to get away every three months in order to keep their sanity. It didn't have to be an extravagant trip but at least a hop across the border to spend a couple of days in the dominican republic. To enjoy the beach or maybe to experience more exotic pleasures unavailable in Haiti such as going to the movies or the mall...

When I joined my fellow intern, she had already been in Haiti for about 6 weeks and the country was still considered a hardship post. The designation remained so until the end of september. However, as interns we did not have access to the same benefits as legit expatriates do. As if being younger, and having less international experience would exempt you from going insane! On the contrary... I guess the logic was that we wouldn't need to take days off since we were only going to be there for 6 months. However, when September came around, I could sense that the combination of our lack of privacy, not being able to walk around alone, curfews, and transportation issues were starting to get to us. It wasn't as bad for me as for my fellow intern who had gone over the 3 month mark.

Playa Diamante in the Dominican Rep.

Our supervisors were more than happy to give us a couple of days off. Initially, we had thought about maybe visiting to other islands nearby but travelling within the caribbean is crazy expensive! In the end, we booked a trip to the Dominican Republic for the first week of october. Taking the recommendation of some friends, we decided to check out the capital Santo Domingo, and "Cabarete" in the North Coast. My friend came to meet us from New York and we had such a crazy, fun Holiday together. Cabarate is kind of a weird place in that it seems to have become a refuge for retired european adventure travellers who might or might not be running away from the law and young people who are really water sports. Maybe in relation to that, it is sadly also a hot spot for prostitution.  On that cheerful note, do scroll down for pictures...

*Santo Domingo*

We first stayed in a pretty awesome and super cheap Hostel called "Condominium Parque" and on our way back, we stayed in a Hotel called Paseo Colonial, which was pretty grim. We only spent 2 nights there but it was nice. We got to go to the movies, do some shopping, eat some mangu, and some orange juice with leche condensada. Pretty solid place.

Pedestrian Shopping Street in Old Town

Louisa, fellow intern, housemate, and friend

Old Town

Old Town

Kittie!

Kelsey :) my friend who came from NYC

Louisa

the town
*Cabarete*

We stayed in this awesome hostel called Cabarete Surf Camp where we met all these weird, awesome people. We divided our 5 days there between surf lessons in the morning, massages at the beach in the afternoon, food, and drinks in the evenings. It was great.

Surf at Playa Encuentro


Surf, playa encuentro

Surf camp

Kelsey

Cabarete

Cabarete, wind surf is huge there

Playa Diamante 

Cabarete

Surf in Cabarete is also pretty good

Relaxing

Cabarete

When we came back, it was incredible how much that little week reinvigorated us. Personally, I never actually felt like I needed a break, I only realized how much I needed it when I returned and saw my productivity and well-being increase significantly. Ironically, what kept stressed me out in Haiti were more the security restriction rather that any actual danger that I encountered. Going to the dominican and feeling free to go anywhere, while not having such a drastic change in scenery allowed me to recharge batteries. I guess never underestimate the power of a vacation!


Thursday, 15 August 2013

Rebeca In Haiti Volume II: the state of affairs

I think it’s hard, if not impossible, to paint a fair picture of Haiti to someone who has never been here. You could perhaps say that about every place but I feel like I have to be more cautions with Haiti. I am always afraid that by sharing pictures of beaches, my life here may seem unrealistically idyllic. I am equally afraid to make the situation here seem more precarious than how it actually is (note: it's pretty precarious). I'm going to take the risk and give you my three-week, very brief, superficial and possibly biased account of the Haitian context.

Life as an NGO worker

It is not bad at all. Having a M-F, 9-5 work routine makes life here seem similar to one I could have in Toronto or San Salvador or Buenos Aires. Except it's not similar. There are a lot of security concerns, which make it difficult to get around and socialize. It’s not impossible, but going out does require more planning than what I am used to since we have a curfew, we can't take tap-taps (public transportation), we are not allowed to drive (not that I could anyways), and we generally can’t walk by ourselves. We can use world vision cars or get a ride with someone but it's not the most convenient or reliable system. There are worst things in the world though so as long as I don't get mugged, burgled, or cholera... life is good. Realistically, I am not in any imminent danger of either.

What I do find very disappointing is how hard it is to get out of the expat bubble, at least in Port-au-Prince. It's not that I don't like expats, I am one, but it wouldn't hurt to also befriend Haitians. I am after all in Haiti! When Louisa and I were in Cap Haitian, it was the first time we hung out with (probably wealthy) Haitians, without that many expats in sight, and without talking about work. It felt like a normal night out, finally.

Another thing is the unshakable guilt that I'm living in a cleaner and prettier flat than my previous address while a lot of Haitians are still homeless and/or living under USAID tarps. That's not going away anytime soon.

A world vision car we used while in Cap Haitien


Working at World Vision Haiti

I work in HEA (Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs), along with one other person, my manager. I am here to support the adoption of risk reduction strategies in HEA as well as in the other development sectors (Education, Child Protection, Water and Sanitation, etc.)...and learn stuff in the process! In NGO lingo, I'm here to support DRR mainstreaming.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the office is downsizing in transition from earthquake-related immediate response to resuming normal operations. We are also at the end of the 2013 fiscal year, which is a complicated time for any organization or company. A lot of people are moving on to new roles or leaving the organization due to the finalization of certain projects. I'm not really in the know of what's going to happen. It's challenging but at least I've had the chance to go to the field a lot and I'm focusing on figuring out what the communities need from us.

I have a lot of work to do on a daily basis! It's stimulating, challenging, frustrating, rewarding, exciting, fun. Complex. It's also my first time working in an office so everything is very new.

Right now I'm working on some presentations about risk reduction and researching funding opportunities. I am also really excited to be coordinating an ArcGIS training, part of a larger GIS project HEA has in mind. We are also working with the field to try to focus more on disaster prevention activities and mitigation than response.

The "technical team" office at the end of the day

Community event:
learning about disaster and prevention through games

Community activity:
learning how to transport the injured during emergencies

World Vision was an observer at a disaster simulation at the National Centre for Emergency Operations ~Getting ready for 2013 hurricane season!~




Tourism

Very complicated my friends. Also known as the "pearl of the Antilles", Haiti had a booming tourism industry in the 1970s and early 1980s but it has been struggling since. After the coup and the earthquake, I reckon tourism is recovering slowly. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of beautiful sights and beaches but it is such a struggle to do anything - financially and logistically. In the end, every trip has been worth it but to think of all the obstacles we had to overcome makes me want to stay home watching netflix.

Cocoyer in Petit Goave - definitely worth it and definitely an odyssey

La Citadelle in Cap Haitian - another worth-doing odyssey

Food

FOOD IS SO GOOD! I initially experienced some gastrointestinal challenges (aka diarrhea) for like a week but I think it was just my body adjusting. No big deal. I still really like it but I make sure to stay away from the salad ('cuz bacteria) and avoid anything too greasy. Bellow are my favourite dishes from Creole cuisine so far:

1. Lambis (google that shit) is soo delicious, especially when it's just cooked with a bit of garlic. The simpler the better. We had really delicious Lambis at Petit Goave, Cocoyer.


2. Tasso de Cabrit. It's basically just a goat stew often served with rice and plantain. The photo below is definitely a fancier version of what I had. It was probably equally delicious though.



Thursday, 1 August 2013

Rebeca in Haiti: Volume I

After a speedy recovery from my ankle fracture, I have managed to abandon Canada, once again. This time, for Haiti! I am doing a 10 mont internship in World Vision Canada (WVC), although I am actually working in the World Vision Haiti (WVH) office in Port-au-Prince for more than half of that time. My trip there was delayed by about a month and a half due to my broken ankle but that time was not lost! I got to learn a lot of what goes on in the WVC office and I had a lot of time to read a lot about Haiti and the development initiatives & challenges in place. 

Why am I doing this?

I have always been interested in people and how we relate to our environment and so I am constantly looking for work and academic opportunities that allow me to explore these relationships. This time is not different. I am working in Humanitarian Emergency Affairs & Disaster Risk Reduction, which involves helping communities cope with risks associated with their environment. It's a mixture of community development and disaster preparedness. It’s very exciting work for me.

I also think this is a great way for me to start (or at least try out) a career in international development. Not to mention that I'm getting paid for it! In these sour times for recent grads, that's a major bonus...

First Impressions…

Honestly, I feel really good about everything so far. Port-au-Prince reminds me a lot of San Salvador, where I was born and raised. In both places you have an omnipresence of mango trees, economic inequality, and terrifying traffic. I haven't had the chance to go to the field very much but I did hit up some touristic spots in Jacmel and the Côte-des-Arcadins. 

Work

Work is going well. My field manager and I are getting along and truly working together, it helps that we have a similar background in environmental studies. I'm still getting the hang of things but I am already collaborating on cool DRR projects. At times it can be a challenge to figure out how my responsibilities fit in with other initiatives in place, especially since the office is going through a lot of changes -- from a post earthquake focus on relief to long-term programming. A good thing is that my colleagues (including my field manager) seem to understand the Haitien context very well and will often give me a hand with things...

Daily life

Our accommodations are quite comfortable. I share a flat close to the office with a fellow intern, which is good for company, and we each get our own space. 

I must say I was surprised by how the food is a bit too expensive -- by how everything is a bit too expensive. Well, at least I can find everything I want in the supermarket (Port-au-prince 1-0 Périgueux). $4 for bbq pringles? Why not? #yolo. And I have re-discovered a lot of food that I used to enjoy in El Salvador, except for green mangoes. I am still on the hunt for those! 

The only difficult issue is transportation. Because of security concerns, we can't ride on tap-taps (the main means of public transportation) so we must rely on office cars or other people to get around. On weekends, it can be a bit of a hassle but so far we haven't had much trouble finding a ride. Hopefully that won't pose any problems in the future. 

Tap taps 


Entertainment

Well it ain't berlin you know, but there is fun stuff to do. I can't say I am disappointed because I wasn't expecting Port-au-prince to be crazy party central anyways (maybe it is and I'm just a loser, though). There are plenty of beautiful beaches, which more than make up for the lack of nightlife, and also the occasional awkward house party/networking opportunity. Oh, and Netflix here is better than in Canada so on that front, Haiti 1-0 Canada. 

Finally, I thought that I would be able to get by with my french but most people here speak (or prefer to speak) creole so I'm trying to get some creole lessons! 

**Keep in mind that I have only been here for about a week so there’s definitely more to see and to experience. Scroll down for some pictures**

Kenep or "mamones"

Jacmel

Kabic beach in Jacmel

Kabic beach in Jacmel

DRR game during a community event hosted by the Department of Public Protection

Kibby or Kibbi -- what I thought was a Haitian dish it's also Lebanese!

The view from my rooftop

Indigo Club, Cote des Arcadins

Found Peruleros! Whattup




















Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Montreal Revisited

I went to Montreal last weekend on a spontaneous family trip, which is always fun (no sarcasm here, I really do love my family). I have been there many times before, mostly to visit friends, and once at the tender age of 18 to take advantage of Quebec's lower drinking age. I have always thought that Montreal is to Toronto what Solange is to Beyoncé: quirkier, more fashionable, and cooler but less powerful, and with less money (probably). And even though Solange is amazing and beautiful, would you dump Beyoncé for her? Probably not, right? 




Well this time I really saw Montreal with different eyes. There is no need to compare it to Toronto or Solange or Beyoncé; it is amazing in its own right and I desperately want to move there! Why I am only realizing this now? Keep reading...

1. I am over Toronto. It's the first place I lived in after I immigrated to Canada so it obviously holds a special place in my otherwise cruel heart. However, I did go to High School and University there so as I am starting my career, I am also yearning for something new.

2. I have had the chance to go to many places since the last time I was in Montreal. I had brief but significant stints in Buenos Aires, New York, and a small town in France called Périgueux. I also visited Santiago, Brussels, Milan, Berlin, Budapest, Krakow, etc. Those experiences helped me form an idea of the kind of city and lifestyle I want. For example, I would prefere a place with a strong and varied cultural scene; a mix of old and new architecture and brownstones; a rich history; good food; plenty of green public space; a large body of water nearby; mixed-used zoning; good public transit and a biking culture; an ethnically, culturally, and economically diverse population; and the very scientifically proven presence of a "chill vibe". In this trip, I found that Montreal is perfectly able to fulfill those needs, more so than Toronto, which is rapidly handing its soul over to "economic growth".

3. As a North American port city, some areas in Montreal mimic my beloved New York but unlike Toronto, it doesn't try to be New York, which is awesome. Its vague European flare also reminds of two of my favourite places, Berlin and Brussels. 

4. Finally, after going through quite a few immigration procedures, I realize that moving to Montreal is more reasonable than moving to any of the cities cited above because, you know, VISAS and shit. 

So there you have it. I love Toronto but long live Solange. 

Here are some random pictures of MTL, most of which I did not take:











Park Jean Drapeau - by me
"Chill vibe" - by me

With my brother in Park St. Louis