Posts Tagged ‘Jillian’


I regret to inform you that Jillian and I will be leaving Haiti tomorrow, and moving back to the States.  This isn’t an abrupt decision, it’s actually one that we have put an enormous amount of thought into, and made before the New Year.  Back then the choice seemed like an easy one to make: we were ready to go back and leave the troubles of Haiti behind us.  Now, it seems like that decision is so much tougher.

In typical fashion, Haiti has been great to us in the three months since we decided to leave, as if right after we booked our tickets all the pieces that we couldn’t find before started to fall into place.  We have such great friends here, and have experienced so much, that it’s impossible to not feel like leaving is a mistake.  Whether it’s playing football on Sundays, or experiencing Kanaval in Jacmel, the last three months have made our decision to leave seem like a short-sighted, and ill-researched, conclusion to our brief stay in Haiti.

During that stay we have experienced more than we had ever anticipated.  After the earthquake there was the (attempted) recovery, and then cholera, and then tropical storms, and then the elections, and then the riots, and then the return of Duvalier, and then the return of Aristide.  Bottom line, you couldn’t ask for a crazier year.  Scattered among those were random other experiences that have changed our perspective on life, and have changed us as people, in a way that we are still trying to define.

But the reality is that after almost two years, the country has taken a lot out of us, and we need to regroup.  I’ve told everyone that has asked why we’re leaving that regrouping is the key, that we need to step away from the craziness of life here in Haiti, and focus on ourselves, and each other.  We only gave ourselves a month after the earthquake to regroup before we returned, and that just wasn’t enough.  We have gone through so much while we’ve been here, just because we live in Haiti, but also because we have a lot of things that we need to work out together.  We’re pretty sure that will be easier to do when we don’t have to worry about midnight earthquakes and cholera.

But right now regrouping seems like such a scary, and enormous undertaking.  I was recently in New York City and could not stop comparing life there to life in Haiti.  “$45 for a taxi from JFK to the hotel?!?! Do you have any idea how much a tap-tap to the airport is in Haiti?!”  Or after a glass broke in a bar and everyone started to freak out screaming “Is anyone wearing flip-flops?!?! Watch out!!!” catching myself thinking that I could introduce these people to a couple million kids who walk barefoot on glass everyday in Haiti.  “In Haiti, In Haiti, In Haiti…”  This is going to be a problem, and something that I’m going to constantly have to keep in mind so I don’t become “that guy” who won’t stop talking about how in Haiti we have potholes as big as your car (it’s true, I’ve seen them…)

But like I said, Jillian and I can’t stop thinking that we are leaving a good thing, and continue to question our decision.  When we left DC to move here we had these same thoughts, and I remember laying in bed together  asking each other: “Why would we leave when things seem to be going so well for us?”  We have great friends, we know the place, and we have really interesting lives.  But it was that decision to leave DC that gave us this incredible opportunity in Haiti, and taught us so much both professionally, and personally.

Another problem is that after living in Haiti for a bit, life in the States just doesn’t seem that interesting.  And that’s one of things I fear the most: that once we return to the States and our lives become exponentially easier with the help of smooth roads, customer service, and fast food, we will realize how truly boring life is in the States because you barely have to fight for anything.  Everyday in Haiti is an adventure, and that went from an incredibly exhausting undertaking to something that we thrive on.

A good friend of ours explained to us that you should never leave a place when you’re fed up with it, rather deciding to leave when you know that it will be hard to say goodbye.  More and more I agree with that statement, as I’m glad that Jillian and I didn’t leave before Christmas with a negative outlook on the country.  Instead, we are leaving with truly fond memories to go alongside those truly horrible ones, which I think will leave us connected to Haiti forever.  The earthquake will forever connect us here, but our experiences since that time has intertwined this country, and the people in it, with our internal fabric in a way that keeps a part of our hearts here forever.

So as our friend’s eyes glaze over as we tell stories about being teargassed in a tent camp, we will realize how much this place has really changed us, and how our perspective on life has changed in a way that only a place like Haiti can do to a person.  We’ll never look back at this time and regret it, in fact I think we will look back and know that it was some of the most important years of our lives.  We’ve become who we are now because of this country, and even though many of the days have been tough, it’s taught us what we are capable of doing, and on the flip-side, what we’re not capable of.

Right now leaving Haiti is the right decision for us, and I would never rule out us deciding to return.  We will keep the blog up, at least for now, as I have some backlogged stories that I would like to finish, and I’m sure our reintegration into the world of over-consumption and 4G networks will be an interesting (if not frustrating) one.

Thank you to the Haitian people, who have given us so much perspective during our time with them.  While I might not always appreciate the way they walk into the middle of the road without looking both ways, they have taught me so much about how to live when life just doesn’t go your way.  We take soooooo much for granted, SO MUCH, and it’s a great thing to have that shoved in your face from time to time.

And lastly, thank you all for joining us through our journey, your support over the past year and a half has truly helped us make it through some of the toughest moments, and helped us laugh during the good ones.  To our friends in Haiti, we will miss you dearly, and life will not be the same without the company of some of the best people in the world.  This is not a ‘goodbye’, it’s a ‘see you later’, because our experiences here will forever connect us.  Haiti can do that, I know it can.  Because after you wade through the rubble and the riots, the trash and the traffic, you find some of the most amazing people on the planet, and that’s why it’s just so hard to go.


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You didn’t think we were going to leave Carnival without picking up some of those awesome masks, did you?!


On our way out of the city, Jillian and I picked up some masks to commemorate our Carnival experience, and judging by the two, we clearly had different experiences:


We got Jillian’s in a little shop by the water that sells Haitian art.  It’s pretty awesome, and will be perfect for Halloween later this year (expect she can’t exactly see when she wears it because she wears glasses and doesn’t use contacts…oh well).  We picked up mine from one of the artisans Ben and I followed before and during the festivities.  The mask was actually used during the parade, and while kinda scary, is a really beautiful piece of art once you’ve gotten past the huge teeth and beady eyes.  Now, we just need to figure out how to get these back to the States…

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On January 13th, 2010, Jillian and I spent most of the day in the US embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti waiting for a chance to evacuate after the earthquake had just left the capital city in ruins.  Jillian and her co-worker, Chuck, had been injured after being trapped in the rubble of our house for 10 hours, and we decided that the best decision was to leave the country and seek medical attention.  We sat in the lobby of the embassy for hours, not knowing whether a flight would be leaving that day or not, but in the meantime we filled out some paperwork that the embassy workers had told us was necessary if we wanted the chance to be evacuated.

“This is a promissory note,” yelled one embassy worker as a crowd of people huddled around him anxiously listening to his every word, “If, or when, you are evacuated out you will have to pay for your flight.  The cost will be nearly equivalent to what you would pay for a commercial flight, and we will send you the bill later.”  We ran to the window where the papers were being dispersed and quickly filled them out, hoping that if we submitted ours first we would have a better chance of getting on the first flight.

While the idea that we were paying for the flight was slightly jarring, we weighed our options and decided that getting out and getting to a hospital was priority number one.  I filled out Chuck’s paperwork (as his injuries were too severe for him to do it), and Jillian filled out ours, we signed on the dotted lines and turned it in.  The flight manifest for the first evacuation flight out of Haiti was called without us on it, and after pleading with the embassy workers, Jillian, Chuck and I were added to the list and flew out on a Coast Guard plane that evening on our way to the Dominican Republic.  Later, in Santo Domingo, a US embassy worker there assured us that the flight, as well as Chuck and Jillian’s medical bills, would likely be covered by the US government, included in their emergency response to the earthquake.  Turns out that was only half-true…


While at home for Christmas my Dad handed me a pile of mail that had been accumulating at his house, which we use as our permanent mailing address in the States.  Among the pile was a letter from the US State Department, which I opened the day after Christmas.  The letter was the opposite of a Christmas miracle:



The Promissory Note, which you signed for the above amount, is due by the listed due date.

If remittance is not received on or before the above due date, late payment interest is charged from the date notice of the debt was mailed through the date of payment at the above listed rate on the amount due, or the unpaid balance when partial payments are made.

The charge for a one-way flight from PAP to Santo Domingo for Jillian and I: $1,682.22!!!

We were shocked for about a dozen reasons, but first and foremost because we were not expecting to see this bill.  Secondly, the charge was astronomical for what translated into a 45 minute flight ($841.11 each).  While I’m not an expert in the airline industry, I’m pretty sure $800 is not the going rate for a one way flight to Santo Domingo.  In fact, let’s take a gander at how much it really is (courtesy of Travelocity.com):

That’s right!  We could have saved a whopping $782.11 EACH if we would have flown with American Airlines.  Now, I totally understand that AA was not operating out of Haiti in the weeks after the earthquake, and that because of the circumstances the only way to fly out was through the US military, but still, $841.11 is not “nearly equivalent” to $59.  But I wasn’t an Econ major in college, so maybe I’m wrong…

We decided to delve further into the cost comparison game, and found other great deals in which we could have taken advantage of with that kind of money:

We could have flown home, one-way directly to DC, almost five times!  This is fun, let’s continue:

DUBLIN (Delicious Guinness would be waiting for us):

HAWAII (Laying out on the beach, drinking pina coladas and relaxing):

LAS VEGAS (With the $584.11 we would each still have we could head straight to the blackjack table):

VANCOUVER (We’d get there with more than enough money to buy lift tickets to Whistler):

BRAZIL (While it might be a tad over budget, I’ve always wanted to go to Rio):

While I joke, it’s slightly crazy, if not depressing, to see how ridiculous the cost of this evacuation flight was. And again, I completely understand that mobilizing the military and using them to operate the flight costs an enormous amount of money. I also understand that you have to threaten to charge people so that they don’t just use it as a free ticket out of a disaster area that you no longer want to be in (there were dozens of people on that flight who were not injured at all, and just wanted to go home). But the fact that the doctor at the embassy was only seeing the worst of the worst patients, and that the staff at the embassy would not give Chuck or Jillian so much as an aspirin until we found someone who snuck us one, makes me feel that this was different.  We needed to get out, and we relied on our government to help us do that.  Isn’t that why we pay taxes?!

Unfortunately, I think we have no other option but to pay it.  The bill was already past due when I opened the letter after Christmas, and now it’s getting to the point where we just want this whole thing behind us.  Not to mention, they don’t really give you a number to call to ask them what the deal is.  “Mrs. Clinton, I’m confused…” I don’t think so.

The reality is that Jillian and I are eternally grateful for the service we were provided that day.  While the embassy in PAP was a mess (and rightfully so), when we got off that plane in Santo Domingo it was like heaven.  They sat us down in the hangar of the airport, asked us if we wanted something to eat or drink, and let us use their phones to call our family members to tell them we were OK.  It was wonderful for so many reasons, it’s just a pity that, in the end, it leaves such a bitter taste in our mouths.

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On May 27, 2010 a small chocolate lab puppy was smuggled into Haiti and given to Jillian and I, thus starting the year of the Brown Dog.  The year was a tumultuous one, marked by an accidental poisoning, a mouth-stick injury, and ending with a nasty case of hook worm.  But the year did not end in vain.  The Brown Dog, better known as Olie, took a voyage to a distance land known as Connecticut.  There he found land to run and play, but was forced to battle a vicious adversary, aptly named Jack “Attack”, in an effort to allow him to call the land his home.


The battle lasted for days, with only brief breaks for naps, or a bowl of kibble.  Day and night the two fought, defending their ground like the Hatfields and McCoys.  Only when the sun set would they rest (with one eye open, of course), but when the day broke, the fighting began again.  Even when the winter weather brought inches of snow, the two did not tire, and the battle continued into the cold winter tundra…






But in the end battle fatigue set in and the war ended.  The two shook paws and accepted the terms set forth by the Geneva convention: a war with no purpose cannot last forever.  They trotted indoors and for the first time were able to rest with both eyes closed, and the townspeople were able to walk the streets without having to constantly listen for the rumbling of puppy paws in the distance.



But while one war was ending in Connecticut, another was brewing back in Haiti.  Having waited long enough in the pregnant tummy of Beatrice for 8 weeks, a turd sized ball of fur exploded into the world set on leaving a path of death and destruction in its wake.  The turd was named Bumble Bea…


When we returned to Haiti after the Christmas break, there were rumors on the street that such a vicious creature had entered the world.  In a country rife with political turmoil and ex-dictators, the last thing Haiti needed was a ruthless animal trolling the streets in search of tiny children to prey on.  Unfortunately the rumors were true, and on the eve of the country’s independence day, the creature was carried by its mother into our house and placed into an empty cardboard box in our closet.  The country was independent no more…



The reign of terror began immediately, with a shrill meow that seemed to penetrate the deepest caverns of your ears at the most inopportune times.  The cries began early in the morning, and ended never, leaving those within a 5 mile radius with nothing but groggy days, and sleepless nights.  And once the creature gained enough strength to escape the cardboard box that was imprisoning it, we knew the end was near.


Soon the creature began recklessly running around the house, and attacking enemies that weren’t there.  “She was soooo cute!”, explained Jillian after being released from the hospital where they had attended to her kitten-attack wounds, “Who would have ever thought she could be so vicious?”  Someone had to reign the kitten in, someone had to step-up and take on the beast.  It was a call heard around the world, and Beatrice decided to answer it.


For Beatrice the decision was easy.  Bumble Bea had been eating her food, and the constant nursing was leaving her worn down and unable to kill the dozens of geckos that she is required to kill and then dump on the floor in our house (in an effort to meet a self-imposed quota).  The kitten had also begun running away in the middle of the night, hiding from Beatrice and leaving an already hungry mother, terrified.  This had to stop, this had gone too far…




While it appeared that Beatrice had Bumble Bea pinned and defeated, the kitten quickly twisted away, bat Beatrice in the face, and then ran away.  Bumble Bea had won the battle, but not the war…

The two began fighting at almost every chance they got.  Ruthlessly wrestling each other the ground, the two made Wrestle Mania look like an episode of Winnie the Pooh.  But eventually they also realized the harsh realities of war, and much like the computer in the 1983 techno thriller “War Games”, they looked at all the possible outcomes of the war continuing, and found that in every scenario everyone would fall victim if the fighting did not end.  Thus, they walked inside, shared a plate of Fancy Feast, and then fell asleep, snuggling like a pair who had just found love.


For us, the entrance of Bumble Bea has made the fact that Olie is back in the States much easier to handle.  We brought Olie to Connecticut during Christmas break because of a number of factors, and left him there to frolic with Jack and Jillian’s parents (wow, Jack and Jill, I just realized that…) until we figure out our next move.  When we came back to Haiti there was a kitten waiting there for us, and we have (inconveniently) become rather attached to it.  But because our landlady’s 4 year-old daughter experienced the kitten being born, she wants it, so we will be handing Bumble Bea to her rightful owner later today.

It’s amazing how an animal like Olie or Bumble Bea can have such a positive impact on your life.  The two have given us solace on hard days, and have always been a welcoming friend to come home to.  For me, I’m just worried that I will no longer have anything cute to take pictures of any more, and I know for Jillian, not having Olie around has really dealt her a blow.  But one of these days we will be reunited with our beloved Oloffson, and Bumble Bea will fall in love with her new owner (a 4 year-old who will manhandle her and change her name every week according to how she’s feeling), and the world will go on.  It’s just a bummer that, for now, the wars won’t be fought at home, with us.

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Where were you on 9/11?  Or when you got your first kiss?  These are defining moments in a person’s life, moments where you cross over from one state of being to another.  On 9/11, we went from a state of peace to a country at war.  When you got your first kiss you went from being an awkward youth to someone who had broken the seal to maturity (or so you thought at the time).

On January 12, 2010, Haiti went from a struggling country with a shaky foundation to one that lost almost everything.  A day that no one will ever forget, Haitians lost an estimated 300,000 sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers and children.  To put this in perspective, imagine going to Arlington National Cemetery, and instead of having soldiers buried there, you had the victims of the earthquake.  More people died in one day on January 12th in Haiti, than all the people buried in the 624 acres of Arlington Cemetery over the past 150 years.  Imagine 624 acres, filled with 300,000 headstones, all with the same date on them.  It’s staggering.


But what many Haitians are left with is no such ability to honor their loved ones.  Throughout the city you saw piles of rubble that a year before were houses or business, but are now donned with flower arrangements and pictures in an effort to honor those who are still entombed inside.  These are their final resting places, these are the tombs of the unknown victims.


For most of the international community, the one year anniversary was used as a barometer for what has, or has not, been accomplished by the government and aid agencies to help the victims of the quake.  Only 30,000 transitional shelters have been completed, only 10 percent of the rubble has been removed, over 800,000 people are still living in tents.  These are all outrageous, and worth discussing, but when the day came, Haitians could care less about where they were getting their water, or where they were going to sleep, they just wanted their loved ones back.




So on the day of the anniversary, most people weren’t screaming about their situation.  You didn’t see them taking to the streets to complain about how the recovery here can only be described as stagnant, you saw them flooding the churches and praying, you saw them taking the day to reflect.

But for many, and me included, while the actual day of the earthquake marked a life-changing moment, the days following the earthquake are at times worse.  For the past 72 hours, I have been looking at my watch and thinking about where Jillian and I were at that exact moment one year ago.  And while 4:53pm was when the earthquake hit, the hours following it were so much more poignant than the actual event itself.  At 8:53pm I looked at my watch, Jillian was still buried in the rubble of our house, I was on my way to PAP.  The next day, 6:15pm, we were boarding an evacuation flight on our way to spend the night in a hospital in Santo Domingo.  At the moment that I’m writing this we were on a plane flying to Miami, eventually on our way to DC.

For us the earthquake was a defining moment in many ways.  In the past year it seems that the quake has somehow added 10 years onto our marriage, and will eventually subtract 10 years from our lives.  We have had to tackle so many issues that made it seem like we were taking AP Calculus while in the 3rd grade.  I don’t know how to work out these problems, and by the time you eek out the answer to question number 1, questions 2-15 are already waiting to be answered.  Maybe no one knows the answers right away, and no matter how wise you are they are always going to be hard, but in the midst of a recovery it just seems so overwhelming to think that you are on the verge of failure.

But most of all, this year has left me with an anger that I want to shake off sooo badly.  I get angry at the NGOs for not doing enough, I get angry at the government for being so inept, I get angry at the people for not picking themselves up by their bootstraps and fighting for themselves.  But most of all, I get angry with myself for not being able to control the anger.   I used to have compassion, I used to have patience, and it all has seemed to melt away since the quake.  I want to be back to normal, I want to not be on edge, I want to be confident, I want to feel good about myself.

At 4:53pm on January 12th, I was in a church to cover the minute of silence that was scheduled to be observed throughout the country.  The minute came, and the church erupted with cries and wails, tears streaming down almost everyone’s faces.  I held my breath, just waiting for the ground to start shaking again, let out a sign of relief, and then looked around me.  A woman was crying, holding the passport of her sister who had passed away a year before.  Another woman held a picture of three people who had died in the earthquake, another collapsed on the ground, wailing uncontrollably.  The priest asked that everyone stay silent, but it was no use, Haitians don’t mourn in silence.


And while we were walking out I suddenly became overcome with a sense of complete and utter compassion.  All of these people were mourning their loved ones, at this moment last year every single one of these people’s lives had been torn to shreds.  No one was to blame, there was no one to be angry with, it was just a situation where everyone here was an innocent victim, and they needed that moment to mourn.   In my new angry, cynical mind I searched for a reason not to care, for a way to step back and not have compassion, but found myself overcome with grief, and I began to cry.  The last time I cried was when I was home after the earthquake, it’s been that long, and it was an amazing feeling.

We left the church and met up with Jillian, who was at a memorial service at the Hotel Montana.  It was just so wonderful to be able to hug her and have her there, and not have that day be the anniversary of her death as well.  We are the lucky ones.  January 12th at 4:53pm will forever be one of those moments where we look back and think about how our lives changed, how we entered a new phase, and how we became who we are today.

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The vanishing of a scar is what most would consider a positive end result from a healed wound. The complete disappearance of an unappealing mark that most often represents a negative experience is what people use Neosporin and other ointments to accomplish. As the 1 year commemoration of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti dawns, I have been reflecting on the status of my scars.

The external scars on my back, right foot, and lower right leg are still there, but are much lighter. They no longer properly represent the experience that put them there, and while I thought this would bring me comfort, having no outer blemish, I find myself anxious over their decreasing presence. How do I tell the story to new people without being able to point to something? This ultimately leaves me exactly where I do not want to be. No longer able to deflect questions of my experience with a quick flash of my shin, all that is left is the way more harrowing emotional scars that I rarely discuss.

In a country so full of undesired blotches, tent camps, piles of rubble, and collapsed buildings that seem to serve more as catalyst for the blame game than a continued call to action, I have taken solace in the constant reminders of the disaster. I am in no way suggesting that I want these things to remain, but rather acknowledging that dealing with the tangible is more straightforward. While these feelings might/are odd, when discussing the earthquake with Haitians I find them responding similarly. In talking with World Concern beneficiaries over the last week in preparation for the 1-year-later update, the answers to questions like “how did you feel?”, “describe your greatest frustration”, “what are your greatest needs?”, were physical. Beneficiaries, regardless of their earthquake experience, pointed to cracks in the walls, rubble piles, or items stored in tents, but no lingering sadness, grief, or anger were mentioned.

During an interview with a Quartier (neighborhood) Committee member, Pascal Jeune, who helps World Concern implement our projects in Nazon, the avoidance of anything below the surface was obvious. The 27 year-old father of one who brought his son home the afternoon of the earthquake to friends and family, of whom 13 of would die when his house would collapse hours later, is still clearly as uncomfortable as I am when asked about his feelings. Naturally, when I interviewed him, the death of 13 of his relatives was discussed and the only response I could get from him is that “their absence makes me the head of my household and that makes things very difficult for me.” I tried to continue the conversation after the formal interview was over, but his serious face and welling eyes proved to me that his emotions about the 12th are just as raw as mine.

Now, I realize that having 6 foreigners standing around with video equipment does not create a relaxing environment where one might feel secure enough to open up, but I believe it is more than that. I have been asked about my experience by strangers, friends, and family members and my reaction is always the same. Look at the ground, take a deep breath, think of something light-hearted to say…and then point to the scar.

In rare moments of complete security, usually shared with Frank, I might reveal more. The helplessness, fear, and pain of facing losing everything I loved remains. The constant inundation of images from the earthquake, while I reminder I am not alone, makes my increasing sensitivity to those suffering painfully acute. And in the deepest of places, where I rarely want to go myself, I face the fleeting moments of horrific doubt that I am still under that house and that I never made it out, that this is all a dream. So much for scars fading…

The certainty of life is things move forward whether you are ready or not. While I can so easily transport myself back to that potential coffin of rubble and the emotions that go along with that reality, a year has passed and my exterior marks are fading. I know that my scars on the outside do not have to mirror those on the inside, but their slow departure feels like pressure to move on and I am not ready. So what to do?

I guess the first thing is to be thankful for the support and love I have received and continue to receive. For all of you, who stopped your lives for my and Frank’s recovery, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would not be where I am today without you. Another thing is to realize how lucky I am that my scars are healed and fading while the physical destruction as a result of the earthquake is still the most prominent thing you see as you travel throughout Port-au-Prince. Lastly, is to accept that one year has past and that my recovery and reconstruction has the same status as the Haitian people’s, incomplete.

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Today was surprising calm in PAP, with few protests or road-blocks.  In fact, the only thing that I actually took a picture of in the city was the street kid above, and that was only because he asked me to take it.  The rains returned for another day, and helped to wash the black soot, left from the countless tires that had been burned, off the streets.

Our dreams came true when we heard that a grocery store was open, and Jillian took it upon herself to pick up groceries for us and our friends who live close by.  She got there and waited in line just to get in, and then once inside said the place was a mess, the counters were quickly becoming empty, and people were grabbing any food they could get their hands on.  She waited another couple hours to check out, and then left after spending three hours of her day simply picking up groceries.

So the bottom line is that I think we can all agree that Jillian is our “Hero of the Day”.  The winner of this award is given a prize of hugs and love, which will be evenly dispersed over the period of forever.  Here’s hoping that the city will be calm again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…


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