24 Nov 2012

Why Haiti? Or 250 Pair of Shoes

It's a love Haiti thing No Comments

“Why Haiti?” You may ask.

For me, there has always been some kind of pull from this tiny island the size of Maryland.

Maybe it has to do with the things we Americans hear from this troubled little nation.  It may be the stories of brutal dictators with secret police forces named after voodoo monsters, which sounds like something lifted from a Hollywood script, rather than the other way around.  It could be something in the beautiful faces of the Haitian people who, despite the 350 years of pain they have suffered at the hands of of their leaders, foreign powers and mother nature herself, manage to smile and reveal a spirit that will not succumb to the misery of their lives.  Maybe it’s the images from the 2010 earthquake, which leveled the capital city of Port-au-Prince for the third time in its history and killed hundreds of thousands of these beautiful spirits, that left me thinking there must be something I can do.  I wanted to go to Haiti then, but with no useful skills and two small children of my own at home, I realized that was not going to happen.

So I collected shoes.  Lots of shoes.  Because many Haitians didn’t have shoes to begin with, and that particular unfortunate circumstance became even more problematic post-quake.  Broken stuff was everywhere, the remains of some 30,000 commercial buildings and 250,000 residences completely destroyed by the earthquake, sharp broken stuff.  Sharp broken stuff aside, failing sewer lines and the inevitable flooding that comes with every rain in Haiti now, made walking around without footwear treacherous.

They need shoes. Not like I “need” shoes. These poor people need shoes.  I have shoes to give. And I have a lot of friends, who probably also have shoes to give.  So I Facebook, email, text, call and tell everyone I can think of who lives within a reasonable distance, and I collect their shoes.  I also find a charitable organization that will ship the shoes to Haiti.  Soles for Souls. They ship shoes all over the world to people who need them, and the people in Haiti really need them now.

I bring my 250 pair of shoes to some weird shoe store in some weird town in Colorado I’ve never been to before, and in all likelihood will never be again. I get lost, no surprise to those of you who know me and my family’s genetic flaws resulting in the inability to read a map, follow simple directions or know in which direction we are driving. And when I arrive at the drop spot with my lawn and leaf bags full of shoes, I was expecting a better response from the store manager. Like a thank you. Not the eye roll and huge sigh I got when I said “Oh, I’ve got a few more bags. Be right back.” But as I’ve already mentioned, I have zero intention of ever going back there anyway.

I’ve done something to help. Something small. But I didn’t get to Haiti.

It’s almost three years later and I am going to Haiti next month.  Life is full of surprises, se pa? (That was “isn’t it?” in Haitian creole, I’m practicing.)  I am going to Haiti to meet the children who live at the Vertile House in Carrefour, outside Port-au-Prince.  I feel like I already know them because of the work I’ve been doing on their behalf. But I don’t know them, not yet. I know what they look like.  I know their names and how they came to live at the Vertile House.  More on that later.

Let’s talk about me.  The anxiety I am feeling about this upcoming trip comes from a variety of sources:

1.  I am concerned about the impact actually meeting these little people will have on me.  I am also concerned about staring down the barrel of nine days in Haiti without a proper supply of my bottled water of choice, an air conditioned bedroom or a place to plug in my straightening iron. Because

2. I am a princess.  My hair is very curly and prone to frizz in humid climes which may sound trivial, but it’s pretty serious.  Also, I get hot in the night while I’m sleeping. And I get a little edgy when I don’t have enough sleep. To be honest, I don’t really like being hot. At all.  See where I’m going with this? I’m a little worried, and I predict I will come unhinged at some point during the trip. I know this will happen, and at the very least, the tales of the princess in Haiti should provide some entertaining fodder for this blog.

3.  My last excursion south of Miami and outside a Four Seasons property involved toothless men on the streets of Bogota, Columbia handing me prayer cards and grabbing handfuls of my then blonde hair, all the while mumbling indecipherable Spanish, which I did not have the good fortune to speak at the time.  I learned later that they may have thought I was an angel.   Strange as that experience was, it paled in comparison to what happened to me a few days later in Caracas, Venezuela.

A bunch of Americans were at a telecom trade show at the Caracas Hilton, during which I was thought to be a “booth babe”….I was not, but that’s a story for another time.  After a long day of “grabassing” (one of my favorite terms, and it means exactly what it sounds like it means), a group of us headed out in two hotel sedans as instructed by those in the know. Cabs in Caracas, turns out, are too dangerous for anyone who looks like they are foreign and may have something worth stealing.  After a festive dinner at an Argentinian steak house…the kind where they bring platters of grilled meats and pitchers of caipirinhas (South America’s version of the mojito) until you beg them to stop.  On the way back to the hotel, our sedans were pulled over by a bunch of teenage boys, driving tanks and wielding AK-47s.  True.  It was at this moment I realized, faced with the knowledge that “K and R” (kidnapping and ransom) is a big business down here AND that the small tech company I worked for had zero dollars set aside for this eventuality, that I might not make it home.

AK47s, or Kalishnikovs, named for the man who invented them and put the “K” in “AK”


Clearly I did survive.  And I resigned as soon as I got back to my desk. Back to the relative safety of a cozy Wall Street trading desk for this guy.

4.  All that, and I also watched “The Serpent and the Rainbow” at the ill-advised suggestion of a friend. Thanks, Matt.  Watch it and you’ll know why the experience has added to my anxiety level.

But I am very excited to go, for the opportunity to meet these children and see the country of Haiti with my own eyes.  And I’ll be sure to remember my sister’s advice “Just don’t let anyone blow weird powder in your face while you’re dancing and you should be fine.” Thanks, Jen.

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