Where to from here?
The previous blogs were posted just after my trip to Haiti in February 2010. My blogging has continued but in a completely different area of my life. You can read my more recent blogs at From Forty With Love.
I've kept those posts up, however, because they remind me of how I felt after the Haiti experience and what I love about being a journalist and reporter, particularly on foreign assignments on a scale like Haiti.
Ok, so the hot bath was pretty nice (even without bubbles) and I am looking forward to a dry bed with cotton sheets over a hot and sticky tent.
I guess it's just that those kind of experiences (Haiti) stay with you and as challenging as they are, it's difficult when they come to an end.
One thing I have come away with is a renewed sense (that I'm not sure I've felt so deeply since I covered the tsunami in Sri Lanka) that being a journalist is an incredible privilege, that it is a worthwhile profession and that it is something that makes me feel alive.
To see some of my photos, check out http://www.flickr.com/photos/47235391@N03/
I hope to post more and some video.
Once I start ....
I've never been one to do things by halves, ask my friends and family. So here's for my second blog post, minutes after my first.
I wanted to write down some of the vivid memories from Haiti, while they were still fresh.
Firstly, and most importantly, how on earth did our adorable local translator and fixer Eddy manage to show up every morning in beautifully clean and ironed clothes? We visited his house - or rather the tarpaulin he was sleeping under in the street with a host of friends and neighbours. Ok, so we didn't actually go into the house where he stored his belongings so maybe there was a washing machine, tumble dryer, ironing board and iron, but I can't quite imagine it. Even if there was, he always looked like he'd just picked his clothes up from the dry cleaners. He put us to shame with his immaculate dress and pride in his appearance. Bless him.
And while we're on the subject of Eddy, he had this hilarious habit. You'd ask him an 'either - or' question and he'd answer 'yes'. For example: Us: 'Eddy, do we go left or right here?' Eddy: 'Yes'. That caused a few traffic problems.
And I'll never forget the morning when I was feeling a bit ropey - tummy trouble - and he said he would read me some motivational passages on positive thinking from his leadership book. He did, and they helped. But then he carried on reading, for a good 20 mins, out loud, in French, in the car. Until I thanked him politely and said I thought I'd had enough motivation for one day. Bless him again.
Secondly, the hills beyond Port-au-Prince. I never got there. I didn't manage to get out of the city at all but they beckoned every day. It was difficult to imagine what was out there but it looked so alluring, peaceful, beautiful and full of adventure.
And finally, as I'm getting a little tired and I've got some work to do, I feel I have to mention what I saw yesterday at the municipal nursing home, or what's left of it. I'm in two minds about whether to even write this because I'm not sure I'm up to thinking about it too much but I'm going to do a story on it so I'll have to recall it all anyway. The nursing home almost completely collapsed in the quake. Some of the old people died. The survivors, in their 70s, 80s and 90s, are sleeping in tents, 5 or 7 to a tent, and it was ludicrously hot in the tents in the early afternoon.
It made me very sad. Particularly to see the men. The women somehow seemed in better spirits, and stronger, but the plight of the men really moved me. Maybe it was just that I got to speak to the stronger women or maybe it's because seeing old, sick men brings back difficult memories of when my Dad was very ill before he died. Or maybe because I drew parallels with my 98-year-old Grandad who has lots of aches, pains and frailties but has and fortunately is able to have so much dignity - he's dressed in his shirt and tie and sitting in the living room by 6:30 every morning.
For whatever reason, the sight of the men really threw me. A few were in wheelchairs, some had wounds that were obviously infected, one man sat in his wheelchair outside the tent with no trousers or underwear on, another said his pillow and sheet had been stolen. They were all hungry and hadn't eaten since the day before. It was very sad.
And then through a gap between two men in wheelchairs and a shrub, I noticed a young skinny boy, completely naked, sat on the dirt, with his hands and feet tied together. He wasn't part of the nursing home. It seemed he belonged to the displaced families who had moved on to the land of the nursing home after the quake. I asked why he was tied up and naked. I was told he had mental health problems and would self harm if he was untied. I really didn't know what to do so I didn't do anything. And whether that was the right thing to do, I just don't know. But I felt very sad. I'm not sure what kind of life that is. I just have to trust that God knows what he's doing and is looking out for him somehow.
Carrying on from that and to end on a positive note, the other thing that struck me about the Haitians was their faith. The country may have a lot of problems but almost everyone we spoke to said their future was in God's hands. Those who obviously had so little said they had their faith. I know it's much more complicated than that but it was uplifting to see how their faith helped them through.
And one final memory (yes, I know I said the previous one was the last but once I start .... ) was from February 12th, the one month anniversary of the quake, in Champs de Mars, downtown Port-au-Prince. It was a prayer party, party being the operative word. Yes, there was prayer and grief and mourning but noone stood still when they played a popular worship song. Everyone was dancing. And they had great rhythm. Including our very own Eddy. Who danced along with them, in his pristine clothes. Bless him.
It's time to start blogging - I've put it off for long enough. And this is as good a time as any. I've just landed in Santo Domingo after 11 days in Haiti. And despite working solidly since I got there, all I want to do right now is write. I'm not sure where I'm going with this but then I guess that's the beauty of a blog.
My first thoughts are that I wish I'd stayed a little longer and that I'd written more or particularly blogged more from there. I guess hindsight is a wonderful thing. There wasn't enough time but maybe I could have found some.
My primary task there wasn't journalism, it was helping to establish a new public information service via SMS messages to the Haitians. I did manage to get some time to report - but it didn't feel enough. And now I feel like I have so many thoughts and pictures in my head and I want to put them somewhere. I still have some stories to write from there but I felt like thinking aloud.
The main thing I was pondering just now is how human beings have the ability to adapt. The Haitians I came across over the past few weeks had adapted amazingly to their new environment, to their new homes - donated tents, tarpaulins or shelters made of cardboard and bed sheets. That's not to say they're not terribly sad or traumatised by the events of the past weeks or that they're not feeling completely lost (I wouldn't claim to be able to look into their minds on the basis of a few short interviews or conversations). But they're adapting. They've made their new shelters their own, they've found innovative ways of making a living and they're getting by with less food or water than before.
It just got me thinking about how we all adapt. It's on a completely different level but I've also had to adapt over the past two weeks. And I guess the extent to which we adapt is all relative to what we knew or experienced before. I didn't lose my family, home and livelihood in an earthquake and I really can't imagine what that's like. But like a lot of other foreigners who have passed in and out of Haiti since Jan. 12, my life completely changed for that short period. I went from a very busy life with a pretty rigid routine - working, studying, other regular activities - and from a comfortable flat with endless hot water to 11 days of pretty much non-stop work, sleeping in a tent in tropical heat, eating food that often looked and tasted dubious, and witnessing a lot of sights that have been quite difficult to take in. Now I've done that kind of thing many times before, as I'm sure many of us have, either for work or holiday, but for some reason I felt like writing down my thoughts this time.
I guess it's on my mind as I've just arrived in a rather plush hotel room in Santo Domingo, with all the trappings, and I'm wondering if I'd rather be in my tent. The traffic outside is rather noisy and the room non-descript and I have zero desire to switch on the big TV. I'd adapted to my tent, to my new lifestyle, to the noises around me. Pretty soon I guess I'll have adapted back again. I'll be eating muesli with organic yoghurt for breakfast and wondering how I ever did without it. I'll be taking long bubble baths and (hopefully) be enjoying my routine again. But right now, I think I'd stick with the tent and the cold showers.