One of the great bonuses of managing this current project in visiting the countries with which we my team is working. This week I expanded my Caribbean experience with an initial visit to Haiti, only hours from places I’ve visited in the Dominican Republic but a world away when considering the various hardships and setbacks the country has endured throughout history.
The Caribbean Community Secretariat sponsors an annual Energy Week. Most countries participate and I was in Haiti to share how Worldwatch’s work dovetails with the country’s energy initiatives. Our work here is similar to what we’re doing in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic: crafting long-term plans showing how these countries can reduce their fossil fuel reliance and utilize larger amounts of renewable energy, particularly in the electricity sector.
Haiti obviously faces a more difficult path forward than most. As if having been plundered and exploited by the few wasn’t enough, the country continues its Sisyphean efforts to rebuild after 2010’s devastating earthquake. Our driver continually wove among streets and shortcuts because some parts of major roads are still not fixed. Structures that survived the earthquake have a red “X” spray painted on them to indicate they should be razed, and a green “X” to indicate it is safe to inhabit. More than a few internal displacement camps (aka tent camps) remain as housing, rebuilding, and resettlement continue at a glacial pace.
On the second day of our visit I was preparing for my presentation at a park with a nice outdoor pavilion when some kids, who were just hanging around, began pointing at me and something I clearly didn’t understand. I thought they were asking for money, which understandably is the most common experience I have when locals approach me. It turns out the kids wanted by bottle of water. Water – clean water – is a scarce commodity. Obviously I had no issue handing over the bottle to one of them. I could always get another. As I handed it to one of the boy, one of the other two began to reach in to grab it, and suddenly all three were wrestling for it. One of them emerged with it and ran off, leaving the other two behind.
This struck me. It was a bottle of water. At least that was my thinking before I considered the clean water situation in the country. Further, wondered why they didn’t default to simply sharing it. Then I remembered, I’m not in a desperate position. Having never been in that spot, I can only assume that a person living in a more life-or-death circumstance defaults to survival mode. And survival mode doesn’t’ always share an 8 ounce bottle of water.
The whole thing reminded me of an experience I had in Kenya where a boy asked me a pair of shorts. Not just a spare pair of shorts; the shorts I was wearing in that moment. To him, it should have been no big deal because I could just get another pair.
And that’s what this latest trip reminds me: no matter what it is (within reason), I often have the luxury of being able to procure another. The whole thing also has me wondering what few things in life are we willing to fully toss aside the concept of sharing, or abundance, or generosity, because it means survival?
The remainder of my week in Haiti was standard from a work point of view. Our hotel as overbooked, so our driver suggested staying at his friends’ bed and breakfast. Turns out it was little more than the man’s personal home that he and his family converted to a business to make money in lean times. But it fit the bill nicely. It had rooms for us all, a covered patio-turned-dining-room, a strained internet connection, and plenty of bottled water.
Meetings and events all had their respective glitches. I’m quickly realizing how common that is working in these exotic locales. But it is more pronounced here. Interestingly, it has the effect of stirring resilience and a “can do” attitude among locals. Their resilience and patience are remarkable, and this remains one of my biggest challenges in the new line of work. Ever since I first encountered it as a volunteer in Jamaica, I’ve questioned whether or not I have those same qualities. And where I’m really lacking in patience, I wonder if I’m at least slowly improving. I can never really tell. At the very least, this project provides me plenty of opportunities to try better next time. It’s like the bottle of water: I’ll always have another.