Moving as Meditation (and Other Pre-Lenten Events)


As Sara and I prepare to move back to the US next week,  leaving behind in Haiti a year’s worth of work, challenge, periodic victory and sometimes defeat, it’s a time for me to reflect, reminisce, think about where I’ve been over the past year, in an effort to figure out where I am going in the one to come.

In the reflective spirit of Lent* (which begins tomorrow), I thought that over the next week I’d revisit some of my earliest posts to the blog, remembering the lessons learned, even the questions left unanswered.

So–since I’m busy packing up one life and moving into another, and since, at the blog’s beginning, most of you weren’t reading yet, I’ll resurrect the first post below and give you a glimpse of how it all got started 4 months ago:

So–the old blog is reincarnated here under a new name!  It is, indeed, the Vietnam version “reinvented” from yet another edgy location–this time Haiti, where a cholera epidemic has spread to Port-au-Prince–my home for the next couple of years.

But before I address the big issues faced here on the western half of Hispaniola, I should clarify why I’ve chosen this new title.  For my less geeky readers, an “event horizon” is the edge of a black hole, a boundary in the space/time continuum beyond which no light can escape—in many ways, a point of no return.  You’ve taken physics; you know this; you’ve just forgotten.

Bottom line–it seems to me, that the far-away places Sara and I have been over the last couple of years have formed a kind of “event horizon” in my mind–taking me to the outer limits of my own comfort zone, shaping new perspectives in me about both the world around me and about this time in my life–a bending of my personal space/time continuum, if you will—–mind-bending for me, at the very least.

However, Haiti itself offers a kind of event horizon–a comparison I first found when reading Paul Farmer’s book “The Uses of Haiti.”  Farmer begins his chapter of the same name with the following epigraph by T. D. Allman:

Haiti is not simply one more of those tropical dictatorships where to rule is to steal, and headless bodies are found by the road.  Haiti contorts time:  It convolutes reason if you are lucky–and obliterates it if you are not.  Haiti is to this hemisphere what black holes are to outer space.  Venture there and you cross an event horizon. (After Baby Doc, 1989)

Wrap you brain around that statement and you may begin to see why I’ve renamed the blog–because this place, this  location has forced me to rethink my beliefs, not only about myself, but also about big issues such as poverty and hunger–and disease, for god sake!  We’re in the midst of a cholera epidemic!  

But even without cholera sickening folks by the thousands, we had an earthquake here last January, a hurricane last week, and a million and a half people homeless in Port-au-Prince today. 

Was the earthquake an event horizon for Port-au-Prince?  Will cholera bend time and space so there’s no escaping the dis-ease that’s plagued this place for centuries? 

Is there light for Haiti?

Now, fast-forward 4 months. 

Do you think the blog is fulfilling its mission so far?

And, even more importantly, if you have one, what task does your blog accomplish?  What is its purpose?  Tell us about it in the comments and leave a link.  You might attract some new readers!

And don’t forget that tomorrow we’ll have our “Mid-Week Mindy,” tomorrow a reflection on Lent*.  Mindy will be covering for me, answering questions, responding to comments.

* On the Christian calendar, tomrrow, Ash Wednesday, begins the season of Lent, 40 days of reflecting and fasting, leading up to Easter Sunday.  For a beautiful mediation on the meaning  of Lent, check out this post by my friend Jane over at PlaneJaner’s Journey.

Top 10 Ways to be a Not-So-Normal American Couple


My partner Sara and I are beginning to lose touch—

Lose touch with what it means to be an even remotely “normal” American couple.  Some might say that’s not such a bad thing, but I promise you, we have gotten so far from the center of the bell curve, we can’t find the bell any more.  We can’t even hear it ringing in the distance.

So–in light of this loss, today, I bring you the top 10 ways you too can be the most un-American of American couples:

#10.  Station armed guards outside your house. 

This is sure to eliminate any and all illusions of privacy. 

(If you are new to the blog, my partner Sara and I live in Haiti where threats to security are common.  Click here to read a post about this.)

 

#9.  Argue frequently about how you will generate electricity. 

Sara and I have been known to have some of our hottest arguments around just how long we can safely run our generator, especially on days when we have no or very little electricity from the city. I don’t like to be hot.  Heat makes me irritable, bitchy, and stressed.  So during the hottest nights here in Haiti, I’ve wanted to keep the air conditioning on, or at the very least, a fan running—neither of which are possible without electricity or our generator running.

(To read an entire post dedicated to Haiti’s infrastructure issues click here.)

 

#8.  Do without television.  

Instead watch DVDs of “30-Something” for evening entertainment. I knew things were getting bad when over the weekend Sara and I watched back to back episodes of the show’s first season and felt like we were enjoying a special treat, hovering around Sara’s laptop like kids in front of Saturday morning cartoons.

“Oh, boy!” we exclaimed elbowing one another.  “Isn’t this great!”  We would have broken out the popcorn, if we had a microwave to pop it in.

 

#7.  Go to bed before dinner.

Not out of passion, but because you’ve become dreadfully boring and tire easily.

 

#6.  Have no hot water in your kitchen sink.

Not to mention no dish-washer.

 

#5. Develop an active fear of kidnapping.

On average—there’s a kidnapping a day in Port-au-Prince—usually of foreigners, often of ex-pats working for NGOs on earthquake reconstruction.  And in fact, a number of these kidnappings actually happen in Petion-ville, where we live, since most NGOs have set up their operations from this location.

Many ex-pats are kidnapped from their cars.  To alleviate that risk we drive with seatbelts on, windows up, doors locked.  It’s harder to be pulled from a vehicle that way.

 

#4.  Stage incidents of international canine trafficking.

I know most folks don’t traipse the planet, canine companions in tow, but Sara and I, for whatever reason, see fit to move our mutts to whichever corner of the globe is hosting the latest in earth-shaking disasters. 

For example, it was challenging to take a 40 pound, blonde terrier to Vietnam, where the meat of medium sized, light skinned canines is still considered a delicacy.  And though it ended well, concluded with Ralph arriving uneaten in Hanoi, it proved so crazy-making along the way, we “sanely” decided to bring him here to Haiti this past summer. 

However, that trip proved less eventful—except for his traveling companions on the flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince—the 10,000 chicks he still hasn’t stopped chirping about.

(For an entire post on pet-transport mishaps click here.)

 

#3.  Appreciate the difference between “trash” and “stash.”

Sara has “placement issues”—a problem she blames on her training as an architect and which she insists I knew about prior to our partnering and simply can not change.  Bottom line—Sara likes to arrange things: drawers, cupboards, closets, the contents of the refrigerator, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup arranged in tidy rows—like items lined up together—like soldiers—an army of condiments ready for edible action.  If an object doesn’t fall neatly into rank, the solution for Sara is simple—throw it in the trash.

I, on the other hand, tend to collect things—and not the kinds of things most would consider collectables, but which I gather in the name of “potential art”—items I prefer to call “collagables”—buttons, beads, ribbons, rocks, shells, business cards, bottle caps, maps, matchboxes, newspaper clippings, play bills, and, among other things, sales receipts—in my mind the most under-rated and readily available of all the collagables—a free gift with each purchase, so to speak.

Sara insists my stash is trash!

 

#2.  Agree on only one thing. 

That there are too many white people in America. 

On one of our recent trips back to the US what stood out to both of us most, even though our home is in an ethically-mixed neighborhood, was the overwhelming huge number of Caucasian in the city where we live.  At one point Sara turned to me in the grocery store produce isle and asked:  “What do you notice about being home?”  My response was immediate, “There are so many white people in America!  I had forgotten.”  It surprised us how quickly we both had become conditioned to what seems an appropriate ethnic mix.  We had made a shift that we noticed only when coming “home.”  If this can happen for us, it can happen for others.  Come join us.  Make the switch.

 

#1.  Be denied the right to marry.

This one I think speaks for itself, but if not please watch this video:

 

Sara reminds me, that though we don’t have the right to marry in Kentucky, we at least now have an openly gay mayor in Lexington, so that’s a step in the right direction.  (To  read about Jim Gray click here.) 

However, Sara also insists that, by far, the weirdest thing about us as couple is that I asked her to brainstorm with me about “what makes us weird as a couple.”  I’m not exactly sure what’s so weird about that, but Sara says my not recognizing the strangeness of that request makes it even weirder.  I don’t know.  You be the judge.

At any rate, remember that “normal” is a difficult to define category.  I appreciate that.  But if you recall the 1960s television sitcom, “The Odd Couple,” you’ll see that I’m not talking so much about individual issues that separate us from the crowd.  I’m looking at the entire constellation of individual quirks that combine to make a couple what most others would consider strange.  I’m looking at the “Odd Couple” factor, if you will.

Felix Unger and Oscar Madison epitomized for a generation of Americans just what it meant to be uniquely coupled in the 1960s.

But If Felix and Oscar were the not-so-average pair of heterosexual bachelors in the 60s, I would argue that Sara and I are the same for this decade’s no-where-near-single lesbian couple—a uniqueness not related in the least to the reality of sexual preference.

In fact, Sara and I give whole new meaning to the notion of “odd couple”—sexual orientation not withstanding.

We may be weird–

But we do want to wed!

What sets you and your partner apart from the crowd?  What makes a couple “weird” in the country  you call home?  Do gay and lesbian couple have the right to wed where you live?

Awards Ceremony 101


Allow me to apologize in advance (you’ll soon see why) and assure you that, although things in Haiti seemed to be heating up a day or two ago, they’ve just as quickly calmed back down, as Aristide’s arrival has been delayed until housing and security can be arranged—several days, maybe even weeks.

So during this brief lull in exiled-former-presidents-coming-home to Haiti, I’ll finally and officially accept the Memetastic Award Clouded Marble cursed honored me with last week. 

This long-anticipated acceptance requires several things of me:

1. Displaying the “disgusting graphic” (words of the award creator Jillsmo, not mine) of the award itself—a Meme Kitty dancing among balloons and shooting stars, gleeful and glorious in award winning form. 

2. Posting 5 “facts” about myself—4 of which must be bold-faced lies.  (This will be the fun part.)

3. Passing the award along to 5 other bloggers, who will, in turn, do the same.  (This is where the apologies come into play.)

4. Linking this post back to the “Memetastic Hop,” so award creator Jillsmo can track its path through the blogosphere.  (Supposedly failing to do any of the above will cause Jillsmo to haunt and taunt me through the rest of what, I’m sure will be, a short-lived blogging career.)

So, here are some fun-filled “facts” about me.  (You pick out the one that is true.)

  1. Sara and Kathy met on a train from Istanbul to Ankara.
  2. Kathy taught English at Oral Roberts University for 6 years, before leaving to teach writing to inner-city St. Louis teens in trouble.
  3. During the 1980s, one of Kathy’s sisters served in the Peace Corps in Sri Lanka, where she still lives with her Delhi-born husband and 2 sons.
  4. Someone in Kathy’s immediate family won’t allow Kathy to mention him or her in this blog and has asked her to write as if he or she does not exist.
  5. Kathy’s father was a preacher from Ft. Lauderdale.

(Let me warn you, this list is tricky.  The fact must be entirely true to count.) 

Finally, I must part with my prize and pass it along to other entirely-worthy-of-bigger-honors-than-this bloggers I read regularly. 

(Audience cheers expectantly, while best-of-the-best bloggers cower in corners, pens poised to attack if they are indeed identified.)

And the winners are (apologies all around):

  1. Lisa at “Notes from Africa.”  Lisa’s blog was freshly pressed several weeks ago.  She writes about the science she observes all around her in South Africa.  Brilliant blog.  Amazing photos.  You must read. 
  2. Mrs. H. at “A.Hab’s View of the World.”  (Sorry, my friend, I adore your blog and want others to read, as well.)  Mrs. H. writes, sometimes amusingly, but always passionately, about her ambivalence for academia.  She is currently teaching World Lit at the university where she is finishing a Ph.D. in English. 
  3. Tori at “The Ramblings.”  What can I say?  Tori is a 23-year-old mother of one from Tennessee, who is, in fact, one of the best writers I have ever read.  As I told Sara the other day, Tori  writes like Anne Lamott, but “out-Lamotts” Lamott herself.  Tori is wickedly funny and was once freshly pressed twice in one week! 
  4. Deanna at “A Mother’s Tonic.”  Deanna is a Canadian blogger who writes poignantly about both the challenges and joys of motherhood.  She makes me think, she makes me smile, she makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.  I think you will love her too. 
  5. Terri at “Into the Mystic.”  Terri is a wife and mother, a bowling fanatic, and kidney donor, who writes about “dragging [her] feet toward empty-nest-hood.”   Terri was also freshly pressed a while back.  I know you’ll enjoy her wit and insight.  She’s sure to make you laugh. 

So there you have it folks.  I believe I’ve fulfilled my obligations according to Memetastic Award protocol.  

May award creator Jillsmo hunt me down and menace me for life if I have failed in these Memetastic duties.  I am indeed a believer in the cause. 

Thanks, again to Clouded Marble, for this great “gift.” As I’ve said before, please read her blog, despite her poor judgement in passing this prize to me. 

Long live the “Meme Kitty” !!!!

I will blog—forever—

A proud winner of the Memetastic Award!!!!

(Applause continue, even as this pronouncement is posted and Meme Kitty exits stage left————-)

Aristide is coming home—


—or so I’m told—

 And Sara and I are glad to be back on Planet Port-au-Prince, where a routine of strange and absurd leaves predictability-addicted ex-pats like us whip-lashed and dizzied.

Remember the epigraph that inspired “reinventing the event horizon”——

Haiti is not simply one more of those tropical dictatorships where to rule is to steal, and headless bodies are found by the road.  Haiti contorts time:  It convolutes reason if you are lucky–and obliterates it if you are not.  Haiti is to this hemisphere what black holes are to outer space.  Venture there and you cross an event horizon. (T. D. Allman, After Baby Doc, 1989)

From a much-too-short weekend in Miami, Sara and I have crossed that event horizon, come home to Haiti, where the streets are rocking with protesters— 

Literally—

Stone-throwing, tire-burning Haitians took to the streets on Monday, calling for the removal of unpopular President Preval, whose term ended yesterday, or should have, had he not decided to extend it by three months.

So it seems—————Preval is staying, Baby-Doc has settled in, and Aristide is on his way.

As journalist Emily Troutman tweeted yesterday, the only thing that would be weirder is if  “Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines came back too.”  (Both were Haitian revolutionary heroes who fought for freedom against the French more than 200 years ago.)

In the unfortunate (but sanity-maintaining) event that you are new to Planet Port-au-Prince here’s a recap of recent events:

–On January 12, 2011 an earthquake leveled Haiti’s capital, killing nearly a quarter of million, and leaving one and a half million homeless and still living in tents a year later.

–In October Hurricane Tomas hit Haiti, further complicating relief efforts.

–Also in October, a cholera epidemic took hold, and by now, 3 months later, has needlessly killed more than 4 thousand.

–On November 28, 2011 Haiti held a fraudulent presidential election, during which ballot boxes arrived at poling places stuffed with votes for the ruling political party’s candidate, Jude Celestine.

–After election results were announced on December 8, 2010 (identifying Mirlande Manigat and Jude Celestine as the top two vote-getters who would run-off in a final round on January 16, 2011  and excluding popular, musician candidate Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly from the second round), protesters took to the streets, rioting for an annulment of the election and leaving Port-au-Prince in a virtual lock-down that even closed the international airport for four days.

–In January 2011 the OAS (Organization of American States) reviewed election results and determined that they were indeed fraudulent and that Jude Celestine should be eliminated from a second round run-off.

–On January 16, 2011, the scheduled day of the original run-off, the delayed event was nearly forgotten when the former Haitian dictator (exiled in France since 1986) Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier arrived unexpectedly in Port-au-Prince.

–Two days later Baby Doc was arrested and released on charges of corruption.

–Also in January, when members of President Preval’s Unity Party refused to follow the recommendation of the OAS that their candidate Jude Celestine be disqualified, the US State Department revoked the visas of 12 top officials in an effort to force the issue.

–On February 3, 2011 the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council, following the recommendation of the OAS, announced the revised results of November’s election, determining by a vote  of 5 to 3, that the two candidates to run-off in a March 20th final round would be Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly.

–Though this announcement too was expected to result in rioting, the exclusion of unpopular Celestine left Port-au-Prince relatively quiet and calm.

–(In the midst of this, Sara and I left Port-au-Prince on Friday, February 4th for a long weekend on the beach in South Florida.) 

hundreds of jelly fish on South Beach

 –Monday, February 7th, the Haitian government issued a sting of its own to Duvalier supports, when  it announced it had printed a diplomatic passport for the still-wildly-popular and first-democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has lived in exile in South Africa since 2004.  (So he can return home, Aristide has been requesting a passport for more than a month.)

–(As Haitians await the imminent return of Aristide, Sara and I snuck back into Haiti on a nearly empty American Airlines flight (because few folks are stupid enough to return to Port-au-Prince during this time of political unrest with arch rivals Duvalier and Aristide waiting in the wings.)

So readers of my blog should be assured—I’m back on the job.

This week I’ll be formally accepting “awards” I’ve received during my holiday—the “Memetastic Award” (from Clouded Marbles) and “The Stylish Blogger Award” (from Wendy over at Herding Cats in Hammond River).  And I’ll pass along the “prizes” to other deserving bloggers in the next couple of days.

So I’m back at my desk—

Blogging from my home-sweet Haitian home on Planet Port-au-Prince.

Come play with me.  You too can have time-contorted and reason-obliterated!

Come wait for Aristide with me———————-

(I look forward to catching up with all of your blogs, as well.)

So, I Lied . . .


. . . sort of . . .

I said I wasn’t going to post today–that drunkenness and lounging on a Florida beach would interfere.

But I had to share the video below. 

Whether you support gay marriage or not, whether you support the rights of Iowa lesbians to form civil unions or not, please watch this video of Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old University of Iowa student, who spoke out against legislation that would outlaw civil unions for gay couples in his state. 

Zach, with a rhetorical prowess rivaling that of Barack Obama, shares his experience as the child of a lesbian couple.  The video speaks for itself.  Please watch.

You might also like to read an article in the Huffington Post (click here) about Zach’s brilliant defense, his defense of something that shouldn’t need defending–a right that is priceless to gay and lesbian couples–one heterosexual couples take for granted.

I may have told a well-intended lie, an honest lie, of sorts, saying that I wouldn’t post today.  But in the US we are only now reversing “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”–a law that requires gays and lesbians serving in our military to lie about their sexual orientations–to lie about their very identities.

We are only now allowing women like me to write openly about their partner’s service to the planet’s poor.  Fifty years ago I’d never dared.

We are only now allowing gay couples to walk the main streets of America hand-in-hand with the ones they love, often the ones they’ve committed to for life–to stand strong and proud and committed.

Committed to America, committed to one another, committed to love.

Seemingly Selfish, Lesbian Ex-Pats Seek Personal Peace (and some damn, good shopping) in South Florida


Sara and I are planning a weekend trip to Miami and hoping that Haitian streets remain quiet this week, ahead of our planned departure on Friday.  However, recent developments in the news, some even in the past several hours, hint that peace in Port-au-Prince could be short-lived.  Let’s keep all selfish, Lesbian fingers crossed that we gals get gone from Haiti before politics throw an exile-returning monkey wrench into our scheme for peace.

Over the weekend we learned specifically that the Haitian Electoral Council will announce on Wednesday the winners in Haiti’s first round of presidential elections—“winners” being the two candidates with the most votes, who will run-off on March 20th.

The American government, in an effort to persuade Haiti to accept the election outcome supported by the OAS (Organization of American States), revoked the US visas of 12 top political leaders from Haitian President Preval’s Inite party.  An OAS investigation found massive fraud in November 28th’s election and recommended that Preval’s hand-picked candidate, Jude Celestin, be eliminated from the run-off.  Bowing to this pressure late last week, Preval’s party withdrew its support of Celestin, but Celestin himself has refused to concede defeat and remove himself from the process.

However, any potential unrest from Wednesday’s electoral announcement could be complicated further by what Haitian President Preval and his council of ministers decided to do on Monday afternoon—grant former President Aristide a diplomatic passport, so he can return to Haiti.

Clearly, the Obama administration was concerned enough about Haiti’s ability to transfer power away from Preval, whose term ends on February 7th, that it sent US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Port-au-Prince on Sunday to meet with the current president and the three presidential candidates fighting for top spots on March 20th’s ballot.  I suspect the US is concerned that Haiti not devolve into the same kind of political unrest we’ve seen recently in Tunisia and Egypt.  US interests in the region depend on peace being maintained in its own hemisphere, especially in a place just 600 miles south of Miami and too close to Cuba for comfort, a goal that Aristide’s return could threaten.

Cuba also came into play on Monday afternoon, as rumors spread that Aristide had already left South Africa, where he’s lived in exile since 2004, and had returned in the Caribbean, in preparation for his arrival Port-au-Prince.  Some reports had him in Venezuela, others in Cuba.  However, Aristide’s attorney has since confirmed that the former president has not yet left South Africa.

Aristide maintains a huge following among Haiti’s poor, and his Lavalas party was not allowed to participate in November’s election.

Today’s New York Times has a story that nicely assesses the Aristide situation, outlining the potential complications.

Clearly, political tensions here in Haiti seem to be heating up   Selfish as it sounds (and admittedly it is selfish), Sara and I hope things don’t boil over before our weekend escape to South Florida.  Though not returning home to Kentucky, we’re looking forward to the comforts of American television (minus Super-Bowl Sunday), foods as heart attack-inducing as McDonald’s Big Mac and fries, and some quiet time to enjoy South Beach and play our part, as gratuitous American consumers, shopping till greed and guilt get the best of us or our wallets are emptied—a little retail therapy to lift our spirits and boost the lagging US economy.

Somebody’s got to do it; might as well be this pair of globe-trotting, dog-loving lesbians, who need a little personal peace, as well. 

(Apologies for the Super Bowl snub; we expats like our football better in the form of World Cup action.)