Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Moto Taxi Heroes in Haiti

Life in Haiti is a constant swirl of excitement, frustration, adoration, and adaptation.

One of the ways I have adapted to getting around a crowded city is by use of moto taxis.  It has turned getting from point A to point B every day an adventure that I adore.

Here are some video clips of riding on motos.  I think it looks a bit scarier than it is in these videos- but I love that it does capture some of what it is like to have an adventure each day getting from point A to point B.

I have two main moto taxi drivers that I use daily. They have become my trusted guides to the busy and hectic city that is Port Au Prince, Haiti.  They take me anywhere I need to go and I trust them to get us there safely. I literally put my life in their hands each day, and appreciate their skill and agility.

Riding a moto taxi at the beginning was one of the scariest adventures I have been on.  But now it is my every day normal and choose it over a car many times. The thrill of being out in the wind, close to the people on the streets and feeling connected to Haitian life is just a bit addicting. I do still pray a lot while I am riding on the back of a moto.   I start and end every ride with a prayer for safe keeping, and then continue to pray, chant and express appreciation for safety during much of the ride.

I get that what I am doing is dangerous and don't take my safety for granted, ever.  

I have decided it is a risk worth taking as the freedom it opens up has changed my experience of life in Haiti.   I am not restricted to going places my friends go, or on paying for expensive car taxi rides. Thanks to Alexson and Gastal and many other Haitian moto taxi drivers I am free to see whatever it is I want to see in Haiti and I love it.

Alexson picks me up at my house on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 6:30am and drives me to the Karibe Convention Center where I teach a 7am yoga class.  He is there every morning at exactly 6:30am and has never missed a day. He then picks me up from the hotel and takes me where ever I need to go that day, and in the evening picks me up and drives me all the way down to Tabarre where I do a private yoga class at 6pm.  Two days a week I start and end my day with Alexson and he is becoming one of my favorite people in Haiti.

Gastal picks me up from the Project Zen Yoga studio every Monday and Wednesday and drives me home.  I call him when I am done with class, he comes and drives me home.  He has also never missed an evening and has braved rainstorms to get me home safely.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Aid culture and the art of being OK with uncomfortable

 "I came to Haiti to do good."  Yeah, me too. Most foreigners do.

Last week the New York Times published an op-ed that created more than a few conversations among aid and development workers in Haiti.  The reactions have been mixed and this blog post is reflection on my reaction to the write-up.

Yes, we come to do good.  And yes, there are contradictions in our day to day lives. It can be confusing. We come to Haiti because our hearts hear the call of our brothers and sisters in the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  We come to offer a hand in alleviating what we perceive as an immense suffering greater than we could know in our home country.  We are here to help...

But to help who exactly?  And to what long-lasting effect?  Can we be certain that the positive focused impact we have is enough to outweigh the potential negatives of large-scale 'aid culture'? 

How many people in the Haiti are asking these questions? I'm not sure, but I know I am.  Every day I am here is filled with them.

In my short five months in Haiti I have met at least 100 people from all over the world working to help Haiti in a myriad of ways. Off the top of my head, I've met people working on...

...large scale government infrastructure improvement projects... improving the electoral process....improving transparency of parliament...introducing cookstove technologies...building houses out of waste materials....offering free physical therapy...paying people for trash and recycling....helping to feed hungry children...teaching kids art and photography...building creative schools in communities...empowering women and girls through education and community strengthening...introducing alternative energy resources...offering trauma relief services....

I see all of this each day and I ask myself again and again, "What am I doing here?  What is my role in all of this?" 

 In "I came to Haiti to do good." Nora writes,
"Meanwhile, they see us leaving the grocery store with bags of food that cost more than what they make in a month. They watch us get into large air-conditioned cars and drive by them, always by them. They see us going home to nice, big houses, shielded by high walls. 
And here is what they don’t know: These houses? We could never afford them back home. These houses we have because they don’t. We have a job because they are poor. And because their poverty is extreme, because the country they were born in is hot, dusty, stormy, messy and perilous, we are paid well."
This is not the story of every development worker or expat living in Haiti, but I see it as the rule rather than the exception.  And this rule creates confusion for some of us.  What is the message we are sending? What is the broader long-arc impact of our presence here? Is it fair that I am here to help and at the same time living a life that is inaccessible to the very people I am supposedly helping? 

These are questions I ask for which I have no answer.

Being here is about coming to terms with acceptance that I don't have the answers.  And that I probably never will.  Teaching yoga in Haiti is teaching me to recognize the value of being OK with not knowing.

Much of my life in Haiti over the past 5 months has been the practice of coming back to this idea daily. "I am uncertain about the what's, why's and how's of what I choose to do each day I live in Haiti. I am unclear about my goals and desires for the impact those actions have in the larger picture of life.  This uncertainty is OK. I am safe, I am happy. May I heal. May I be a source of healing for others."

These words of Rainer Maria Rilke strike deep to the center of this practice and serve as a touchstone when I lose my way and get caught up in the questions and the seeking.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” 
I can spin a thousand stories of what I am doing here in Haiti and how I can self-validate the way I choose to spend my days. On the surface it is simple: I am here sharing yoga, health and wellness practices.

When I question why I am doing this work in Haiti, I am reminded that it doesn't matter where I am. It doesn't matter what I am doing.  All that matters is that I remember to love. Love big, love often. The rest will sort itself out.

Friday, April 19, 2013

I keep seeing him over and over again...

The image flashes clearly in my mind over and over again. Sometimes it makes sense why the image flashes in my mind, like when I hear and see the news about recent tragedies in Boston and Texas. Sometimes it feels more  random, like while waiting for my tea water to boil.

The image that flashes repeatedly is that of the body of a dead man lying on the side of the road in Port Au Prince.  I see his body lying over the curb, his face, the blood on the space where is hairline met the crown of his head, the empty look in his wide open eyes.

I saw him the first time a few days ago.

I was perched on the back of a moto, smiling at the beauty of my life here in Haiti.  It was a sunny afternoon and I was leaving a yoga class for teen girls from a tent camp and going to teach yoga class at the yoga studio.

A smile was painted on my face from the time Alexson, my new moto driver, picked me up.
We sped along the hilly and dusty streets and I gazed about in wonder and amazement as I do every time I get on a moto in Haiti.

Staring out at the distant mountains that rest in a light haze of afternoon clouds always makes calms my mind. I love mountains.  As we speed along, I see the hillsides covered in a dazzling density of concrete houses packed into the hillsides. This sight always leaves me in a state of wonder and amazement.  We zoom past the local artisan stands full of brightly colored Haitian art for sale, and then we get into the density of the part of Port Au Prince called Petion-ville.

I love being on the back of a moto in the city as we move in and out of traffic at less than harrying speeds. I am free to smell, feel, and stare at the life on the streets as Alexson keeps us safely moving toward our destination.

That was when I saw him. A dead man lying on the side of the street.  His body was laying over the curb. There was blood on his head, and his eyes were wide open.  I gasped. I wanted to stop.  But we were moving fast and what would I say to Alexson? I turned around and saw a police car was there - what more could I do?  I looked forward again as we kept moving toward the yoga studio.

I arrived at the yoga studio and taught my class with no mention of seeing the dead man. I have told no one. It wasn't something to small talk about.

I saw the dead man the first time an afternoon earlier this week.  I have seen him again and again ever since.  The image keeps popping into my mind at the strangest times.  Death. That is what it looks like.

There has been lot of death and tragedy in the US news this week.  Seeing the body of that dead man has reminded me that there is always death and tragedy in our world.  Some of it makes big news.  Every day there is death and dying. Some of it timely, some of it tragic.

What can I do in the face of such tragedy?  My only answer is to love. To love completely and to love fully. To continue this journey of self healing and to share the light that comes out of of my own healing with as many people as I can.  I can't do anything to stop all tragedy and suffering there is in the world. But I can be a part of creating more light and love.

I keep seeing his face, and I keep telling him he was loved. I keep seeing his face and I thank him for letting me see him like that to remind me how precious life is and that all I can do is to heal and to love. On Purpose in Haiti - here I am.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Everywhere I go, there I am.

Still On Purpose in Haiti and truly loving it deeply and completely.  My 'enough is simply enough' mantra has been powerful and has led to deep self-healing and acceptance over the past month.

A visit from my lovely friend Jolie took the experience to a new level of enjoyment and also served as an important reminder about the powerful experience I am enjoying here.

I recently realized that I've been 'at home in Haiti' for the past two months, and have decided I will call consciously call this 'home' for now.  Haiti is my new home. I love that way it sounds.

I don't know how long 'now' is exactly, at least 6 months, probably a year, maybe the rest of my life- who knows!?

I only know that my life is moving forward with joy and love. Everyday I am dancing at the edges of my comfort zone, singing the song that lives in my soul, teaching yoga, sharing joy and positive energy, going with the flow.

Today begins my birthday month. Just about 43 years ago I was born to a single mom living in New York City.  I don't think she planned to have me, but I am 100% certain she is glad I joined her in this journey we call life as human beings.  My mom and I went through a lot together growing up.  She was so young when she had me, in many ways we grew up together.

One of the most important lessons I learned from growing up with my momma is that wherever we lived we could call it home.

Over the first 15 years of my life we moved well over 15 times and while it was definitely challenging, it mostly served me well.  The pattern of moving has continued into my adult life.  I got to meet new people, see new places, and discover new parts of what it meant to be me. I became an expert at assessing situations and understanding what people wanted and needed in their lives.

One of my dear friends once told me how she admires my ability to drop in anywhere, in any situation, with any type of people and feel comfortable and at home. What a blessing.  As far as superpowers go- this is a pretty cool one to have to move through life.

Some may look at my life of relatively constant moving of locations and shifting of circumstances and wonder what I am running from.  I may have asked myself that once or twice over the years....but this year after yet another big move and shift, I am reminded of how fortunate I am to have this ability.

Someday, I may land in a space or place that calls me to stay for long time.  But so far it hasn't and for right now it doesn't matter.

Everywhere I go, there I am.

So no, I did not run away from anything when I moved from DC to Haiti. I am simply flowing in the rhythm of my life with a finely honed skill and expertise at being at home anywhere I go. What a joy. My new home is Haiti. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Acceptance. When enough is enough.

"I always have an existential crisis in my third week of a new adventure."  I laughed aloud when I read this text from a good friend.  It's one reason we have good friends right?  To help us put things in perspective.

Last week was my third week here in Haiti and I was indeed full of doubt. As I got comfortable with my routine of life here, I began to wonder if I am 'doing enough'.  

This week that seems silly.  Of course it is enough that I am living in Haiti, getting myself to the yoga studio every day to share ideas, work with great people, and teach 5 classes a week.  Yes this is enough for now. Enough is simply enough.

I have grand visions of writing articles, doing community outreach and employee wellness programs in Haiti, and last week I started worrying that I wasn't doing enough to work toward that vision.

As a typical over-acheiver type I was beating myself up over it.

Luckily, I have a mindfulness practice that let me see myself beating myself up, and I checked in with it. I asked where the feeling of "not enough" was coming from. (I also work with a lovely life coach Cora of Sexy Soul Wellness who helped me delve deeper into this.)

I realized that the part of me wants to 'do more' is my ego that wants to tell great stories and be recognized for great achievements during my time here.  As I looked closer at that, I realized that a more important part of me, my center, my soul, is not ready to do more and has a different agenda.

One of my favorite Rumi quotes is, "The soul is here for its own joy."  The joy my soul currently seeks is one of healing and establishing a strong base for a fire that can burn powerfully.

Yes, I want to accomplish great things and I want to be recognized for the work I do. But I am ready for once in my life to accept that enough is enough and that I can take my time to build something with a solid foundation.  If I focus on accepting what I am willing and eager to do now, and let enough be enough- then I am sure that great things will follow.

With love and acceptance, Lizandra

Credit for the photo goes to my good friend and fellow sojourner on the journey of the dance between acceptance and drive - Kristin Adair.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What am I doing and why am I doing it?

What am I doing and why am I doing it? This is a question that has been on my mind this week.

When I arrived in Haiti my intention for being here was: "Here deepening my understanding of my own journey and learning about life in Haiti. Doing my best to live everyday On Purpose."

Today that doesn't feel like enough. I am not sure why.   This past week I've had a sense of a need to do more. Maybe I just need to do more focused 'learning about life in Haiti".

Or maybe I need to check-in with my bigger intentions and purpose.  Check-in with what it is that I want in life and what I am doing to help that to be.  Finally, check-in with what doesn't feel like enough and why.

This week in my classes at Project Zen I am focusing on sharing thoughts around Intention and today I wrote a Project Zen blog post about it.  You can read the post here. 

I really do need to take a step back and check in with myself, my intentions and my purpose.  Do you have an intention that drives your purpose every day? Please share!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Honoring Tragedy and Compassion

January 12, 2013 

Three years ago today devastation hit Haiti in the form of an 7.0 earthquake that shook the very foundation of the country.  Well over 250,000 people were killed, tens of thousands more were injured, and the survivors were left with the traumatic impact of the disaster.

Three years ago today the world came together in response.  It is estimated that half of all American households donated money to the relief efforts.   Over 40 countries responded with disaster relief assistance.
Stop for a moment to think about that: More people gave to the Haitian relief efforts than voted in the 2012 Presidential election.  More countries responded to the relief efforts than any other disaster. 

And so out of the devastation came compassion and hope.

You might want to ask if those millions of people who gave money three years ago are still thinking of the people in Haiti today on the 3-year anniversary of the tragedy. You might want ask what has been done with all of the money donated and efforts by so many countries.

Me, today I don't care much about those things.

I care most that there was a monumental historic disaster and millions of people responded from around the globe. I care that the world opened its heart to Haiti and offered what they could.   When the world shows compassion writ large, it is something to honored and acknowledged.

Today was not a time to ask questions about what happened to the money or what is being done in Haiti right now.  Today was a day to honor those that died, those that survived and those who responded. Today, 3 years later let's honor the pain and the caring love that poured in from all around the world.

Yes the earthquake is what drew me to come here in 2010. I came to bear witness to something that I couldn't comprehend just by reading the news. But me being here On Purpose is not about relief, or serving less fortunate.

Me being here On Purpose is about honoring the strength and resilience of the Haitian people and offering interested people opportunities for health and wellness.

Our Project Zen yoga studio was open today and I taught a yoga class today at Noon. We offered our practice to honor the fallen and the survivors and to compassion and hope.