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Coming Home (when everything is the same but you)

I’ve always loved going more than I’ve loved coming home. I thrive off of new experiences, get bored with routine and dream of far off places. Part of me has always wanted to be a flight attendant, and I didn’t think that George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air was really that bad of a guy. But I will say that after our epic and ridiculous time trying to get back to Raleigh (I don’t know if we mentioned that we got stranded in Miami overnight and had our flight delayed again the next day), I have never wanted to come home so badly. I typically walk through the airport staring at the destination above each gate and thinking of the planes I’d much rather get on than the one heading home, but yesterday, the only place I wanted to go was to RDU. And in many ways, it has been nice to be back. I spent Friday night dreaming of hair straighteners and air conditioning, of opening my closet instead of a plastic bag to pick out my outfit, and I’ve spent the last few days running, spending time with friends & sleeping – some of the things I missed the most in Haiti. It’s funny, because I’ve gone on plenty of trips before where I’ve camped, lived out of a backpack and not showered for days, but I’ve never felt the same relief of coming home with those as I do now. Something about being in a country so different from home, about knowing that I didn’t have resources at my fingertips, has made coming home so comforting.

But, coming home has also been much harder and different than I expected. Aside from the common challenges of trying to describe an amazing trip to curious friends in just a few words, the let down of getting back to normal life after an adventure and missing the beautiful places and people I met, I have thought about Haiti almost constantly since landing in Raleigh. I have never had to process a place and an experience so much, never struggled so much to comprehend things that I can’t really get my mind around. I had been warned that it takes time to decompress from a trip like this, that Haiti is somewhere you come back to over and over, but I guess I was naive to it all. I’ve been to other countries before, and I was only gone for a week this time. I wasn’t expecting to be left with so many thoughts, so many things that I struggle to make sense of and so many questions about politics, dynamics, causes and effects and the best way to move forward. There are so many things – good & bad – that I’m trying to translate, to find their equivalent for in my own life, with very little luck. And there are so many amazing and meaningful personal experiences and people I’ve fallen in love with that I miss.

The thing that has surprised me most, besides the way I still struggle to process it all, has been my feelings as I have processed it. I knew that I would come out of this week changed, and I knew that I would see and experience a lot of shocking, difficult and beautiful things that would ultimately shape my perspective and worldview. Honestly, I expected to come back with the temporary feeling of guilt about my nice things and comfortable life, write an extra donation check instead of buying a new dress and get back to normal life. But for some reason, Haiti hasn’t left me feeling guilty, but it has left me feeling very unsettled. I don’t feel like I need to change how I’m living, but it bothers me at little times throughout the day – driving down the road, drinking a cup of coffee – that I can’t do more to change how the people there are living. It bothers me that right now someone is sick and having to walk over mountains to get to a doctor, that a kid is drinking water that will make him sick. It bothers me that with one shower, my life was quickly brought back to normal while what I left was their normal. It bothers me that with a plane ticket and a U.S. passport (a birthright, really), I can literally be lifted above it all, taken to 30,000 feet where life is equal – we’re all just specks on a globe – and dropped back into my life here, exactly as I left it, while they can’t escape from the struggles they face everyday. I think I’m realizing that the way Haiti has affected me has much less to do with personal conviction and much more to do with what I believe about justice and my role in it at a deep level. I think this upsets me so much because it’s not how the world was designed to be, because it bothers God too.

The temptation is to try to adjust, to just want to get back to normal, knowing that if I just let myself get back into my routine, it will eventually all feel right again, like waiting for a drug to wear off. But there’s also part of me that wants to cling to this feeling because I know it’s really the opposite of a drug wearing off, and that my normal life is the numb part and that this real. There’s part of me that doesn’t want to get back to normal, because injustice should always bother me. Because I should always be aware that there’s no “me” and “them”, but merely a difference in where we were born, which has come with a huge difference in opportunity. Because I should always realize that with awareness comes responsibility to not live selfishly, to do whatever I can, no matter how small.

I’m honestly not sure what to do about it all. There’s that immediate desire to do anything – donate clothes, food, whatever – just to alleviate the feeling of helplessness, but I realize that that’s not the ultimate answer. While it’s not an easy answer for someone growing up in an instant gratification society, I know that the fight is much bigger and the road is much longer than a quick fix. That it takes time and a diversity of skills and building on top of previous work and providing resources that equip people to change their own nation rather than just providing a bandaid. I really believe that Hope for Haiti Foundation does just that, and I’m so proud to be involved. While the spoiled part of me wants instant results, ultimately, I’d rather see long-term and sustainable change that’s community-owned and empowering. I absolutely believe that Haiti isn’t a hopeless nation; I’ve seen the strength, passion, pride, intelligence and drive of the people there, and I know that in the long run, they don’t really need me. All we can do is provide the jumping point – the school, the antibiotic, the access to information through the internet – and remove obstacles that allow them to live fully in that potential. It’s humbling, and motivating to continue the work. If you’d ever like to be more involved with HFHF, give us a shout – we always love meeting more “victims of Haiti’s passion” and promise there’s a fit for your skills. You’ll fall in love and you’ll be bothered, but it’s worth it. After all, waking up is always hard – but necessary – to do.

-Kristen P.