I returned from Haiti in February 2013 to start a new job with an international development think tank based in London. Since then I have been busy with the new job and other projects on the side. I have finally found some time to return to my journals and start blogging again.
I arrived into New York from Haiti in late December 2012 for some time off over the Christmas period. This blog is based on my journal notes from that time.
“Haiti? What the heck were you doing there?” The cab driver was trying his best to make conversation with my tired looking face. Dusk was falling softly in an orange haze across the New York sky. I’m on R&R (Rest & Recuperation) and it’s almost Christmas. Six hours ago I was in a Land Cruiser heading towards Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince. We took a short-cut past a camp where shoeless children played gleefully under the hot sun, seemingly unfazed by the stench of sewerage in the air. We zoomed over the rocky tracks past mounds of burning rubbish before passing a dead body lying on the side of the unpaved road. Now I’m in New York, the city that never sleeps and I’m exhausted. I look up at the cab driver’s round face and shrewd eyes in the rear view mirror and then glance over at my own face. Tired and newly freckled along the nose with disheveled, unwashed hair. I didn’t have the energy for small talk.
“I was working there”, I said.
I indulge in the luxury of the wide, smooth roads as the cab stop-starts along 7th Avenue down towards the Williamsburg Bridge, a journey I made several times in the past, but everything seems different now. Beautiful women and men of every race hurry along the sidewalk in power suits and trench coats. Bizarre posters are everywhere: Bikini Waxing, Better Sex, Lipstick, Boobs, Fashion, Teeth Whitening, Reality TV. Lights, brightness, fame. I gaze at crowded bars, boutiques and signs for pizzas, steaks, clam chowder, and macaroni and cheese. The sky scrapers, the agencies, the corporates, the conglomerates. Shiny and extravagant glistening towers in the night sky. Shrines of consumerism at its utmost, proof of what capitalism can achieve. It’s the most extraordinary feeling. I’m in a new dimension. A first world dimension.
I meet my film maker friend Nathan at his apartment in Williamsburg. We dine at a fantastical restaurant nearby where I devour succulent roast chicken and down cocktails. He tells me of his latest job, a lucrative CoverGirl ad for a new mascara range while my head spins from the alcohol and the early morning flight. When we return to his apartment I collapse onto the couch and fall into a deep sleep. My dreams are filled with the Caribbean night sky, the hot mosquito filled air and the faces of children. I wake in a sweaty panic at 4am trying to remember where I am. Once reacquainted with reality, I switch on the TV to occupy my mind. I had become used to sleeping in the humid night air to the sounds of gunshots in the distance and the guard’s radio outside the window. The roosters would crow at all hours and the warm wind would rustle the leaves of the trees in the garden. Now all this was replaced with dry central heating and apple TV.
Had I changed? Why did I feel like I was in a surreal bubble whilst at the same time everything felt more profoundly real? Lying in that New York bedroom I let my mind wonder back to the vast dark arc of the Caribbean night sky, the deep roll of the ocean, the smells, the noises, the colours of nothing and everything mashing together under a blanket of stars and at last I slept, pulling all my memories into lucid, luminous dreams.