This post is mostly just a way of me getting things off my chest and reminding myself not to do this again. Maybe it will prove useful to someone else who ends up in the same situation; maybe it’ll be amusing for the rest of you.
1) Leaving two or so weeks earlier than planned
The original plan was to head down in the middle of June, a few weeks after the end of school. Plenty of time to test everything and make sure it works before hauling off. Then, my teammate found out that she would have to start work on June 1st, so if we waited until then to leave she wouldn’t be able to go with us. And I started thinking about the advantages of spending more time in the community, visiting the schools while classes are still in session, and getting to know our partner here better. So far, all those aspects have been great. But downloading large files is almost impossible here, and I had to install all the server software the night before leaving – it was a miracle that it actually worked, and I have no idea what I would have done if it hadn’t. Also, none of the books or tests were ready in time, so I’ve been spending my time begging other people to carry them down for me. Finally, it hasn’t been fair to our developer, Gonzalo Odiard, who’s been working really hard on getting all the software pieces ready and has to cope with our team’s unpredictable travel schedules at the last minute…
2) Not printing everything way ahead of time
The original idea was to administer the test using the computers – they’ve put together software that works on tablets, and I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to adapt it. But it turned out to be just one more thing to do, and we really don’t have time, at this stage, for “one more thing.” Plus, it makes sense to do what’s easier for the teachers administering it. They’re used to paper, so we should do paper, even though it’s much harder for us. Anyway, we decided to print all 270 * 2 exams. With 9 pages per exam, that’s almost 5,000 pages. Plus teacher surveys and parental consent forms. I have free printing privileges at two places on campus, but an amount that large is going to raise some eyebrows. So far, thanks to some generous folk, we’ve managed to get halfway there, but I guess we’ll just have to Fedex the rest. Later on, I’ll probably report back to whine about data entry and how we have to do everything manually whereas on a computer it would have been automatic…
3) Not realizing it takes time to receive money
They warned us to plan accordingly, because we wouldn’t get the grant until summer, but somehow I just assumed everything would be fine. In their defense, people have been working hard at both ends to get our funds to us, but paperwork requires processing. It doesn’t help that our situation is unusual. I asked them to direct the money to my friend’s account, so we don’t have to pay transfer fees twice (once to get it to my account, and then again to get it to him). But, I’m liable for this on my taxes, so that won’t work. Actually, I should be really grateful that my friend here volunteered to receive it in his Haitian bank account. It would be really dangerous to carry that much cash through the airport, and the fees for Western Union transfers or debit card are outrageous. Then there’s the fact that I’ve just never handled this much money before, ever. For example, I had to call my bank yesterday and ask them to increase my spending limit so I could pay for our books. I didn’t even know there was a spending limit – I’d never tried to spend that much before. I guess I’m making progress. I remember a few years ago, I was trying to buy an airplane ticket to Haiti, and I was shocked to learn that banks aren’t open all day on Sunday.
4) Being too proud to talk about money
I like to think of myself as independent, so I hate having to go to my parents and admit that I need their help. I waited until the last minute to ask for money to buy the books that we need, so they showed up at my house just yesterday, and someone else is going to have to figure out how to get them here to Haiti (thanks, Shuyan, Jennifer, Ben, and co.). Meanwhile, I’ve been worried lately because we’re operating with $2000 less dollars than I expected. Our school gave us the grant, but then our trip wasn’t approved (my personal trip and my personal grant are fine, but they don’t want me being responsible for other people). I know additional fundraising is an option, and we’ll probably be looking into it after the trip is over to recoup some expenses. It’s just hard to not have as much wiggle room as I expected. It means there’s a limited amount of space to screw up, which I guess is good in some ways but terribly stressful in others.
5) Going to the wrong airport
Speaking of costly mistakes…This one is really embarrassing, and I still don’t know how it happened. There are two airports in D.C.: Reagan and Dulles. I should know the codes for both of them by heart, because I’m looking up flights all the time. But somehow, I got it fixed in my head that DCA = Dulles, and our flight was out of there. So, we show up there around four in the morning (thank you Lydia for being paranoid and making us leave the house way earlier than I thought necessary, or this story would have a much worse ending), I go up to check in (I can never check in ahead of time, because my name’s hyphenated), and the lady at the counter points out that we’re at the wrong airport. We run downstairs and manage to get a van, and on our way to the other airport I try to figure out whether my reservation will be cancelled if I don’t check in an hour and thirty minutes ahead of time or an hour ahead of time, because we’re definitely not going to make the hour and thirty minutes thing. Luckily, it’s an hour ahead of time.
6) Feeling like I’m alone, when I’m not
Sometimes I assume that all of this is on me, but it’s not. For one thing, I’ve got my proposal-writing team: my fellow students, my professors, our mentor, and the Big Ideas judges who reviewed everything. Here on the ground, I’ve got Bernadette and many new friends that I’m making. If Bernadette weren’t here, I don’t think this project would be happening. I trust her, and lots of other people hre in town trust her, too. Then, on Saturday, Shuyan arrives with her own team. She came with me on my first trip to Lascahobas, and I’ll be glad to see her here again. They’re taking care of solar panels and laptops, which I could never handle on my own. Finally, I wouldn’t be able to function here in Haiti if it weren’t for the folks who put their faith in me right from the beginning, like the people at my church who contributed over $1000 when I served them really bad cooking in fundraisers, the Unleash Kids volunteers who spent hours on the phone training me how to install operating systems and read a voltmeter, and friends all over who give me a safe place to stay on my travels. In order to make it, you’ve got to learn to depend on the kindness of strangers. You’ve got to learn how to depend on the kindness of people who matter a lot to you, too.
I’ll be adding to this list as time goes on (actually, I’ll probably end up making many more mistakes than I document here). I’ll also be creating a separate list of all the times I’ve gotten free mangoes. Ideally, the two will roughly balance each other.