Running Girls

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MK and S

In March I ran my fastest 5K ever. This Saturday I ran my slowest, and it was just as much fun. Plus, I got to wear a rainbow-colored tutu.

The occasion? Girls on the Run (GOTR), a nation-wide program that I should have created. It’s the kind of program I could’ve used as a kid and dreamed of as an idealistic new teacher. I wish I’d had the foresight to see this thing to fruition. This award-winning holistic girl-empowerment program (that just announced partnership with mega athletic girl gear company, Athleta) features self-esteem boosting meetings and activities while simultaneously training for a 5K. Oh, and the girls are in fifth grade.

I wrote about GOTR while living in Bellingham in 2008 (August 26-Sep 2, 2008 issue). Inspired, I tried half-heartedly for a while to find a place for it to blossom on this side of the mountains when we moved back to Wenatchee in 2009. I made some calls up to Chelan, where there had once been a GOTR program. Then I tried to entice the local YMCA, the hospital, and an elementary school PE teacher to no avail. I should have tried harder, but my focus drifted.

When I found out last month that a local GOTR program had formed under the guidance of Columbia Valley Community Health I was thrilled. Unfortunately, between my recent humanitarian trip to Haiti and the GOTR coordinator’s aid trip to Guatemala, I didn’t get to help beforehand like I’d hoped. But I wound up getting to take part in the grand culminating event anyway (translation:  most fun Apple Blossom Festival run ever)–as running buddy to my friend V’s daughter, S.

To run and walk alongside such a rock star kiddo (people, she makes her own videos already!) completing her first official 5K race (she’d already completed the training version with flying colors, of course) was beyond compare. We’d done a short pre-run recess workout the day before. Based on Friday’s dry run I thought we’d be walking nearly the entire race on Saturday. But S did tell me she liked to run, and she proved it on race day when I saw a glimmer of her friendly, competitive streak burst forth. She ran like the wind for spurts; then she slowed down to catch her breath. All the while we talked about favorite books, writing stories, field trips, and summer plans.

On the home stretch I tried to surge ahead to grab an action photo of us on my phone. S surged right along with me, leaping past her peers with ease. In fact, she kept up so well that I only barely managed to get ahead for a photo, an off-kilter one at best. S looks radiant and nonplussed, whereas my expression mirrors the terror I felt during that split second of time, on the verge of ungracefully tripping over myself and in danger of breaking my nose (in full tutu and all). Thank goodness we crossed the finish line together a mere eighth of a mile later, unscathed and giggling.

Action photo

From her pre-race peppy cheers and dance steps (totally my fault since while we waited for the race to start my fake hip hop moves were noticed, I caved to peer pressure, and suddenly found myself choreographing an impromptu Girls on the Dancefloor troupe…), S was an absolute trooper, athlete, and delight. I had a ball and hope she did, too. Maybe next year she’ll be my training partner for my second full marathon? I guess I’ll have to ask her mom for permission.

Projects on the Homefront

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I’m definitely still having a hard time readjusting to “normal” life back home in NCW. But immersing myself in great friends, great weather, and great projects keeps me inspired and motivated to keep doing work that’s worthwhile. I’m brainstorming about some exciting big projects, but in the meantime check out my latest writing endeavors. You’ll find tips on green spring cleaning here and information about the best little writing conference in Washington here.

PHOTOS FROM HAITI!

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Mountains behind mountains

 

I think I’ve finally conquered the technical challenges that have prevented me from uploading photos from our recent trip. Go here to bring these stories to life in pictures. It’s been great to hear feedback from folks around town that have been following my blog and the newspaper column. I hope my perspective has helped. It’s been fun to renew my blog and I’m planning on continuing it and peppering it with travel essays and commentary on other events. If you have comments or ideas, please keep them coming!

Stuck Between Worlds

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I think I underestimated how difficult reverse culture shock would be. This is not the first time I’ve traveled internationally. This is not the first time I’ve seen such dire conditions. Yet somehow this time seems different. I have glimpsed such enormous needs before and have ached at not being able to help at all or enough. And then time marches on and the need gets ignored somewhat, gets addressed somewhat, but it never goes away completely.

I’m home now and this town feels different. Winter has leaped ahead into spring, the birds are chirping, the wildflowers are in full bloom, time marches on in this sweet little town. It’s great to see friends, it’s nice to talk to family, it’s easy to be home in so many ways. Even the crummiest parts of town look well-kempt and secure. The grocery store and stores in general are overwhelming places to be, with too many choices. It’s hard to relate to legitimate (though first-world) problems people are facing here when I’ve just returned from a place where people may barely eat a meal a day if they’re lucky.

My thoughts are drifting between here and there–images of the hopeful, happy, proud people I met and interacted with keep lingering in my mind–Cesar, Father Tijwa, Sister Ann, Serge, the family across the street, Jenn and Amy of Second Mile Ministries, Treasa at CRUDEM, Julia, Julie, Manuela… How can I help? What more can I do?

I miss the team from Wenatchee, too, and I think I’m not alone in battling this re-entry phase. My inbox is peppered with quick photo swaps and check ins from Rotarians and medical crew alike, just checking in to say hi and to see how things are going. It’s great to have those shared memories and such an intense shared experience. I hope we stay connected, and I hope we can find ways to help together and individually.

This trip has been intense on every level and I will continue to process it. I promise to find a way to share photos at some point soon. There are so many more stories to tell! And so many ways to help! Just being there, caring about people, and listening to their ideas showed me how important that first step is. It’s remarkable how far a simple human connection can go despite language, cultural, class, religious, and racial differences.

I’m still figuring my own best actions out, and I’m already plotting my return trip. In the mean time, here are some links to places with more information and more ways to help if you are so inclined. I saw firsthand the work each of these organizations is doing and I wholly support these groups:

www.secondmilehaiti.com (These two young women are incredible visionaries and it is inspiring to listen to them. Be sure to check out their latest blog entry about a teenager with Type One Diabetes. One of our medical team members treated her and was instrumental in getting aid for her. Along with several women from our team, I enjoyed a very worthwhile shopping trip through town gathering clothes, food, and toiletries for this young woman.)

www.crudem.org (This remarkable organization has made Hopital Sacre Coeur in Milot the top medical facility in Haiti over the past 25 years. The immense generosity and teamwork displayed by visiting and local medical, support, and Catholic personnel is incredible.)

www.childrenofthepromise.org (This children’s home is run by two practically youngsters themselves! Nick and Nicki are young twenty-somethings from Washington who have sacrificed a lot to live in Haiti for the long haul. They have a clear vision and thanks to a lot of support have been able to achieve a lot.)

Aside

My remaining days in Haiti were blurred with hikes to historic fortresses and jungle hillsides; conducting casual interviews with locals to cram my head full of perspectives on government corruption, post-earthquake Haiti, business ideas, religion, and the future; tutoring in English and German; and gophering around the hospital.

By the end of the second week, most of the team seemed ready to head home. It’s no surprise, since the work had been chaotic and exhausting, with the medical team handling 71 cases in nine days. They received accolades from the CRUDEM staff and should be immensely proud of the work they provided to a very appreciative patient group. Many patients would have never received necessary healthcare without the generosity of these physicians and support staff. For some, their presence was a life and death matter.

While my work in Haiti wasn’t nearly as important or concrete, it proved a successful introduction expedition. The massive hurdles Haiti faces are overwhelming, but focusing one’s time and money on one single project can make an enormous difference. Mike Poirier from the Rotary group is passionate about Father Tijwa’s community programs. Wenatchee’s Laura Monda chooses to focus her energies on sharing her loving ways with the kids at Children of the Promise. I haven’t quite found my focus yet, but I have had a crash course overview of Milot’s endless needs.

I come home full of ideas, confusion, frustration, sadness, and more questions than answers. But I am also filled with wonder and appreciation of how Haiti somehow “makes it work.” I’ve learned that Haiti is full of stark, sturdy, stoic, happy people; gorgeous, tropical landscape and delicious (but scarce) food.

On our last group hike in Milot, Dr. Jeff Monda asked me why I came to Haiti. I came to see what there was to see, to bite into a slice of another culture. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I guessed I would see global inequality, and I wanted to learn how I could help in the moment and from home. I am not religious, but I do feel a call to serve wherever I am because I believe it is right, natural, and to everyone’s benefit to help the collective community.

Jeff’s niece, Mallory Monda, described visiting Haiti as coming “to feed the soul.” I think that’s an added benefit, sure, but it wasn’t a prime motivation or expectation. Rosedanie Cadet, the Haitian-American who visited the Rotary group prior to our departure for Haiti, said, “Feed their bellies, feed their minds.”  I tried to feed some Haitian bellies, and I hope I gave a few people some food for thought, too. But my own soul is filled with respect, awe, and hope for Haiti.

I’m home now but stuck in a bleary-eyed, netherworld somewhere between Haiti and Washington. I’m exhausted and congested but am healthy, safe, and used up in a good way. It’s a lot to soak in, and I’m still processing it. How can we best live and serve and address our unfair advantages when we’ve stared such poverty in the face? I hope that together we can continue building a nourishing and more connected, egalitarian, healthy world, one person at a time. My actions can speak louder now than my words.

Hazy Reflections on Haiti

One Last Haitian Update

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Being here on my own floating between teams and projects has been fun. It’s amazing to see how friendly people are throughout town. Rather than being accosted frequently by pushy vendors, I have seen more of the regular life day-to-day living. I feel a little like Belle from Beauty and the Beast greeting people with “Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour…” through town. But people are so nice–greeting me back, saying “thank you very much,” “you’re very nice,” “you’re so pretty,” etc.
Monday I finally had a chance to spend time at the hospital. It was amazing to see both urology and ortho cases. I finally had an opportunity to see John at work! Jeff and Hank were awesome to let me watch their surgeries and talk me through each one. It was cool to see Dave and John explain their anesthesia machines and roles, as well. I also apparently hit it off with the nurses and nursing students, too. We created our own language between Kreole, French, and English. The translators were interested, too.
Monday I also taught Dr. Previl’s daughters, Sarah (9) and Jade, (5). They are cute and Sarah’s English is really good, but I feel a little conflicted about teaching the hospital CEO’s privileged children (who don’t even speak Kreole).
And I had a nice visit with Cesar, the young artist who lives on the loop and Donni and I visited with on Easter Sunday. I really wanted to buy a painting from him because he’s a sweet guy and because I feel his artwork is the most original that we’ve seen here. I tried to convey to him why we like his work so much and that I hope he can help inspire other young artists in Milot.
Though some of the vendors and people in town can be annoying asking for money, really when you take the time to get to speak with people, they are usually nice and real. I had a wonderful banter session the other day with a few sellers–Julie, Henri, Charlotte, Serge… “How much do you want for the woman?” I said to Julie and embarrassed myself. They have all responded well to me. I really think Julie should be in charge of business in the town–Father Tijwa’s Julia is pretty solid, too. When I told Julie that she should talk to Father Tijwa and I thought she was a good businessperson, she kissed my cheek and told me she loved me.
I’ve had such wonderful conversations with folks. From long-term employees like Treasa and Oscar to short term volunteerrs like Haitian-American nurse, Jackie, and locals like Father Tijwa, people have been really open and fabulous to talk to.
Today as usual has been full. I had an awesome morning with Father Tijwa–breakfasting, practicing German for two full hours, and then meeting with the ladies from the artist workshop. That was so cool. They were very appreciative of the support that Rotary was providing and they applauded me. I applauded them. To be there during Father Tijwa’s update was really special. Father Tijwa told me that I and people like me are what are helpful here.
I’ve had good conversations with Treasa and Jackie today about their long-term perspectives. Jackie is such  good resource for the CRUDEM staff. Since she knows both cultures and both medical environments, they should really be open to her suggestions. Such simple solutions yet not done–like curtains to divide in the recovery room, do not need to cost much but can help preserve a patient’s dignity. Jackie thinks that what white people observe is about 75% accurate. Yes, some people will always want something from you–and from her, too, since they view her as successful and rich now that she lives in the US–but it’s been good to see past the annoyingly aggressive vendors and to have some nicer one-on-one interactions with people who seem genuinely nice.
Probably the most appreciative people I have seen were the family across the street from the hospital who Treasa, Jackie and I visited after lunch. They are very poor and have five children–including twin girls and only a few of the kids can afford to go to school, for only part of the time. We brought coloring books, crayons, hairbands, pencils and sharpeners to the kids and they just beamed. It was a very special moment.
I spent the afternoon at the hospital, watching Jeff do a TURP, watching John and Dave work their anesthesia magic, and watching Hank deal with an arm injury from a tap tap. It was incredible to finally get to see what my husband does for a living! Suddenly intubations, propofol, the anesthesia machine…all the references made sense!
Of course John was very helpful teaching me about every step. And the TURP electric knife and camera setup is unbelievable.
I’m sorry I wasn’t there to see John do a circumcision that Jeff let him do, but it was fun to see him excited about it. It was also good to get him out of the OR a bit for a walk through the market and to town. It’s been a full schedule, and it doesn’t help to get bad news from home about a relative’s health.
Through a combination of English, French, Kreole and pantomime, the nurses, students and I have been communicating pretty well. They are super interested in everything I do. Georges was eager for my Kreole cheat sheet, and I was happy to share it.
Last night was pretty low-key, which was nice. We drank some Prestige lager and too much red wine, had a fun Tabata workout before dinner, and stayed up too late talking. This medical group of 13 has been fabulous–all of them. I will really miss the group dynamic. How often can a group of so many get together and not have one spoiled egg in the bunch? Elaine, Donni, Kelly, Jenny, Mallory, Fred, Jeff, Hank, Dave, Dave, Jim and John have been so fun to be around. They keep telling me how amazing it’s been that I’ve interacted so much with the locals and have made such a difference here, but really they are the ones who have been doing amazing work. It’s great to see their patients appreciating their work so much, as well.
4/18/12
Today has been good so far, but I’m pretty sleepy and may take a siesta soon. The day started out well with an early morning email from Rufus letting me know the Town Toyota tax passed with flying colors. After a yummy breakfast (grapefruit, bananas, spicy eggs) I did Pilates and yoga and then followed the crew up to the hospital. First I gave blood (!) and then I spent the morning in surgeries. Apparently type A is especially in demand, so I was glad I could give my A+. Later Dave W was asking about my blood type and I mentioned I was Type A. He joked, “Yeah, I know, but what about your blood type?” Ha.
This morning’s cases were fascinating to watch. I saw John intubate a guy who had prostate surgery in the US last year and whose stents have been in ever since. Jeff spent 3 hours today operating to remove the stone-ridden stents, and this was on top of the previous surgery he had earlier in the week. And this is the guy from Miami who is abusing the system. They weren’t too happy. Watching John use the glidescope to intubate was intriguing–the wonders of technology are ready at work. It looks like they’re playing video games when they use these things.
It was good to spend more time in Hank’s room, too. I was in for a femur infection case on a pretty young kid. I couldn’t believe how he just opens up so deeply and scrapes away at the bone–and then sews and staples it all up so quickly. Amazing stuff. I’d never be able to do this kind of thing at home. It’s awesome to shadow these guys.
It’s weird that the time here is winding down. We have one more afternoon and one full day and then we’re off to Florida Friday morning. Tomorrow I’ll meet and videotape Father Tijwa and hopefully the ladies (for Jeff O) and I’ll maybe try to meet again with Dr. Previl’s girls. We have a few more purchases to make and bonding at “home,” and then we’ll pay our tips and departure fees and jet on homeward. I am full of ideas, some confusion, some frustration, a whole lot of questions, wonder, appreciation, and awe at how Haiti somehow “makes it work.” I’m inspired by Father Tijwa, Jackie, Cesar, Treasa, Jeff Monda, Mike Poirier, Jen and Amy at Second Mile Ministries, Sisters Ann and Maureen, Nick and Nicki at Children of the Promise…I’ve learned what a gorgeous country Haiti is with stark, sturdy, stoic people, tropical landscape and delicious (but scarce) food–I come back with more questions than answers and the Haiti situation is daunting, but I come back carrying with me much respect and hope for Haiti.
4/19/12
A nap took me yesterday afternoon and then I wandered up to the hospital to watch Hank do a tibia repair. Donni got to scrub in and help fasten the titanium rods, which was awesome for her. When they were done working a bunch of us went on a ridge line hike to get a sweeping panoramic view of Milot, the ocean, the Great Ocean of the North, and the palace. A Haitian proverb says Haiti has one mountain after another, and the dense jungle hike reminded me of that. We climbed steeply through the canopy and above and then descended again–at various stages passing banana, coconut, pineapple, cashed, an herbal flower for tea, ferns, many wildflowers, kombo beans, mangoes, etc. I showed Father Tijwa photos of Hawaii the other day and he said it looked just like Haiti. It’s true, but with more infrastructure and less poverty.
On the way down from the mountain we stopped at a village for Dave to distribute soccer balls and jerseys that Megan at WHS had collected. It was incredible to witness the excitement these kids exhibited when given a couple of balls. I could tell how excited and proud Dave was to distribute them.
Last night after dinner (I will really miss some of the delicious food, like the spicy onion salad dressing, rice and beans, french toast and grapefruit–and Prestige lager–we sat around talking and then I rounded with the doctors and Donni. It was pretty chaotic at night mores than even the day, I think.
I checked in a little with John, too. He’s exhausted, but it’s been a rewarding experience for him and I know he already wants to return. It was cool that Dr. Previl said that our team is one of if not the best that comes down here–and that the anesthesia team is definitely the best. So cool.
Finally, though, I spent the end of the evening playing dice with Jeff, Mallory, Elaine, Kelly, Fred, and Treasa. It’s always Jeff’s ruse to get people in talking. He and I sat for a long while talking about things here–our most significant moments here (mine was giving to the family across the way; his was being with the family and dying child with John), what keeps him coming back, and the issues at hand with Haiti, the orphanages, etc.
The group ultimately also talked about animal welfare, animals as sentient beings, and where humans are on the evolutionary process and path towards extinction, what else might be out there to do us in eventually, and the fate of our planet as a whole and whether it helps to do anything to try to help.
Jeff put me on the spot a little and I told him I was mulling things over. In truth, the conversation was depressing me. I thought about it a lot during the night and then again this morning as I sat in mass with Jeff and Mallory. On the way home I shared with him that while I agree with many of the thoughts discussed, that humans probably will become extinct someday and the planet is going to pot, I still hold out hope and it makes sense to me to battling these things. I guess then it entwined with my thoughts on Haiti, helping in general, and even religion. I feel it’s very individual. I don’t need the structure of religion to tell me what to do or help. I see many problems here and at home and can become overwhelmed by them and paralyzed. Or I can choose one small focus and know I am doing some bit. What is my motivation? It just needs to get it done. And any appreciation they have and any emotional reward and gain is a happy bonus. I admire the traditions and beliefs and hope that religion can convey to some people, and I am envious sometimes of people’s organized and group faith to help them keep their hope. But I don’t subscribe to any one belief and I choose to reflect, meditate, create peace and respect and tradition in my own personal way–taking from religion and not. It is, as Jeff says, the “less bad of the options.” I see too much division and not enough community often with religion, yet when I see people like Father Tijwa and Sister Ann, I have to know absolutely that there is definite good to come from it, too.
Now we are on the verge of our last Tabata and of course today has been another fabulously filled day to round out the full trip. I had a full two hour intensive lesson again with Father Tijwa, who also spouted to me about his thoughts on corrupt government, liberation theology, and empowering communities. He stressed that it’s important to not be too radical in change–slowly things will develop into something better. He is such a sweet man, and it has been a pleasure getting to know him.
I had fun videotaping the ladies of the art workshop for some extra footage for Jeff and Oly’s production. The ladies thought it was pretty fun, too. And my last walk through town was a fun blend of greetings, produce purchasing, and photographing dogs for Teresa to document for her animal welfare projects. I then had a good conversation with Joseph the interpreter at the hospital about good quality grammar lessons for learning foreign languages, and then I visited for 45 minutes or so with the vendor, Serge, who told me all of his thoughts on the politics in Haiti, politics of the hospital, the role of American volunteers throughout Haiti post-earthquakie, the role of voodoo in the local culture, how family life is constructed here, etc. It was cool to see the looks on passing students’ faces when they saw me sitting at the vendor shop chatting away with Henri and Serge.
This afternoon I enjoyed being a sort of gopher at the hospital, helping Hank with a casting, running errands for Donni, and visiting with the nurses and translators. Everyone has enjoyed their stay and a lot of good work has been done, including 71 cases, but we are ready to go home. CRUDEM has been impressed with our group’s work, calling the medical team one of the top if not THE top team that comes down here. They also said that our anesthesia team is the best there is.
Then Donni, Hank, Dave Hyde and I had one last Tabata workout with the onlooker security guards, and we enjoyed one last meal of tomatoes, bread, spicy onion dressing, spaghetti. Now we’re chilling with my super-secret popcorn and Haitian creme cookie stash, some cassava bread and Prestige beer, and probably some rum and one last dice game. The group is collectively subdued, I’d say, glad to be done with their last cases and rounds, packing their stuff up, and getting ready for the re-entry phase to the first world.
I will miss this group a lot. I did not know many of these people, medical and Rotary members, very well at all before coming here. It has been a wonderful two-weeks of bonding. I can say firsthand that the Wenatchee medical crew is a top-notch set of individuals, professionally and personally. And I can say that despite the uphill battle that the western hemisphere’s poorest nation faces, what I see of Haiti is nothing but beauty.