APRIL 15, 2012

Yesterday was yet another day with a week’s worth of experiences. We hiked up to the Citadelle La Ferriere, the largest fortress in the western Hemisphere and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both the Citadelle and San-Souci Palace at the foot of the mountain in the town of Milot (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) were built by Henri Christophe, who was prominent in the Haitian revolution in the late 1700s and became the self-proclaimed president of northern Haiti when the country gained independence from France in 1804.

Christophe patterned his palace on San Souci Palace in Germany. Its expansive buildings were heavily damaged during a great earthquake in 1842, but the grounds and ruins are still quite impressive.

The Citadelle was truly a sight to see. Hiking the five mile or so steep cobblestone path up and down the mountain ensured appreciation for the way the supplies for this giant complex were transported (originally and again more recently for renovations like the 50,000 handmade clay tiles that our guide Michel fired and hand formed in 1985 in his kiln adjacent to our CRUDEM home.) People still live and farm on the side of the trail. We were frequently entertained by local children drumming and playing wooden flutes.

The views and structure atop the mountain were incredible. Too bad Christophe never got to see his mountaintop compound completed. Civil unrest mounted during the early 1800s. Rather than facing a probable revolt, Christophe chose to instead end his own life by shooting himself–either in the palace or the Citadelle, no one quite knows for sure. He remains buried somewhere on the Citadelle grounds.

When we returned from our big hike, a few of us exercised some more and then most people enjoyed a low-key Sunday afternoon off. Nurse Kelly DeWolf, and Teresa Smith (a CRUDEM employee) joined me for an appointment I had across town with Father Tijwa. That little man is just about the cutest guy on Earth. Some people have personalities that are simply universally-appealing. He is one of them. Despite language, cultural, religious and political differences, he plows through everything, melting everyone’s heart along the way. He is a gentle and kind soul. The work he does here for the Milot community, through his school, parish, women’s craft workshop–along with his Catholic leadership regionally in the Archdiocese in Cap Haitien reaches around the world.

Father Tijwa reminds me of my dearly departed “adopted grandma,”Happy Warren. Happy was my first German teacher in junior high. She was the first to take me to Germany and she was largely responsible for carving my deep interests in all languages and cultures (but German specifically), international education, and finding global connections everywhere. I feel like Happy’s spirit is still alive when I meet people like Father Tijwa. The analogy to my favorite German teacher comes full circle tomorrow when I begin tutoring Father Tijwa in German (he speaks ein bisschen alreeady).




**A combination of busy days and technical challenges have prevented me from posting pictures recently. I will post more when I can, but in the mean time make sure you’re watching the fabulous short videos Jeff and Oly have made. You can watch them at: or**

APRIL 11, 2012

Today was a full day for sure. Mike Poirier, Laura Monda, and I went out to Likere, the village where Patrick lives and where the Rotary is placing their main water filter and building. We took a pickup truck out, which was a fun way to explore the countryside in slow motion. Laura and I gave hair ties, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soccer balls to the local school, which is the same one where people came out in droves for us the other day. The villagers there are so friendly. I visited with Patrick’s wife. She wanted me to adopt a child here.

In the afternoon we went on a walk to the market and near the palace. The market was a fascinating place full of raw meat, smoked fish, grains, popcorn, oats, pasta and beans. I was surprised to see so much produce: cilantro, onions, garlic, grapefruit, yams, beets, tomatoes, bananas, oranges, plantains… The selection was wide and I was told that all of the food is very local. Some women hike in for miles with their wares on their head. When Mike gave a dollar for bananas, they wanted to give him bunches and bunches.

The food here is quite tasty, I find. The onions are the spiciest I’ve encountered, I don’t normally like grapefruit but the ones here are delicious. The bananas are small and sweet like in Hawaii, and we’ve tried juicy, sweet pineapple here, too. Our meals usually consist of spicy rice and beans, some form of meat, and a salad. We’ve had french toast, oatmeal, and eggs for breakfast. Some of the flavor combinations are unexpected and delicious, like spicy onion salad dressing, spiced peanut butter, and anise-coconut oatmeal.

As with most things here, the plan is often evolving and appointments shift frequently. We continued our walk up to the palace, but it got quite rainy when we arrived, and we decided to take shelter at Father Tijwa’s house. Of course he took our group (Mike and Libbie Poirier, Laura and Alisa Monda, Kayla Fix, and Kelly DeWolf) in and we wound up having an impromptu wonderful business meeting. Libbie set up her own microfinance program through Father Tijwa and met Marjorie, a 22 year old woman who wants to start her own business. Libbie was inspired to help out and had saved money from teaching piano to do so. That night she presented her program to the medical team. She was so inspiring that by the evening’s end she had gathered over $1000 of support.

APRIL 12, 2012

It was another full day. The Rotarians and I met with Father Tijwa again to visit his church’s school, and the medical group walked through Michel’s garden in the afternoon. The garden was more like a spot in the jungle with a bunch of sweet potatoes, bananas, mangoes and avocados intermixed. Michel knew where everything was, though, and his cousin Joseph harvested several sweet potatoes for us to have for a meal later. We had a very cultural evening. First Jeff Ostensen hired a band to play at the soccer field. Then the Rotary treated us to a cultural night at Lakou Lakay Cultural Center here in Milot. The band element was completely surreal. We traipsed out to the far edge of the local soccer field where a band called Leya was playing. The band consisted of 15 or so hot pink t-shirt clad young men with mostly homemade instruments (galvanized metal trumpets, PVC-pipe horns, drums and shakers). Next to the band stood a large group of local young men staring seriously. (I dubbed one suave looking fellow a Haitian from Black Eyed Peas). Downfield a cow grazed and the whole while we were there a soccer match was occurring.

Donni, Libbie and I went over to the Haitian young men and tried to get them to dance but they were shy. Eventually one guy stepped out and showed us some extravagant moves. We joined in for a bit but when his moves turned a little complicated, we backed away. Libbie approached the guys again at the end of the set with no luck, but finally a woman danced with her. It was quite a show.

The cultural show that the Rotarians arranged was surreal in its own right but was also very nice. We learned a little about komba and vou dou dancing, heard call and response singing and drumming, and ate tasty regional specialties. It was very professionally done. The surreal part was when a large group of locals stood behind us while we were eating our fancy meal. It made most of us quite uncomfortable and reminded me completely of OXFAM’s Hunger Banquet, which is a program that reflects the global inequities of food distribution. We were much happier when the locals stayed for the entertainment. They obviously enjoyed the singing and dancing, and they went absolutely bonkers when Father Tijwa was pulled up on stage to strut his stuff.

APRIL 13, 2012

Friday the 13th lived up to its name. After an exciting day at the hospital yesterday (in which an OR bed caught on fire), we thought we’d used up our bad luck on the 12th. But there was plenty of good luck, too.

I accompanied the Rotarians to Limbe, Rosedanie Cadet’s hometown. Rosedanie is the Haitian woman who met with us before we left the US. She now lives on Orcas Island and has started an organization, Helping Hands Noramise, in her hometown. We visited the organization’s community house, gardens, and school. The 1 1/2 hour drive from Milot to Limbe was very insightful. We saw the hustle and bustle of grimy Cap Haitien; the quaint, simple, primitive huts among rice paddies, pasture land, hillside terraces; burned out old factories; and we even caught a glimpse of Labadee, the Royal Caribbean International Cruise Line’s private faux island port. Labadee is a curious-sounding place. Apparently the cruise line was outed in the ’90s for not telling passengers they were going to Haiti. They only called the port Labadee, Hispaniola. (Hispaniola is the island that encompasses Haiti and the Dominican Republic.) More recently Royal Caribbean has received flak for sending ships to Labadee directly after the 2010 earthquake. It was difficult to grasp how people could possibly be snorkeling, kayaking, and enjoying fancy cocktails just a few miles away from the town after town of flooded, dilapidated shacks receiving US AID that we passed between Cap Haitien and Limbe.

The real adventure happened on our way home. As we approached Cap Haitien we noticed a police blockade. There were several policemen in full SWAT uniforms, carrying semi-automatic weapons. They were checking car registration papers. Unfortunately, ours were not in order. This meant the police seized our vehicle and we were left stranded for a while on the side of the road. We had no idea how long we’d be waiting. Despite a long, uncertain wait, everyone in our group was reasonably calm throughout the event. I really wished that I could know the other group members’ inner monologues at the time, though. I personally went into survivalist mode a little in my head, glad I’d paid enough attention to where I was that I could’ve found my way to an English speaking institution not too far away if I had to, happy that I had hours of daylight left if I needed to walk all the way to Milot if I needed to do so. Fortunately, though, CRUDEM sent another vehicle and we wound up waiting for only a couple of hours.

The rest of the day was far less eventful. John and I ran the vendor gauntlet between the hospital and our housing area. We purchased a few items. The vendors here are incredibly aggressive. Everyone says they want to be your friend, you are their son or daughter, or that Jeff Monda is their “chief”. John says he’s impressed by how much English people speak for not having any formal training. In the evening, most of us stayed up late visiting, playing dice, and enjoying 3-star rum and coke.

APRIL 14, 2012

This morning the Rotarians left and many of us did another “moving” (workout) session. To finish, John, nurse Jennifer Gehringer, and I went for a run around the village. We joked that people pay a lot of money for mud runs like we had on the side of the muddy dirt road, dodging motor bikes and tap taps. But the joke was really on us, as the few villagers who spotted us seemed to react to our running with varying degrees of wonderment. We definitely provided some morning entertainment for the town, though, as we attracted triple the number of observers on our way back to the compound. It almost looked like they were cheering us on in a race. But their faces seemed to reflect bewilderment.

After lunch we headed into Cap Haitien in a local tap tap. That was an experience in itself. We packed 17 people into this converted pick up truck with bench seats, abuzz with loud music and flashy colors. It was the perfect way to see Cap.

Cap Haitien makes Milot look like a quaint upscale mountain village. This bustling city is the second largest in Haiti. It is filthy, crowded, and full of traffic patterns that look like absolute mayhem (a woven pattern of tap taps, “moto” bikes, trucks, and whatever else can squeeze in) but somehow work. In fact, Haiti in general seems to be like that in many ways. The situation may be challenging–with trash piles everywhere and streets and shops in disarray–but somehow people here make it work.

In Cap we first made a stop at a tourist market, which was a series of 75 weathered stalls that had obviously been built a long time ago for cruise ships that never come anymore. The artwork and jewelry the vendors were selling was worth seeing, but what was really stirring was the view. The shops were oceanfront, and the salty air, sea breeze, and palm trees almost looked like any other seaside town. But as we walked out a little further we could see that instead of pristine white sand there was a beach full of garbage, mounds and mounds of it. Trash was strewn literally all throughout the beach and it was floating in the waves for almost as far as we could see. Eventually we could see blue water way out on the horizon, but it was a stretch to see. Standing in that spot viewing the trash beach, hearing vendors begging us to spend a dollar on their necklaces, and eying the tattered homes up and down the hillside I was overcome by sadness. This place could be a beautiful seaside city. This country should be touted for its natural scenery, its friendly faces, its gorgeous people. Instead, it seems in so many ways like we’re visiting another planet. Things here, though functional, are so tough to see. People seem very happy, but I’m still conflicted about what the solution is for Haiti.

We rounded out our visit to the big city with the complete antithesis to the trashy beach. We visited the Hotel du Roi Christophe, a high end hotel and restaurant that caters to foreigners and wealthy Haitians. It was the prettiest place I’ve seen in this country. It was a grand, colorful establishment with tree-filled grounds, a pool, and fancy artwork. We sat there and enjoyed the peaceful, relaxed ambience with rum punch. We visited for a long while, and when we left I spoke with an American electrical worker who complained about the rooms in this hotel. If he only knew…

Tomorrow we will hike to the Citadel, which is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the area. The members of the group who have been here before have talked it up so much, I can’t wait to see what the day will bring.



APRIL 9, 2012

It seems like weeks of experiences have occurred, and yet I’ve only just had lunch! We had an incredible deluge all of yesterday afternoon and night. Sister Maureen even said the crackling thunder and lightning is unlike anything they have seen in quite a while. I was hoping night one’s good night sleep wasn’t a fluke, and it wasn’t. Unfortunately, though, John and a few other doctors were called upon during the night. The outcome was sad, especially knowing that the patient’s father had visited with John at length about his child just after we arrived. Apparently John handled the very stressful and emotional situation in a gentle, pure manner using his broken Spanish. I was proud to hear that.

I went with the Rotary group this morning to Patrick’s village, about 20 minutes from Milot. Patrick used to be a student associated with the hospital, and his village is where the Rotary is building a structure and water filter for an existing well. The children of the village were tentative at first but then came out in droves to pose for photos (they’re so excited to glimpse themselves in our digital finders) and eventually to sing, sing, sing. It never ceases to amaze me to see how happy and creative children can be with really a very simple existence.

Some of us left the well workers for an hour or more and went to Children of the Promise, which is a children’s home (kind of like an orphanage but the goal is to get the kids back living with their biological families) that Laura Monda’s cousin’s daughter randomly runs. The directors, Nicki Stolberg and her husband, Nick, are from Washington, are in their early 20s, and have been here for two years. They are pretty incredible. It was amazing to see the ambition they have to expand the complex—besides caring for children from infancy to age 4, they have a nutrition program, they’ve started enhancing their follow-up care, they basically function as an urgent care clinic, they’ve created their own medical records system, and in trying to enhance the psychological care of the kids, they are working on establishing adoptive foster-care type volunteers to create a pseudo-family environment. For Nicki and Nick, this is their calling and their experiences and abilities are well beyond their years.

We came back to CRUDEM for lunch and had some down time before going to visit with Father Joachim Roboam Anantua, the priest at Milot’s main Catholic church. Father Tijwa, as he’s known, is a local hero doing some great work to enhance the lives of women, students, and all of the people of Milot. It was incredibly inspirational to visit with him and to hear more about the microfinance program that Rotary started last year. I was impressed that Julie, one of the employees in a women’s art workshop, has been able to collect all of the initial loans of $50 that were given out to ten women last year. The group brainstormed about whether to increase their loans as an incentive to those women and how to reward Julie for her work. Julie had devised an organized system to collect and distribute money between the women in the workshop and she brought solid ideas forth for the improvement of the entire system.

It was impressive to see how much Father Tijwa is respected in the community, “more than the mayor,” according to Rotarian, Sue Long. He has the biggest home (which felt like going back in time inside, rather like historic homes on the East Coast feel, with wide planked wooden floors, brightly colored walls, iconographic artwork, substantial wooden carved furniture, and a distinctive Caribbean flair.)

After the official meeting, Rotarian Mike Poirer and I stayed for a bit to visit a little with Father Tijwa and discuss some project ideas. What a wonderful surprise to find that Father Tijwa speaks a little German! I happened to catch him say, “Ich bin sehr muede” and I responded in German to his surprise. I asked him a few more questions auf Deutsch and he looked a little embarrassed. I asked in English whether he spoke much German and he said that he started the lessons but lost the cassette in the middle of the first level. He said it was very unusual for him to meet someone here who speaks German. I have noticed. My Deutsch is not as handy for these Kriol, French, and Spanish speakers. John’s broken Spanish has already proved quite useful, and we are all impressed with the vendors’ abilities to pick up key business English phrases such as “I will make you a bracelet with your name on it,” “Jeff Monda is my friend,” and “I have very nice items for sale in my shop.” The most assertive vendors linger around the hospital and approach us in a very friendly (though aggressive) manner. Many of them seem to have adapted their names to English versions, such as Johnny and Charlie, My favorite interaction recently was with Mike’s daughter, Libbie, who is a sophomore at Wenatchee High School. One vendor approached her with a bracelet with the name “Jeff” on it. The vendor (Johnny, I think) told Libbie it was for her father. “Jeff’s not my father,” Libbie replied. “Well, you should buy it for Jeff anyway and I’ll make another for you,” Johnny cleverly suggested.

APRIL 10, 2012

The heat and rain and bugs were getting to me yesterday and I had a rather nasty headache for quite a while. I slept horribly, too, and am glad today (Tuesday) is so far a lighter day.  I will go with the Rotary group to deliver coloring books to a local school in a little while, and I walked through town for a bit with Laura, Alisa, and Kayla earlier.

My head has been swirling with ideas—confusion and awe at the role the Rotarians have here, discomfort with certain vendors lobbying funds from me, not knowing how it’s best to help here, fearing I’m not doing enough here or at home…and the overwhelming experience yesterday of holding a sweet little girl at Children of the Promise who didn’t let me put her down. An employee had to yank her off of me. I didn’t expect to be so emotionally affected in such a short time.

We delivered soccer balls and cleats on behalf of the medical team (part of the Headers for Haiti program) as well as books and crayons that the Rotarians brought, to Madame Appelis’ school yesterday. It was fun to see school finally in session after the Easter holidays. The children everywhere light up with smiles and giggles, songs and clapping when we’re around, and their energy is infectious. But as Libbie, Mike and I wandered back to CRUDEM with empty suitcases (we had packed the soccer equipment in suitcases for transport and to avoid a mob scene—soccer is immensely popular here) it was hard to pass by the poorer children in the neighborhoods who were not attending school (all schools are privately run and families must pay to send kids to school) and realize that they wouldn’t receive such goodies as easily. Libbie impressed us with her sophisticated thoughts on the subject. She feels the students at the school are already receiving a lot and she wants to find a way to address the needs of kids who are not in school. We are working on a plan for that with Sister Ann’s help.

Sister Ann is incredible. This tough Dublin-raised nun shared some of her amazing life adventures with us last night. Since she was 7 or 8 she has always known she wanted to “help the sick people in Africa.” She has been committed to that goal ever since, even when her mother discouraged her at first and wouldn’t let her leave home when Sr. Ann said she was ready at age 15. Her mother made her wait until she was 21. Since becoming a nun, Sister Ann has spent her life helping people in several countries of Africa (including a stint working as a midwife in the forest for seven years); in Eastern Europe; and, since 2009, in Haiti.

Here in Haiti Sister Ann seeks out those who are most in need and helps them. Whether it’s serving as a midwife, teaching dental hygiene habits to stubborn kids or putting shoes on children’s feet, she makes it a point to give hope and skills to people in a most authentic way. When asked how she spends a typical day, Sister Ann told Laura Monda that she wanders the outskirts of town just looking for kids who are the neediest and finding ways to help them.

In the afternoon, Libbie and Mike Poirer and I visited the prosthetics lab, of which I’m thoroughly impressed. The lab was created by one of the other US doctors who routinely visits CRUDEM, Dr. John Lovejoy. He saw a need for prosthetics just after the earthquake and quickly realized that the need would be ongoing. He helped get funding together for the lab, tools, staff, a training program, and they will soon break ground on an adjoining physical therapy center.

The lab is managed by Oscar, a bright young El Salvadoran native who first came to Haiti to work in Port-au-Prince just after the 2010 earthquake. Oscar is charged with many duties in the lab. Besides creating and fitting patients with prosthetics and orthotics, he is training two local students in prosthetics. The students are taking part in the first certification program of its kind here in Haiti. Once they finish their combination distance learning and practical instruction they will have international certification, as well. The idea is for them to eventually take over the lab themselves and to continue teaching the skill to new students thereafter.

I will be spending more time in the hospital next week shadowing our team and observing cases when fewer visitors are around, but already I’m really enjoying the opportunity to have a closer look at the medical system. It’s quite a dance process they have going on, with local Haitian doctors and nurses mingling with the visiting specialist team. The general surgeon here is an engaging young physician, Dr. Sisi, from Guinea Bissau in western Africa. Like most medical personnel practicing in Haiti, Dr. Sisi trained in Cuba. When a visiting medical crew is here, his surgeries are set aside unless an emergency occurs. As a medical professional, I imagine that stop and go routine would become tedious, but Dr. Sisi insisted he likes the change of pace.

Yesterday a new angle on medical tourism and ethics popped up. Curiously, a patient had been obviously treated for his problem in the US. When questioned about it, the patient explained that he is Haitian-American and lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Since he does not currently have medical insurance, it was apparently cheaper for him to fly to Haiti, stay with family members, and pay for services at CRUDEM than to deal with the situation in Florida. I couldn’t help but think of what a sad comment that is on the state of health care in our country. I also couldn’t help but think of what a clever abuse of the system had just taken place.

Days Two and Three


EASTER SUNDAY, April 8, 2012



Last night after dinner we had a meeting for new volunteers and I had an enjoyable conversation with Sister Maureen, a British nun who has been here together with Sister Ann since 2009. Sister Maureen is a spirited older lady who was very excited to find out I’m a teacher, and she wants me to tutor (CRUDEM medical director) Dr. Previl’s daughters in English when I have some time.

I slept through the first night a lot better than I expected, save the few loud music and bird calls in the middle of the night. We arrived late to breakfast (eggs, toast, grapefruit) and then had a pretty leisurely morning. I worked out with Donni and Hank doing a Tabata makeshift workout next to our dorm area, and the security guards thought our “moving” was hysterical. I imagine when most people are trying to conserve every calorie they consume, moving around to burn off excess seems illogical. Donni and I sat outside our compound watching families go to church in their finest Easter clothing. People jetted in on motor bike, tap taps, and on foot, clutching bibles and wearing the whitest of white dresses and bright bows. Amidst the dusty, muddy roads and potholes, I have no idea how they keep their clothes looking spotless and unwrinkled.

“Komon ye” is my new kriol word for the day. It means, “How are you?” Michel is teaching me a little bit every day. He is inspiring. On the way to the cockfight he told me more about his background. He grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Milot. He didn’t stay long in school and said he had trouble with it, but he is an enterprising fellow and has been creative in eking out a living. Like many of the people we have met here, Michel has learned all of his English through interaction with tourists. It’s incredible that many people here speak multiple languages (some even four or five) but they cannot find work in Haiti. Michel is a jack-of-all-trades. He had the opportunity to learn pottery in the ‘80s, and he has applied his skills both as a tile-maker for reconstruction work on the Citadel, and as an artist, selling pottery and paintings to CRUDEM visitors. He also works as a power operator for CRUDEM, guides tourists, and owns two gardens to support himself and his family.

Michel became very animated when I asked about his family. He has four grown children. One just finished medical school and two others are completing medical studies. Two are living in the Dominican Republic. Michel has worked hard to give his children opportunities, and in return he expects a lot of them. He says this is because he has seen a cycle:  his parents worked very hard as farmers and he wanted to do better. Since he didn’t have much education, Michel has been successful by working in a variety of capacities. He now hopes that by providing for his children they will be successful, have good lives, and they will take care of their parents in their old age.



After lunch (another tasty combination of chicken, spiced vegetables, beans and rice) we got a group together in the afternoon to walk the loop around Milot—a 3-4 mile circuit where “a different kind of poverty” abounds, according to Treasa Smith, a permanent employee of the lab here who is from Colorado. Despite rudimentary conditions, we saw kids and families smiling, playing, and showcasing their creative capabilities through their use of makeshift toys—one group of kids was hard at play “making movies” by using a homemade video camera made out of a stick and a Pepsi bottle. Recovery room nurse, Donni Reddington Vognild, who is also a videographer, noticed how serious the kids were with their roles as director, subject, and crew. They even carried a script through their scenes! Other children played happily with remnants of balls and rope. We even saw a unique interpretation or perhaps social commentary on local Catholic customs meeting contemporary public health policy as a toddler played with a balloon made out of a condom.

Amidst the muddy track and the banana tree-lined hillside, I talked more with the lab employee, Treasa, who has been in Haiti for most of this past year. She has some innovative notions about tourism growth, and she is an animal advocate. She has combined the two interests by helping to show people here that an overpopulation of feral animals is a public health threat and will keep potential tourists away. Treasa has convinced the Humane Society in Port-au-Prince to come to Milot and do a clinic to spay and neuter dogs and cats. She is also working on getting animals healthy and adopting them out of the country. She says there are plenty of people caring about people here, so she’s choosing to help the animals. Treasa is also utilizing her lab skills to connect animal concern with human public health issues. She suggested that I talk to her friend, Ben, from the lab, who is from Milot. When Treasa moved here almost a year ago, she noticed all of the vendors on the streets, saw the two UNESCO World Heritage sites within walking distance, and noted the immense potential for tourism. She figured there must be some sort of local business bureau or chamber of commerce. No such luck. When she asked Ben about it, he suggested that she talk to the vendors directly. That is not her forte, but I wondered if our Rotary members might lend a thought on this.



There are a few B&Bs in town (including a very attractive luxury B&B right downtown) and I just really have to wonder who their market is. There is all of the potential in the world for this beautiful area rich with historical structure and significance to attract tourists, but they do not have the infrastructure now to do so. This got me thinking quite a bit about problems associated with tourism. Last year when I visited South America I was pretty well focused on the potential challenges that occur to a country post-tourism—like at Macchu Picchu and the Inka Trail in Peru. There is a lot of good that can come from the dollars that tourists bring to the area, but when does help turn to harm as more than 10,000 tourists a day pass through Macchu Picchu, potentially decimating a site and setting a local developing nation up for failure to maintain a symbol of their cultural heritage? And so Haiti, especially Milot, with two UNESCO sites in their territory, is plagued with an entire different set of pre-tourism challenges. Who can they get to come here? How will they get to come here? How will they get here when the roads are iffy at best? What services can the town provide that tourists will want and use that can bring money back to the town? How can people work together to cross promote and then promote to a wider audience? And can this kind of idea even be discussed when food is a #1 concern?

It’s remarkable to me to even be discussing these problems when many people just simply need to eat. It’s impossible to me that with the prevalence of cell phones here in such a poor nation, sometimes people choose communication over food as their number one solution. And to think that in Wenatchee the current major crisis is discussing whether to add a seemingly minor inconvenient sales tax (for many) to save ourselves from the Town Toyota Center fiasco!



First Impressions of Haiti


Arriving in Milot

EN ROUTE—April 6, 2012

Two weeks ago I was worried that as the only non-medical team member in Haiti for two weeks I’d be in the way. Now I’m worried I overscheduled myself in a foreign country, in a place where no help is ever enough.

It’s exciting and daunting and everything in between. As a seasoned traveler, I’m always up for a new locale, eager to explore my world. As an anthropologist and teacher, I’m curious to notice cultural changes and shifts, both among the Haitians and among the medical and Rotary compatriots with me. Already some silly questions and “concerns” have arisen—in casual conversation and in my own head. I’m pretty sure that in a couple weeks’ time lack of hairspray, flips flops in the shower and whether we brought enough granola bars to sustain us in between meals will feel paltry compared to the realities of seeing first-hand the most impoverished nation in the western Hemisphere. Ours are truly first world problems.

Hopital Sacre Coeur

The cash we brought, tucked away in careful denominations of 1s and 5s and 10s exceeds what most Haitians live on nearly 30 times. I think we’ll manage. We’ll certainly manage in our sheltered medical compound—secure, well-fed,  with clean water and soap and Cipro if we need it, requisite malaria shots and mosquito repellent, cameras, money, and the ability to leave in two weeks’ time, instead of a permanent dire forecast.

The humanitarian and concerned citizen of the planet in me just aches already for what’s to come. Not enough time. Not enough skills. Not enough money or support or knowledge to help. But an inspirational Haitian woman who spoke to the Rotary group last week, Rosedanie Cadet, said it’s important to remind ourselves that anything we do is enough. Each day, each way we help is something.

I know that at least I have enough love to share, caring to spill over to those with whom I interact in orphanages, the clinic and on the streets. This is actually a good lesson to keep in mind anywhere in the world. The need to help our fellow human beings is everywhere. Just like the director for Wenatchee’s Lighthouse said on KOHO last week, you can serve a mission right down the street, you don’t need to go all the way to Africa (or Haiti) to serve.

Downtown Milot

Downtown Milot

Though this trip is rooted in religion, through Sacre Coeur Hopital in Milot, I feel it’s also important to stress that plenty of good work and service can and should be performed outside of church ties and religious beliefs. It is important to get to know our fellow neighbors on the planet, it makes sense to help those in need, and it can be unexpectedly and immensely rewarding to volunteer. Everyone has skills they can share.

That brings me back to the work I will be doing in Haiti. I have no idea what I will be doing. I’m a teacher, a writer, and I’m fairly strong, so things could go any direction. I’m hoping to spend time in schools, a nearby orphanage, maybe visit Limbe with the Rotary, see the Citadel and San Souci, and help at the clinic. But I will gladly go where needed. And a creative bent could be unanticipated fun, and useful, too—writing and maybe helping with a few media projects to bring back home to NCW.

Things on my mind:  How will it be to work alongside my husband for the first time and see him in a medical capacity? What will the group be like—both personally and as travelers? How can I teach things or reinforce simple public health and sanitation lessons without sounding pretentious and know-it-allish/big brotherish? How can I really connect with people there despite language and cultural barriers—is it even possible? What can I learn from and about the Haitian culture and ways?

How will I react to the devastation, trash, inevitable deaths that I will no doubt witness while there? How will I be able to support my husband in this stressful, new professional and personal challenge? What will I learn? What questions will remain? What will I do when I’m home to keep the hope and help alive?


We are here and I am already in love with Haiti! It was actually quite less of an ordeal to get here than I imagined. The flight from Fort Lauderdale to Cap Haitien was not too turbulent, and after two preceding tavel days and half nights of sleep, bleary surreality was cemented already. The charcoal/azure watercolor-spilled Florida night sky transformed into a peach/rose painted morning. A quick 2 hours and 40 minutes later we started descending into this gorgeous tropical nation. I was glad that Jeff Monda pointed out the imposing Citadel to me high atop the mountaintop as we descended. In the absence of much city development, the imposing structure was commanding in the wash of lush, green jungle and a few lone roads.

When we touched down, we immediately saw several dilapidated airplanes sitting on the tarmac, their only service being provision for shade. Hank Vejvoda said that he could see people playing on the runway just feet away as we landed.

After a fairly seamless customs process, we waited for our shuttle service. We then packed in sideways for the not-as-long-as-expected ride from Cap Haitien to Milot, maybe 35 or 40 minutes away. The town, I have to say, did not strike me as the worst place I’ve ever seen. It was right on par with Cusco, Peru or Vanuatu, or parts of China and Tibet—definitely abject poverty, but with a vibrant color and life and style all its own. A hodge podge of quickie banks and ramshackle shops and streetside cellars of ubiquitous cheap treats—Coca Cola, ice cream, chips abound.

The colorful “tap taps” here remind me of tuk tuks in Thailand and the caravans I’ve seen in Turkey and heard about in India. They are funky psychdedlic neon flashy group ride vans, with random English words like “Imagination” or “Fantasy,” or adorned with bible verse numbers or odes to Jesus Christ. And there are suicidal motorbikes here, just like everywhere, with the necessary constant honking when speeding up and passing.

Tip taps

Tap taps

As we left Cap Haitien the surprisingly good road turned dirt and pot-hole filled and the area just got increasingly gorgeous. I really didn’t expect how lush and beautiful it would be here—banana trees, coconut/palm trees, mangoes, breadfruit…cocoa! Coffee! The gorgeous mountains here are sheer vertical. They remind me a little of China and Indonesia and Thailand. In fact, several newbies from our group commented right away about being blown away by the physical beauty of the nation. Since heartache, disease, violence, and suffering are the focus of media portrayals of Haiti, I didn’t anticipate how striking the place and the people really are. Haitians are gorgeous people with sometimes severe features and expressions which often transform into wide, animated smiles, “Bon Swa” greetings, and waves.

It took a little time to orientate ourselves at CRUDEM. I imagine I’ll be trying to squeeze in a little with Rotary here and the medical staff there, but day one has been successful. I joined Donni for a tour of the hospital, and then later the hospital director spoke to the Rotary group and gave us a thorough tour of the grounds and hospital. We saw where the earthquake victims had been housed here, viewed the brand new maternity ward (it’s amazing how far a $50,000 donation can be stretched), saw the hundreds of patients already waiting for the orthopedic and urology teams upon arrival. 90% of the patients are estimated to travel from outside the area when they hear the surgical team is here.

Patients waiting for the orthopedic and urology team

Patients waiting for the orthopedic and urology team

We saw preemie babies in incubators, family members with no housing napping on benches, and many of us have already been approached by people lobbying for their family members as patients. It is going to be eye opening here in endless ways. It’s been fascinating to hear how things have changed over the past several years Jeff Monda and Fred Schuenemann have been coming.

It will be hard to continue to see so much need and to not be able to ever broach providing enough to meet the need. But it’s good to channel Rosedanie and remember that any kind of help is enough for that day. I guess I will toggle between helper and anthropologist. This week while the Rotary is here I will try to tag onto their trips. This afternoon I toured Milot with them, with our local guides, Michel and Joseph. What a beautiful town—with hugely varying degrees of streets, housing, people. Some kids were bathing in tubs in the street, garbage and pigs collaborated in the river, I noticed the improvement of the road leading up to the church and San Souci Palace. We walked into the church—a powder blue and white 75 foot dome with water damage and an original alter from 1812. Some kids greeted me with a Bon Jou and smile response, one little guy pinched me, several waved, one blew an air kiss, and loads wanted their photo taken and then shown to them on our digital cameras.

Friendly Haitian Children

Friendly Haitian Children

There’s a festival for Easter going on here this weekend, so we ran into a marching band, saw colorful costumes at the cultural center, and some of us even went to a cockfight! (This is something that is not at all ethically sanctioned by me, but it was a cultural experience for sure. I can’t believe it is that compelling to people!)

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Good News!


copyright MK Resk 2012

The goodlets have not gone away, I promise. I’ve just been badlet about updating things publicly. One fun resource I found on this matter is this challenge that changes themes every month. Try it! It’s thought-provoking and fun.

There’s actually been a flurry of fabulousness that has come my way in the face of a few stressful past months. From ski dates to high school mariachi concerts to informational interviews, my personal weather report has been great. The general professional outlook is still a bit foggy now that I’ve decided to pass up an awesome job opportunity and chance to be in a cool town with cool friends in order to stay out west, but we’re convinced we’ve made the right (and difficult) decision for us for right now. I’ve focused on getting the best meteorologists in the area to help brainstorm some long-range sunny forecasts. It feels good to finally be accepting this place on my own terms and to be thinking of and developing some creative ideas and possibilities.

Oh, another goodlet tidbit:  yesterday while meeting friends late in the day at Coffee Cabin, the sole barista was doing a mighty fine job of handling the full house of customers, drive through clients, and occasional grumpsters who were yelling inexplicably at her for their popularity (and thus, full parking lot). Despite it all, this can’t-be-much-outta-high-school employee was cool as an Apple Blossom princess, even cheerily suggesting a flavor tweak to my steamer that enhanced it greatly. When she rang me up I handed her a five dollar bill. I promptly realized that she deserved the change much more than I did in that moment and told her to keep it. Her reaction was priceless. It’s always such a great feeling to pay it forward in any way, this time literally!