Tag Archives: Haiti

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.

TRIP TO THE CITADELLE

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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).

DAYS FOUR AND FIVE

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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

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EASTER SUNDAY, April 8, 2012

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EASTER SUNDAY FINERY

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.

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WALKING ALONG OUTSKIRTS OF MILOT

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.

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JOHN AND MK ON LOOP WALK AROUND MILOT

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!

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GORGEOUS SCENERY EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK