Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jeep La LA! : Our Big Pink Baby Came Out!

Well, midwife-Dr. Cara Osborne midwifed the delivery of this special, big, pink, baby, but I think a cast of hundreds stood behind her...financing, designing, praying, asking and granting favors, translating Kreyol/English, running and emailing documents around Haiti. It was a long,hard, labor... but tonight, the baby came out at last.
We waited all day, for word from the group navigating the final negotiations at St Marc where "Jeep La" (the Jeep) has been on the customs dock since November 19. First, the elections and riots afterward slowed it down...then cholera epidemic hit. We've got over that, then were lost in the Land of Red Tape. Then Nadene and Cara and Ronel -- the driver who has been waiting for YEARS to drive this baby....made a major trip to the paperwork Wizards in St Marc, Thursday, and pleaded our case. In the end, they were told, well, it might come out tomorrow. Cara and Ronel stayed overnight in St Marc, hoping and praying it that customs gate would lift on Friday.
All this afternoon, we were watching for it, like kids listening for reindeer on Christmas Eve. Then, finally....In the midst of a heavy tropical downpour, the iron gates of Lakay Nou rumbled open, and folks started hollering "Jeep La La"!!! Jeep La means the Jeep...the extra "La" adds the concept of "here"... so tonight, we are drinking champagne and "Jeep La La"..."the Jeep is HERE!" It parked in the carport...people jubilantly unloaded....whooping in Kreyol and English, hands slapped, and exhausted people came across the threshold like the end of a marathon....Happy,but too tired to show it.
There is rain falling and loads of boxes being unloaded...a microscope, a colposcope, and mundane things like sheets, towels and printers. Many items that will help women and move this mission forward. But the Jeep itself is the star of the show. Haitians all aonlg the road cheered and waved at the bright magenta colored vehicle drove north to us. It's going to be popular.
This big , custom-made pink vehicle doesn't only have air-conditioning and plug-in elertricity, it also has a special elevated exhaust pipe that can't can ford the many shallow rivers that have no bridge, we can ride over the rough, dusty roads of Haiti,stocked and equipped to care for the many pregnant women on the back roads of the Central Plateau. We have such great Haitian staff that do such good work; it is a relief to give them great equipment to support their to work.
Everybody's happy tonight. The baby is here... and the women of Haiti will be better off, for this. I promise. Thanks, Friends. Jeep La LA!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Moment of Silence

Though many things were the same today, in Haiti, it had a different
feeling...the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake of
Port au Prince. A national day of mourning, most schools and private
businesses were closed.

The breeze was still mild and warm, the roads still busy and dusty,
and food still for sale over charcoal burners on the street. As we
had no class, a group of M4H volunteers rented a truck for a short
outing to local attraction Bassin Zim, about 35 minutes away. We
bounced over rutted, unpaved roads, buying small yellow roadside
bananas along the way. We came to a beautiful waterfall, cascading
through 3 basins, down the hill out of a huge cave! Little Haitian
boys grabbed our hands and pulled us up the path to show us the full
glory of this place...including ancient figures carved in the stone
walls of the cave. Never have I seen such a sight in Haiti! It was
awesome. We rewarded the boys with bananas, cookies, and a little
money. Haiti is still full of surprises.

Back home in Hinche, Manno, Angela Ferrari and I braved the outdoor
market to buy Kreyol books, plastic shelves, scrub brushes, and
curtains for the house. Then we piled all the boxes, bags, and
ourselves on 2 motorcycles and chugged back to the house.

The day was a more reflective, less frantic one, as befits a solemn
occasion. In later afternoon, we knew the actual time of the
earthquake was near (4:45pm), so we gathered in front of Lakay Nou.
Diuny, our cook, stopped frying meat for a minute. Judnel, our
security guy, came from his seat, and joined our circle. With Nadene
Brunk, our founder, Cara Osborn, Anglea Ferrari, Terrie Glass, Reina
Galjour and her Haitian partner Blada, and I, all held our hands, and
grew quiet. As Manno translated, we just paused:

"On this anniversary, we stop to honor and remember all the people that died in the
earthquake of last year. We ask for healing for the country, and for
the ones who were injured, and the families who lost their loved ones.
And we ask that our mission can be strengthened, so that we can help
Haiti." Americans, and Haitians, we held silence in our hearts...we
wept, and we stood together in that space, under the soft blue Haitian

We hugged and touched each other, and then, we returned to our work.

Drops in the Bucket

Years ago, a Catholic Xavieran Brother named Brother Harry, began teaching English classes in a tiny Haitian village called Pandiasou, in a small convent that is to this day, without any power or worldly accoutrements. Whatever kids wanted to learn English would show up specific evenings and practice English with him. A couple star pupils were Theard Elficasse and Bastyan Emmanuel (“Manno”). I wonder, did Brother Harry ever feel discouraged, despite his faith, and wonder if his efforts made any difference? Read on, my friends…. Eventually, Theard and Manno connected with Nadene Brunk, CNM, and translated for her midwifery class in Pandiassou. The story is long, but the Midwives for Haiti program grew out of it, and Theard and Manno worked more and more often. They both married, became fathers, and their babies are all god-children of different M4H volunteers. They earned significant money, built houses, supported their families. Then, they started supporting their family’s village. First, they invited visiting doctors and health care staff to come out and do rural clinics, out of boxes, bags, helping the sick folks in the village. The biggest obstacle was the road…God, the road…it was a ditch that the truck just straddled as long as it could while climbing huge hills and boulders…then park, and boxes of meds would be walked in about a half-mile. "The guys” started an elementary school in 2009, under a mango tree, with a blackboard and some benches. Midwives for Haiti volunteers would be invited for a very, very, rough truck ride up to the village of Naran, and see the “school” they were building. First…just a roof of banana leaves and some benches. Donations helped walls get built. An outhouse with cement lining, roof and doors, was made, to keep things sanitary, then more donations, and more rooms. Doors with locks to keep the desks from being stolen. We sent money to help pay the teachers, (who worked for free, to start...) and sent notebooks, pencils, and soccer balls. They kept plugging away and emailed us photos of “graduation” each semester. The whole village would show up for these occasions. In December 09, I went out there with my new friend, and M4H volunteer , Sharon Ryan, CNM. Soon, her Mennonite church in Ohio became a major supporter. “Flower of Hope School” is now a registered Ohio non-profit, with teacher salaries paid regularly and notebooks and other supplies in abundance. About 150 kids are in class there, now. Six had Cholera in December, but no one died. So, we took a trip to Naran this week. Some of my American friends gave money for 40chlorine-based clean-water bucket systems to be purchased for 40 of the neediest families in the village. We picked up the Klorfasil buckets, and headed out there in a very beat-up, typical Haitian, hired truck. The oil pump went out about 5 miles into our journey. Oh, you know things are dire when our friend Ronel, in a 1984 Toyota Hilux that’s on it’s truly last, last legs…is the rescue vehicle. We re-loaded into Ronel's truck, and he took us out to Naran, but as we turned the curve to go up the mountain..I was stunned. The road was a real road. Yes, dirt, but drivable and graded. Theard told me that Mercy Corps had done a project in Naran, and they paid village members to improve the road. We drove, all the way to the school. I believe that the school is a huge factor that convinced Mercy Corp that Naran deserved a road, to get the kids and supplies to school. 40 families showed up to get the Klorfasil systems. Brother Harry started something truly significant, just moving ahead with what he thought would help people. His English lessons started a long story that has not really ended here… many people have acted on their belief that something good can happen if they try to do what is right. So far, it has taken us as far as a school, and a road, and some cleaner water. Let nobody scoff, today, about the concept of a “drop in the bucket.” If we all do what our hearts tell us, it can be a flood.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lakay Nou!

Lakay Nou, Hinche

We've named it: Lakay Nou, in Kreyol... "Our Home" in English. This leamed house is now the home of Midwives for Haiti.
After years of running a program out of borrowed closets, classrooms under trees, volunteer sleeping in guesthouses and motels, we've landed.We have a home, and are starting our fourth class. Midwives for Haiti has landed like that baby giraffe, and is on the ground, running!

Therefore we're all over the map, crazy busy.
In one day:
-Vitamins/medicine/prenatal supplies loaded into suitcases and into the truck.
-Folding chairs for our classroom, nametags & blouses for the students, 5 American midwives to hospital.
-2 Haitian Midwives left for a rural mobile clinic. Still managing out of Ronel's ancient, rusty Hilux truck which hemorrhages oil and gas. We are praying for our lovely, pink, "Jeep La"! to will not be a moment too soon.
-Class #4 with 15 beautiful,high qualified students started, prayer and singing ringing off of the concrete walls.
-Shopping til we Drop - I bought a Haitian cell phone....I guess this is a sign the relationship is getting more serious...! It's just so much easier to have one, here. My trusty guide and ride, Manno's motorycle, needed took a half-hour to find a gas station on the edge of town that had some. Filled his tank so he can run me around. Made purchase of 40 Klorfasil bucket systems to be delivered in the village of Naran tomorrow. We arranged to buy a 500 gallon water tank for the roof of our house.
Paint, brushes & rollers. Plastic baskets for recycling and storage. 6 giant bottles of water. Can't find a "stand" for the water tanks to save our life. Landlord Jean-Louis says they come from the "Old Country", the USA!

Meetings Galore-- and these are not Quaker ones!
-Landlord meeting with Jean-Louis LaFort: Many issues with house resolved... guard/security, barbed wire,doors, electrical, water tank issues. Oh, shucks....the tank we bought is not needed! Arranged to return it tomorrow and buy light fixtures for outside the house. Carpenter, electricians, consulted, haggled with, etc. Not exactly complaining, but this stuff is not like Home Depot, folks. It's a little more complicated.

Cara Osborn, inspired by advice & helpful contacts from Jean-Louis and our desperation, will try a trip to St.Marc/PortauPrince tomorrow...and try to get the Jeep out of hock in customs. Who know what sort of persuasion she may try?? She's a powerful woman who gets a lot done....and we're frantic for that darn Jeep.

Pregnant Ladies and Babies....of course!
I saw my first Haitian patient of the week: Manno's wife, Nathalie, complaining of persistent nausea...a urine pregnancy test done in the living room clarified the reason....she's expecting baby #2! We'll start prenatal care later in the week.
Second patient of the week: our cook, Diuny's one-year old baby, was vomiting, her friend told her he had an ear infection. But!--it all started this week, when she began working for us, and leaving him bottles of powdered milk to drink when she's away working during the day. A quck examination, and we quickly decided that we can't even call ourselves "Midwives for Haiti" if it involves our cook weaning her breastfed baby so she can work for us, and he gets sick from not getting breastmilk. We arranged for her to have her baby nearby in the house so he can nurse and be cared for by her little 10-year old babysitter. So M4H will have a baby in the house!! How appropriate! He's cute, fat, and healthy as can be as long as he doesn't get that nasty powdered stuff.

A "Quiet" Evening at Lakay Nou--NOT!
No, not a quiet evening....Nadene had visits from 2 different M4H-trained midwives whom she hired to staff a clinic and a family-planning education program. The 5 bags that had been delayed in New York finally arrived via Moliares' SUV, along with furniture ordered in PaP...So the evening activty became the Allen Wrench Olympics, seeing who could assemble what with a flashlight, allen wrenches, one screwdriver, and 8 cans of Prestige beer. We had a good time and now have some boxy, ugly, durable, lightweight practical furniture.

I delivered a small Xmas bottle of Scotch to next-door neighbor Xavieran Bro. Mike McCarthy at Maison Fortune orphanage. Asked him to pray for the Jeep. I am serious....non-Catholic, but consulting a priest. We need "Jeep La" really bad, folks....please do exercise whatever spiritual powers you all hoave, ye who care for us. Otherwise, and still, it's a lovely night in HInche!

God Bless.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Landing like Giraffes; Port au-Prince to HInche

Saturday, Jan 8, 2011
Port au Prince

Giraffe mothers give birth while they are standing up. Their newborn baby giraffe lands hard, in the dust, with a thump. While it's a bit of a shock to watch on video, I think it's not so's nature's way of saying "Ok, welcome to the planet! There's a lot going on here, including lions...get moving!"

So,our plane from Miami landed in cross-wind with a big, hard THUMP....a classic "Welcome to Haiti", and I thought of the giraffes. There's a lot going on here, and it's not for the faint of heart. Let's get moving! We spent a lovely overnight in Port au Prince, and then did businesss in Pap for half of Saturday, then headed for
the hills....our home in the Central Plateau, in Hinche.

I have sluggish, limited internet here, so must write a very brief blog to minimize the upload time. Here are a few images:

How can it be that after a several nights of poor sleep in the US, a too-busy brain, an all-night birth, and pre-flight packing....I spent a night in a Port-au-Prince guest-house room with 5 others, in bunks, under a mosquito net...and slept like the dead for 8 hours?? I am refreshed in this setting, maybe because so much is going on, I'm forced to be in the moment and be single-minded.

Saturday, in one morning, we drove past acres of tent cities, and ended up shopping for furniture in an air-conditioned showroom. That's Port au Prince. It's so hard. We are growing a non-profit here, and now have a house for our teachers and volunteers to stay in.. we need beds, tables and chairs to sit at, eat, teach students. But while I shop, I wish everyone in the city had housing and decent water.

Smells--- STRONG coffeee, garlic, gasoline exhaust, sewage, woodsmoke, body odor, and that unique whiff of bad teeth.

Sounds: oh, the roosters. They start at 3:30am. Cars and truck engines. Sirens. Singing.

While waiting for some team members at the airport, the busiest outdoor vendor at the airport parking lot was...the guy selling beer and little half-pint bottles of whiskey. He was doing a big business out of a little cooler under a tree. Stress relief with alcohol is universal.

A trip from PaP to Hinche was a car-sickness extravaganza with all the curves in the road and the mountains we go up, then down. They get greener as we go , and the donkeys and goats appear more with each mile out of the city. The lakes are's great, if you don't need to hurl. Fortunately this time, that was me! No nausea.
We landed in Hinche by dusk.

We are posting a video if we can, and we midwife/giraffes, who hit the dirt on Saturday, are doing ok in Hinche....updates soon!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Stop and Think! but mostly...Hope!

I’m halfway to Port au Prince on my 4th trip to Haiti, and they did not serve any food on the plane from Dulles. Now, this is no surprise, but I did get into Miami airport SOOO hungry, as I got up at 0330 and on the plane at 6am, and at 9am my stomach was rumbling “Now! Feed me NOW!” So I barely paused in front of the first restaurant “serving breakfast” sign, and got a seat. Then, part way into the most awful breakfast—cold scrambled eggs! Mushy toast! Nasty old coffee!— I realized…this is what I get for eating American breakfast at a Sushi restaurant. I did not STOP and THINK!
So, teetering on the brink of my 4th Haitian adventure as a volunteer with Midwives for Haiti, I’m reminded pause and reflect. I ask myself what the heck I am doing, and why. What do I hope for? What do I fear? The “pat” answer is that I love my work as a volunteer with Midwives for Haiti- we train Haitian women to be midwives, expand health care I Haiti-we save and improve lives of many Haitian women-create jobs-etc. But, really… “why” is worth exploring…after all, this is a “vacation” week! While I do enjoy incredible mountain scenery and mild, sunshiny weather, it does come with a lot of dust, goat stew and sweat. As I contemplate, I know that I do this very much for myself, for as the work does good, it also feeds me in so many ways. Mostly with hope.
I have fears too--- at one year after the earthquake, there is barely a government in place in Haiti, riots are always a possibility, and cholera’s a reality too. There’s the heartbreak of witnessing 2 centuries of grinding poverty. My real fears, however, are of futility, frustrated efforts, wasted energy. It takes so much to get to Haiti that the moments are precious and the goals are high for each trip. Yet, today, I feel happy and hopeful. I hope to hold & hug my 9-month old god-daughter, born last March, just after I left. I hope to deliver 40 bucket-and-chlorine water systems to the village in Naran. A lot of good people donated funds to make that happen, so I’ve got a mission and the wheels are in motion. I hope to help Nadene Brunk start the fourth class of Midwives for Haiti. 16 women are starting a year of training that will make a difference in their lives and their communities! This is the biggest and probably (-hopefully!)- best organized class yet. I hope to buy some more Haitian artwork with special requests from several friends for specific items. Creating commerce in Haiti, of any kind, helps families survive. I really hope to see the Pink Jeep get released from customs and make it’s way to our headquarters in Hinche, to begin serving our mobile prenatal clinic service. I hope to enjoy time with folks who have become dear friends- Nadene, Reina, and other American volunteers, and the Xavieran brothers at Masion Fortune orphanage, the McHouls in Port au Prince…and our great M4H staff Theard, Manno, Berry, and their families. I feel a little like Santa, as I do have a couple large bags, and they do have presents. I hope to spread joy and share hope in a place where, sometimes, those are scarce. But really, they give me back more than I’ve ever put in. Despite a disappointing breakfast….it’s a spiritual feast. Let’s go!