Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Border Crossings

About a week ago, I left Haiti through the Dominican Republic, to avoid Port au Prince at a time of unrest. We loaded our 5 American women and 2 Haitian staff guys- Manno my dear friend and translator, and Ronel, our driver x 5 years, into the pink Jeep La, and headed north. I felt like singiing and had the younger girls, 18, and 21, with me in the cab of the Jeep. I explained to the guys that in the US, on a long car trip, we sing to keep the kids happy. Then we started in on "Old MacDonald had a Farm, "," the Wheels on the Bus", "Row, Row, Row Your Boat", etc. The guys loved it, especially Old MacDonald. In a rural country, everyobdy gets it, the animal noises. Oink Oink and Mooo is universal, even with Haitian pigs and cows. We fell quiet as the hills and ruts got bigger, and then Ronel, said to me, in English, which he doesn't use that often..."Wendy, I am happy to be driving this Jeep, with you today." I knew what he meant; we've all waited and worked hard to get Midwives for Haiti to where it is , right now... and I just said" I am also happy, Ronel, to drive in the Jeep with you and Manno today. I thank God for this." It was so simple and sweet. One of my best moments of the trip.

Later, Mannno and I bounced up the dusty, rutted road in the pickup truck of the village priest who "knows the guys at the DR border" and was leading the Jeep, escorting us over the dry, mountainous borderland to the first town in the Dominican Republic. Aristede was on the radio, giving his first public statement at the airport in PaP. Every Haitain I asked said yes, he was glad to see Aristede back in Haiti. We Americans were relieved to be avoiding Port au Prince, where thousands filled the streets around the airport, and all bets were off about the possilbity of riots or demonstrations.

Father Blot said he was happy to help us, and also asked for MFH to consider adding his village, Saltadere, to the moblile clinic schedule for a monthly round of prenatal care. . He said that all the priests in the Central Plateau pray for Midwives for Haiti, as we are "doing such a good work". I took his phone number and thanked him. I was moved...after a week dealing with Haitian difficulties and complications, it feels so small and imperfect, what we do. Sometimes I think we're just trying to keep hope alive. Then, the last thing I saw in Haiti was a funeral procession. As the truck came over a steep rise, about 100 Haitians, many dressed in white, filled the road. A painted wooden coffin, with shiny handles, was carried on many shoulders through the rocky gully. Fr. Blot just waved out his window, and the crowd parted to let our truck and pink jeep through. I wonder if it was a mother. It's not just hope we have to keep's human beings.

We had been on unpaved roads for about 3 hours, since leaving Hinche. Just a few miles inside the DR, as we came into the first village, our jeep took one final bump onto a smooth asphalt road. Powerlines appeared. Our Haitian driver sighed...with a poignant combination, I think: relief to be out of the four-wheel-drive mode and onto smooth pavement, and grief- that Haiti has not one town as developed as this, and we're in the remote backwaters of the DR.

I've heard the Dominican Republic described by many as "beautiful resorts, but, oh, so sad to see the poor in the villages."'s different if you enter the DR after a week in Haiti...the DR looks Fabulous. We caught an air-conditioned our bus toward Santo Domingo an hour after entering the country. Within a 10-15 miles, vegetation was noticably greener, houses more put-together, animals fatter. The roads were not thronged with pedestrians, donkeys, oxcarts. There were less goats, more cows; shiny gas stations, factories, farm machinery. It was a different world, and not just the language. Billboards, tin roofs, and paved roads look like prosperity itself, after little shacks with banana-leaf roofs and the ragged, rugged, dusty struggle for survival that is Haiti.

I've been back over a week now, and I'm almost rested enough to say I feel "normal". It's my fifth trip, and I hope I'm learning that I cross back and forth , the borders between wealth and poverty, between different worlds, and it is always a tough journey, either direction. Once you've seen Haiti-- or possibly Rwanda, Burundi, Afghanistan...the Land of the Poorest never are quite the same. I lay on the massage table of my friend Kristen, and wept out some of the natural grief and stress, as she worked at the very tight knots of my neck and shoulders. I wept and saw thin women walking down dusty roads in the morning, with baskets of charcoal on their heads. I saw a funeral procession in the back country. I saw our pink jeep in a field, and pregnant women sitting on benches under the shady tarp...and loud and clear, I heard the thumping, amplified beat of a fetal heartbeat on our midwives doppler... Beating, beating, beating. Our work goes on in Haiti.

Friday, March 18, 2011

While Scrambling toSurvive, Haiti's on Hold.

This week in Haiti has gone so fast that the stories will have to be
written in America—and oh, there are stories. All in all, it
was….just So Haiti. So difficult—no day has gone anything like
planned, but a series of adaptations, Plan A to Plan B to Plan….oh,
maybe F….but things have gotten done.
Eat Here, Now. At one of our pink-jeep mobile clinics, a half-grown
rooster wandered into t he bench-waiting area. When we packed up to
go home, not only did we have 3 large gourd-like fruits the size of
soccer balls in the jeep (Ronel found them somewhere, but I don’t
know if he eats them or makes bowls out of the shells), but one of the
midwives had the rooster, feet tied, under her arm in a plastic bag.
As we came into town, the “poule” was handed to her husband for
tomorrow’s dinner.
I walked with Brother Mike down by the river, and saw the
sand-collecting industry down there. Guys get a big plastic bucket,
wade in chest-deep, and start filling their bucket underwater with
sand from the river bed. Then they haul it up to the bank, and dump
it, bucket by bucket, til they have a pile that’s the right size to
sell. There is a “standard size” pile, apparently. And it sells for
about 250 goudes, or about $6. When sold, it will be collected by an
oxcart, that will pull it into town for road building or concrete and
cement-making. Tough way to make a living.
There is nobody, from the people to the animals, not scrambling as
hard as they can, to survive and get by. Walked on the road through
the town cemetery—many crumbling concrete mausoleums—and saw goats
climbing even on the roofs to eat trash or grass from the roofs. But
the country is basicallystalled and paralyzed until the election is
over. After pretty hard to get an appointment with the “New” minister
of health, I had to change the date. I went back into the office,
prepared to eat some Haitian crow, asi”d been rather insistent on the
first one—the secretary was very pleasant, No Pwoblem, he said, and
gave us a new date. Then he just commented…well, after the election,
he may have a “new positions”, but we’ll see. AHA!!! THIS is why
nobody is staying in town, we can’t get any meetings…nobody really
knows if or what their jobs will be until after the election. What
will the new regime bring?? Haiti is on Hold.
The two political presidential candidates on the ticket for the
“repeat, do-over” election being held this Sunday, both came to town
mid-week. Lots of megaphones, bands, huge crowd in the park…no
trouble, just loud. They were traveling to rallies town-by-town, in
tandem. Now, Aristede is rumored to be returning to Haiti—probably
today, if not last night. Things are heating up, and it’s time for us
to go. Instead of taking our magenta jeep into Port us Prince the day
before the election, and possibly through sizable demonstrations, or
risking canceled flights, we’ve changed flights and are exiting
through the Domincan Republic. LOTS of phone calls led to this
decision, and of course we all want to know “what’s going to happen?”
but the reality of Haiti is what the awesome midwife Beth McHoul, long
time resident of Port au Prince, replied to those kinds of
inquiries—“you just never know!” We’re playing it safe, as I have a
solemn pact with my husband to do—and crossing the border to the DR
early today. When I told our wonderful driver,and oh-so-faithful
staff MFH member, Ronel, he would NOT have to drive a bright pink
jeep with 7 “blancs” through Port au Prince, the day before the
election, with Aristede AND Baby Doc in town…he said “I think this is
a good way.” See you soon—we’re practicing our Spanish!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Betadine and Bureaucracy

We start our days with the roosters crowing and the sun coming up, in
Haiti….how could we not? The windows are wide open and there’s no
escaping reality….the day is upon us! Today, Monday, I had high hopes
of getting certain things done…and they are coming along, kind of, in
the crazy way that happens down here.
All the furniture that I purchased in Port au Prince on Friday, to
open a tiny little birth center…well, that was interesting. After
finalizing the shipment, to be delivered in 1-2 weeks, I got to the
little tiny town, where we had been told “ It’s already built, ready
to go”…well, yes, but. “Already Built” here apparently means There is
a Structure. Our birth center in Trianon will be great! I love the
size! the location! It has a plan for power outlets! Water! Lovely
view of the mountains! But right now, it is cinder blocks, rough
concrete, and a road mostly, but not quite, done. So disconcerting,
as I had just purchased 3 beds, 3 mattresses, a locking metal cabinet,
a desk, 2 chairs, 3 fans, and a partridge in a pear tree. Oooh boy.
Time to call America. So this is why I have a Haitian cell phone, and
programmed for international calls!
Okay, so, Nadene says, we’ll make sure our other birth center
location is ready and secure, and get those furnishings out to the
other birth center site, Bassin Zim. It only took a lot of US-Haiti
cell phone calls, money wired to our trusty friend in Port au Prince,
and now the shipment is coming to Bassin Zim this week. It will be
very interesting seeing the truck bring it out…the road is rutted,
dust and rocks….but it’s Haiti, and it can’t be that big of a surprise
to the drivers. Now all we need is a couple solar panels, a deep pit
for garbage, a water tank, a security guy…and we’ll save some mothers
from the grueling trip to town over the roads that basically keep them
home, delivering with untrained ( or no ) people to help.
Today’s strangeness actually began with a little boy. I had ridden
in the Pink Jeep out to La Palis, with 2 Haitian midwives, 1 American
midwife, and an American doctor, had begun seeing patients. I was
outside on the cement porch, playing phone tag about furniture between
Port au Prince and Richmond…and a boy about 10 years old came and sat
near me, and gestured to his left leg, questioning if I would look at
it. His entire calf had a massively infected area, large and ugly and
hard to really see due to the dirt crusted over it. I looked in my
backpack, which I had just thrown together in the morning, and I “just
happened “to have a large plastic bag…(thank you, nurses of Loudoun
Hospital….) with gauze, betadine, and gloves in it. I used the water
in my water bottle to wash it, first…then the betadine…soaked and
scrubbed a bit…then it was doctor time. This is not my specialty—but
Dr. Carolyn came out, and we agreed together that it was hospital time
for this boy, before he loses some of his muscle. His dad had come ,
by then, and said he could get him to the hospital tomorrow…. I made a
dressing for him with antibiotic ointment, a clean diaper (my #1
favorite Haitian utiity tool) and tape. I pray he gets that nasty
wound treated in town. He didn’t even know how he got it… I suspect a
spider bite.
Unfortunately, I had sat in some betadine during the wound-cleaning
episode on the clinic porch. When I walked by the ladies waiting on
benches, they smiled and giggled at me—because on my scrubs, I had a
noticeable, reddish-brown stain on my rear end that appeared to be
blood or poo. I have a serious mission to get an appointment with
the new regional head of the Ministry of Health, so I still showed
up at the hospital, but with a little flannel baby blanket draped
around my backside, as if it were a sweater. (“Its’ the new fashion in
the States!”) I figured, if I’m lucky enough to see someone
important, I’ll take it off, and back out of the room after we talk!
….Alas, No such luck…the head of the department is out of town…’til
Ok, I said, but Midwives for Haiti really needs to meet with him! “No
problem!” The secretary said. When in April do you want to come? I
picked the next date that I knew Dr. Steve & director Nadene would be
there…and about April 27? “Ok, fine”, he said… and did not
glance at a calendar, nothing. What time? I asked…”eleven.” Ok….I
asked…are you going to write this down?? He opened up a computer
screen, but I ‘m not so sure anything got put anywhere. It’s
discouraging. God, please give Haiti new, better leadership models
and good government, in the March 20 elections! I trudged out with
my baby blanket over my butt, hoping for the best. Midwives for
Haiti keeps going, and we have furniture, and babies, on the way,
regardless of the bureaucracy..

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Lights are Still On

First day in :Port au Prince: some surprises, and some non-surprises.
No surprise; OOOH, still hot! humid!  Break into a sweat immediately and get used to it.   I peeled off my one pair of socks in the airport ladies room and will not wear any again until my return flight next week.
Lots of people, shouting, and shall we say, "different level of organization" (aka, near chaos, but not quite) at the airport and in city traffic.
Unchanged potholes, mud, dust, and random random urban livestock, including chickens, donkeys, and a cow that I noticed not far from the Us Embassy
But surprises!  The ramps around the airport are re-paved and roofed, the baggage handlers more civil and less aggressive!  It may have helped that our Haitian driver, Moliare, was waiting right at the door, but it was the most orderly exit of the airport I've ever made, even with 25 bags and 7 people.
The best surprise was also a great inconvenience, but still pretty cool.  We went to the nicest, biggest furniture store in Port au Prince, where we need to buy furnishings for our new little maternity center..  A big, glassy, airconditioned, 2-level  showroom, with escalators...extremely American looking (except the escalators don't work but come on, you can't have it all.)...we head upstairs for the desks and cabinets area ...but no,it's a formal meeting set up, with about 120 people, a conference table, lights and camera.  It turned out to be a "tv studio" setup, and they were conducting all-day public forums on planification of what the next steps are for Haitian civic recovery and planning.  Individuals had about 5 minutes at the mic, with several apparent Haitian leaders ( political candidates?  I'm not sure...).  Formal business attire all around, silence while the cameras rolled, and polite applause when good points were made in the discussion.,  The amazing  part is this is a furniture store!.  The lady at the desk downstairs said she'd been unable to sell anything all day, due to this meeting.  For me, it's just such an example of Haitians making it work..."we need a big place that is nice and cool and has power...gee, how about the furniture store?  Let's ask them!"  And plenty of people showed up, in nice suits, to address and  thoughtfully discuss the needs (the huge, desperate, overwhelming) needs of the Haitian people.
So Fritz, my Haitian-born, Amercian translator, and I,  silently snuck around in the furniture sections that we could get to while the cameras were off...we found things we needed. Lovely equipment for the birth center; beds, cabinet, chair, fans. But the most important work was being done at the conference, table, and on film, I hope and pray...the Haitians are still making it work, folks. ..."pa bliye Ayiti"---don't forget Haiti.  They DO NOT give up. And the lights are still on.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Land of Slow and LImited Internet

My laptop is already in my backpack, so I can head out of the house at
4 am for the 6 am flight to Miami and then Port au I'm
using a very old laptop of my huband's...his good one is in the shop.
And while I waited for this elderly machine to boot up, and felt
impatient... I had to stop and remind myself that I'm headed into the
Land of Slow and Limited Internet. All the coffee shops or hotels,
etc. around here boast "Unlimited Wifi"...well, that's not the deal in
Haiti, so here I go....time to sit and wait a while for a signal.

I have a lot to do in Haiti, and am happy to be seeing a lot of folks
I truly care for, down there. Tomorrow, I'll be shopping to equip a
new maternity center in a little village that has never had such a
thing , before...and see some friends at Heartline Ministries. It's a
hard week to get ready...trying to wrap up all the loose ends here,
and still look ahead to the work of the week down there...but when the
airplane lifts into the air above the water in Miami, and I turn off
my American cell is a little easier, as it's just a
"one-lane highway", then. I will be thinking of you all in the
States, and appreciate you thinking of me. There is SO much to get
done this week, and using the time well is a pressure in my mind all
the time. But for now, it's just time to go, and hope and pray for
good things to come. Thanks for caring about this work in Haiti. Off
we go-- holy cow-- Trip 5!