Monday, November 19, 2012

Supporting Runners

My friend, midwife Beth McHoul, is a long-distance runner. She also runs Heartline Ministries’Women’s Program in Port au Prince, Haiti, which gives care and education to poor and vulnerable pregnant women, but she has run 8 marathons, and is still running. I had the joy of hanging out with her for a labor and birth at the Maternity Center, my last night of this trip. I had the honor of catching the baby, but I really felt like I was just like the supportive friends that jump in and run a few miles with the serious marathon runners, to keep them going and give encouragement on a very tough journey.

We had a sweet 17-year old Haitian girl in labor, whose "baby daddy" is gone to the Dominican Republic and whose parents are dead. She lives in Port au Prince with a few relatives. Cenline somehow managed to find Heartline's Maternity program pretty early in her pregnancy, so things went extremely well for her. She was treated for STD's early, and received nutritious lunches, vitamins, prenatal care and education. So in spite of a long and exhausting labor ( about a full 24 hours), she was healthy. She walked and walked around the Birth Center garden all day; drank Gatorade, and did her share of Haitian vocalizing. After dark, a relative showed up and rubbed her back while she labored. Some shots were heard not far off in the darkness of the city, and the 2 big mastiff guard dogs got a little worked up, but we were safe in a nice compound with an armed guard. So just before midnight, Cenline gave birth to a lovely, full-term baby boy with no complications. He's about 7.5 pounds, definitely not early, and was starting to nurse when I left.

This birth was such a treat: a final sweet dessert before leaving Haiti. After years, another out-of-hospital birth! Hardly any paper-work and no electronic monitors! Hours of midwife hangout chat with wonderful colleagues and friends- Beth McHoul, Melissa Curtice, and Jessica Shinneman. It didn't feel like I work; it was just fun. . Beth and the Heartline crew live here and midwife and mother these women for about a year, and they do it day after day and night after long night.

I have never run a marathon—I can barely do 3 10-minute miles on my best day. I have ultimate respect for runners who even think about more. And on this 8-day trip, I just worked a few days, caught one nice normal baby in Port au Prince….did some teaching, some visiting, some administration of the Midwives for Haitian program. I go twice a year and do all the good I can do in those days. Support means a lot, and I do this with emotional, spiritual, and fiancial support of many wonderful people. We all do this together. In this work, we get to be the friend that runs a bit beside the ones on the toughest journey. ..those who give their all to helping this beautiful country, so full of possibility, faith and heartbreak. I hope it was some encouragement and support for my friends and midwives in Haiti. Thank you all, readers and friends, for doing this lap along with me. It was great.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sing, Sing, Sing

Greg is getting a short nap before we pack up to leave Hinche for Port au Prince today. He was up in the very early am. He and Jessica and Meghann walked up the hills behind our house, where there a is a view of 360 degrees...mountains all around: the Central Plateau of Haiti. As they were watching the sun rise and glow over all this land, a group of 7 women on the hill were raising their hands toward the sun, worshiping, singing and praying to "Jezi".
He came back from the walk glowing himself; though he doesn't look too spiffy. He hasn't shaved all week...and most of the time is the sweaty man with a concrete drill in his hand. No criticism here-- my housedress that I wear at home has a big brown betadine stain on the front that won't come out, my hair has been washed once this week, and I am sweaty all day, too. Cool showers at the end of the day are a Godsend.

On the hills at sunrise, or anywhere else, Haitians sing. At the hospital this week, the concrete walls just ring with the wailing, and singing of several laboring women in one room, plastic shower curtains barely dividing anyone. Greg came by there with his drill, too--he actually fixed the old broken stool that I fell off of 4 years ago. Yes, it has been broken for 4 years, and was still there, a piece of plywood balanced on a metal frame.

Children sang to us in Naran at the Flower of Hope School, founded by my friends Manno and Theard. We stepped into rooms and kids in bright red-and-white-and blue uniforms stood up and sang "Welcome is the Word for You". I remember when they started with a few benches under a mango tree. Now there is a concrete school, a well that serves good water to the whole community, and 240 kids students who never had this chance go before. I was pretty verklempt at the beauty of the realized dream of these community leaders, and my dear friend. Now they are planning to expand into agronomy and teaching the kids to farm with a school garden.

Here at the Heartline Guesthouse, the Haitian staff were singing as they cooked the dinner. I am learning from them: I need to sing more.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I just finished bandaging Filos again, and Greg and Meghan sent him on his way with a happy swagger and a big baggie of food. Filos is a neighborhood kid, 12 years old, who got a terrible burn on his neck a few weeks ago. He was goofing around the cooking fire and threw some plastic in it, to “ see what would happen”. (...I guess 12 year olds are the same all over the world). Well, what happened is the plastic blew up into a cloud of flaming goo which landed on him and burned a streak from his ear down his neck to his chest. He showed up at one of Dr.Ken's rural clinics a few weeks ago. He returned to our house a week later, with the burn all yucky and infected.

Carrie, the Lakay Nou House Volunteer Coordinator, has been cleaning and medicating it daily, and it's looking much better. He shows up on our gazebo faithfully around 7 am, wearing the same ragged pair of slacks and a t-shirt. He says it's hard to sleep at night because he is hungry. His parents are both dead; he lives with some sisters, and an uncle seems to be involved also. It's clearly not a good deal, as he has never been to school, and this wound could have killed him. So each morning he is getting his wound dressed, breakfast, and a snack. Yesterday, he ambled out of here after eating an egg and avocado sandwich, a Cliff bar in his pocket for nighttime hunger. Now, we're working on getting him into Maison Fortune Orphanage and School, where we'll support him having a bunk of his own, 2 meals and school every day, with goat on Sunday. It costs $900 a year. All he has to do is show up with a set of sheets and a pillow, and have us help buy a mattress for his bunk.

I think “Filos” means “brotherly love”, human -to-human. That is So what this is about. We're connected now....and he's in first grade.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Saving the Fridge and the Baby

Greg is downstairs planning an ice cream party with Cindy Bailey's daughter Meghann, who is a crazy- good Culinary Queen and caterer in New York. This is to celebrate our friendship with our Haitian staff and translators, as well as the fact that the refrigerator/freezer was only paralyzed and not dead. Greg defrosted the coils last night and resurrected it. Since it's such a novelty, ice is very popular with the Haitian staff here, and they were very concerned when the freezer made terrible noises and slushy ice yesterday. Ice Cream is super popular, and not for sale here in Hinche at all-- most Haitians have never had any- - but we have an old fashioned ice-cream maker, and bought the cream and milk in Port au Prince just for this purpose.

It was a big, big day...Greg went out on a rural Clinic with Cindy, and helped pass out medicine after Cindy saw her patients. About 90 people were seen and more will be there again tomorrow. Greg also became the distributor of lollipops, and ended up having to help police some boys who decided they wanted seconds and thirds, and would harass him to get them-- until the Haitian driver chased them off swinging his belt!

I worked at the hospital, helping observe and teach the students. Before 2 pm, I helped a newborn breast-feed, discussed steroid medication for a mom with a twin pregnancy and preterm labor, helped the students get ready for a normal birth and checked their skills. then I first-assisted the new Obstetrician on a C-section, my first surgery in Haiti. It went fine-- despite old, beat up equipment, they had the needed sterile supplies ( NON-disposable), and skilled people giving the care. The baby was premature, and volunteer Jessica worked Sooo hard to keep this little boy alive. The pediatrician we summoned agreed that he was working too hard to breathe, and Jessica went with them in a truck to the “big” hospital at Cange...she had to resuscitate him numerous times on the way...and she came home in tears, worried over this kid that may not live, and so sad for the ones who never even get a chance. I pray he makes it, and it will be thanks to her, and God,if he does.

Long day, nice night. We were dinner guests at Father Jacques' house. Fried plaintains, papaya juice, spicy cabbage salad called picklese, and white wine were my favorites. Tomorrow, more hospital work, and ice cream. At least, that's the plan. The fridge, and the baby, are alive. One day at a time.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Beauty and the Beast

Well, we made it! Leaving Washington DC at 6 am got us into Hinche, Haiti at about 5pm, and what a day it was. As Greg said, his jaw dropped and hasn't come back up yet…there is a lot to process on your first trip to Haiti. Beauty, heartache, smoke, dust and gorgeous scenery all together can overwhelm.
So far, Greg has had the experience of going to the best supermarket in port au Prince- the Deli Mart— blaring music, beggars who lost limbs in the earthquake, and all the special food we needed. Then, a 3-hour ride in the Jeep—through exhaust fumes, tent cities, dust and cooking smoke of Port au Prince, then the air clears, and you’re in the lovely, green Central Plateau, overlooking lakes. We bought avocados on a rest stop. This is the earliest in the fall I've ever visited Haiti.. Rainy Season just ended and it’s SO green. We had vistas in the rugged mountains with rippling ridges of grass glowing in the sunset as we drove north to Hinche. …goats, pigs, and chickens plentiful and fat ( for Haiti standards) after rainy season. The lush grass contrasted with some of the raggediest people at tiny stands along the highway, selling whatever they can: hard candy, fish, sugar cane, charcoal.
We had a huge, fancy 2-hour mass at the cathedral on Sunday, with about 12 priests and the bishop. There is the never-ceasing amazement that people who live in little houses and cook their food over charcoal fires and wash with water from a pump down the road, can show up dressed to the nines and looking SO lovely, for church. I can’t manage makeup for Quaker Meeting once a week.
While Greg installed wire shelving all over the midwives HQ house, I went on a mobile prenatal clinic in the pink Jeep today. We had one Haitian midwife on vacation , one not feeling well at all, and 47 women showed up. I invented the gynecology corner,

where we used our new portable table, old furniture re-arranged , and sheets for privacy so I could use my specuale, do my thing and test for STD’s.

Volunteer Jessica S. and I saw babies, mommas, and some sick ladies. It was hot, dusty, chaotic, and exhausting…but in the end, 47 women had vitamins, iron, medicines they needed. One got sent to the hospital. 3 matwons, or village birth attendants, came, and left with clean gloves for births, and much goodwill. When I got home I washed all the instruments in soap and then bleach, and dried them on Greg’s new shelves. We had corn meal and goat stew for lunch, with avocados. SO, Here we are. I think it’s another planet for my husband, who is hanging in there pretty well, considering there is no space suit that protects the mind from the turmoil of frantic, disorganization fueled by need, nor the heart from the sweetness, tenderness, loveliness and grief of Haiti. He's downstairs defrosting the frozen coils of the freezer/fridge, which we all hope very much is not broken. Meanwhile,we're drinking all the beer, as it's not getting any colder.
Bon Nuit.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Last-Minute Fun: "I Cook 2 Snakes Every Day"

Ah, the day before the Haiti Trip! The "Baggage Weight is Right" Game! The bags are never weighed once...they are re-organized and weighed about 7 times, to get the perfect 49.5 pounds in them, and not one bit over. I've only had to re-distribute my baggage at the ticket counter once in my life, and that was enough. This time, the 300lbs + of bags are mostly full of Greg's tools and hardware that he's bringing for many household improvements at the Midwives for Haiti compound...or as I call it, the Lakay Nou Honey-Do List.

Then there is the Last Minute Requests and Favors/"Can you get this to Haiti for me?" Category. This time the last (well, we'll see if it's really the last) after-thought items included dishcloths for the house, pregnancy tests, a box of lancets urgently needed by the mobile clinic, a bar of Olay Soap, peanut M&M's, and white-out. There is a plea for "real mustard" but I think we can get that in Port au Prince and bring it to Hinche.

Greg has come a long way in his Creole. A few weeks ago he spoke it so badly that even when he read words off a page it would never be understood by a Haitian. It sounded like German, which he learned in high school. Now, he very clearly and slowly says many Creole phrases, including "I am happy to meet you!", "Can you please say it slowly?" and his favorite: "I cook 2 snakes every day". This should be fun.

So, we're off. The laboring women have given me a break tonight, at least so far, and I'm SOooo thankful for the final-prep time. We leave before the sun is up on a 06:00 flight to Miami, and land in Port au Prince at noon. I look forward to seeing many friends, my Haitian god-daughter Woodmica, delivering gifts, and introducing my dear husband to a place and people that I've grown to love.

On this trip, Greg will be part handyman and part bagger-of-medicine on a rural pediatric clinic, and he may also give blood and help teach kids English. We want to visit Naran, where we help support a school, and my Quaker Meeting supports a monthly prenatal Jeep-clinic. I will be teaching our graduate midwives some advanced skills, checking in with our birth center in Trianon, and doing some administrative tasks to help the program. At least, that's the rough draft. It's Haiti- so who knows what we'll really do? We hope to make homemade banana ice cream and share it with our Haitian friends-- but we'll see-- could end up cooking 2 snakes every day!

Thanks and love to all my friends who care about this work with me.{{}}