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.


  1. Thank you, Wendy, for eloquently getting to the heart of it all. I will read this when I get discouraged- which is often.

  2. I'm so glad ALL of you were on that pink jeep that day! And so thankful you tool time to write about the trip so eloquently.

    Have you ever thought about collecting these posts into a book?