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.{{}}

Friday, October 12, 2012

MicroBrew and MicroGiving, Both Good Ideas

As I gear up for my seventh trip with Midwives for Haiti, I must share my first post in Haiti:
Monday, March 9, 2009: Beans and Rice and Singing:
The Ravine, outside Port au Prince, Haiti is a 40-acre ravine over a small river. Both sides of the steep ravine have been built up with concrete and cinder block and tin roofs, one on top of another, to house an estimated 70,000 people. There is no power and no clean water supply except what is carried in. My group of 7 health care providers stood at the edge of the Ravine on Friday night, my first night in Haiti, as dusk was falling. Adults and children filtered up and down the narrow winding path, to and from their homes, carrying water in jugs, small plastic bags of bread, rice, and charcoal. Candles flickered and charcoal fires were lit. As dusk fell and my brain and heart tried to grasp the reality of this many people subsisting in a space with this few resources, the smell of sewage mixed with the smell of beans and rice and smoke from cook fires. A church choir began singing a loud song of worship, a flute tune drifted up from a tiny concrete dwelling, and I had my first lesson on Haiti: the poverty in material things is profound; they survive on less "things" than I could have ever imagined. And their hearts are deeply spiritual. Most education is done through churches, and most events are begun and ended with prayer. And in the midst of this intense need, they sing.

That was 3.5 years ago. Haiti kept me awake at night many times thereafter, and I've kept going back. I've realized that if I keep waiting for my life/work/family/house to be organized and tidy before I return to Haiti, it won't happen in this lifetime. So, I have one more vacation week in 2012, and I asked my husband, on a Haiti Date, and he said yes. Nov 10-18, I'll make trip #7, and Greg will make his first trip with me. He's supported my work in Haiti with patience, financial generosity, sound logistical advice...driven to Richmond with me for Midwives for Haiti Board meetings, and practiced a LOT of non-complaining while I was preoccupied doing Haiti things, in my office, or out of country for 9-day stints. Now, his support will include seeing/hearing/smelling it. He may build some furniture, do house repairs in our volunteers house and classroom in Hinche, and help package medicine on a rural pediatric clinic. He may give blood at the Hinche Red Cross, and help kids learn English. He'll see Haiti first-hand, and THAT is the toughest, sweetest piece. I am grateful. I don't know how it will be for him. To be with the poorest people is painful and powerful, and brings life into a different focus: the lens of the heart and understanding is shifted. But here we go...Haiti Trip 7...together!
Midwives for Haiti volunteering feels like the opposite of the United Way or the Red Cross. Now, don't get me wrong: Red Cross is Great! Not opposite in intent-- it's all Good Work! BUT they are HUGE, and do huge projects-- and I am one small, (well, "normal-sized") person, with 1 box labeled “Haiti stuff “ in the upstairs bedroom, NO budget (other than my own donations and those of my friends, colleagues, and neighbors), and I support small projects. Mostly, I help train 16 Haitian midwives a year in a 10-month program to provide prenatal care and save the lives of mothers and babies. YET, just as I value my local micro-brewed New River Pale Ale ( plug for Lost Rhino Brewing Co.) over Bud Light, and for similar reasons, I value this small non-profit and the personalized work that I do. Why I support Microbrew Beer & Midwives for Haiti:

Personalized flavor--(I know who brews my beer, and) I know who I am going to help in Haiti, and why. I know the translators, the midwives, the kids, and clergy in the town where I work. I see the growth of families, schools, clinics, and hear their stories. I have a Haitain godchild.
Local is Good- both my local brewery and the folks who work in Hinche, Haiti are benefiting their local community first, with jobs, commerce, and healthy development.
Small is manageable- Whatever the results, bad or good- it will be evident and not "lost in the shuffle". (I can give feedback on the beers I do/don't like!) A little bit still matters at this level, and has impact that I can see and report.. $20 donations, a set of scrubs, a pair of shoes, a sewing people I've actually met.

"What Do You Need?” Ask some of my dearest friends and supporters. And goodness, I've gotten SO specific and selective. I have seen too many suitcases, full impractical stuff that cost way too much in baggage fees. (ie expired meds, heavy winter baby clothing...) So, now, I bring my knowledge, small birth kit, laptop, what they ask for, and my toothbrush, pretty much.
First and foremost, I ask for and thank my family, friends for the encouragement, emotional support and prayer that keeps me held in this work. It works. Also,thank you for sharing about this work, (this blog, if you wish), to others who may find it of interest.
Now, The "Needed Stuff"Wish List:
Heartline Ministries needs sewing machines. Heartline Sewing Machine drive If you have a good used one to donate, leave me a message at the office (703-726-1300)and we'll talk about my baggage situation.

My friend and Translator Theard, needs a small external hard drive, 300-500GB to keep track of documents for "Flower of Hope" School, a US 501-c-3. (tax-deductible). Could be used, or purchased on Amazon for about $70, I think. Small digital camera to photograph the progress at his school and send photos out to the US donors.

Financial donations for trip costs and random last-minute requests & supplies .(My practice already pays for my airfare...thanks, again,LCM). I personally pay $650 in fees for translators, food, housing, and in-country transportation. Donations to help with this are tax-deductible and will be sent to "Midwives for Haiti" with "Wendy Dotson trip" in the memo line. Mail them to my office: Loudoun Community Midwives, 19465 Deerfield Ave
Suite 205, Lansdowne, VA 20176

Scrub sets for Haitian midwives & students: XS, small, and a few large sets. (I have a bunch of medium already.) Bright colors.

White, short-sleeve blouses For the students to wear in class ; short-sleeves, 5-XtraSmall, 5-Small, 5-Med, 3 Large.
We live in the richest county in the richest country in the world. Thank you so much for helping train the midwives who save the lives of mothers in our poorest neighbor.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Climbing the Green and Brown Hill

We took our one pleasure trip of the week today. After morning clinics, Ronel drove a big group in the pink midwives' Jeep to Bassin Zim, a fabulous triple-basin waterfall that comes down out of a cave. As we drove the 45-minutes over rutted back-country Haitian roads, bright green vegetation contrasted with dusty brown eroded hills, banks, and dry grass. It's oh, so dry, but some things always survive, and I'm learning how Haitians value that life that keeps on coming. In a nameless little hamlet on the way, a tiny, tiny puppy wobbled across the road just as the Jeep's huge tires churned around the bend. From the passenger seat (the only one who had on a seat belt) I gasped, and Ronel made a masterful swerve around the “ti-chen”, and he scrambled his way into the dusty grass on the shoulder. Nobody wants to see death that isn't necessary. Whack and eat the rooster: fine. Flatten the puppy: not so much.

Things in Haiti are actually getting better, as slowly as the hills are being climbed. Over my 3 years and 6 visits, I see progress and improvements in Hinche-- painfully slow but steady progress. Each visit, I see more paved roads, electric lines, and small businesses. There is a brand-new huge cultural and civic building ready to open, and now, (thanks to Va Tech, Midwives for Haiti, and Engineers without Borders!) running water at the hospital. More cell phones and motorcycles. Haiti is relentlessly grinding in a positive direction.

The final hill before the Bassin Zim waterfall is a HUGE hill, both up and then down, to the basin. As the Jeep made that climb, people were walking up over the crest, carrying jugs of water from the basin. There was one woman with a jug in each hand, and one on her head, almost at the top. That is the Haiti that can bring you to tears. That's it. They carry their water, and they keep on climbing, moving forward against obstacles that would collapse many other people on the roadside.

A lot of folks have helped Haiti, including Midwives for Haiti, especially in this town of Hinche...but I really credit, most of all, that resilient spirit that hoards and values everything. Haitians are exquisitely polite, and they tread carefully. Life is precious; survival is quite a struggle. We preserve everything we can here; opportunity, education, water, food, and really, life. Even the tiniest ti-chen.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sunday Dinner at Manno's

On my first weekend here, Manno, the manager of the Midwives for Haiti house, “Lakay Nou”, invited all of us to lunch at his house. He was emphatic that he wanted a big crowd,“everyone should come.” Manno is one of MFH's oldest friends, translators, and employees. Nadene and Steve, founding Board members, are here for 2 months, and tell us that Manno's wife is a great cook, so dinner is not to be missed. So all the staff and visiting volunteers-- about 12 of us- piled into the Jeep and drove the mile up the dirt road to his house. We live on the same street, now-- it's great to be neighbors!

Manno has followed the Haitian tradition of building his house in phases; as he earns money, he builds some more. He started, like most Haitians, with a land purchase, then a tiny house made of wood, roofed with banana leaves if necessary, or tin if one can afford it. Then, cinder blocks are home-made, then stacked and mortared into solid walls. Eventually, it gets a finish, and paint, maybe even glass in the windows, but that takes a while. For most of the time, the breeze comes in the windows, keeping things cooler, and light polyester curtains block the bugs a little bit. That's it.

The Bastia's house is truly lovely. There is so much love and pride evident. The first thing I saw was the car port space underneath, housing and protecting his motorcycle. We gathered in the living room, and were all seated comfortably on plastic lawn chairs. The d├ęcor included strings of colorful synthetic flowers, and on one shelf, a row of cute little stuffed animals. Manno and Nathalie have 2 kids, Woodbrian, his 3-year old, was naked and wet from a recent bath when we arrived. He was whisked away by an older cousin who helps at their home, and reappeared all spiffed up in a totally cute and put-together outfit. Nathalie was holding Emmanuella, his 6-month old daughter, who started crying immediately-- I'm not sure, but I suspect a dozen “blancs” coming in the front door was a little unusual and disturbing for her!

Lunch was served buffet-style, and included chicken (many birds died for this party), beet salad, pasta salad, fried plaintains, and my favorite: “Picklese”, a spicy cabbage salad. We had Cokes and champagne to drink. With our gracious hosts, there was plenty for all, and leftovers. It was a really great meal! The dog hung around attentively, as food scraps are the only dog food in Haiti, and we tossed her all our chicken bones as we ate. Apparently, all Haitian dogs can survive eating chicken bones, in fact, they may live on them. Chicken bones are only harmful to American dogs. She ate them before they hit the floor. I think it was a happy day for her, as it was for all of us. The hard work starts on Monday, generally; Sunday is just great, especially when Nathalie does the cooking.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Movie Night

Movie Night:

The village of Naran, also called Klory, was once accessible only by footpath or by a very brave, sturdy motor vehicle. After a few years, funded a LOT by Midwives for Haiti volunteers and their friends, there is a decent road, a school with 250 kids, a lunch program for the school, and a monthly visit from the MFH Jeep for prenatal care. But on Saturday, we brought the movies to Naran.

There was a big music/video “hit” recorded by American Mark Coughlin last year: “Kolera, Kolera”....guess what it was about?? Yep...cholera, and hand washing to prevent it. It was played on radio and sung all over Haiti, especially with kids, to teach cholera prevention. And (along with a lot of great medical relief work,) it worked: there are few cases of cholera right now in Haiti. But now, Mark is something of a celebrity here-- and still doing his non-profit work, traveling all over Haiti and singing songs about health education. Along with great videos to make it entertaining, the videos have Haitian actors doing skits, dancing and singing with the band, etc. It's fabulous!!

Mark hooked up with MFH and Nadene earlier in the week, and offered to bring his show to one of “our villages”! The advertisement that it was coming to Klory was done by word of mouth and a guy with a megaphone. Mark, with all his gear and 2 Haitian staff, and all our midwife-folk loaded in the pink Jeep and drove up dusty road and the steeeep hill around dusk on Saturday. I wondered if folks really would come in from their little houses in the hills for this. Mark said many have never seen any film or video before, and yes, they would definitely show. Well, show up they did: we rounded the hill to the school and about 200 people were all gathered on benches in the front yard of the school. Maybe 250 with all the little kids. Jeep headlights projected onto the porch made the stage, with portable speakers, screen, and laptop projector. Then there was a SHOW! Live singing, movies, and lots of Kreyol talking. Under bright moonlight, near the flagpole and the soccer field, we watched “Kolera”, “Clean Hands-Dirty Hands”, “Take Care of Your Teeth” ( with wonderful graphics on flossing, which I took to heart), and “Malnutrition”. There were a few little fires cooking off to the side, where a couple ladies sold food, maybe hotdogs, but I didn't go there. It was a blast.

Eventually we rode home packed into the Jeep, to a very late dinner. And before we ate, I guarantee: we washed our hands.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Beauty and Joy: Mule Trip Ends, Santa Arrives

Sunday Feb 4, 2012
Lakay Nou, Hinche, Haiti

Beauty and Joy:
I write so much of the dust and the difficulties of Haiti that I feel truly obligated to express some of the joys of traveling and working here. My current “hardships” are so small, especially in context of the whole of Haiti, as to be comical: I forgot my mouse, and have only the little mousepad on my laptop, which I don't like as well. I forgot my toothbrush. At Heartline, they gave me a new"Snoopy" childrens' toothbrush, so I can still brush my teeth just fine. The Hinche house, is short on pillows for all the volunteers staying here this week, so I 've stuffed a bunch of scrubs in my pillowcase to make one. Oh, the agony and suffering.

The joys and beauty: Mornings lately are clear, sunny, and a little cool. I enjoy strong Haitian coffee and freshly ground peanut butter amid palm trees' shade and brilliant red and orange blossoms. The mangos trees are heavy with fruit. Saturday breakfast was fresh mango, pineapple, and melon. Our 20-minute flight in a twelve-seater plane landed on the airstrip in the middle of Hinche. As we came in over the town, I could see the new Midwives for Haiti headquarters house beneath us, all 7-bedrooms-4 bathrooms- and 5 porches- worth. It is fabulous: cool and shady, secure in a lovely compound that has (so far) 3 pet chickens. There is space to secure all our medical equipment, housing for staff, volunteers, and our bright pink Jeep.

The Mule journey ends, Santa arrives:
Packing for Haiti is such a headache-- so much stuff, so little room. American Airlines allows only 3 expensive bags, 50 pounds each. So the final departing-pack requires painful prioritizing. Do I stuff sterile gloves in that pocket, or prenatal vitamins, or a new dress for my god-daughter? Packages were mailed to me from all over the US, friends sending special-request items to deliver to friends in Haiti. One bag full of books, equipment, and scrubs for the students, and more stuff for the house that Nadene had asked for: 3-M hooks, washcloths, wall clocks, can openers, full size sheets, staplers, an easel to hold our posters. The easel was tough to pack.

But arrival in Haiti begins the UNpacking, and that is FUN. The “mule” has arrived, and I feel like Santa Claus, unloading and delivering things people have requested, or special gifts they did not expect. My midwife -photographer friend Cheryl was here in the fall, and took tons of beautiful photographs. Now I have a large package of her prints, carefully categorized, to give out to the people whom she photographed. Many folks here have few or no physical photographs of themselves and their families. It's great to see this new classroom in the Lakay Nou house: Since this program began with a few posters and volunteer midwives teaching under some trees, 5 years ago, it is exhilarating to see our class room in this lovely house, with all the school supplies and teaching aids that a good midwifery school in the US would have.(PS: and all this stuff was purchased by MFH donors and friends. Thanks. A lot.)

Oh, today it's tiding of comfort and joy,folks. It's great to be back in Haiti, and good things-- really good things-- are happening. Stay tuned! I've got to tell about Movie Night in Naran, soon!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Do-Gooders Unite.

- Oh,that burnt plastic smell.
Port au Prince has no civic trash management, so our flight was greeted with a typical light haze that smells “scorched”. (That's how the garbage gets processed....goats eat it, or it gets burnt.) It's mild, in the 80's, sunny, humid, breezy. The airport gets more organized and civil every time I come, but there was still the usual wrangling with the baggage handlers. They want that dollar-a-bag so bad, they just won't let go of the cart, no matter how much I try to wave them off. Oh, well. It's a few bucks that they need. We loaded our 6 bulging bags into the Heartline Jeep and got onto the dusty, tore-up streets of Port au Prince.

My main work is with Midwives for Haiti in Hinche, 2-3 hours drive outside Port au Prince. We fly in and out of PaP, however, and visit friends and colleagues here. It's worth getting up early to fly in on a Friday and visit with Beth McHoul, an American midwife who helps run several Port au Prince women's programs with Heartline Ministries. We went straight from the airport to her maternity center. Jessica and I have lots of questions about the little rural maternity center that we are helping organize, and we knew Beth would have lots of helpful info about “how they do it here.” Beth serves Port au Princes' women and oversees this work with balance and grace, and the resilience that it takes to live more than 20 years in Haiti. We entered the house, and soon were dealing with her giant mastiff dog bleeding all over the tile floor-- he'd had a growth on his leg that came open and boy, he was dripping. So, while volunteer midwife Melissa, tried to get some gauze on it with out him biting her- he's old and cranky- Beth chatted with us about Heartline's work with women in Port au Prince.

There are Do-Gooders in this world, we know: many varieties of them. I even aspire to be among them. There are the secular non-profits, the faith-based charities, the mega-NGO's, and then there are government aid programs galore, national, international, and tiny ones. UNICEF. World Vision. Then, there's a class beyond....there are saints and saintly works. I felt I was witness to that arena today.

Heartline Ministries programs are small,but they are comprehensive. Pregnant mothers in the prenatal program come to this maternity center for weekly visits. Blood pressure and weight are checked, and they are given a high-protein meal, vitamins, classes on health and parenting-- with love, and prayer. When the baby comes, they labor and birth supported by volunteer American midwives, nurses, and doctors. It's just a nice, medium-sized house by US standards, but it has oxygen, an ultrasound machine, necessary medicines, and an ambulance to transport problem cases to the hospital.. It is nearly always the nicest place any of these women have ever stayed, and I believe it offers, for free, the best maternity care in this city, with respect and kindness. To see video of the program-click here

After birth, there's a little room where mothers can stay as long as they need to: 12 hours to a few days. If a baby is born sick, the moms stay here until the baby is well. They eat, they shower. They get new, clean underwear. They get the most intensive breastfeeding support known to (wo)man....because breast milk is the most powerful way to keep a baby alive and healthy in Haiti. (Or anywhere. But especially Haiti.) These mothers go home to very, very tough situations- some to tents, some to tiny cinder block “apartments” full of needy people and not much else. But the Maternity program goes on for 6 months, postpartum, offering weekly parenting classes, breastfeeding help, nutritious lunch, and love. Love and prayer.

Heartline does a lot of other things, and I don't want to bore. There's a teen mothers house, where girls can live up to 2 years if they have no other safe place to go. They teach bead and jewelry-making, crafts and sewing, literacy, and business skills. The girls get Family planning services. And love. So I just had to say I spent the day with Mother Ter... I mean Beth McHoul. We got info about how to get oxygen in Port au Prince, and had a very productive discussion about medical waste and placentas. But mostly, we got the hope and encouragement that great things can be done, if you're dedicated to doing it right. We're at the Heartline Guesthouse tonight, where $50 US buys a nice clean bunk with a mosquito net and a fan, a lovely simple dinner (pizza and salad), with WiFi and breezy balconies.

Tomorrow we go up to Hinche by small airplane, and begin to catch up with “our People” at the new “Lakay Nou”, headquarters house. I can't wait to meet the new students, see my Haitian friends, and the MFH colleagues who are already in-country.
Burnt plastic smell or not, it's lovely to be back in Haiti, and tonight, it feels like we can aspire to Doing More Good, if we do it with love.

Now It Gets Interesting!

I woke up before my alarm, which was set at 3:40 am to get the 6 am flight to Miami & on to Port au Prince. There is something disconcerting about leaving for Haiti, enough to keep one from drifting back to sleep, once a bit of awareness has come. There is the natural travel logistics ahead, navigating airports, security, luggage...there is also the Haiti component, though...Only at times like this do I wonder if I took my malaria medicine, or if I really have enough ones and fives to get through 9 days, and where is my Midwives for Haiti nametag?? I know I put it somewhere.

My friend nurse-midwife Jessica Jordan and I leave soon. She has made 4 trips to Haiti, and I've made 5. We are similar aged, baby boomers. We'll work together all week, and really hope to help get the new little maternity center in Trianon organized. We'll be staying part of the time in Hinche, the big town where we have lots of friends, and where the Midwives for Haiti house and compound is. But midweek, we'll stay at Fr. Jean's house in Trianon and meet with him, community leaders, and Merlinda, the M4H-trained midwife who will staff the facility. We especially need to figure out how women who need acute care and hospitalization will be transferred in from this rural outpost. Wish us Luck on that. I think it will involve a stash of money for gas and a guy who has a truck....maybe the priest himself.

I don't really need to ask for luck to be wished. This trip has been particularly, spectacularly, supported, donated to, prayed over. I carry so many friends with me, here in my heart. Messi Anpil, many many thanks-- and here we go. The preparationis tedious, but that's done. Now, it gets interesting!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight

"Rising Again": Trip 6 to Haiti!

An amazing woman and her family that I know had a baby, in this year...just a week after their house burned completely with all their possessions and their beloved dog. The night the baby came, it was all so fast that his daddy caught him as he was born in the bathroom of their neighbor's borrowed house! Yet this extraordinary family had the grace and faith to focus completely on their blessings, to look forward to the freedom they had, now that the anchor of all that stuff was gone....and they named their beautiful, healthy baby "Phoenix"... after the legendary bird that rises from fire and ashes. (

Haiti has had it's own fire and ashes this year, as have I. A functional regime must be in place to implement the aid money left from the earthquake of 2010. They had one election, in 2010, inconclusive/unacceptable results, riots, and a "do-over' election. On my last trip to Haiti in March 2011, the second elections were looming, Former Haitian leaders Duvalier and Aristede had both returned from exiles abroad, making the political situation iffy and volatile. The government was essentially paralyzed, waiting for a president...including the Ministry of Health, with whom Midwives for Haiti works closely to run our program. The week felt like the dream where you want to run but are stuck, immobile. Leaving Haiti, instead of flying out of Port-au-Prince, the normal route, I departed over the Dominican border out of extreme caution-- acting on a solemn Vow of Safety that I long ago negotiated with my husband when I began these Haitian journeys. I felt so sad for Haiti, so exhausted by the same problems and paralysis, and for much of this year, wondered how much good I was able to do in this world. We make our plans and act on our projects, build our houses and life rolls on-- but sometimes, the house burns down when you're away at church. The baby comes in the night before you can even get to the hospital. Trouble walks in the door in the night. I am so aware of how small and imperfect our human efforts are, especially mine. We make mistakes, take a hit, Life happens. Yet in the cycle of loss/ recovery, God grants new life, new wisdom, and new gifts. We need to get up again, and again, and again, and then. good things happen, too. Believe in the Phoenix, and accept the gift of fire, that will burn down old things, and make way for renewal. This is about Haiti, and me, and maybe you. So let's get up and go forward. I'm going back to Haiti, and invite you to come along.

The BackGround
Some folks know exactly what these trips are about-- but for new friends, here is the quick background: In 2009 and five trips ago, I began traveling to Haiti as a volunteer with the non-profit "Midwives for Haiti". I was stunned that a 2-hour flight from Miami landed me in a country where more mothers die of pregnancy-related causes than anywhere else in the Western hemisphere. I saw food cooked over charcoal fires, water carried from the pump or the river to homes, and at night, a candle was the light one used to read...if one had a book and a chance to go to school. Most importantly, Haiti is a land where 70% of the births are not attended by any trained person, and mothers die often, before, during, and after birth. Haiti has a lot of orphanages. Midwives for Haiti was founded by Americans, mainly Nurse-midwives and doctors-- to address this crucial survival-of-mothers problem. We do it by training and supporting Haitian midwives through donations of time, money, and medical supplies. We have a 10-month, full-time training program headquartered in a compound in the small city of Hinche, in the Central Plateau, where we train about 16 students a year to work in clinics, hospitals, and maternity programs all around Haiti. We also employ some of them to travel around the mountains in our bright pink Jeep, making monthly stops in 16 villages where they give prenatal care to women who can't get to any clinic. Sometimes, they deliver babies right there, with adequate supplies. To date we have trained 42 graduates. They are all employed, another benefit of the work that contributes to success of Haitian families.

When I go, I will help organize a new birth center, staffed by one of our graduate Haitian midwives, in a village called Trianon. I'll also be working on teaching the use of Depo-provera, an injectable family planning method, in a few villages that desire this service. But mostly, I'll be helping Nadene Brunk, the founder of this non-profit, who has just quit her full-time job in the US to give more time to this wonderful Haitian program that she "midwifed" into being over the past 7 years. We have a new class of 17 highly-qualified students, and will be working on helping the teachers, organizing the new birth center in Trianon, and many, many administrative tasks that move our work forward. I am so happy to go back to Haiti...I have many friends there, now, and a god-daughter, Woodmica, who is almost 2. She needs some cute dresses, I think.

Many people ask how they can help or support me in this effort: It's simple:
*Think of me, pray for me, and as we Quakers say, "Hold me in the Light"-- I believe this is of great importance. Without spiritual and emotional encouragement, this work is just too hard...with it, you are part of my team and we are strong.
*Follow this blog--if it interests you. Comment, share, forward to others, so they know about this amazing non-profit, Midwives for Haiti, and can support it, too. Posts will really begin around Feb 1; I leave Feb. 3 and try to post almost daily.
*Donate-- I need about $700 for the next trip. Details below in the "PS" below.
Or see the PS for a very strange and itemized list of specific things I can take with me-- things of high value and low weight that make a suitcase worth carrying all the way to Haiti.

A few years ago, at our Loudoun Community Midwives Holiday party, Margie and I gave ourselves and every staff member a small silver bracelet that said "Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight". We had taken quite a few hits over the previous years- deaths of close family members, cancer, an airplane crash, a son in the Iraq war, and other kinds of stress and loss. So, perseverance and coming back after a "fire", are nothing new to "us midwives". The Phoenix is a profound allegory, and I am happy to call this trip back to continue the work in Haiti: "Rising Again". Thank you for caring about and helping me do this work....I couldn't do it without you.

PS: Possibly Boring but Useful Details About Donations.

My practice, Loudoun Community Midwives, pays my airfare, and the rest is up to me...and my friends. Checks written to" Midwives for Haiti" with my name in the memo line, are tax-deductible. (C/o Loudoun Community Midwives, 19465 Deerfield Ave. Suite 205, Lansdowne, VA 20176)

Even small amounts help so much!
Smaller cash donations ($10, 20, etc.) written to me go to buy family-size water systems in rural villages that have no well. One system costs $10. Or I buy medicine with it, like misoprostol, which stops a hemorrhage for about $2.50, or antibiotics, or condoms.
Items that can be donated:
Iron tablets
New (or like-new)White blouses for the midwife students- XS, S, and Med.size.(plain, short-sleeve)
Hotel-size soap & shampoo
Pregnancy Tests
Receiving blankets
60-watt light bulbs
Solid Navy blue skirts or slacks for the kids at Maisson Fortune Orphange & School-all sizes - esp. teens(they have 200+ kids to clothe!)