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!