the haiti you don't see on the news

When we got back to Port-au-Prince after our three-week stay in Limbe, Jean Claude freaked out about the short amount of time we had remaining in Haiti. So after we spent two days teaching kids to decorate calebasse, Jean-Claude sponsered a couple days of fun and relaxation.

One afternoon, he drove us out of Petionville and up the mountain to Furcy, where he spent summers when he was a kid. It was COLD up there on the mountain! (Or that's how it seemed to me in my flip flops and short sleeves. I decided that it was good conditioning for Illinois winter...) It was totally worth it because it was also peaceful and beautiful. I understand why Jean-Claude has such fond memories of this place.
The next day, Jean-Claude really wanted to take us to the beach. However, he had to work because the weekend before Christmas is the busiest time in his store. He was still set on us going to the beach so--Voila!--he enlisted his cousin to take us instead!

The beach was wonderful--It rivaled the one in Danang, Vietnam. But as I was laying on my beach chair, I realized that there was something weird about the beach. It took me a few minutes to figure out what it was, but then I realized it--the hotel was playing Christmas music! It was a completely foreign concept to me to lay on the beach and listen to Christmas music. But once I got used to this clash of worlds, I decided it was something I could get used to pretty easily....

When we got back from the beach, Jean-Claude seemed a bit more satisfied. He said, "Calah, I just wanted to make sure you knew that there's more to Haiti than cholera and Port-au-Prince traffic jams."

I told him that I had, throughout my trip, been pleasantly surprised by Haiti's natural beauty. On the news, we hear about Haiti's deforestation, poverty, and political turmoil, things that certainly do exist in Haiti. But I think the problem is that, when we focus so much on those things, we start to feel that Haiti is a hopeless case. But really, there are things in Haiti that can give us hope if we can get past the pictures on the news and notice them.

As I have mentioned before, Haiti really is a beautiful country. There is widespread deforestation and there are congested, dirty cities. But Haiti's natural beauty does shine through.

This is the view from the top of a mountain I hiked a couple times during my stay in Limbe. This Cape is the first place Columbus landed in Haiti, and his crew members were fighting over who would get to stay on the island!

Over the past twenty years, Haiti has become notorious for political turmoil. I got to witness this a bit with the election that took place during my stay. But in my politically-illiterate opinion, the protests that took place this December display more than sheer reactionism. Rather, it is clear that the Haitian people are sick of being manipulated by big governments (both their own and foreign) and that they are ready to take a big risk in hope of seeing a big change.

And not least, the Haitians I met during my visit gave me incredible hope for the country. The doctors and nurses working with cholera in Limbe; and Madame Hudicourt, who has spent her life overcoming obstacles to bring her people medical care--these people inspired me. Furthermore, all the members of our host family were unbelieveably gracious, welcoming, and upbeat even after the hell of a year that they have lived through.

After our trip to Furcy, I was talking in awe about Haiti's beauty, and Annouck (Jean-Claude's wife) said, "No matter what they say, I still think there is still hope for Haiti." I can't help but agree.


another unexpected task

I have always suspected it, but now I am sure of it: God has an undeniable sense of humor. Furthermore, he has been up there laughing at me for my entire visit to Haiti.

This is the only explanation I can think of for the fact that, on this trip, I have been forced to sample the two professions that have always been of the least interest to me. One of these, as you know, is nursing, which I spent three weeks doing in Limbe. To my surprise, I came out of the situation unscathed and (much as I hate to admit it) probably better for having had the experience.

So as if being a nurse wasn't enough, for good measure, it seems, I have had the opportunity to try out my other black-listed profession: Teaching. Not just any teaching, mind you--but teaching kindergarten children!
Today, Mom was scheduled to teach calebasse art to young children at the school at which her friend, Caroline, is administrator. As I mentioned before, I had anticipated my role in this endeavor to be minimal, or at least behind-the-scenes. I stayed up late last night helping her prepare, then planned to accompany her to document the lesson. These contributions seemed quite sufficient to me, but I guess someone else thought differently.
Last night I helped Mom put together these kits for making calebasse ornaments.

This morning Mom woke up with a raging migrane headache that made all light as if blinding to her eyes...

..So it fell to me to show 27 kindergarten students how to make figurine ornaments out of calebasse shards, wire, and beads. And, hey, I survived! Unlike the kids at the cholera treatment center, these did not burst into tears at the sight of me simply because I'm a blanc.

I won't say that I particularly enjoyed or hated the experience itself. I am definitely not a naturally-gifted, charasmatic teacher. But I had lots of help and it was nice to see the kids enjoying themselves and doing something different.
From what Caroline says, she and the teachers are going out of their way to make Christmas festive this season because, just like everyone else in Haiti, the kids have had a hard year.
While the kids at this school are not especially destitute, some of them did have to live in tents after the earthquake. Others' families were divided up to live with various members of their extended family after the earthquake rendered their homes uninhabitable.

So, I guess it just goes to show that if we are open, we can contribute a little joy to the world--sometimes in ways we never would have imagined.



After an uneventful flight from Cap Hatien, Mom and I are back in Port-au-Prince. We are readjusting to the fact that water comes out of the tap every time we turn it on and are enjoying sampling the various ice cream flavors that Jean-Claude brings home for us.

Over the last few days, we have noticed a significant weather change--we are a little chilly sometimes. To us, it feels good, but some Haitans complain of it being cold. However, when I find myself reaching for a long-sleeved shirt, I can't help but think of the shock that is coming for me in a week! If Haiti's 72-degree lows make me wish I had a sweatshirt, Illinois' 24-degree highs will surely send me into hibernation?!

Even more shocking than the weather change might be diving head-first into the height of the American holiday season! I was shocked yesterday when I realized that Christmas is so close. Here, there is a dusting of holiday anticipation, but I know that it is nothing to the blizzard (both literal and figurative) that I know from experience will hit me when I arrive home.

But while the blessings and stresses of the transition home are still a few days ahead of me, Mom and I have another transistion right here--from cholera in Limbe to calebasse in Petionville. Due to the unexpected 3-week stay in Limbe, the calebasse project will have to be condensed. Mom plans to spend two days teaching calebasse art to students in a primary school. I plan to take lots of pictures and tell you about it. :)


leaving limbe

Yesterday was our last day at the cholera clinic. We went up there and found that everything was completely under control and they didn't really need us at all. A perfect thing to find on our last day. Those baby steps added up; the change we saw in the past three weeks is unbelievable.

So instead of working, we handed out cookies to the clinic staff and, per Mom's idea, interviewed each one. Mom told the staff that watching them sacrifice to help their people has given us hope. She asked them to relay something they have experienced while working at the cholera clinic that has made them happy or given them hope. Eddy, who works in medical archives at the clinic in normal times but is now working more than full time at the cholera treatment center, said that he is proud of the clinic for admitting the first and subsequent patients, when other clinics were rejecting them out of fear.

Shirley gives us the "cholowa" fist pound. (This has become popular since the outbreak because people are more cautious about shaking hands.)

Shirley, a nurse, is also a student at the university and used to work at the university infirmary. Her boss there told her that she would lose her job at the university if she started working at the cholera treatment center, but she chose the CTC because she knew that her community needed help.

Many other people spoke of their families being afraid for them to work at the CTC. Elio, one of our translators, often had to go to the gate or answer his phone while he was working because his sister was worried about his safety.

Elio and his sister wash coconuts with clorox water before they cut them open for us to drink.
This just goes to show how great the fear of cholera is in this country--and rightly so, given the number of people who are sick and dying. And the number of people who don't understand how treatable and preventable the disease is. And the number of people who don't have the resources to protect themselves even if they know how.

In some areas of the country, cholera patients have been hacked to death because their neighbors feared that they would bring the disease into the community. In other communities, people have killed witch doctors, accusing them of cursing their village with cholera. Some people we talked to said they would rather have HIV than cholera!

Fear is such a powerful thing. Acknowledging the fear of cholera that overwhelms this country makes me respect the staff even more. It takes courage to treat cholera.

In our interviews, the staff also bestowed upon us heaps of gratitude and blessings for our being here. This experience proved something Mom has said over and over again--when you serve like this, you always feel like you receive far more than you give. This is definitely how I feel. I never expected my first encounter with death to be so encouraging; I never expected treating cholera to be so much fun.

I am going to miss these people who welcomed me here--even though I am not a nurse.


sabbath at the beach

Today Mom and I had our first real day off since we've been here, and it was wonderful. The Jameses took us and some other volunteers to the beach!

After an hour and a half of jolting (have I mentioned how crazy the roads are here? Everyone has 4x4s--because they actually need them!) up and down the mountain and through Cap Haitian, we had a lovely time.
I left my swim suit in Port, never thinking I would go to the beach while treating cholera in Limbe! But it was "no pwoblem."

I ran along the beach for a while before jumping in and looking at the fish and spikey monsters on the bottom (they are like sea porcupines--not nice to step on, from what I hear). The beach was quiet and peaceful--great for reading a book.

Afterwards we had a fabulous lunch that included ice cream (!) and pina coladas. :) Not too bad...

My only regret was when I discovered this giant backgammon board and wished my dad was there to play it with me.

Then it was the jolting (but did I mention beautiful?) ride home.

Oh, by the way, I officially pronounced the "C" word (cholera) off limits for the day. It was a nice change. :)


political unrest

Before we left Port-au-Prince, I wrote a post about excitement and tension surrounding the then upcoming elections. I mentioned that the main feeling surrounding Haitian elections is usually uncertainty, combined with a realistic acknowledgement of the violent history of Haitian politics.

Well, the elections came and went with relatively little mass violence, but with plenty of ill-concealed fraudulence. There were wide-spread reports of stuffed ballot boxes and armed thugs "monitoring" people's votes. However, even given these reports and an outcry by most of the main candidates for a re-vote, some political leaders were calling the election fair. However, the results were not to be announced until a set period of time later (in accordance with the constitution).

The results were announced late Tuesday night--and no one was very happy about them. Including some of my fellow volunteers, who were supposed to fly home on Wednesday, but could not get to the airport because of the roadblocks on the way to Cap Haitian. It turns out that they wouldn't have made it even if they had gotten to Cap Haitian, because all flights into and out of the country were cancelled for two days. Today, however, the way was clear--at least for long enough that four volunteers made it to the airport and safely home.

Other than this, we have mostly just heard rumors about the demostrations--both peaceful and otherwise--that have been rampant in other areas of the country. In one community, a couple people were killed and a few others injured, and all the government buildings were burnt to the ground.

Our friends in Petionville said that, on the night the results were announced, they heard gunshots, sirens, and burning tires all night long. On the brighter side, we also heard that one of the main candidates held a peaceful demonstration that included hundreds of people marching down the streets of Port-au-Prince.

According to our original plans, Mom and I would have been in Petionville/Port-au-Prince right now, so we are happy to have missed the commotion. We plan to return to Port on Tuesday; we hope that things have settled down by then!


a first time for everything...

There's a first time for everything, and last night was my first time witnessing a baby enter the world...via the cholera ward.

I won't pretend it was a pretty sight, but it was interesting nonetheless. More than that, it was wonderful to experience new life amid all the suffering and death of cholera. Like I've mentioned before, after being immersed in treating cholera, you need reminders that there is life outside of it. What better reminder than a brand new life.

Moreover, we fully expected the baby to come out dead, so its cry was a particularly pleasant surprise! Most women who get cholera in their third trimester, as this woman did, give birth to stillborn babies. I saw the baby again this evening, and it looks good, at least to my very untrained eye.

According to Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything. It seems to me that the time was right for me to see my first birth. I think that seeing it amid the suffering of cholera was just what I needed to really appreciate the miracle (and cringe less at the gore) of new life.


a light at the end of the tunnel

It's been over a month since the first case of cholera appeared at Ebenezer Clinic. I have only been here for two weeks, so I only have a taste of what this time has been like for the regular staff--the ones who don't have the luxury of leaving.

Thankfully, we have been able to relieve their stress a little. On Sunday, Dr. Steve went with his family to the beach for the day. He told us that Saturday night was his first full night of sleep in a month and that Sunday was the first day he didn't go to the since cholera started.

Dr. Manno sporatically appears at the cholera clinic at all hours of the day and night, while also keeping regular hours at Ebenezer and hosting temporary staff in his home.

Some of the nurses we work with at night have been doing 12+ hour nights for weeks without time off.

The two doctors that Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF-Doctors without Borders) hired two weeks ago just got their first weekend off--they have been alternating 12-hour shifts.

Two of the regular staff at the clinic who were assigned to the cholera clinic full time have been putting in 70- and 80-hour weeks with no extra compensation.

These people really need a break.

MSF, a huge organization that responds to international medical crises, just started assisting Ebenezer in organizing it's cholera treatment center. We have seen leaps and bounds of improvements over the last few days. MSF's real goal is to set up a large-scale cholera treatment center in Limbe where small treatment units like Ebenezer can refer patients. If this goes as planned, Ebenezer will be able to close up its cholera treatment center altogether and transition back to normal.

Well, Even MSF, huge as it is, has reached its limits. Apparently, Haitian cholera is the biggest medical crisis it has responded to in its history! But we can only hope that steps are being made in the direction of a large CTC in Limbe--it's the light at the end of the tunnel to which the Ebenezer staff are looking for hope.


speechless: a photo gallery

During my first week of working at the cholera clinic, I struggled to write about the experience, so I put together a photo gallery instead. Follow this link to view my pictures and captions!


fun at the cholera clinic

Last night, Mom and I were on the night shift. Things were pretty hectic from 4 to 6:30. But after supper, things were pretty calm and we both decided that 8-12 is definitely our favorite shift!

One really encouraging thing was that we had a number of patients make a point to thank us for our help and ask God to bless us for it. But they said something else that bothered us: that no one died last night because we (the foreigners) were there. This statement reflects a big problem (and one that makes us uncomfortable) in Haiti; the people think that foreigners are better than their own providers. In this way, foreigners who come in trying to "help" often unwittingly intimidate and disempower the Haitian people. I, personally, don't want any part in this cycle, and I wholeheartedly admire the Haitian staff for their sacrifice.

Yesterday morning, Dr. Steve encouraged us to make our best efforts to form community with the Haitian staff. Up until now, there has not been a lot of communication between the foreign volunteers and the Haitian staff, largely because of the language barrier. We have been able to relieve their pressure, but mostly each group has done its own thing, working more around each other than with each other.

So after supper, Mom and I took Steve's advice to heart and used our wits and resources to try to build up friendships with the staff--bribery with leftover cookies! Well, people are people everywhere, and who doesn't like a cookie? But the cookies were really just a convenient excuse to introduce ourselves and talk with them. Throughout the rest of the evening, we were able to relieve some of the burden on the Haitian nurses and doctors who have been working around the clock for the last few weeks. But since things were pretty calm, we also got to talk and laugh with them so much! It was the most fun I've had in a while.

The staff especially love my mom. It helps that she knows a decent amount of Kreyol (although you would never know it if you hear her berate her own skills) and also that she has a sense of humor in which she is not afraid to risk making a fool of herself. The staff and patients love her for it! We actually stayed until 1am instead of midnight because we were so busy talking and laughing.

Mom and I also had the chance to talk to Dr. Manno for a good long time--quite an accomplishment because he is extremely busy right now. Manno is the medical director of Ebenezer clinic, so managing the cholera clinic is a whole second job on top of that. At first I was kind of scared of him, but now I appreciate him more and more with every encounter we have. He is hilarious, too, something that always helps. :)

I came away from last night feeling--once again--encouraged, filled with joy, ever-more impressed with the Ebenezer Clinic and staff, and actually looking forward to work tonight!


cholera article

A few days ago some reporters from the Associated Press came to the cholera clinic with big cameras and notepads. Here's what they came up with: Cholera rages in rural Haiti, overwhelming clinics
So if you want a perspective other than mine, read away!


anpil blan

Things at the clinic slowed down a bit over the weekend and the beginning of this week. We weren't sure if this meant that there were actually less sick people, or if people were more cautious to go out because of the elections.

We continue to get into a more organized system. Now, a bunch of new foreign volunteers came in, so our numbers are up from 4 to 12 (foreigners, in addition to the Haitian staff)! Mom and I were wondering if this was our cue to leave. Yesterday there were anpil blan (a lot of white people) at the clinic! I came home to take a break and do some writing because I didn't feel needed.

I knew that the extra help and slowing stream of patients was a good thing, but I was a little sad about leaving here. I have enjoyed staying busy and feeling useful. But now it sounds like we will be here a while, anyways, because...

Mom and I spent the morning making a volunteer staff schedule! Now that we have more people, we have the luxury of a shift schedule. We will split our time and even start doing some nights. So I haven't actually worked at the clinic this morning, but somehow I still feel exhausted--coordinating is tiring too, I guess!

So now I'm off for a nap before I go to work.