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.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with all of us. It has helped me feel so connected to a situation that is so far from my current world. Each year my family picks an organization to donate money to instead of exchanging gifts. My parents, brothers and sister-in-laws all agree that this year it should be helping with the Haiti cholera epidemic. Safe travels. MB