Monday, February 21, 2011

The glorious mountains!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ahh…Haitian countryside.  Nothing is as refreshing as the crips air you breathe in going up the Haitian hillside.  There are beautiful rolling hills as far as the eye can see, challenging roads to be traversed and random livestock to be encountered.  It truly is a place without comparison.
 Leaving Port Au Prince

Mountain village trips are such a contrast to the Port Au Prince area.  The city is busy, dusty and appears rundown.  Once you leave the city, the colors of the mountains jump out at you.  Exotic pink and yellow flowers litter the luscious green hillside and the city life hustle and bustle is replaced with a sense of serenity…I could go on and on with the sappy adjectives. 

My camera never seems to capture just how green everything is.


This trip was extra contradicting as we drove through the richest area of Haiti on our way to the village.  We saw houses that looked like they belonged on a wealthy southern plantation, rather than the poorest country in the western hemisphere.   We would occasionally steal a glance beyond the elaborate steel gates and would see acres of manicured lawns, perfected landscapes, a 3 story house and at least 2 or 3 satellite dishes.  Once at the village, I remember studying the shacks a few feet away from me, when the elaborate houses on the hillside caught my attentions.  What a clash.  How can such extreme poverty and wealth coincide in such a small area?

Typical house in the village

I turned 90 degrees from the last photo and took this one: it's hard to tell, but there are huge mansions back there

With what seem like the standard in Haitian Mountain villages, our clinic took place in the local church.  HERnow had actually been here about two weeks ago and the population was relatively healthy.  We did continue with deworming treatment, as we could see it was needed.  I also saw a gorgeous 1 year old that had been wheezing for 6 months.  The only thing I could do was suggest that her parents try to get her to the hospital in Port Au Prince.  Again, such a simple treatment that is unavailable.  How is it fair?
 The "clinic"

Love the kids!

There was this twelve year old girl who tugs at my heartstrings every time I think of her.  She was wearing these dressy sandles that were about two sizes too small.  She had developed calluses on her insteps because her heels were hanging off of her ill-fitting shoes, making her walk funny.  To add insult to injury, the calluses had cracked open and dirt was starting to cake in the cracks. 

A few of us were planning on leaving shoes behind anyways, so we let her pick out which shoes she wanted.  So, yeah, we literally gave her shoes off of our feet!  And socks for that matter too, but they were in a bad need of a wash!

I got to see lots of little ones today.  Those little faces will forever bring me back to Haiti.  I probably didn’t save lives by performing adrenaline pumping procedures, but I did treat almost everyone for tinea and scabies.  I hope I also showed I cared and loved for them. Maybe that’s enough.

Jeff, our photographer, and I decided to wander a bit while I took a break from my station.  We followed a trail down the hillside, took some pictures and interacted with locals using our limited Creole.  Before we knew it, we saw some very odd looking people working.  It took me a minute to figure out what was so odd about their appearance.  Then it hit me- they were white!  I almost stopped and yelled “Blan!” like I had heard shouted in my direction throughout the trip.

Upon talking to them, we learned there were a Mennonite group that “adopted” this village.  Two years ago, they started building a school/church.  It was quite a site, two woman in their “pilgrimage” dress at a lice treatment station, men working on a multitude of construction projects and “blan” children running around. 

After seeing about 150 patients, we had to pack up in order to get home before dark.   Our trip home contained our standard obstacles with the road.  This time, the truck wasn’t able to climb the steep incline out of the village.  So we hauled our equipment and supplies up the hill where our truck was waiting for us.  Yes, we had to carry everything downhill on the way there, but I forgot to think about the climb back.  A half mile feels like an eternity when you are carrying bags and pretty much going straight up hill.  And poor Elaine, who had given her shoes to the twelve year old!
 Part of our "stroll"

I'm sure this trek was highly entertaining. 

We finally reached the truck and heaved ourselves and supplies into the back of the truck.  Our rest was short lived however, when we realized we were too heavy for the truck to make it out with us in it.  So we walked further uphill.  And further… It felt like 10 miles, but maybe it was only a mile or so. That should make up for some of my gym classes.

We waited for the truck at the top of a summit with this odd tree house.  I hope there aren’t kids playing on it. All it is a few rusted pieces of sheet metal hanging off a hillside, haphazardly attached to a tree. The chance that someone would get cut by rusted metal or simply fall through the floor and down about a hundred feet is gigantic.  But we played on it anyway.  Hey, when in Rome…

It’s our last night in Haiti and we are winding down with a game of scrabble.  It’s hard to believe that we leave tomorrow.  Once again, the trip is too short and I don’t feel that I did enough.  But then again, there isn’t as much to do.  Haiti has gotten so much media exposure, people are rushing to get in.  The aid has helped so much that there just isn’t as much need- at least in Port Au Prince. Outside of the city, I’m sure there is a severe necessity for help; it’s just not as possible to access. I feel like I am leaving mountains worth of people out.  

However, as Americans, we must be careful not to abandon what we started.  As aid workers switch from emergency mode to maintenance mode, it’s vital we don’t lose what we have gained.  The moment we forget about the struggling survivors, the moment it all of the efforts are for not.  Haiti has suffered an earthquake, an extraordinary rainy season, choler and a violently contested election.  And they have survived. 

I know keeping people healthy isn’t as glamorous as “rescuing” people from the stories heard on the nightly news, but it’s just as important.  Ok, off of my soapbox and on to planning my next trip…

Friday, February 18, 2011

Not much to say...

Thursday, February 3, 2011
Get me out of here!  I’m stuck in this house and I want to be in a tent city, in a mountain village, in a Haitian hospital, anywhere but here!  I’m not helping anyone, not am I seeing Haiti in all of its glory.  I’m reading, checking facebook and joining Twitter. Stupid politics.

The CEP was supposed to make their election runoff announcement yesterday afternoon.  Then 4:00 came and went.  Then 8:00, then 10:00, then midnight.  They were supposed to make the big announcement at all of those times and it just never happened.  Our hosts were tapped into various websites and connections, while we sipped on wine and got to know each other a little better.  We waited until a little after 1:00 am and decided to call it a night.  It sucks to feel that the gov’t is trying to manipulate the people.  We are losing time, just waiting for them to tell us what they already know.

I woke up at about 7 this morning, just in time for the big announcement.  Fortunately, the CEP followed OAS recommendations and Mirlande Maniga and Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly as the runoff candidates. The runoff is scheduled for March 20.

We couldn’t go to our clinic though, as we weren’t sure how the country would respond. There was a rumor that Celestine, the gov’t backed candidate, had armed supporters who were prepared to protest.  At the moment, that seems to be just that, a rumor, and all is peaceful. As the morning progressed, we heard only celebratory sounds.  The occasional “Tet Kale” chant or excited screams would float through the air.  There were also UN helicopters and planes in the air, but no sign of violence. 

We were slated to go in to the mountains today, but had to postpone our clinic until tomorrow.  A trip into the mountains requires an early start, and we couldn’t be sure it was safe to travel until it was too late to get started.  We know to appreciate the unexpected rest day, but I think we are starting to get a little stir crazy.  The cooks started on dinner shortly after breakfast and the smell has been teasing our senses all day!  We did help organize the donation supply room, but other than that, the day has felt rather unproductive.

It sucks to lose a day.  Now we only have one more clinic before we head home.  Oh well, such is life in a land of political uncertainty I guess.

Since this blog is so short, I’ll fill it with pictures I took from “lockdown.”
Enjoy!

 I spent quite a few minutes just watching the daily life of this family across the street. 


 My favorite mosquito eating lizard.




One of the UN planes flying overhead.

We did get to go to this quaint Lebanese restaurant in Petionville.  It didn’t look like much on the outside, but were overwhelmed by its beauty the minute we stepped foot inside.  The food was delicious, the atmosphere was relaxing , and the company was unbeatable.  Haiti is full of surprises…
Turns out, we clean up ok!

I was on constant lookout for Shakira.

 Ok, the bathroom was a little creepy.

The outside of the restaurant. 


Monday, February 14, 2011

Hustle and Bustle

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

We set up a clinic in a small tent city today.  And by small I mean about 125 families.  I’m not sure if there are 125 families in my small town- and they have a square mile to fit in.  These families had about the size of a football field to live in.

We saw about 50 locals with a variety of complaints.  One poor elderly woman had a dislocated shoulder for 3 years. When we told her we couldn’t do anything for her, she just shrugged and said, “It’s ok. It’s just painful sometimes.” That’s probably more than a slight understatement. 
 Ahhh...my trusty little Haitian Creole to English book

I spent the day doing triage and perfecting my Haitian Creole.  And by perfecting, I mean I got really good at asking what your name is, how old are you, do you have pain, and do you have a headache or stomachache.  The problem was, once I stated these phrases in Creole, I was expected to understand the answer in Creole.  Besides the yes and no answers, I was pretty much clueless.  I’m sure I even manage to butcher the majority of names.  Every now and then, I’d get someone that spoke English or even a little Spanish and would help me with a couple of people by them in line.  But I think my Creole is coming along. Slowly, but coming along.
 Doing dishes

Performing triage gave me an opportunity to really take in my surroundings.  Once again, Haitian pride was in full effect and the living quarters were very clean.  I saw food stored neatly behind dishes that I watched woman spend hours scrubbing clean.  I’m still curious as to where the clothes are kept and how they stay so clean. 

I became amused and a little frightened as I let my eyes follow a particular toddler with a sucker.  He was enjoying his sucker and would occasionally remove it from his mouth so he could cough on it.  He then handed it to his older brother who decided he should also contaminate the sucker by coughing on it after a few licks.  The boys then dropped the sucker in the dirt during the handoff and quickly picked it up and licked the dirt off.  Yes, this is concerning. But it made me smile at the same time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see my own sons pulling off a similar routine. 
video
 Reese examining a patient

One of the biggest services we provide is education.  In these communities, we must stress the importance of drinking water.  It’s so easy for us to say “you need to drink at least four liters of fluid a day” but the reality is so difficult.  Water is an invaluable resource here.  The residents don’t have access to clean drinking water and must buy it.  I would love to be able to give them the ability to fill up a water bottle like I have.  So often, I feel that I cannot even begin to help.

The locals brought a boy who could barely walk to us.  There was a group of about 3 adults scuttling this boy across the dirt to our clinic.  He had a random venous thrombophlebitis in his leg.  Basically, his vein had turned into a tough rope and is very, very painful.  Of course, it’s one of those things that we can’t do much about, besides give OTC pain medications.  We also advised the use of warm heat compresses….but how do you make a compress when water doesn’t flow freely from the tap?

We had just a few more patients in line, when we got word that we needed to pack up “camp” (that seems like a very inappropriate word in this setting) and get home as soon as possible.  Our translators informed the people that we had to leave due to security concerns.  They were very understanding and also interested in our own well-being and wished us well.

See, a lot is happening today.  The Haiti government is supposed to announce the new election results after the OAS review.  If you’ve been following, you know that the Haiti election has been crazy to say the least.   The initial announcement ended in riots and protesting, as many Haitians felt that the government backed candidate didn’t qualify for the runoff election.  Then of course, Baby Doc returned. To add to the sense of chaos, another exiled dictator, Aristide, is trying to get back to Haiti soon as well.

We were told to get home as soon as possible because of word of protests starting.  There was no evidence of violence, but things can be very unpredictable here in Haiti and our hosts didn’t want to take any chances with our safety.  There is a rumor  that this group is starting tires on fire in protest of the delay in granting Aristide his passport. 

You could feel the energy as we drove through the streets of Port Au Prince.  There were more people walking on the streets, including a young boy guiding a blind elder down the median of a busy street.   The banks and stores also announced that they would be closing early in anticipation of escalated violence.  We saw  more UN and police vehicles patrolling the streets as well.
View from our balcony

This guy used the short work day to try to get his tap tap up and running.

So we came home, safe and secure, behind our razor wire and security guards.  We are all currently becoming real estate moguls and enjoying a game of Monopoly.  We are still awaiting word of the election now.  You can feel the tension in the neighborhood.  There is an indescribable hustle and bustle just on the other side of our fence.  Combine that with the eclectic music mix of Haitian, Shakira and Justin Timberlake and it becomes immediately obvious I am miles away from home.  But more importantly, safe. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Moving on...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We made the big move to HERnow today. Our new host house if very accommodating with air conditioning, electricity, Wi-Fi and real mattresses on cots.  It also has a beautiful open balcony of sorts that is perfect for kicking back after long days of mobile clinics.  Not to mention, the ladies here know how to cook!  If it wasn’t for the razor wire securing our house, it would be hard to tell we weren’t really on vacation.
 Unwinding at HERnow

HERnow also has a large storage room, full of donations. We unpacked our dontations and surveyed  made a quick inventory. We made some guesses of what we would need today and packed a couple of bags.  
The team organizing supplies.
Meds, Meds, and more Meds!  Thank you to all who contributed!

We then set off to a  “middle class” neighborhood to set up a mobile clinic in a church.  Of course, Haitian middle class and our idea of middle class differ drastically.  From what I observed, middle class here means 
the children can afford to go to school and may even have a real shelter above their heads.

 Almost everyone complained of dry eyes.  Can you imagine how much dust is in the air?

I never realized that the roof was simply a tarp.

My favorite picture from the trip!

As all Haitian’s I’ve seen, these folks were very clean.  I’m always amazed by how white their white clothes are- whiter than mine.  We treated lots of tinea, ringworm and aches and pains.  We rehydrated a lot of kids, gave vitamins to all and consulted on chronic ailments. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but the local appreciation is never ending.

After seeing about 80 patients, we came home and took a quick walk through the grocery store.  It’s always nice to try to find a place to fulfill those cravings we work up.  It seemed that prices were higher here than in Bon Repos and it makes me wonder if it’s just because Petionville is a higher class neighborhood.  For $10 (an average Haitian daily wage, I’m told) I was able to purchase a can of Pringles, bag of bagels and some cookies.  Seems like very little for an entire days’ worth of work to me.

It’s hard to say though. The grocery store was full of locals dressed in business suits and looked like it could sit anywhere in the states (minus the cigarettes in plain sight and accessible to all). But within the 3 block walk home, we encountered a child begging us for money, tires being repaired by a single flame and even a stark naked man out for an afternoon stroll.  

The dichotomy between rich and poor is larger than life in Haiti.  Brenda, our new host, informed us that literally about 12 families own 99% of Port Au Prince.  That’s how all the NGO’s (Non Governmental Organizations) are able to rent all these huge beautiful houses to shelter relief workers.  These big, powerful, wealthy families have many homes throughout Haiti, and can reside elsewhere by renting out some of their properties.

I might be getting to the point of exhaustion, as I just can’t think of anything else to write about.  Hopefully, I’ll be more inspired to write tomorrow. Sorry!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dismal

Monday,  January 31, 2011

Dismal. That’s the best word to describe the living conditions I found today. Dismal. I’m not 100% sure of its meaning, but it feels 100% appropriate.

We were assigned to Afya today. Afya is an amazing foundation started by one woman that has positively affected thousands of people and their quality of life worldwide.  Afya is basically rehab.  Danielle, the founder, has gathered PT/OT supplies and educated Haitians as PT techs.  These techs are amazing and have learned an entire bachelor’s degree worth of information in a very short time.

First, we embedded ourselves in the tent city.  We traversed between sandbags and tents barely a body width apart.  We searched for residents in need of Afya’s help.  When people complained of joint aches, me made an appointment for tomorrow.  While we were scouring the tents, I occasionally put my stethoscope to use and listened to coughing kids.  Luckily all were clear, and must have been sharing some viruses.  It’s amazing that everyone isn’t sick with such close living quarters.

We returned to Afya’s makeshift clinic or rather, large tent and saw some patients that were referred to us from the day’s “cold calling” efforts.  There was a boy of about 12 who had a noticeable deformity in his leg.  His lower leg was bent at about a 30 degree angle outwards from his knee.  With the help of our translators, we found out that he had been running during the last rainy season and had fallen and hit his knee on a tree stump.  Our doctors’ examined him and showed the Haitian techs how to assess such a situation.  After assessing him, they felt that he broke his tibial plateau during the fall.  He never had it treated and now faced this deformity and handicap for the rest of his life.

To put this in perspective, let me tell you about the treatment I received when I broke my tibial plateau a few years ago.  I was ordered to keep weight off of it for 3 months and became a professional at crutches.  I also underwent MRI’s, Xrays, months of physical therapy and the discussion of a possible total knee replacement.  This child, with the same injury, has simply continued on with his life for the last 5 months.  Not to mention, his daily routine is much more strenuous than mine, with all the terrain he must conquer to get anywhere within his tent community.  It broke my heart and still brings tears to my eyes.  It seems so unfair, what gives me the right to walk unhindered while this innocent boy will likely limp for the rest of his life?

Danielle immediately decided that this child was not a lost cause and scheduled physical therapy for him 3 times a week.  She is amazing and has restored hope to so many.  She will inspire me for the rest of my life with her “nothing is impossible” attitude.

 Elaine demonstrating strength testing to the PT Techs

Attempting to dress a 3 year old surgical incision that had failed to heal properly.

Cecily instructing the techs on how to wrap a sprained ankle.

Then came the moment I will never forget.  Let me tell you about “Mami”. Mami is an 80 year old woman who was pulled from rubble two days after the earthquake.  We found her outside her tent, sitting on warped plywood. It’s very difficult for me to describe her position.  She was sitting awkwardly, somewhere between supine and side lying with her legs straight out in front of her.  She was groaning, as pain seemed to be suffocating her.  We refilled her dwindling supply of the OTC pain meds after inspecting her to rule out an acute injury.

I then went inside her tent to inspect her living conditions.  This 80 year old woman who spent two days trapped under a building was sleeping on a cot, using clothes as a mattress!  Clothes!  Just stuffed in there so maybe she wouldn’t feel the metal rods supporting her.  It was atrocious, appalling and unforgettable.  Luckily, Danielle has a fierce “get er done” attitude and sprang into action.  She quickly put together a must do list:  new mattress, a handrail, and a strap attached to the wall to help the woman pull herself up.  Danielle also made plans to build steps to replace the haphazardly stacked sandbags providing entrance to her tent.  Previously, this woman’s faithful children were carrying her in and out of her tent.  From a bed of clothes in a sweltering tent to a decrepit piece of plywood in tropical heat.  What a life.

I walked away with an immense awe for Danielle and Afya. Danielle knew that it would be impossible for Mami to go to the clinic for weekly therapy, so she set up home visits for her.  I know I sound like a broken record, but Danielle’s inspiration is never ending.

I was pleasantly surprised by the tent’s condition when I got up close.  They are very tidy and even more surprising, don’t smell.  I’m not going to lie, I was afraid to breathe, but when I did, I didn’t smell anything foul. How do they do it?

After a day like today, we all felt the need for a good wind down back at base. So Ira, a volunteer from Israel, held a belly dancing class. I was able to summon my inner Shakira and shake it.  Although, I’m sure that is not what it looked like.

I really am enjoying the diversity of the people we are staying with.  I love the accents, I love the attitude and I love the openness.  It’s humbling to say the least.  

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Overstimulated

Sunday, January 30th
***I think all my other dates off been off.  Whoops!****

Slow day! I learned from my last trip to appreciate these days, so I did.  We played some games and got to know each other a bit more.  In fact, I’m not so sure I wanted to know all I found out! J

 It wasn’t all fun and games today though, as we did go over to the hospital that serves this large tent city.  It includes room for 8 “admits”, a maternity unit, triage, womens’ care clinic, a pharmacy in a container, and an isolated Cholera clinic. We didn’t go in the Cholera area as there was only one patient and he was being well attended to.  Once you enter, you must go through a rigorous washing procedure before exiting, so we 
steered clear for today and saved some highly valued water.

Luckily, for the residents, the hospital was patient free.  We did see a girl come in with a leg wound from sheet metal who was tough as nails.  Her gash was at least an inch wide and she barely was crying.  These kiddos are tough.  Sheet metal is used in almost every tent here.  I thought it was a miracle the hospital wasn’t full of more of these injuries.  I also wonder what the tetanus immunization stats are here.

As I stated yesterday, the organization is experiencing a great transformation these days.  They have been so successful in training and educating the Haitian nurses and doctors that we have become much less needed.  Instead of doing procedures and administering care to patients, volunteers now serve as mentors. It’s really phenomenal and a large step toward making Haiti more self-sufficient.

We then got a tour of the tent city.  It’s probably a little more than a square mile and more than the mind can comprehend.  More than 55,000 Haitians call this area home and keep it in pristine condition.  The Army Corps of Engineers and UN helped design a drainage and trench system in the hilly terrain.  It makes for a very thought out development of sorts- not a development that I could ever imagine living in, but a development none the less.

I wish I could have a tape recorder to document the sounds of a tent city.  It’s not that I heard unusual or abnormal sounds; it’s just that the sounds are so close together.  It’s absolutely indescribable.  Within five footsteps I heard celebratory music, laughter, yelling, crying and the standard hustle and bustle of everyday life.  It’s almost over stimulating in a way.  I wonder if these dwellers ever get a moment of silence.  I wonder if they ever get to hear what I’m hearing now, nothing  but the sound of my pen on paper and the occasional buzz of a mosquito.  I wonder how they would respond if that moment ever were to occur.

As we were walking, it was common for children to run out and yell, “Blan! Blan!” which means “white person” in Creole.  It reminded me of my mountain trip were kids would run out from a thick forest and point at the strange white people riding in the back of a truck. Those memories put me through such an array of emotions and I hope they always stay this fresh and vibrant. 

Part of me wants to yell back words such as “survivor” “inspirational” and “amazing” to these folks.  Sometimes it seems that they are in awe of us (and my skin’s amazing ability to turn red in an instant), but it seems so unwarranted.  I don’t think there are many of us that could survive these conditions for over a year and still have that sparkle in their eyes.  I am in awe of them.

We had a house meeting tonight and were updated on the plans for the week.  We have heard the Haitian gov’t is supposed to make an announcement regarding the election sometime this week.  Last time an announcement was made regarding the election, rioting ensued and all the volunteers were put on lockdown.  We were told to be prepared for similar results and to have a “go bag” ready in case of an evacuation.

I’m prepared for the worst, but hoping for the best!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We’re Here!

Saturday, January 28, 2011


We have arrived without incident! It was a nice surprise to see the hangar (aka baggage claim and customs) now had sufficient lighting.  It’s amazing to see the difference it makes on your first impression- it seems to make the place a little less daunting.

We found our contact, who as all the Haitians I’ve worked with, was very helpful and attentive.  We piled into 2 cars and started getting request for money immediately.  We were planning on tipping our porters, but not the random guy who claimed to have helped, but just happened to be in the right place at what he felt was the right time.   Peeking into our window, we heard him saying, “Don’t you know what happened to us here?  We need your money!” We finally got him to leave, but only after several uncomfortable moments.  It breaks my heart that all too often this is the first exposure aid workers get to Haiti.  Beggars are by far the minority in the country, but definitely make their presence known at the airport.   However, once you are entrenched in Haiti, you will only see the hardworking, tenacious survivors I have come to know and love.

Our drive was what I expected, but it was enjoyable to watch the “newbies” faces.  Haitian car rides consistently overwhelm your senses and you will never forget your first exposure to such a way of life.  It was rough, unpredictable and as always, eye opening.

I didn’t get as many pictures as I would have liked.  There were many people in arm’s reach of my broken door window and I just wasn’t comfortable flashing my camera around.

Also, I really missed Raguel at this point.  Raguel was not only my translator last trip, but served as my protector and more importantly, friend.  I felt safer with him and really wished he could have been sitting next to me.  Actually, Raguel is not even in Haiti anymore- he was very fortunate and received a Visa to attend college in the States!  I am sincerely happy for him, but the selfish part of me wished he could be by my side. Haiti is not the same without him.

Although I was keenly aware of Raguel’s absence, I couldn’t help but smile about my return to Haiti soil, broken roads and tent cities. It’s completely unexplainable, but as we traversed garbage eating pigs, Texas sized potholes and a traffic system consisting mainly of honking horns and playing chicken, I knew that I didn’t want to be anywhere but here.  Thank you, God, for putting Haiti in my heart.


We arrived at our first host site and picked out our “pool side” tents, ate a quick dinner and got a tour of the premises.  The people that reside her come from all walks of life, excluding mine- suburbia.  Everyone is friendly and has the same goal: to give the best help to those less fortunate than us.  Places like these are a gem amongst the rubble; truly inspirational.

I would love to have the energy to socialize with my new friends, but am exhausted. I have been up for about 36 hours, as airport floors have proven too cold to sleep on.  So I’m off to get some rest, if such a thing exists when you can’t wait to get to work!



Monday, February 7, 2011

Round 2 Begins!

Here we go again.
Friday, January 27, 2011
The trip, the planning, and the ball in the pit of my stomach have all returned.  It’s almost surreal that this trip is actually getting started.  In fact, I don’t think that I’ve convinced myself that this trip will get completed, as so much seems to be getting in the way.
You know the history- my trip was cancelled because of civil unrest due to the election.  We decided to book this trip just when things seemed to calm down.  Of course, that’s when the unexpected happened.  Baby Doc returned to Haiti- uninvited and unexpected.
Baby Doc was a Haiti dictator before he was exiled 25 years ago.  Under his rule, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Haitians were starved, tortured and killed.  Hundreds of millions of dollars went missing from the Haitian gov’t- presumably into Baby Doc’s personal bank accounts.
While there are many theories circulating about why he came back, no one is certain.  Baby Doc claims that he just wants to help the Haitian people, but I find that hard to believe.  Why, after years of torture, would he chose to help now? Anyways, we watched the news for a few days and surprisingly, all seemed to be ok on the safety front.
Then the last exiled dictator, Aristade, started saying he wanted to come back to Haiti too. AUGH! Luckily, he has yet to actually enter Haiti, so we should be good.  As I sit at the gate for my Miami leg, everything is calm and there is no word of rioting, roadblocks or anything crazy.  Not to say it couldn’t start in the next week…
Don’t worry though.  We will be safe. If the roads get dangerous, we stay put.  Plain and simple. If it means we don’t get to the airport for a week, so be it.  The roads are the most dangerous place during civil unrest and we will avoid them at all cost, if need be.
Wednesday night, we dodged another curveball. We received word from Cecily (our trauma surgeon and medical leader for the trip) that the original organization we were going to stay at wasn’t sure there was enough work for us to do for the week and suggested we looked into a new place to stay, where our abilities would be best utilized.  It’s actually a very good thing.  The experienced doctors and nurses have done such a great job educating the Haitian doctors and nurses, that they are now running the show with minimal support from outsiders!  What more could we ask for!  Teach a man to fish...
I was working an exceptionally crazy shift when I found out, so kind of panicked.  I should have known that NRI was a group of extraordinary people and we soon found a new place to stay.  And it only gets better-our new accommodations include a real bed, running water, wi-fi and even air conditioning!  So our new plan is to spend a few days in the original location, then move to HERnow for the remainder of our trip.
Of course, this means our work is going to change a little bit too. After we move from the tent city, we will start traveling and setting up mobile clinics.
So after all this planning and re-planning, I think I’m hesitant to let myself believe this trip is gonna happen.  But I think after hauling my super-stuffed oversized backpack through a few airports, flying a red-eye to MIA then attempting to sleep at the gate during my 7 hour layover, reality should smack me in the face soon!
So barring any flight delays, I’m signing off for a bit.  With any luck, my next entry will come to you from Haiti!