THE WEEKEND EDITION
Before I start, I just wanted to thank you all for the amazing emails I received about your reactions to reading about the kids. There is a lot more I want to say about working with the underserved, but I’ll save that for my next message. This message is going to be about another side of Haiti, a side that highlights the country’s potential and the people that are coming to help push it towards realizing that potential.
Saturday we took a break from Port au Prince and headed north for the beach at Wahoo Beach Bay. 11 Americans, one driver and one guide in one minivan. Two car sick prone individuals, one speedy driver. When in Haiti…Actually the drive to the beach was as fun to me as being at the beach because our driver was fast and would squeeze through the narrowest openings at busy intersections. We passed through Port au Prince in a flash and quickly were able to drive through and see the tent cities on the outskirts of Port au Prince, the village markets, and lots of banana farms. I loved looking at all the “art” on the TapTaps (it reminds me of a NYT article from about a year back that discussed how rickshaws in India are being “pimped out”), seeing the live chickens just chilling on top of these baskets being carried on the heads of female vendors, and observing the people from the villages and rural communities.
Halfway along the ~90 minute drive, we stopped at St. Christoph, a mass grave that is the burial spot for the 500,000+ lives that were lost in the earthquake of January 2010. I believe it was Andrew who made the interesting observation that had something like the earthquake here happened in the States, the scale of the memorial would have been so much greater. I didn’t really say anything because on the one hand it’s true. Our response to 9/11 in America was nothing short of inspirational and, although I haven’t seen it yet, I’ve heard the memorial at Ground Zero is amazing. As true as that is, I cannot help thinking about how slow and inefficiently we responded to the aftermath of Katrina in 2005.
Being in Haiti is exhausting because you feel contradictory emotions and there is constantly some stimulus. One minute we’re passing through the slums of Port au Prince in our air conditioned van, the next we’re at a mass grave for half a million people, then we’re cruising through some village markets and finally we’re at a beach resort. I mean, really? How do you process all of that? Is it terrible that I accept poverty as a reality and continue volunteering all the while shopping at JCrew and Nordstrom’s? I said I would hold out on the more sobering/depressing reflections until my last message. I’ll try to keep that promise.
Anyway, Wahoo Bay Beach was gorgeous! Actually, a needed break. I can’t even describe the scene.
After the beach we headed back to Port au Prince and hit a street market. I wish we had spent more time discovering Port au Prince. Really though, even with my limited exposure to Haiti outside of the guesthouse and St. Vincent’s, I never once felt uncomfortable or threatened in Haiti. Are people going to stare at you? Sure, but I’m looking at them as much as they are me. Are they going to try to sell me something? Duh, they think I have money and they are vendors, what else would you expect?! That’s no reason to stay within your comfort zone though.
CHURCH + THE CONCERT
Sunday morning we attended service at an Episcopalian church – Holy Trinity. The Bishop was visiting so the service was really long and in Creole, so REALLY long. It was interesting though.
After the service we headed to St. Vincent’s to play with the kids. I was in charge of the coloring station. I color a mean Dora. It was fun interacting with the kids in a non medical way. I’m not going to lie, I’d rather be in clinic than coloring, but it was good to also just hang out with the kids and give them love and attention. This was also the day that I met my three blind Musketeers – Raphael, Woodley, and the boy who was Woodley’s look-a-like. I’ll tell you more about them later.
The group had brought stickers, tattoos, bead necklaces and sunglasses for the kids. Most of all this was randomly distributed to the kids playing in the school’s courtyard. The bedridden kids don’t leave their bedroom, so I suggested we take some of these things and candy up to them. This is where baby Margaret, Diana and Auguste stay. I said hi to the three of them and met YoLin (an 18yo girl who is the same size as an 8 yo, also impressive is the fact that she has reduced breath sounds on the left, suggesting that she may have a hypo plastic left lung…another child with a congenital defect that we cannot definitively diagnose). (Side note, it was really awesome how Dr. Nelson made sure to point out every remarkable clinical finding she was aware of on a child. Peds is not my thing but it was still an amazing learning opportunity.) I can only stay in that particular bedroom for fifteen to twenty minutes before I become depressed, overwhelmed and tearful. I had held and played with so many of the other kids, but when it came to baby Margaret or Diana, I had to limit my interaction with them because I just couldn’t handle it.
The school was holding a concert at 3 o’clock that afternoon, so after a few hours of playtime we headed back to the church to await the performances. White people arrive at a function 15 mins before it starts, Indian standard time means you arrive 15-20 minutes after the indicated time…Haitian time means that events begin an hour after the scheduled time. I was so hot and sticky after having been in the sun all day and playing with the kids. Sitting in stale hot air made me crave a cold shower like nothing else. I tried to distract myself by going and talking to the kids (who BTW looked so cute all dressed up for the concert), but I was also kind of over playtime by that point (I came to Haiti to do medical work, there is only so much I can play with kids) and I was already feeling too icky to have a kid on me during the THREE AND A HALF HOUR performance.
The whole group’s energy was at an all time low after that night. We got back to the guesthouse and had a relatively quiet night.