West Tennessee Haiti Partnership

Climbing the Waterfall

Early morning on the bus at 7:30 AM, to drive to Mirebelais and see the new University Hospital built by Partners in Health. Apparently it cost 30 million US dollars to build the hospital, mostly private donations, however the 8 million dollars annual operating budget comes from the Haitian Ministry of Health. The public hospital opened 13 months ago and has 360 beds. Any patient can come to the outpatient clinic or ER and it costs 50 gourdes, or about $1.25 US to get an identity card. With that card, the patient has access to all the medical services including maternity care, emergency care, outpatient visits, X-rays, labs, inpatient hospital services, even physical therapy. They see about 600-800 outpatients per day. 56 doctors are on staff, all Haitian, with the occasional American specialist volunteer. They do 1000 prenatal visits per month and 250 deliveries, most by midwives except for the C sections. Apparently their emergency C-section rate is quite high, due to eclampsia and other high risk conditions in the patients who come to their doors. The hospital is also a training facility for residents in pediatrics, internal medicine, and surgery, and has 14 new residents (of 250 applicants) who started this year.
Our tour was given by Annie, a Duke University grad who is hoping to apply to medical school this fall. She is spending a year working as a public relations/”external visitors” coordinator at the hospital complex. She is fluent in Kreyol, French and English. Quite impressive, and what an opportunity for an aspiring doctor to see the opening of this new facility.

After our tour, we drove to Saut d’Eau Waterfall, known as “Sodo” in Kreyol. I encourage any readers to look this up on the internet to see images of this beautiful place. After paying a $5 entry fee, you walk down stairs (about 5 stories in height) and come to the base of a waterfall. Several team members decided to rest at the bottom of the falls, and watch the rest of us climb up the rocks to the top of the falls. Of course, our climb was aided by Haitian young men who do this all day long. It was reminiscent of Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica, although not so high. My guide was Peter, and he had a grip of iron. There was no fear of falling as long as he had hold of me, and I managed to get myself to the top, laughing and shrieking most of the way at the cold water and the exhilaration of it all.

Reaching the top, several of us perched on the moss covered rocks and felt the cold spray on our heads and our backs. The sunlight glittered through the spray and we could see the cliffs around us, covered with trees whose roots were exposed so that the cliffs looked like mysterious caves. Haiti has such beauty, and it was wonderful to behold this magical place. We waved at our friends down below, posed for the camera and generally had a fabulous time. Not being hot was exhilarating in itself. Most of the week we have felt like we were living in an oven. 

Susan Nelson

Climbing back down, I slipped once in the mud, but it was soft and there were no injuries. We tipped our Haitian guides and then sat at the bottom of the falls, enjoying the view and the coolness. A couple of the guides were put out because they got a smaller tip than the others, and one boy in particular stood a few yards off and pouted and stared at me for 20 minutes. However, eventually he gave up and went over to Brittany and Ashley, who had climbed back into the pool of water at the bottom of the falls to pose for more pictures. Brittany speaks a little Kreyol, and she kept shooing this boy away, insisting she did not need his help, knowing he would want another tip if he did help her. Ironically, as she was climbing out of the pool she fell forward onto her knees. Again no injuries, just embarrassment.

We left our lovely spot and set off to find a place to eat lunch. The first restaurant that had been recommended to us had chained doors; at the second we were turned away by the hostess who said “we have no food today”, but sent us to Las Vegas Restaurant around the corner. Actually the sign on the door said Las Vegas Restaur. We figured they ran out of room on the sign. The doorway was marked by cords with shells hanging in straight lines, sort of reminding me of the door beads on my daughter’s bedroom door. Inside we found 5-6 tables, ordered mango juice (and some had Prestige beer) and Haitian Legume. Ashley tried to order spaghetti with hot dog, which was actually on the menu, but the only items available were Cabri (goat) or Legume. I ordered the latter, which turned out to be sort of a beef stew with potatoes, okra, carrots and shredded goat instead of beef. Also beans and rice. Very tasty. All that and the mango juice came to $7 US. Also we were in and out in less than an hour, which is record time for eating in a Haitian restaurant. Usually when we eat at the Plaza Hotel (as we did last Sunday after church), it takes 3 hours to be seated, order, be served, and pay the bill.

While we ate lunch, the driver went to get his tire fixed (another $5) and then returned to join us in the meal. His name was Noel, and we appreciated his careful driving on the windy roads. Our last trip to Jacmel was terrifying because the driver drove on the wrong side of the road around blind turns, frequently facing an oncoming MACK truck or school bus. This time there were only the usual Haitian terrors of motorcycles squeezing between our van and an oncoming vehicle, or goats crossing the road directly in front of us, forcing us to full brakes from 60 mph. I advised my fellow passengers, “Don’t look out the driver’s side of the vehicle or the front window. Enjoy the scenery on the right side of the bus. Or look down at your feet!”

During the drive back to the guest house, about 1.5 hours, we quickly heated up inside the van with no air conditioning. Windows open at 60 mph is fine, but sitting in traffic in 100 deg weather is quite toasty. Vickie and I kept looking at all the tent cities and concrete houses on dirt scrabble graveled areas and thinking how hot it must be to live inside one of those.

Back at the guest house, a cold shower never felt so good! 3 bottles of water later I started to feel my body temperature returning to normal, but only by sitting in front of a fan with wet hair. We spent the evening cutting out clown faces, stuffing plastic easter eggs with mardi gras beads, and blowing up basketballs for the kids to play with tomorrow. Memphis Grizzlies basketballs, by the way. Memphis comes to St Vincent’s, and those kids will absolutely flip over the basketballs.

We hope to see a few kids/adults in the morning clinic, finish reading the TB skin tests we placed on Monday and Tuesday, and mostly enjoy some play time with the kids. Mackenson has promised to play his guitar for us and perhaps we will even get to hear the blind handbell choir.

Leaving on the last day is always hard for me, but it gets easier the more often I come down. I realize that I will be back, and my family will still be here to greet me when I return.

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