Today was our first day at St Vincent’s. We arrived early enough to see the school opening ceremony, when the Haitian flag is raised and the children sing their national anthem. Blind, deaf, missing limbs, does not matter. Everyone sings. The deaf sing with their hands.
We used to see this every morning when we stayed at the school guest house, before the earthquake. We would sip Haitian coffee on the balcony and watch the gathering down below. I look forward to being able to do that again someday when the entire school is rebuilt. Until then we stay at a different guest house, which is comfortable and has great food, but its not the same as staying with the kids in their own community.
At any rate, after the opening ceremony we were ready to unpack our 20 suitcases and stock the pharmacy, to prepare for clinic. In true Haitian style, however, the pharmacy was locked, and the one person with the only key did not arrive until an hour later.
The nurses did arrive later in the morning, and quickly set up clinic to see the pre schoolers. Pere Sadoni told me there were 18 preschoolers; I told the nurses to expect 40, and actually there were 39 total. Accuracy in time and numbers is not something Haitians seem to value. LaShelle, one of the CBU nurses, quickly discovered this when interviewing a patient about her headache.
LaShelle: “How long have you had the headaches”.
Patient: “I have headaches”
LaShelle: “How often do you have headaches”
Patient: “It hurts here”(rubbing her hand over the top of her head and both sides)
LaShelle: “Have you had headaches for a week, a month, a few days?”
Patient: “On and off”
At this point LaShelle gave up on that line of questioning. I told her later that I have learned not to try to ask for time estimates. Sometimes I will get an answer “since the earthquake”, which tells me that event marks time for the people here. When someone tells me they have had a cough “since the earthquake”, I have learned that just means “a long time”. Time has different value here, which can be exasperating, but it teaches me that not everything of value can be counted.
Amy Chanin and I went to find a local pharmacy this morning, leaving the nurses running the clinic. It is such a fabulous feeling to have the help of the CBU team, keeping the clinic running while I am away. We started our first medical mission trip in 2008 with a team of 6, and now I have such good help I can let others take over. I have been hoping to find a local pharmacy to purchase our medications here in Haiti, and this morning I believe we found one. We were ushered into the pharmacist’s office, discussed his inventory and pricing, and he seems to have about 90% of what we bring in our suitcases from the US. I still have to compare pricing with our purchase cost in the US, but I suspect that if I add the baggage fees required by the airlines, I will find that it is reasonable to purchase our meds in Haiti. Not to mention supporting the local Haitian economy. How liberating it will be not to have to haul 100 lbs of suitcases (per team member) through the Miami airport.
Our lunch consisted of graham crackers and peanuts, trail mix we had brought in our bags, and we were surprised with cold drinks from Madame Marc. She is Pere Sadoni’s mother and is the chief cook of the school. Cold banana juice tastes really good when you are hot and sweaty in Haiti.
The afternoon we saw adults in the clinic, and Bheki Khumalo and Jenn Holbourn continued to work with the physical therapy/club foot kids. Jenn brought a special chair/seat for Margaret Vincent, who has poor neck muscle control and normally has to lie on her cot all day. With the new seat, she can sit up with her head supported and watch the other children. The new seat required a slight modification for the head rest, but now fits her perfectly. Thank you to Janet O Flynn for procuring the seat, and to the Red Thread Promise for funding it.
At 4:00 our driver came to take us back to the guest house, where we promptly headed for the swimming pool with a Prestige beer for everyone. The guest house is surrounded by flowering vegetation, like any resort in Hawaii or the Caribbean. Such a lovely place to be. No watches, no unwanted phone calls. It feels like a vacation. My heart is in Haiti with her beauty and her people.