West Tennessee Haiti Partnership

Simple Joys

Today is my last working day in Haiti. Tomorrow I fly home to Memphis.

Sipping delicious Haitian coffee this morning and feeling the cool breezes. Anyone who has travelled to Haiti knows these simple joys.  Amid the experiences of disappointment and frustration there are smiles and hugs from old friends.  A child’s grin.   The lilting “Bon Jou” from every passing stranger.  Fresh mango for breakfast.  Brilliant pink flowers bursting from the rocky hillsides. And that fantastic coffee.

Yesterday was full and running over. Jennifer (Director of Development for Governing Board St Vincent’s) and I went with Pere FanFan to meet Bishop Duracin and Vundla,  COO (Episcopal Diocese of Haiti)   Full support voiced for our new Governing Board and continuing our work at St Vincent’s.

Spent the rest of the day at the school.  An unexpected treat because our schedule originally was to be elsewhere but in true Haitian fashion, plans changed.

Just a few tidbits from our day:An adult teacher who is deaf asks if she could start sleeping at the school. She teaches at St Vincents from 8:00 am until 3:00 pm every day.  Then goes to school in the evening from 7-9 pm. Her home is 2 hours away by tap-tap. Rather than travel late at night and arrive home at midnight, could she sleep in one of the dorms?  Aurelie (new school administrator) had to come up with an answer.   What would you do?School secretary and school nurse inventories all the supplies our team brought.  Ibuprofen. Aspirin. Tylenol.  Diapers.  Bed liners. Hydrocortisone cream. Kerlix gauze and ACE wraps. Bandaids.  Alcohol wipes. Washcloths.  And so on.

Aurelie received 7 barrels of shipped goods from Friends of St Vincent in Connecticut. Before she distributes them she wants to make a full inventory and label everything. One of the dorm residents has an eye infection and needs a prescription.  Dr. Groce from SCO writes the prescription, after consulting with Dr Marius the local Haitian eye doctor. Dr Groce then gives the written rx to child’s caregiver.  She later gives it to the head caregiver. She in turn gives it to Mr Noel, one of the administrators, who sends a driver to pick it up  (this process took 3 days).

A family comes to see Pere FanFan with their handicapped daughter asking for prayer; she is two years old but has not learned to walk and can’t hold her head up. Pere FanFan invites me to meet them, sets out chairs for all of us, then leaves the room.  They speak no English of course.  I realize suddenly I am expected to give a medical consultation.

Mom and dad and godmother are here with beautiful child dressed in pink lace and perfect black patent leather shoes. Jennifer quickly offers to get Aurelie to help translate. Child was born prematurely at 7 months because of preeclampsia in the mother.  Has never been ill but can’t walk or stand. They have sought many doctors including voodoo priests to find answers.  Is their child under a curse?

They obviously adore this child and she is well cared for. Next 30 minutes spent reassuring parents they are being excellent parents   No she is not under a curse.  She was born two months early and her development is delayed.  She says a few words which is a good sign. Her muscles are well developed which means her nutrition is good (like all parents of two year olds, they worry their child doesn’t eat enough).

Keep her in physical therapy, she may learn to walk with a walker.  She is only two so there is hope she will learn more and get stronger.  No there is no medicine or surgery that can fix this.  And so on.  By the end of this encounter my Kreyol was in full swing and Pere FanFan came back. We all prayed for the child.  Powerful experience.

After all that as Jennifer and I are dragging ourselves to the car , the senator arrives. Representative of the local region of the Haitian government who is a good friend and advocate for St Vincents. Printemps Belizaire.  It is now 5:00 but there is no choice but to return to Pere FanFan’s office for a meeting. “5 minutes ” became the catchword for our day yesterday. 5 Haitian minutes, that is.

Smiles and handshakes, gratitude expressed, stories exchanged.  As we rose to leave (30 minutes later) Jennifer asked Msr Belizaire what he would tell Americans about Haiti.
Haiti is a country with much hospitality, he said. Come and join us and stand together with us in solidarity.

Nou kanpe ansanm

Heading for the car I am greeted by Mackenson. He has graduated from college but must pay for his diploma. I promised him I would help him with this if he found out the fee. He has texted me earlier (during the endless meeting with the senator) the fee was 1500 Haitian gourdes or $160 US.  That can’t be right because 1500 gourdes is about $22 US. So I write a check for $25 to the school so that Pere FanFan can pay for Mackenson’s diploma.

New text from Mackenson says he’s sorry but the fee is 1500 Haitian dollars ($300US) or 7500 gourdes. ($113 US) Neither of these numbers make sense either.


So as I’m climbing into Pere FanFan’s truck I ask someone for a pen so I can write a check for $135. Maybe that’s close to the correct amount?Numbers in Haiti, like time, seem fluid. My departure, saying goodbye to Mackenson and Victoria and the few children who were hanging around in the courtyard, waving goodbye to Marie Carmelle, felt like tearing something away.  It always feels like that when I leave St Vincents on the last day. Leaving my family.

Susan Nelson

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