Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Jumble of Haiti

That is the best way I can think of to describe all that has happened this weekend—the experiences and the range of emotions that goes along with them. Yesterday a group of us hired a private tap tap to go to the beach for the day. This was a “luxury” tap tap with boards along the edge of the bed to make narrow benches and a railing attached to the sides that hit you in the mid-back at about T12. It is a wild windy ride as trucks of all sizes, motorcycles, bicycles, people on foot, dogs and goats all roll along and across the road. The most frightening moments are when the driver begins to pass a vehicle with another approaching in the opposite direction; sometimes it is very close!!! We seemed to have several animal lovers in the group as we held our breath when dogs tried to cross the road within almost inches of being hit. We went to Club Indigo, which I think is the remodeled version of an old Club Med that was closed down for many years when I was first here. You are able to pay a fee and enjoy the facilities for a day without renting a room for the night. It was quite luxurious, especially for Haiti, including a huge buffet that we feasted on for lunch. It was quite empty when we arrived in the aftermath of the hurricane blowing through this area and leaving behind days of rain. However, as the day went on many more people arrived to enjoy the beautiful day. The waves were CRASHING into the shore, with some debris on board washed out by the rain. It looked very inviting and I was anxious to jump in. After thinking, though, for a few minutes I realized that I am not that strong as a swimmer and those were BIG waves. So I found and rented a life jacket. It was great fun to roll over the waves until I realized that each one was rolling me a little further out to sea! Again remembering that I don’t swim that well and also realizing that the poorly made life jacket was somewhat choking me around the neck, I began to swim back in. Obviously I made it. Later I found that the debris in the water was down the front of my suit. Enjoying the beach at this comfortable resort does tend to lead to one of the emotions I frequently experience in Haiti—guilt. The facilities, the plentiful food, so far out of reach for the vast majority of Haitians. I never completely get over it, but I tell myself that: 1. I am using vacation time to work here and some rest is ok. 2. I am helping the Haitian economy with every service I buy including things as small as tipping the man that led me to the life jacket vendor. 3. I will work extra hard when I return to the hospital on Monday. 4. I will try my best to spread the word about the potential in Haiti. We all slept well last night after a day in the sun after enjoying the arrival of Dr. Bob Carraway from Florida, a wonderful friend from my early years in Haiti. He was accompanied by, of all people, 2 Cardiologists from UT Southwestern in Dallas. So now I have come all the way to Haiti only to find 2 people from the same campus where I work every day!! Small world. This morning at 8:30 AM, Dr. Carraway led us on a hike up into the mountains to the Hospital Albert Schweitzer Clinic at Bastion. It is a small rural clinic that provides crucial services for people far from other resources. It is the end of the rainy season and everything is a lush green, so it was a beautiful walk that also provided a close look at the world where rural Haitians live. Tiny houses with no utilities—water, electricity or gas. Crops growing on small patches of land where the soil is deep enough to sustain them; much of the ground is rocky and eroded. We passed a church with the people joyfully singing. We passed many people walking down the mountain in flip flops or barefoot with large bags and baskets balanced on their head. They were walking with a speed and ease that we ‘blans’ could never match. Dr. Sylvia Ersnt, Swiss physician and current Medical Director at HAS, accompanied us. After a short distance, the sole of one of her 10 year old Nepalese hiking shoes partially detached. Undaunted, she secured it with an elastic bandage that she happened to have with her. Shortly afterward the same thing happened to the other shoe and she secured the second shoe with a plastic bag. Both solutions did not work for long as gradually the entire sole detached. People began to propose solutions and we stopped to take out the laces and lash on the sole of one shoe while retying the elastic bandage on the other. This soon failed. Then we used a Swiss army knife to cut a hole in the sole to lace the laces through to keep the sole in the correct place. This failed also, as the soles slipped forward as she walked. The final solution was a motorcycle that passed by, miraculously, this far up in the mountains. Dr. Ersnt bargained with the driver who left, dropped off his rider, then returned to take her back down the mountain. Off she went down the steep mountain on the back of the motorcycle, no helmet of course. She made it back, although with cramps in her hands from gripping the cycle!

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