Saturday, March 6, 2010

almost home

I am sorry I haven't written sooner, the internet didn't work well in Santo Domingo.

The Portuguese dinner was an overwhelming success. We had tuna salad to start off with and champagne sangria. Then- a creamy potato soup, catfish with potatoes and hard boiled eggs, and salad (safe salad is a rarity and tastes so good). For dessert we had moist brownies with a fresh mango mouse. The tenor in the house changed. It felt like a celebration. From the time we got there, we never saw Pat and Vivian relax. They seemed exhausted and overwhelmed. Dan and I wondered with all they do, who takes care of them? Vivian knows the names of all the kids in the camp- as well as 3 orphanages. She gets so personally invested and it shows. Sister Mary on the other hand seems invigorated, ready to tackle a challenge. But tonight, finally it was different. The problems all seemed to melt away with the rain beating down outside as we feasted with the caretakers and finally heard laughter among them.

After dinner, I showed Vivian the progress of the store room and how I arranged the art work. We talked about my last day there and how I helped her receive new art pieces. One piece- a wooden drummer- is identical to one Dan bought our last day. It's sister piece is now missing the arm that was outstretched in the air- ready to beat. It makes it even more special that we saw the piece come in, so Dan bought it, and I a gift for my niece. I think it helped to sell some art, and see the potential for it to be cleaned up. I hope she sets the store back up before her and Pat leave at the end of the month. The art shop is just as much her baby as the kids in the camp and I hope she gets to see it healthy again. Maybe I will come back sometime after she's gone and help Sister Mary organize the shop.

We sat talking around the table after we gave Pat, Viv, and Sister Mary the money we brought. They were in high spirits and we were getting sentimental about leaving. Dan and I tried to ask them questions about other things- their grandkids at home, their kids, and it seemed to help for a while.

Later, Vivian told me a story from right after the earthquake. Food was scarce, so she wanted to bring the hundred kids from camp- 4 or 5 at a time, into the house for peanut butter, bread, and juice she had. The kids all lined up in a straight line outside, but then started crying. An amputation had been performed on the kitchen table days earlier. The kids were sure- if they were getting food it would mean they would lose a leg as well. Vivian laughed at first but then stopped and very seriously said- but they all stayed. Wouldn't you run away if you thought someone would cut off your leg? The kids did what they were told. And all stood and waited in single file line.

That's the Haiti I know.

In the morning we got up at 6am, having spent another night in the pouring rain. That will be the norm now- torrential rains and mud. We hugged and kissed Pat and Vivian, then climbed into the van with Sister Mary. She spent an hour driving us around the heart of the city.

Some buildings have stacked up, like a resting accordion. Others look like they've gone soft, leaning or bending over. Some look like a grenade exploded inside- with holes missing. But what surprised me the most, were the many many buildings that are now just piles of rubble. Almost dust. I can't imagine how anyone survived.

But all around the piles of dust, life does go on for the living. In the plaza outside the presidential palace- it looks like a war zone. Tents in every open place and rows of porta potties. All around the country's greatest monuments and buildings, life is in suspense. People are just standing mostly, needing to be told what to do. There is so much money going in, but seemingly little organization of people on a large scale. Just hundreds of thousands of lives in waiting.

I hugged sister Mary 3 times before leaving. This year is her 60th jubilee- 60th year since entering the convent. And oh, what she's seen. Pat and Vivian end their 3 years in Haiti at the end of the month- and Matthew 25 will go on for the volunteers within it, and few thousand living next to it.

We're back now, but leaving a piece of ourselves at Delmas 33 with 3 year old Francois who held our hands when ever he saw us, Darline- the 20 year old med student who has seen too much in her short life, Mita- a little girl who lost her leg above her knee but who never stops smiling, Souvenir- using music to help his patients, the Portuguese medical team, the sanitation volunteers at SOIL, Pat, Viv, and 78 year old Sister Mary- the toughest woman I have ever met with a heart of gold.

Every night at Matthew 25 we sing a prayer in creole before dinner. We call it the manje song. It says- "this food you give to us oh father, it is the food of life." After holding hands and singing, we would bow our heads and Sister Mary would pray- giving thanks.

Not one night while we were in Haiti this trip did Sister Mary pray after the song. I will leave you to speculate why. Maybe they gave so much thanks to be alive after the quake, that they used it up for a while. Maybe it means nothing at all. Or maybe, for those living and struggling in Haiti- they haven't quite figured out what to say to God yet.

But outside in the camp Haitians raise their voice in song every morning and every night. Their pact isn't with the devil. They're just stronger than we will ever be.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

gummy bears

Today was a good day, despite the intense rain storms of last night. I didn't sleep much, so decided to sleep through breakfast. When I woke up I walked around until I found Daniel cleaning some plastic chairs. He had asked Eileen- the nurse in charge of the clinic- if we could watch. We brought the chairs over to the clinic and sat beside Darline, a 20 year old med student. Darline was doing intake alone, so she explained to us how to do everything. We even learned how to take blood pressure. She showed me a few times, then sent us around- I took blood pressure and temperatures and Dan would help me and write it all down. Darline checked my work at first until she was sure I was doing it correctly, but I still did everything 2 and 3 times to be sure.

A few people were hypertensive, but the majority in that area just needed someone to tell them nothing was wrong. I heard someone say that many in the camp seem to be depressed or have emotional trauma so they go to the Dr not really knowing what's wrong. I think sometimes it helps to just have the clumbsy blanc (white) fuss around on your arm and then assure you you're OK before the real Drs see them. While we did blood pressure, darline would ask about symptoms and the Elieen and another med student- Noze Souvenir- dressed bandages for the amputees and more seriously injured.

We worked all morning and I got good at blood pressure. We saw 40 patients. We then brought the staff some water and rested a bit. Then we tackled that back room again. Cleaning it out was a nightmare but really really useful. The room had been destroyed during the quake (I mean the contents a mess- not the structure) and no one had time to g through it. So cleaning it- we found all kinds of things that will be useful- reading classes and soap for the clinic- useable art work to sell in Matthew 25. I think cleaning the house is when it really began to hit us that we were there. Less than 2 months ago I was raiding Vivian's little art store. And now, the beautiful art lay in piles covered in dust under piles of junk. So we cleaned it up as best as we could and Sister Mary seems very pleased. She says it looks like a different house, and as modestly as possible I can tell you it does. I think with the shock finally wearing off- we stood on the roof for a while, in the place where our room had been.

After, we went back out to the tent city to see Souvenir do physical therapy. Souvenir speaks English well and told me his story: he was a good soccer player growing up and won a scholarship to go to school. That was necessary because his mother is a maid and there are 6 kids. Because of his schooling- he learned English and Spanish too. Because of his English, he was able to find the woman who ran the medical school. He was able to get her cell phone number and called and texted her every day for weeks until she agreed to see him. He went to the school the next day at 8 am but she didn't come out to see him until 3 pm. She then gave him a test and said he could come to school if he passed. He got an 80 percent and started med school. That was 3 years ago. He now has 2 years left ( a few months and then residency) but his mother's boss died in the earthquake so there is no more money for school. He won't be able to continue unless he can find someone to sponsor him the 100 dollars (US) a month until he finishes. Anyway. I got all his information incase anyone can think of a way to help. His classes resume next week, but as of right now, this 23 year old boy who volunteers every day in the tent city- won't be able to afford to go.

Souvenir called me over to the tent with the most injured. A little girl with a missing leg called me over ("K-tee K-tee!") I played with her and her friend a bit, then watched Souvenir lead a woman (missing one leg, and with only a half a foot on her remaining leg) around the basketball court. She hoped with the walker, on her own, the entire way. Talk about strength. Then Eileen walked us around the neighborhood and I gave out gummy bears I brought- one at a time. It's simply indescribable to see a child cherish a single gummy bear. They licked and sucked on them so long- and they'd smile with the bright colors between their teeth.

Tonight we give Matthew 25 the money we brought, hug our friends again, and prepare to leave in the morning.

But first- the Portuguese medical team has prepared us a traditional dinner.

Bon dormee, amies (sleep well, friends).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

a deep breath

There's already so much to say and my little thumbs can't type so quickly on my phone.

We'll start with the morning. Franz- the manager of our hotel in SD had told us to catch a taxi at 8am because buses to Port Au Prince left at 9am. But Franz wasn't there in the morning and we were running a bit behind. the important thing is that despite the traffic we purchased a couple of the last tickets- just 10 minutes before 9 am. With our boxes safe in the bottom of the bus, we settled in 2 seats in the air conditioned bus.

About 5 or 6 hours into the trip we made it to the border. All the Haitian passengers were given their passports (taken when you bought tickets) but they kept the foreign passports. No one could really explain what was happening, but it seemed as though we stopped on the Dominican side, reentered the bus to go through the heavily guarded gate, and then got re stamped on the Haitian side. Of course the Haitian side is immediately different- with 10 xs the amount of people selling at the side of the road. I dozed off for a while and when I woke began to see flattened buildings and cities made of tents. We made a good canadian friend named Roger on the bus- he informed us the bus was actually going to Petionville, not Port Au Prince. We didn't really know how to tell Pat and Viv to come get us- so in broken french, we got a taxi, and were on our way to our street- delmas 33.

The driver brought along an english speaking friend. We may hire them again to take us around the city. The english speaker- jude- asked us if we thought haiti would be different after the earthquake. Dan smiled and said "well, life goes on doesn't it?" Jude said "for some, not for others. I lost my wife, my home, and now sleep in the streets."

We got gas and continued to drive by piles of rubble. We rounded one corner just absolutely filled with a mob of kids- sort of lined up, sort of yelling. There was a man in uniform who seemed to be giving some plates of food. But I can't imagine they were all fed.

We made it safely within the gates of Matthew 25- boxes and all. I ran inside and saw Patrick and gave him a big hug. Next I hugged Viv and whispered to her that I brought chocolate and she gave out a little Cape Code squeal of appreciation. Next in line was Sister Mary who said, "well look who the cat dragged in, at least we know all the dishes will get done." And I hugged her too- those good long hugs that seem most genuine after lengths of time apart. Vivian was making dinner for the hospital tent next door with Eileen- the sort of overseer of the medical efforts there and a nurse. After dinner she went out to dress more wounds.

We set up our tent before it became too dark. We are near the place where our friend Ellie made a little marker to a leg she buried there.

The upstairs where we slept before is destroyed, and Pat said it manually was brought down, piece by piece for fear the remaining structure would topple on to the tent city in the soccer field below. Viv's art gallery is filled with boxes, tents, and at the moment- some Portuguese aid workers who are working with the UN and who gave me the best mango I have ever tasted. They are interviewing this amazing young man who makes little health videos, complete with song- about hand washing and malnutrition.

After I finished the dinner dishes I went into the tent city to watch a showing of the hand washing video. Hundreds of kids were huddled around the make shift projector screen in the dark- singing along. It was an amazing sight.

I guess what I want to say most of all, is that I am not overwhelmed. It just all seems about right. I don't want that to feel crass and of course most things aren't alright here, but I mean more our place in it. It just feels like when I heard about the earthquake I had the wind knocked out of me, and I have been waiting to take a deep breath. But being here, it just feels like even if I am just smiling at the kids who are watching the video and chasing the stupid dog, I don't feel useless anymore and I can breathe. And it's beautiful to see this little community taking care of eachother. If you think of all of Haiti it seems unbearable, but when you think of this neighborhood, coming together and taking care of eachother it seems bearable that life goes on. And coming in and out of this community are french, bulgarians, Portuguese, Americans, and Canadians, bartering with each other to help the community at large. And even if is just in those 3 boxes- Santa Clara, Santa Rosa, San Diego, and Seattle has sent us love and money to make our own tiny impact. And it really does help if even to lighten the spirits of the real heros living here and doing the real work. I feel strangely at home and happy. I am so happy to just wash the dishes and listen to the kids singing outside and drink my 7up in a bottle.

Sister Mary was delighted with everything we brought. She immediately hid the dish soap and shampoo- with so many people coming in and out to help, it's hard to keep track of things. She said it felt like christmas- looking over the old bed sheets and tooth brushes we brought, and I never had quite so much joy in giving anything I don't think. But instantly you think of all the things you didn't bring. I mean- anything would help.
Our few days here won't be long enough, but believe it or not, despite the manual and emotional work we will endure- I think we will finally breathe easy and leave with a renewed faith in humanity.


Safe in matthew 25. More later

bus to PAP

On safely at 9 am. The bus is very nice and air conditioned. No birds on my lap this time.

Will write more in Haiti!

Monday, March 1, 2010

santo domingo

We arrived late last night and slept through buses leaving for Haiti this morning, so now we have a day to rest which we are grateful for. But let me back up a bit.

I can't really believe we've traveled all this way with 3 50 lb boxes. This is only made possible by the kindness we've met all along the way. It sorta reaffirms to me that we're supposed to be on this journey- because strangers seem to be making it possible.

In the San Francisco airport, we tried to check in outside with our ridiculous boxes, but couldn't because we were traveling internationally. But we were close to the 45 minute before flight-time cut-off. Some this man called his friend inside on this cell phone- they grabbed our passports and checked us in- bypassing everyone. They then stood and helped us weigh and redistribute weight in our boxes and tape them up.

Then again in Santo Domingo- people everywhere are helping us carry our boxes- in the airport, to the taxi, in the hotel.

Our layover in Miami was long so we cabbed into South Beach. What a scene. It's like Jersey Shore geriatrics. But we got to see the Sharks part 2 beat the USA hockey team. And pay 20 dollars for drinks that were bigger than we wanted.

Our little hotel has hot water and air conditioning. It's heaven. It will be quite a change tomorrow!

Now we sit at a restaurant outside in the city center. We're in a square with an old cathedral (dan says chris columbus's son layed the first brick in 1514- Sr Francis Drake destroyed the inside in 1580-something), pigeons, ancient trees with giant trunks, art, and musicians. It would be the perfect picture if it weren't for the hundreds of European tourists. It's insane. They're everywhere.

That's something else that will change tomorrow.

Til then.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

when you're awake at 4 am...

You look around on the road and wonder why the heck any one else is awake. What could possibly be so important? Well for us- it's at 6:30 am flight to the Dominican Republic. It's go time.

We packed 3 huge cardboard boxes with supplies until midnight or later. We have t get there early to figure out what to do with them. They may be too heavy. My Dad is taking us- and particularly chipper. He'll end up with the left over pounds for Good Will. Our first adventure, I am sure.

I hope we catch the hockey game during our layover!