07 October 2011

on the other side

[Yesterday's post] I thought I was going to be emotionally overwhelmed during my first couple of weeks in Haiti. I have my journal with me, but I haven't felt compelled to write in it at all. I mainly write in it if I am feeling very stressed out and need to free my mind of some burdensome thought. Haiti hasn't made me feel this way yet. Honestly, I am having the most fun I have ever had in my life. Who knew the poorest country in the Western hemisphere could make someone feel this way??! Yes, the poverty is extreme, more so than what I observed in Tanzania or Nicaragua (the Western hemisphere's second poorest country). The streets are dirty and crowded with piles of trash, the air smells like sweat, fish, burning garbage, burning charcoal, and a delicious meal in the making. But, I am learning that people here move on with their lives because they have to - there is no alternative. The drivers and conductors on the tap taps love making money, they love honking their horns to the beat of the music on the radio, and they enjoy the risks that come with driving on Haiti's meandering highways. People in the mountains and rural communities always say  bon jour and bon soir with a smile on their faces. Also, many people I meet will say, mwen kontan rekonet avek ou which means I'm happy to meet you. I can't be sad about that!

Last week in review:

The end of last week was incredibly busy. On Wednesday, I headed into Port au Prince to pick up the new intern, Katie (she's also my former Cornell classmate and track teammate), and bring a PTA mother and baby to Petit Freres et Soeurs (PETS) St. Damien's Hospital in Tabarre, a section of PaP. The child needed an EKG and other examinations and PETS offered free medical services.While Jill, Rachel, and Kerry (CNP's executive director) were in a meeting, I went to the airport with Jean Claude to get Katie. I was so happy to pick her up! I think the first few hours in a foreign country are less stressful when your friend from college picks you up at the airport and gives you the 411 as you drive through the streets of an unstable capital. We met up with the other women and had pizza at Flor di Latte. I followed my pizza with an incredibly refreshing glass of passion fruit juice.

On Thursday, I had the amazing opportunity to shadow Dr. Mitch Mutter, a cardiologist and CNP's founder, at one of the hospitals in Leogane. I went back and forth between shadowing him and working and wrapping things up at the PTA. It took 7 hours, but Mitch saw all 22 patients who waited for him outside. He conducted an EKG and an echocardiogram on many of them. He let me place the leads (electrodes) on some of the patients. I really admired his patience and thoroughness with each of the patients. All of them were happy to be examined by him. Mitch was very friendly and had a great sense of humor. He met Paul Famer (one of my heroes!) while Paul worked in Haiti as a medical school back in the 80's. So, we talked about that experience and also about why he started CNP. Mitch came to Haiti to work with cardiologists and saw that many children were severely malnourised in Leogane. In 1998, he founded CNP. Around that time, 24% of children in Leogane were malnourished. Now, that statistic stands at 3%. We're making moves and are getting closer to our goal of 0%! This day was also Mitch's birthday - it was his 15th 49th birthday or something like that. So, after the 22nd patient, we headed back to the house and the festivities were underway. We had music, drinks, food, and a mouthwatering chocolate cake prepared for him. He had a big smile on his face during the entire night. I'm glad he enjoyed the party :-)

I headed back to PaP on Friday for a meeting with the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) and UNICEF. It was good for me to put a face to an organization like UNICEF because I have read so much about it through my course work at Cornell. The MSPP meeting was in French, so Haiti's Director of Nutrition talked slowly for me so that I could understand her (my French listening and speaking skills are works in progress...). The meeting was a good chance for me to get a sense of what the other NGOs are doing in Haiti and I enjoyed being there. I was also this close (but not really) to meeting Paul Farmer; a representative from Partners In Health was in attendance. One day Paul Farmer...one day...

This past Saturday, Katie, Rachel and I traveled back to Jacmel with Jon, James, and Michael (Cordaid) for some more surfing. The waves were nonexistent so, we decided to head to Bassin-Bleu, Haiti's famous deep water pools. The blue waters of the pools were mesmerizing and are forever etched in my mind's eye. There are three pools: one is 15ft deep and the third one is 75ft deep (I didn't catch the depth of the second one, but its depth is between the depths of the1st and the 2nd, maybe 45ft??? I'm definitely going back there again and will take note of it then). After we had our fair share of fun, we headed back to my favorite restaurant since my first visit. Yes, Jacmel's Pizzeria. I had the same dish from my first visit: BBQ chicken with mashed potatoes. I had to! I followed the meal with passion fruit. I really can't resist the passion!!

On Sunday, Jon and James cam over to my house for dance lessons with Jude. He is an incredible dancer and a great teacher. We learned and danced the salsa, cha cha cha, merengue, bachata, and the rumba. I picked them up pretty quickly (it's the islander in me). I can't wait to bring my moves to the dance floor on Thursday nights at Masaje.

Up to speed:  
I just came back from PaP after being there for 6hrs, a period of time which is longer than I expected. I went to pick up the mother I dropped off at PETS, but her child hadn't been discharged by her doctor yet (there was some miscommunication). The mother wanted to return home to her other child who had been badly burned on one of his hands and the father didn't have time to bring him to the hospital. I told her that she needed to stay there so that her first child could receive his last two examinations. I asked her to tell me where she lived so that my coworkers and I could make sure that her second son received medical attention. She told me I would never be able to find her house because it was deep in the side streets of Leogane. So, I asked her for a phone number, but she had her husband's phone and her father, who is with the other child, didn't have a mobile phone. I told her that if her husband called her at all she should tell him to send the child with the burns our way at the PTA and we would take care of him. She agreed and told me that she was hungry and couldn't purchase food because the hospital personnel hadn't given her change from the last set of examinations. So, I gave her some money to buy food for the night and next day. Before I left, I took down the number of a nurse there and told the nurse to call me when she was sure that the child would be discharged. Going into PaP is somewhat of a hassle and a long trip which I want to make worthwhile.

I never thought that my work would become this challenging. I really wasn't even sure what to expect. I just knew that I wanted to do work that involved nutrition, improving behavior and health, and interacting with people. I have gotten all that and more. But, I find myself having to make many sudden important decisions. When that happens, I think, "Oh, dear what do I do??" And I have to just pause and hash things out to come up with a proper solution. It has worked well so far, but I know this is not the end of all of this. I have no way to prepare myself for the unexpected. For now, I'll just continue to help the mothers and their children in any way that I can.

On the other side: 
A friend of mine sent me a link to a blog about a 20-something year old Haitian living in NYC. I read her introduction and fell in love with her story: she is from Petionville, a section of PaP, and currently is a model working in the city. I felt as if we had just swapped lives, as I am from NYC and moved to Haiti (minus the model lifestyle...). She wrote about how the electricity would always go out when she was younger and how she dreamed of living a better life after reading romance novels. Now, she has her bed side lamp and bathrobe. I see that she's living the glamorous life in the city, while I am working in the health sector in Haiti. How does one even describe this phenomenon??! After reading her intro, I had the biggest urge to meet her, sit down and talk about her, us, our life trajectories, anything. I wrote her a message and she responded! Maybe when I come home for Christmas vacation we can meet up.


I am having a great time and am staying safe (I can't disappoint the parentals)!! Until next time...

01 October 2011


[Tuesday's Post]

It is only Tuesday, but this has been an incredibly busy week. I'm still recovering from an even busier weekend. 

Today, most of the expat staff took a trip out to Petit Harpon, the 13th section of Leogane. The purpose of the trip was to talk to community leaders about starting our PD/Hearth and feeding programs in their community. So, I skipped out on working at the PTA because I wanted to see the country side.  It was my third time out in the mountains and thankfully, this hiking experience wasn't so rough. CNP wants to bring biosand filters, a mill, and a clinic to Ti Harpon. 

[Biosand filters are a great technological innovation. It's kind of self-explanatory, but here's how they work: sand and gravel enclosed in a container of cement are used to create clean drinking water by filtering non-potable water. CNP plans to provide free biosand filters to the school, church and health clinic and sell them to other members of the community for a very low price of 200 gourdes (5$ USD). That is a great deal. I went to a restaurant called Kat Kwen (Four Corners) a few weeks ago and ordered rice and red beans with fried chicken and plantains for the same price!] 

First, we toured an already established health clinic. Then we walked to the church, which is near where the second clinic would be built. After walking around, we met with community leaders, told them about our potential programs, and fielded questions at the end of the meeting. The meeting was successful as the leaders and principal of the school were very receptive to our programs. 

When I returned to the office, I met with Guerleine to go over cases from the morning at the PTA. The PTA has maintained its momentum as the scheduled mother-baby pairs came in today and we had a new mother-baby pair register with our program. We currently have about 26 mother-baby pairs! This is much better than the 14 pairs we had when I started working. Guerleine and I have gradually turned this program around for the better and we are very excited about this. In addition to transportation services, I added toys, mats, and construction of a medicine cabinet and new table to our budget for the PTA. These should be ready to use in a couple of weeks and will give our work space a brand new face. 

As we wrapped up the case reviews, Guerleine told me about a severely malnourished child the monitrices had discovered in one of the mountainous sections of Leogane. As described by Meti (another coworker of mine at the PTA), the child had kwashiorkor, episodes of vomiting and diarrhea, and is on the brink of death. The child's mother had recently passed away and the father left soon after, leaving a very old grandmother to take care of a total of 7 children. The family also lived more than 8 hours from Signon, where we run our PTA and had no one to care for the child in town. They turned to me and asked, "What are you going to do??"  I immediately thought that we need to get the child down here somehow. I told Jill about this and we had Meti call the monitrice who discovered the case. We told her to find a neighbor that could care for the child during a stay at the Nutrition Stabilization Unit (USN) and to come down with them the next day to Chatulet. I thanked Meti for making the call and organizing everything. Meti is great at doing his job. All of our Haitian staff are, but sometimes they just need small boosts in their confidence to reaffirm that they can do their jobs well. I do that all the time with Guerleine and today as I thanked her for holding down services at the PTA while I was away; in addition to her regular cases, she had to provide transportation money, make appointments for hospital visits, and remind the mothers about an information session happening this coming Friday. I thought she would have forgotten to do one of these things with more mother-baby pairs than usual to account for, but she handled everything very well.

When in Haiti...

Last Friday night was the start of one of the most epic weekends of my life. Rachel and I were invited to a party at Marabu Creole, another resto-bar in town. There, we met up with Jimmy's friends Jon (IsraAID) and Ryan (Notra Dame Filariasis Program). The event was a going-away party for their friend who finished her employment with Save the Children. She had an open bar the entire night! Rachel and I ordered something to eat and drink, then headed to the dance floor. We were 4 out of maybe 10 people dancing to remixed American club songs, but we still had plenty of fun. We headed home around midnight to get some sleep for a 9am departure for Jacmel, a city located on the southern coast of Haiti. 

The ride to Jacmel was a fun road trip:  we listened to songs by Oasis, Arcade Fire and Celia Cruz.and also purchased baby bananas, star fruit and avocados. We headed to the port city to surf and tour the town. My plan was just to watch Rachel and the guys surf or continue reading Mountains Beyond Mountains or do both. Rachel almost made me go in the water with her on one surf board, but the water was a little to rough for my taste so, I decided to head back to shore. After about 45 min, Rachel got tired and gave me her board. I got over my fears and just went for it! She helped me get out into the water past the oncoming waves and onto the surf board. I started paddling and was able to sit up and lie back down! I was so happy that things went that well during my first surfing experience. The waves started to get more intense and I swam back to the shore. That was a good day for me and it wasn't over yet. We dried ourselves off and headed into town for some dinner at Jacmel's Pizzeria

The owner knew Jimmy very well and quickly cooked us some Louisiana chicken gumbo. We soon devoured our meals. T'was too good...Then, she made us BBQ chicken with the smoothest and creamiest mashed potatoes known to mankind. She has enchiladas, quesadillas, pasta, and homemade ice cream among other things on her menu and spoke English very well. I asked her where she had resided in the states and she told me Oklahoma, for about 20 years. I was so glad she brought the southern cooking back down to Haiti! While we were in Jacmel, we also visited some shops housing masks for Carnival, also known as Mardi Gras, and took a quick trip to the beach. The beach was a bit dirty, but it was a calm sight and we watched some locals play football.

Jacmel is a gorgeous town! The French colonial-styled buildings have preserved the port city's culture. It suffered minimal damage from the earthquake and there is plenty to do there. Rachel and I were planning to stay there for the weekend, but we decided to head back north with the boys - apparently, there was a party going on that night in Petit Goave featuring circus acts and Clowns Without Borders. Unfortunately, we didn't make it there in time to see the fun festivities :( However, we did see some musical acts that made us feel like we were watching performances from a talent show after summer camp...yes, some of them were that bad... 

Rachel and I decided to stay in Petit Goave after the "party" since it was too late to drive back to Leogane. We were near the beach and decided to go for a late night swim. I had a chance to experience the bioluminescent plankton Rachel tells me so much about. Any movement I made in the water allowed me to see the bioluminescence of the plankton on my body in the dark. It was awesome! 

Tour de Leogane:

The next day we all headed back to Leogane. Rachel and I decided to tour the town before heading back to our place. Jimmy decided to give us a ride on his mototaxi so that we wouldn't have to walk around under the hot sun. Thanks Jimmy! He took us to his favorite breakfast spot for egg sandwiches. While we waited for them, we went across the street and toured a rum factory. I got to check out rum in the making inside these huge barrels! It smelled like rotten molasses. We crossed the street, ate our egg sandwiches followed by some refreshing Coca-Cola and headed to the Notre Dame house where Jimmy used to work. I couldn't get over the residence - the house is practically a mansion! We talked to two members of the Haitian staff who were very familiar with CNP. One of them, Wes, had been cured of filariasis and told us about how we came to work with the university and the incidence, prevention and treatment of filariasis in Haiti. As Rachel and I talked to him, mosquitoes swarmed around our feet and we kept trying to swat them away. Wes told us not to worry about them, but I just thought it was ironic that the house had so many mosquitoes. After talking with him, Rachel and I decided to sit under a tree outside.

We then decided to visit this community on the beach called Ka Piti. It was like a mini paradise! We saw a number of houses built by the Food For the Poor along the shoreline and chatted with the locals. We also took off our flip flops and started dancing in the shallow water since music was playing near by.

We headed home around 3pm and slept. It was a great and relaxing weekend =]