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...


  1. Great story chou chou i liked reading all of it! There are lots of people from Haiti in NYC with me you can meet! But this one sound particularly special. I know I won't be able to see anything of what you are seeing but keep me updated!


  2. These pictures are BEAUTIFUL! I love the one of the child playing in the water, and the waterfall looks like something out of a storybook! Glad you're having the best time ever.