Monday, October 6, 2008

On the road to Gonaives

The Gonaives team consisted of me, Mary, and Ann. Mary lives at Quisqueya Christian School where her husband is the principal and she helps walk the ravine most weeks with me. She is a retired nurse from Canada. Ann is from Maine, just graduated from nursing school and since she hadn’t started a new job yet, she decided to come to Haiti for a few weeks to help with the flood victims. Of the three of us, I was the only one who spoke Creole, though they both can pick out important words like “diarrhea, fever, or infection” as I’m talking.

We left Sherrie’s at 6am en route for Gonaives, a drive that is about 5 hours on a good day. It’s only 100 miles to Gonaives but the roads are mostly gravel or pavement with horrendous potholes or streets filled with machanns peddling their wares. We opened and closed the car windows depending on how much dust and fumes were coming in, which also meant that we alternated from cool breeze to sweaty confinement. It was mostly sweaty confinement, especially when you consider that we had a driver, 3 white nurses, Sherrie’s assistant director Lisette, a bodyguard, and a ton of supplies loaded into the SUV.

We had our first flat tire about 2 hours outside Port-au-Prince. We white people hid in the shade of a little palm and banana tree oasis and watched a man fish while Edmond, our driver, put on the spare tire. In 15 minutes, we were back on the road.

We had our second flat tire about 4 ½ hours outside Port. This time, we had no oasis and no spare tire, and it was high noon: prime conditions for intense sun burning. Edmond took the first flat tire (which was not as utterly demolished as the second), hopped into a passing truck, and went to Gonaives to get it fixed. Lisette and our bodyguard (whose name I do not know) stayed with the car while Mary, Ann, and I went searching for shade.

We found a little hut just off the road that offered some protection but nowhere dry to sit, so when we heard children’s voices not far off, we decided to go investigate. We walked out to this little group of dirt huts:

Sure enough, there were children and when the children saw us, they screamed, grabbed the littler ones, ran, and hid behind the largest building! One older woman approached us very slowly and asked cautiously how we were doing. I explained that we had a flat tire and that we were waiting for our driver to come back with a new one and that we had just come exploring and stumbled upon their home. The woman looked at us very seriously for a moment and then said, “Wait a minute.” She walked into her house and came back with three plastic chairs! The next thing you knew, we were sitting in the shade of a tree, and the children were creeping out from their hiding spot. I called to them, inviting them to come sit with us, and this time, they came, still looking a little scared but excited too.

Within 10 minutes, we had the entire extended family standing around talking to us. They introduced themselves, told us all about what had happened to them during the flood, showed us their goats, and indicated where the adults work in the rice fields and where they pump water for bathing and drinking. We in turn, introduced ourselves and explained what we were doing in the middle of nowhere. Then someone asked if we would like to see the children perform.

The younger girls got into formation while one of the boys tapped out a rhythm on a 5 gallon tub. They sang and danced for us, a wild Haitian dance with lots of attitude and hip movement. Even the littlest girl got up their and shook her booty for us. It was adorable and hilarious!

We sang Creole and French church songs together, we took lots of photos, I played rocks and Mancala in the dirt with a girl named Gina, and Mary learned how to gayepaye (a traditional Haitian dance). We walked back to the truck and got a bunch of cookies as well as a several sacks of rice which we distributed to the family. Then we played more games and took more photos and amused ourselves and the entire village. Word had spread that 3 white women were visiting, so everyone kept coming by to gawk and whisper. When our bodyguard came to fetch us because the car was fixed, we had spent nearly 2 ½ hours with that family.

We finally rolled into wet and muddy Gonaives in the mid-afternoon and collapsed on the floor of our hotel room. When we had recovered and washed the layers of dust and sweat off ourselves, we bagged pills and mixed creams so that we would be ready for our first clinics the next morning. We went to bed early!

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