Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gonaives - One year later

This weekend, I had the opportunity to go to Gonaives again to do clinic. Mary DeKoter, who works in the ravine with me, drove the two of us and a whole carload of medications 150 miles north of Port-au-Prince to this city that has been the site of devastating flooding every time a hurricane hits Haiti. If you have a pick-up or an SUV built 3 feet off the ground, it is possible to make the trip in under 4 hours. In our little Hyundai 4x4, it took us nearly 6 hours.

I saw patients in a classroom beside Pastor Genada's church, while Mary checked blood pressures and bagged meds for me as I requested them. We saw over 100 patients in about 5 and a half hours.

Each patient had a small piece of paper with a number marked on it and they waited in the adjacent classroom until I called for them. Every time I would yell, "Nimero 12!", this little girl who was standing just behind me, would echo it. Eventually, I stopped yelling the numbers and would just nod at her when I was ready for another patient.

I thought this woman and her daughter were absolutely beautiful, but their story is even more beautiful than they are. The little boy in the next photo lost both his parents in the flooding last year. He literally watched them being carried away by the 14 foot flood waters. In a city and a time of nothing, this woman willing took the boy in and has been caring for him and raising him as if he were hers. Such is the spirit that reigns in Gonaives.

Last year, I made two trips to Gonaives to do clinic. On the first trip, I came less than 3 weeks after the 2 hurricanes that completely destroyed the city. Buildings were crushed, streets were impassable, and mud was everywhere. Four months later, I visited again and although some houses had been cleared, the city was still full of mud. I assumed that it would stay like that forever, but I was wrong! I was amazed on this trip so see streets emptied of mud, houses rebuilt, and canals freshly dug.

The river that was 18 feet wide and 2 feet deep in October 2008 has now become a pretty little stream. Where once, I crossed barefoot stepping on piles of clothing underwater, now I can cross with dry feet on a series of concrete blocks.

The sign on the wall outside Pastor Genada's church is visible again! The mountains of mud that filled his street have been removed and dumped in the mountains by UN and Haitian government trucks.

In anticipation of future flooding and in an effort to prevent the destruction that hit his church last year, Pastor Genada is slowing raising the funds to rebuild his church 5 feet off the ground. Hopefully, next time a hurricane hits, the building will fare better.

The mud flats that I crossed on foot in 2008 on my way to clinics in refugee camps are now a mini jungle. It's really quite pretty.

On the edge of the city, a small community of homes was under water when I initially visited Gonaives. In January 2009, the water had receded, but the mud still made the houses unlivable. Now, finally, the water is gone and the families have moved back in.

Just beyond that community, the lake of Gonaives is still there. Once upon a time, the lake was a valley and the city was constructing a small airport there. The water has dropped far enough for the road that crosses the lake to be reopened, but it seems doubtful that the lake will ever fully disappear.

Among my patients at clinic, I treated about 10 members of Pastor Genada's deaf community. Genada is one of the most amazing people I have met in Haiti: a Filipino pastor with a wife and a 5 year old daughter who have been serving in Gonaives for 14 years. For the majority of their time there, they have been the only long-term missionaries working in the city. They have an active church, a deaf school and community program, and a feeding program for 100 children in one of the poorest ghettos. I love hearing about what they are doing, and my favorite part is the bakery. The church owns a bakery and employs members of the deaf community - people who would otherwise be unable to find jobs - to make the most scrumptious bread I've ever had in Haiti. They sell the bread to stores and vendors and put the small profit towards the deaf school.

Those students are very proud of their bakery. When I popped my head in after I finished clinic, they jumped to show me everything and to give me two steaming hot rolls. Yum!

At Canadian Thanksgiving this month, Mary had met a young missionary girl who has recently moved to Gonaives to run a school. Trish Gauthier is staying in a large house by herself and wants visitors whenever possible, so we stayed with her for our 2 nights in Gonaives. She was my age and a blast to be around. Good friends are a rare find in Haiti, so it was great for both of us to connect. I think I may be going to Gonaives a little more often now.

On Saturday, after our day of clinic work, Trish invited us to join her at a going away party for the head of UNPol at the MINUSTAH base. So we spent our evening meeting, talking to, and dancing with UN soldiers. I met the Argentinian head of Intelligence - it was a nice connection, making for a tour of the unit's medical clinic and a gift of a satelite map of Gonaives with street names and landmarks! Decent maps of Haiti are impossible to come by so I was very grateful. It was another of those surreal Haiti moments: "I'm on a UN base, dancing with a rather handsome Argentinian, surrounded by high-ranking officers and some very big guns. Only in Haiti."

Mary and I also accompanied the Genada's to their feeding program to take care of the children's simple medical needs. The bandage I put on a little girl's infected wound was certainly the only clean thing in the entire neighborhood. But the children look healthy and traces of red hair from protein deficiency are fading from their heads. I left Bernadine, the woman in charge, with vitamins and deworming pills for all the children.


Dannae said...

love the UN public service announcement... hahaha

Nikki said...

That is awesome. Do you have any missionaries living in Gonaives that I could contact? Like I told you before, my friend is spending a month in PAP in May. I am coming to visit (will be living in the DR then- taking the bus over) for the third week of May. Have a few days planned in PAP but would love to visit Gonaives. Friends of ours that we volunteer with are refugees from Gonaives and we would love to see where they are from.

How long does it take to get from PAP to Gonaives and what is the easiest way for us to get there (keeping in mind that it will be his first trip to Haiti, and my 2nd... where i can get around easily anywhere in the DR- am not so familiar with Haiti at all!) Not sure if this is something that will happen, but I would love if it could!

I know you must be busy, so if you can't get back to me, no problem! But if you have any info that would be great!