Monday, September 27, 2010

Trauma remembered

I was doing rounds in the ravine on Friday afternoon when a freak storm took the entire city by surprise. One minute it was a hot sunny day; a minute later, black clouds had rolled in and it was as dark as early evening. "It's going to rain," Wesnal commented to me. "We should go." I casually moved away from the family I'd been talking to and suddenly a powerful wind burst out of nowhere. The family's tin roof was jerked into the air and the concrete block that had been weighing it down smashed to the ground - landing precisely where I'd been standing 10 seconds before!

Wesnal and I sprinted back to Sherrie's school under torrential downpour and against wild winds. We joined the Gonaives orphans under the covered classrooms as the storm increased in intensity. Around me, the children screamed and trembled and prayed in terror. They were rescued from Gonaives after a 14 foot wall of water and mud destroyed the city in the wake of 3 hurricanes in 2008, so you can imagine how this storm affected them. Even the adults were crying and screaming "Jesus! Jesus, help us!" over and over.

The fear reached a whole new level when a giant gust of wind ripped off a piece of Sherrie's roof, tin plates on a wooden frame so heavy that 6 men are needed to lift it. I gathered all the children around me and lovingly but firmly told them to not be afraid. We have storms in Port-au-Prince but we never flood. I held the littlest ones, Patrick and Lydjer, and moved throughout the rest of them, whispering prayers and words of comfort. Remarkably, a few local students from Sherrie's school who were with us at the time did not get scared but devoted themselves instead to comforting the orphans too.

When it was over an hour later, a wet but calm group of kids emerged from the shelter. Pretty soon, I started receiving calls from concerned friends and co-workers who wanted to know if I was OK. My fellow youth leader Marc called, not just to check on me, but also to tell me about his family's car. It apparently won the fallen tree lottery!

At St Joseph's, the tin fence that they have erected around their property fell over beside my house, but they had it back in place by the following afternoon. Up in the field, a few tents were ripped and a few tarps came off, but it was all easily fixed. Some tent cities were not so fortunate. One of our youth group teens had his tent so completely damaged that we've had him staying with Marc and Scotti while we find a new arrangement for him. On a positive note, I have heard about some families whose tents were destroyed thereby forcing them to move back into the intact homes that they have been too frightened to sleep in since the quake.

As if the day's adventures were not enough already, a young man came to my door that evening with a nice gash beside his eye. He'd been climbing a concrete wall trying to pick kenep (a small sticky fruit) and had fallen. I stood there, picking bits of concrete out of this boy's head and trying to ignore the earthquake memories that came flooding back. He was very brave and never even winced as I cleaned him and stitched him up, but I was glad when it was over. I enjoy caring for wounds, but this one was just a little too close to the multitudes that I doctored in January.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Where Keziah has been, Part 3: Bill's house

When I first moved to Haiti, there were a few things that I swore I would never do because they terrified me. I haven't done particularly well at holding to that list.

I will never drive a car in Haiti - done.
I will never walk alone after dark in Haiti - done.
I will never eat unidentifiable meat in Haiti - done.
I will never ride a motorcycle taxi in Haiti - done.
I will never drink water from an unknown source in Haiti - done.
I will never get in a fight with a drunk guy in Haiti - done.
I will never be the one fully responsible for a home in Haiti - as of 2 weeks ago, done.

While my friend and co-worker Bill is out of the country on dance tour, I have been left to oversee the repairs on a house that Bill maintains for an elderly woman in the US. Angel Missions is going to rent this house on Delmas 5 to use as a guesthouse for our teams, but it is not ready for inhabitants yet. There are earthquake cracks that need to be fixed, plumbing and electric that need to be installed, and of course, the entire place needs to be furnished. So in the midst of my other work, I am making frequent trips to Delmas 5 to check on the work and to negotiate with the laborers. It isn't my favorite thing to do because I know nothing about home repairs so I have no way to know if the work is being done properly or if I'm being grossly overcharged. But hey, it's got to be done so I do it.

The property actually has 2 houses, an older one that Bill has already finished working on, and a newer one where we will put foreigners. When all the work is done, it promises to be a very pleasant little place.

Along with the home renovations, I have also assumed responsibility for Bill's family in his absence. His older sister Sheila was separated from him when they were small children and he recently traveled across the country to find her. It took weeks, but when he did locate her, she was pregnant, living in the Dominican Republic with her boyfriend and 2 young children who were not very well nourished or in school. Bill brought them back to Haiti and arranged for a safer living situation for them in Cap Haitien. But after 2 years, he decided that he could better care for them in Port-au-Prince, so he moved them into the older house at Delmas 5.

I have been visiting them about twice a week, checking on Sheila, who is pregnant with her fourth child, and on the children, Rose Martha and Bladymi (the oldest, Emerson, has been sent to live with the St Joe's boys in Jacmel). I see that they are supplied with food and water, I make sure that everything is set for their schooling to start in October, and I take care of their medical needs.

They are a sweet little family and it's kind of fun being Auntie Kez for a few months.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Where Keziah has been, Part 2: Slave girl

Timing is funny sometimes. The day after my 5 houseguests arrived, the kids told me that Dieula, the 12 year old slave girl from next door had been kicked out and was living in the streets. So the following 5 days were a constant battle of trying to discover from all parties involved what had really happened. Dieula grew up in an orphanage and when she was 10, a woman came there and "chose" her. The lady instructed Dieula to run away from the orphanage and meet her so that she could live with her. I'm sure Dieula thought her salvation had arrived, but in truth, she was merely shifted from one ugly situation to another. "I took her," the woman told me. "Not as my child, of course, but at least into my home."

After about 2 years, Dieula was kicked out of that woman's home because "she started talking back to me when I yelled at her! I just couldn't handle her anymore." After the earthquake, my next door neighbors found her on the field, alone, so they took her in, again, not to be their child, but to be their restavek or child slave. They did not treat her horribly - I would have heard if they were beating her - but she was never allowed to keep money I paid her to do laundry for me, nor was she allowed inside the house to watch TV with their son. She worked for my neighbor in her little clothes-washing business and she did housework for them. I know she was well fed and I was very pleased to see that they sent her to afternoon school, but still, she was never treated with love.

It killed me to not be able to take her in but I had no space on the floor to put any more bodies. There was an empty tent in the field so I got her settled there and kept her fed and provided for. Meanwhile, I pushed my world of contacts for some place that could take a girl of her age and background. We finally found a home for girls on Delmas 75, run by a woman I know from church. Dieula cried very hard when I left her there - I think it was the first time in many years that she had truly felt loved, not just by me, but by my posse of neighborhood kids.

The kids' response to Dieula's plight really was one of the most heart-warming things I've ever seen in Haiti. They were the ones who told me she was homeless and whenever she was too shy to tell me she was hungry or thirsty, one of them would speak for her. Normally, the kids fight over anything I give out and if I give food to one, all the others start begging too. Not this week, though. If I gave a plate of food to Dieula, not a single child asked or even looked at me with those puppy-dog eyes. In fact, one evening when I got home, Christada stopped me on the street. Christada is from one of the poorest families in the tent city, but she said, "Kez, I saved most of my lunch today and gave it to Dieula."

The sweetest moment, however, was that night. Dieula had heard that my neighbor was fiercely angry with her so she was hiding somewhere in the abandonned houses nearby. Frantz, Christada, Herlens, Jean Marc and I roamed the streets for almost 2 hours, looking for her. Little Herlens, 5 years old, was holding my hand when he said, "Kez, my heart hurts." "What do you mean?" I asked, thinking that he meant he had a stomach ache. "My heart hurts for Dieula."

Where Keziah has been, Part 1: Around the Shoebox

I have been playing hostess for the past 10 days to two nuns, a recent college grad, a heart patient, and an errand boy. Sounds like a bad joke, huh? But it's not. It's the reality of life in Haiti. The nuns live in Pestel, a small mountain village near Jeremie, on the south part of the island. They have been friends of Vanessa's for some time so they are accustomed to staying at our place at Delmas 91 every time they come through Port-au-Prince. Since I have been living here, they have stayed 3 times so now they are not just Vanessa's friends but mine too. The heart patient is a young man from their village and Angel Missions arranged life-saving surgery for him last year. The errand man and the college grad came along for the ride, so with 6 people, my Shoebox was ready to burst!

Having guests for an extended period of time means a lot of little tasks such as buying 5 gallons of water on foot (good heavens, 6 people go through a lot of drinking water!), taking out trash on foot to a dumpster 10 minutes away, and trying to keep the house relatively clean. It also means odd curfew hours - the nuns and the 2 men tend to go to sleep quite early, so my usual evening email and blog time evaporated. Furthermore, 3 extra white people in the house makes the neighborhood kids go ga-ga. They are at my door frequently when it's just me here; with the potential for more playmates though, they were here non-stop during the entire 10 days. They especially loved Katie, the young college grad.

Frantz has never been to school so at age 6, he knows no letters, and he can't even count beyond 1-2-3. I have been working with him and this week, Katie and the heart patient took over on the days that they were home. Last night, Frantz wrote a letter F of his own accord for the first time ever and counted all the way to 7 without a mistake. Good work, team!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Where are you, Keziah?

I apologize for the blog silence. Things have gotten remarkably busy all of a sudden (yes, more than usual, if that is possible) and blogging takes a back seat when human beings require attention. I promise that when things quiet down a little, I will clue you in on the exciting comings and goings around the Shoebox.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Clinic 24

We have started the clinic at Delmas 24 again. It takes time for the surrounding tent cities and slums to hear through word of mouth that clinic is open, so for the past few weeks we haven't had many patients. I don't mind though. It gives me time to complete a very thorough inventory of our pharmacy (thank you, US Airforce for providing me with such ample supplies that I am still, 8 months later, using them!) and to train Sendhie and my other staff with some useful skills. Plus, I love having the time to chat with my regular patients, showing them that we care about more than just their physical well being. A little bag of tylenol only lasts so long, but a trusting relationship can be for life.


I know it isn't actually leprosy, but I was stumped by this strange skin condition on a young man in the ravine. My friend Dr Karen, a general practitioner, was with me that afternoon and she also was puzzled by his illness. His mother said that he had only been sick for 4 days, but he looked to me as if he had been wasting away for weeks. Based on his additional complaint of respiratory trouble and the fact that the sores began as pus-filled blisters, we treated with a powerful antibiotic. I am very concerned for him and can't wait to see him again next week to see how he's doing and whether the keloid-like scars will remain or fade.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ghost town

The St Joseph's dance troupe left this morning for a month long tour in DC, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. In anticipation of their departure, the remaining boys were sent to Trinity, the sister home in Jacmel, for the rest of the summer, and the demolition has been put on hold. The gate is locked, my street is rubble-free, and it is so quiet, I could hear a pin drop. It feels like a ghost town after the constant shoveling, dumping and loud banter of the bucket brigade that have been the backdrop to my life for the past 8 months.

If you live along the tour route, go see my friends Walnes, Lele, Bill, Jaki, Roland, Didi and Reginald drum and dance! It's an experience like no other and the funds raised will help the rebuilding of St Joe's and their sister home for handicapped children, Wings of Hope. You can see the tour schedule on the Hearts with Haiti website.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Port-au-Prince is a dry, dusty, rather ugly city. For someone like me, who grew up spending hours in the woods, it can sometimes feel like a prison sentence especially during the summer and early fall when the daily temperatures can be painfully high. I had heard that there are hiking trails not far from the city, but I could not imagine them being anything like the lush forests of New England. So I was a little skeptical when Marc invited me to go hiking with Scotti and another friend.

We drove 30 minutes outside the city, parked the car and started walking up a ravine. It was classic urban Haiti: rocky, sunny, dusty, trashy and lots of people watching us and calling out, "Blan, blan!" We continued and soon the ravine had a stream of water running through it. We eventually left all the villagers behind and came around a bend to see this:


That such beauty, such pure natural beauty should exist only a few miles from Port-au-Prince simply astounded me. We got giddy like little children and played in that waterfall to our hearts' content. But the adventurer's spirit had caught us and we had to see if it was possible to climb the falls and follow the stream higher up. With me leading the way, barefoot and bathing suit clad, we scaled the steep, slippery hillside along the stream. At certain points, we climbed the rock walls with the water cascading past us. Further ahead, we used trees to haul ourselves up. Eventually, we reached a second gorgeous cascade and we played again before starting the descent.

What a balm to the soul! Haiti is known for its waterfalls, but always in smaller cities hours away such as Jacmel and Les Cayes. And yet, here, 2 taptap rides from my home, is a beautiful oasis. Ever since I moved to Haiti in 2007, I have sought such a sanctuary. The rooftop garden at St Joseph's offered me a reasonable solution but since losing that in the earthquake, I have been unable to find a place nearby where I can have solitude in a peaceful and heart-soothing environment. Finally! God has provided this...