Thursday, December 30, 2010

Slave soup

Two days after I posted about Dina, the little slave girl in my neighborhood who I'd been feeding regularly, I was at home in the evening when I heard a timid knock on the door. I opened to find Dina holding a bowl of soup. "I made dinner for you, Kez," she smiled shyly.

It was a simple bean soup with plaintain and dumplings. I don't like beans (just ask my mom), but that soup was delicious. I think joy gave it a stronger flavor than the beans.

Christmas at the Shoebox

I decorated my Shoebox during the riots, when I couldn't go out and work. The government was giving us national power almost around the clock, perhaps in an effort to keep people at home watching soccer games instead of burning tires, so it was a nice time to have lights up. Of course, after the rioting stopped, a transformer blew in my neighborhood and we were all without electricity for over a week.

Thanks to some generous friends and visitors to Haiti, I was able to put together Christmas gifts. First, bags of rice and beans for needy families that I work with in the ravine and in Delmas 75. Then small gift bags of stickers, matchbox cars, candy, balloons, and glow-in-the-dark bracelets for my neighborhood kids. And finally, gift bags for each of the Angel Missions employees. Edjour, my medical visa guy, walked in one morning, looked under the Christmas tree, and remarked with a straight face, "Oh, I see Santa visited the Shoebox last night."

I invited all the neighborhood kids to my house on the 23rd for our own little Christmas party. We sang and danced to Christmas carols, ate popcorn and cake, made Christmas toasts, and went gaga over gifts. Before the kids left with their gifts, we gathered in front of the tree and I asked them who could tell me why we celebrate Christmas.

"Because we get to eat a lot!" Frantz instantly yelled!

"We celebrate Christmas because we get presents!" another kid offered.

"No, it's because it's the month of December!" whooped one of the girls.

Finally, a soft-spoken newcomer to the crowd, Camille's 8 year old girl cousin, answered, "We celebrate Jesus' birth at Christmas." She helped me tell the whole story, from the angel Gabriel all the way to the three magi. We'll see how much the kids remember next December.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Program

One of the Christmas festivities in Haiti was the elaborate Christmas program put together by my friends at Child Hope, an orphanage in Delmas 75 that also runs the feeding program where I sometimes help out. Attending the party were close to 400 people: feeding program children, parents and siblings of the children, friends from church and the neighborhood. The kids from the orphanage performed dances, songs, poems, and raps for the audience. The street children performed a Christmas carol, holding the "Gloooooooria" beautifully, probably the only part of the song that the little ones knew. The finale was a Christmas pageant. The whole thing was great, but everyone agrees: the donkey stole the show!

Merry Christmas!

I arrived in Boston at 7pm on Christmas day. It was a perfect arrangement that allowed me to celebrate Christmas in Haiti (photos to be posted soon) and to also celebrate in the US with my family. We got hit with about 18 inches of snow the day after I arrived, so it has been a white Christmas! I'm cold, to say the least. But I'm loving being in the beauty of winter New England and catching up with my familly and friends.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Video of the ravine

Check out one of the video clips that Robbie, my shadow/paparazzi/videographer/friend, has put together for Angel Missions! To watch this particular piece that shows my work in the ravine, click here.

Thanks Robbie!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How could you?

Dina is one of my neighbors on Delmas 91. I knew that she didn't come from the greatest situation because she always wore one of two dresses and because when conscientious parents forbade their children from entering my concrete house in the months immediately following the quake, Dina was one of the only ones that came in, meaning that no one truly cared about her safety. She always seems a little dirtier, her hair a little more unkempt, and her language a bit less refined. Outward appearance is very important in Port-au-Prince and no self-respecting mother allows her child to run around dirty or in ripped clothing if she can help it. It's the first sign of real poverty or child slavery.

I didn't get a bigger picture until this summer when I started working on school scholarships for the kids in the tent city. All of them had been to school for at least a year or two except Frantz and Dina. Frantz was only 6, so his case was more understandable but Dina was 11 years old! I needed her birth certificate to register her, but Pierre, the man she lives with, said it was 4 hours away in Les Cayes with Dina's real mother. I asked him to go get it.

Pierre is a good man. He's the one who fixed my electric 3 months after the earthquake so that I finally had power and he reguarly did little repairs at my house during those crazy months without accepting any payment. He worked as one of the demo guys at St Joe's for months so I saw him every single day and worked alongside him some days. Now that the demo crew has changed, Pierre has bought himself a brand new motorcycle and works as a moto-taxi driver.

When I approached him about Dina's birth certificate, I expected a similar response to what Pierre had given me during my electrical nightmares. Surely, I thought, if I am arranging to get your girl into school for free, the least you can do is help out by getting me the birth certificate. But Pierre refused to get it unless I paid his way to Les Cayes. So I paid. Dina and Frantz started school together, in a sort of special tutoring class where they are being taught all the basics, things as simple as 1-2-3.

A few weeks ago, Pierre's wife delivered her first baby and has been staying at a friend's house in another part of town. Now, because Madame Pierre isn't home during the day, Dina has to stay home to watch the door-less tent. She can't go to school and Pierre only leaves her with the equivalent of 60 cents to buy herself food while he is gone from early morning until evening. Poor Dina sits in a little chair in front of the tent and watches her friends walk to school in their clean crisp uniforms. When the city water pipe turns on, she fills buckets and hauls them up to the house. When the children come play with me, she sneaks in for a few minutes and then runs back up the hill, afraid that Pierre will return and beat her. She asks me for food every night and on the nights that she doesn't catch me walking down the street, she sends Frantz down to beg on her behalf.

I am torn. Do I remove Dina from her current situation and try to get her placed at the same home where Dieula, my next-door neighbor's child slave, is now living or do I leave her here with her community? Her condition is not good, but unfortunately, the condition of most orphanages and children's homes in Haiti is often not much better. I will have to make a decision soon. Dina's looking skinny.

I asked Dina last week why her mother sent her to live with Pierre and Madame Pierre. "She didn't," Dina answered. "It was my big sister who brought me here." Who's your big sister?

"My big sister? You know her, Kez. She's Madame Pierre."

How could you? How could you treat your own little sister like a child slave? Perhaps there is much more to the story than I know. Perhaps there was a good reason to bring Dina to the city. Perhaps things are better here than they would have been with her mother. I hope that's the case, but mostly I hope that someday Haiti will be so drastically different that children won't be seen as a burden or a worker but as precious gifts from God.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

You know times are hard when... year old Frantz starts talking animatedly about the riots in the streets. He demonstrates firing a warning shot into the air and then pauses with a troubled look on his face:

"Kez, when they shoot up like that, do they shoot God?"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The city just keeps burning

Things looked calm this morning, but by 11am, I could see smoke rising from tire fires in Petionville, about a mile away, and on Route de Freres, less than a quarter mile away. The booms of gas pellets being shot into crowds have been going off all day, sometimes sounding very close. If I close my eyes, I can convince myself that I am on board the Black Pearl and Captain Jack Sparrow is attacking some strange Disney characters with tentacles all over their faces. But when I open my eyes, it's just old Haiti, yet again victim of corruption and violence.

All is quiet in my neighborhood and on the little paths down to Marc's house in Delmas 83. He and I went out in the main road a bit this evening and the fires are still burning, though people are walking by and occasionally motorcycling around the barricades. Cars are being allowed through - I watched three Doctors Beyond Borders vehicles waved through without the slightest hesitation, but I also saw 2 unmarked trucks get swarmed by the thinning crowd of rioters before they eventually allowed them past. A Haitian police truck arrived after about 10 minutes and everyone backed away, probably fearing more tear gas or maybe worse. That's when Marc and I decided we'd been out long enough. I am now safe and sound in my Shoebox, which is, unfortunately, where I think I may have to stay for the next few days. Keep praying!

Why I shouldn't have become a nurse

I met Christopher after the earthquake when he was transferred off the USNS Comfort. The doctors had sent him home "to be comfortable" but we had other doctors examine him and tell us that it would be possible to operate on his hydrocephalus (a condition that causes an excess of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain and therefore disproportionate head growth and brain damage).

It took us about 3 months to get Christopher's paperwork together for a medical visa. During that time, he and his mother Christine and sometimes oldest sister Christina, were frequent visitors at the clinic at Delmas 24 and my office at Delmas 91. I fell in love with them. Christine is a spitfire, full of the toughness that makes life possible as an unemployed single mom of 5 in Haiti, but also full of the love that makes those 5 children think that they have it made! She calls me "Maman" and is always ready with a story to make us laugh. She's never missed an appointment with me and never complained about her son's condition or the choke-hold that having him puts on her family by forcing her to stay home with him instead of being able to find work.

Her 11 year old daughter, Christina, often makes the 2 hour trip of multiple taptaps with her mom, to help carry the diaper bag while Christine hefts Christopher. At home, when Christine is worn out from a long day, Christina makes Christopher's bottle and feeds him. When Christine was going through a rough week and seriously considering abandonning Christopher at a Port-au-Prince hospital, it was Christina who talked her out of it.

Christopher spent 3 months in the US over the summer, undergoing an operation that enlarged the natural drainage opening between the 3rd and 4th ventricles of his brain, allowing his cerebrospinal fluid to drain better. Back in Haiti in July, we watched him improve somewhat, showing more personality especially in his ability to respond to voices of the people he knew and to track with his eyes. However, we were also concerned because his head seemed to be getting bigger.

Two weeks ago, Christine brought Christopher to clinic. He had a large fluid-filled lump on his head that presented just like an abcess - red, tender, swollen, warm, painful and causing fever. I have treated over a dozen such abcesses on Haitian infants and I went after this one the same way. But it wasn't an abcess. I cut it open and instead of pus, cerebrospinal fluid came squirting out. I had my staff rush Christopher to the hospital, but they wouldn't take him. The tiny incision had closed itself off so I kept them overnight to make sure he was OK and then let them go home in the morning with warnings to contact me immediately if he got a fever.

The call came last Monday: Christopher was running a fever. I wanted them to come to the city, but it was only one day after elections and the roads were full of angry crowds. They couldn't get here until Wednesday. I immediately started Christopher on antibiotic injections, but his fever kept climbing. In the middle of the night on Thursday, he started shivering and vomiting so early Friday morning, I was able to get him admitted to Bernard Mevs, a Haitian hospital where teams from Miami University Hospital have been working.

On Saturday night, Christopher had a seizure and lost consciousness. He never woke back up. At 5:00am on Monday, he died. I made it to the hospital and cried with Christine and with Lucson, my loyal volunteer clinic manager who had been taking shifts staying with Christopher. It was a long and awful morning, making arrangements at the morgue and the cemetary. I'll probably never forget how casually the morgue attendant grabbed Christopher's body wrapped in a white sheet and held it away from him, as if the baby was a bag of trash, not a beloved son.

We drove Christine home to Archaiae, almost 2 hours outside PAP. There, we had to break the news to her other children. Christina, who had been a little mother to her baby brother, grabbed Lucson and cried in his arms.

Beyond the simple grief of losing a patient and the pain at seeing a friend of mine suffer, Christopher's death brings a burden of guilt. It was my wrong diagnosis and my scalpel that opened him up to the meningitis that killed him. It was my decision to let him go home and to keep him under my care for a few days that allowed to disease to progress. He was my patient and I failed him. It doesn't matter how long the list of saved children is, it's the list of the ones that did not survive that is printed in bold in my mind.

The one spot of joy during that sorrowful day was meeting Ferlens, now the youngest in Christine's family. He is 5 years old, and looks precisely how I imagine Christopher would have looked if he'd not had hydrocephalus. I believe in heaven, and as I sat beside Christine, holding little Ferlens, I could almost see my patient toddling along holding Jesus' hand, fully healthy, looking as bright-eyed and cheery as the little one on my lap. No more suffering, no more illness. Christopher is whole now.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oh Haiti

Elections were relatively peaceful last week, but what I heard from the polls was not encouraging. Many legally registered voters arrived at their assigned poll and were turned away. Some were told to go to other polls, but when they arrived there, were turned away again. Friends of mine said that at one site, they saw that votes had been cast by people who they knew had died in the earthquake.

Unofficial results showed Mickie Martelly the overall winner with 39% of the popular vote and Madame Manigat in second place with 31%. However, we have all had to wait until last night, a full 9 days after the actual election took place, to hear the official results that would name the final 2 candidates that would advance to the second round of voting. And as expected, the official announcement did not line up with the popular vote. The firmly disliked, notoriously dishonest Jude Celestin was named with Madame Manigat as the winners.

Today, there is rioting everywhere. My staff can't get to work because all the main roads are full of burning tires, angry crowds and the UN's violent attempts at peace-keeping. A friend of mine who lives an hour outside the city told me that she is barricaded inside her house with her 4 children to keep them safe from the crowd that is throwing rocks and shooting at officials in front of her home. People are calling for President Preval to be imprisoned or even executed for his role in the election and for his theft of millions of dollars worth of post-quake donations. Sitting here with my friends, we are hearing helicopters overhead and frequent loud booms that sound like cannons shooting downtown. It's surreal.

Please pray for safety and peace in our streets!!

(Photos courtesy of my friends Brittany and Rod who live at QCS, on main Delmas at the top of Delmas 75)