Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Gonaives adventure

I took Eric to Gonaives last week to kill 2 birds with one stone: he needs to get observation hours under a licensed physical therapist and the physical therapists needed someone to translate for them. So we took the public bus there (that's another whole story in and of itself!) and spent a couple days in the ghetto. Eric was a huge hit and everyone thought he was my brother. Supposedly we look just alike...despite the fact that he is tall, thin and dark. Must have something to do with both of us being white.

We did home visits in Jubilee, checking on a variety of people with physical disabilities. Most were stroke victims and it was sad to see how young some of them were, as young as 35 years old and suffering from partial one-sided paralysis already!

Kathy is teaching the ladies and young women of Gonaives how to make jewelry and wind chimes using supplies they can find locally. The ghetto of Jubilee is one of 3 major trash dumping sites for the city, so the sand flats are covered with aluminum cans, matress springs, broken glass, pieces of ceramic plates and bowls, bottle caps, and other non-flammable items that survive the daily trash-burning. It sounds silly now, but Eric and I got really excited about hunting for treasures for the ladies, so we headed off to the beach and to the dump. Local children flocked to help us as we selected the most colorful pieces we could find, loaded them into rusty paint cans and carried them back to the school. Pounds and pounds of trash that will be transformed into artwork and hopefully, a reliable income.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Secret (of the) Garden

As I may have mentioned recently, Port-au-Prince is a dusty gray wasteland and one of the ways that I combat depression from lack of greenery is with my little garden on the porch of my Shoebox. After the earthquake, the plants suffered pretty severely from water rationing (drinking and occasional bathing had priority over laundry, dishwashing, and definitely plant care in those days) and I was down to a rather sad-looking 5 plants who drooped more than they bloomed.

Once the roads opened up and water trucks were able to get into my neighborhood regularly, I began a valiant effort to save my little garden. I was so successful that in the fall, I had to separate one plant into 2 new pots because it was growing so large. Sherrie gave me 2 purple flowering plants and when my mother was in country, we bought a beautiful climbing vine. One of the neighborhood girls, 13 year old Manezda, caught the excitement and when a lady moved out of Delmas 91, leaving behind all her potted plants, Manezda rescued five of them for me! We planted them together and felt very proud.

On Mardi Gras, Marc, Eric, and I took 6 youth group kids and a few of our friends far up the mountain to Furcy. I was driving a friend's pick-up truck when we saw a lady lying on the side of the road. She had been in a motorcycle accident and although she wasn't too badly hurt, she was basically in shock. After we dropped Eric and the kids off at our hiking spot, Marc and I drove and then carried the woman home down a few miles of very steep mountain roads. We rejoined our party and began a hike in the gorgeous mountains.

Partway through the hike, a man came running down the trail to meet us. It was the injured lady's husband. "I brought you some flowers to thank you!" he explained. "I left them in your car."

I was amazed: a lot of Haitians tend to take for granted kind things that foreigners do, as if it's your job as a blan to be the Good Samaritan. Not this man. And when I saw the "flowers" that he'd left in the car, I was even more amazed. They were tall, beautiful potted plants that weighed close to 30 pounds. He had carried them up miles of steep terrain that had us puffing and panting simply to tell us thank you. To me, his act of love far outweighed our own.

Daily life

Having Lauren here meant that I now have photos of virtually every aspect of my daily life in Haiti, from the mundane to the exciting.

We have the simple projects around the Shoebox, such as hanging new curtains that my mother sewed for my room, creating makeshift couch cushions from discarded foam, and hauling water from my cistern for bathing and doing dishes.

I walk on average 4 miles every day to get to my various jobs and friends' houses. Port-au-Prince is a dusty, dry, barren wasteland but here and there along my route, these flowers bloom radiantly and offer a little escape from the gray. Sometimes Marc walks with me, on our way to youth group or feeding program, and we frequently have small children following us. Sort of like the Pied Piper...

In my neighborhood, I've been too busy lately to spend much time with the kids, but at least once a week, we watch a movie or bake cupcakes or do homework together. Frantz is still the darling of my heart, even when he skips school and I have to publicly reprimand him.

Quisqueya Christian School, the English school where I have subbed in the past, still offers one of my few outside entertainments in the form of a basketball or soccer game. It's fun to cheer the kids on and to just laugh with my friends.

We recently hired a Haitian nurse named Myrlande. I am training her in preparation for my 2 month furlough at summer camp from early June to August. She has been a great addition to our team and I have high hopes for her.

Things are moving extremely slowly with medical visas, both on the Haitian end and the US Embassy end, so I'm seeing less new patients than I normally do. Despite that, my mornings can still look like this: me, in my Au Bon Pain pajamas, creating a file on a plastic surgery case while my assistant Sendhie chats with the family.

The young woman who used to lead the feeding program at the orphanage in Delmas 75 recently left for school in the Dominican, so they are in a bit of a pinch, especially to find people who can translate when teams are there. I've been trying to go every Monday afternoon and some Wednesdays too, functioning as a translator and facilitator as needed.

Perhaps my favorite part of the week is Bible study. Twelve to thirty teenagers meet with us for an hour and a half, read scripture and ask questions. How should we pray? Is is wrong for us to cheat on exams when everyone else is doing it? God says that we shouldn't sin in our anger - isn't that basically impossible? I love it!

I try to make it down to Dorothy's house to visit with the babies and the animals.

Clinic at Delmas 24 has been hopping! We frequently see more than the 50 patients I allot slots for and we generally have to turn a few away when closing time arrives. Sendhie, Myrlande, and Lucson continue to do a marvelous job running the show. I've been particularly impressed with our blood pressure program - more than half of our patients actually come regularly to receive their meds and their check-ups. For Haiti, that's pretty good.

Construction continues next door at St Joe's and in the house directly behind mine. Sometimes I come home at the end of the day to find the way to my house completely blocked by sand piles. Fortunately, Frantz and the other kids will eagerly help me clear the way whenever we can get our hands on a shovel and a broom.

The ravine is still the ravine. A few of my families recently got kicked out of their tent homes and property owners are threatening to move over a hundred tents next month. It's frustrating because there is no real solution. These people need jobs; from jobs they could earn enough to not be homeless. But where are the jobs going to come from? At least I can assure that their children are healthy. And healthy they are!

A new obsession!

Youth group in Haiti has always consisted of a lot of praying, Bible studying, singing and guitar playing, teasing friends, and lots of soccer.

And now, bursting on the scene, a new youth obsession: BASEBALL!!

When Marc's brother, Eric, came to Haiti for a 5 month stint starting in December, he brought his baseball gloves with him, so I brought mine too. For the first day, it was just me and him, but to my surprise, the kids began clamoring to play too. And to my even greater surprise, they were really good! A little erratic and a little prone to overthrow, but for 16, 17 and 20 year olds, they have picked it up very quickly. Of course, I haven't trusted them with a bat; all we do is play catch all over the field, but with a few more months of practice and a few more gloves, we might be able to build a proper team.

Baseball. You don't really how much you miss it until it suddenly returns to your life!


Meet Mackenzie.

Mackenzie is one of the street children who comes to the feeding program in Delmas 75 where I help on Monday afternoons. He's probably 11 years old and is hands-down the most impossible child I have ever worked with. He's stubborn, he's defiant, he's moody, he's sharp-tempered, he's a bully, he's simply out of control. Short of beating him (and frankly, I'm not much bigger or stronger than he, so I don't forsee that going well) there isn't much we can do to discipline him. Our only hope for the past year has been to overwhelm him with love and surround him with people who can show him better examples of who he can be.

Last Monday, Mackenzie ran up to me and tried to yank the bracelet off my wrist. Instinctively, I pulled my hand up and away and when he made a second lunge for the bracelet, he missed and punched me in the eye. He ran off and I was left with an aching, watering eye.

A little while later, I saw him steal a ball from a smaller child. Chasing him down is counterproductive so I yelled to him that I would be sitting on the stairs, waiting for him to come give me the ball. I sat down, eye still watering, and waited. Amazingly, within 2 minutes, he brought me the ball and sat quietly beside me. "How are you doing, Kez?" he asked me.

"I'm doing great, Mackenzie," I responded. "My only problem is that my eye hurts a lot because a boy punched me today."

His smile faded. "That was me, wasn't it?" he asked.

I nodded.

To my surprise, Mackenzie reached up and started to gently rub my eye lid. I sat there, both eyes shut, slightly on edge, expecting the real Mackenzie to come back at any moment. His hand was still on my eye, so I peeked with the other and saw an incredible thing: Mackenzie, trouble-maker extraordinaire, had his head bowed and was praying for my eye!!

When he was done, he rubbed the eye a little more, then looked up at me with bright eyes and asked, "How does it feel now?"

"Better, Mackenzie. A million times better!"