Saturday, February 23, 2013


I'm leaving Haiti on Monday for a 3-week trip to Nicaragua! My summer camp, Chop Point, runs a sister camp in Nicaragua to share the amazing experience of camp with impoverished kids there - I will be accompanying a group of high school juniors and seniors, many of whom have been at camp with me every year for the past 4 or 5 years, in running camp programs and doing work around the site.

I'm pumped to see my American teenagers so soon and to travel to a new country for the first time since moving to Haiti in 2007. It will also be my first short-term experience in a place where I can't communicate fluently, but even that aspect excites me. Spanish language, here I come!

My laptop will not be making the voyage with me, so take a blog vacation and we'll see you back here in mid-March!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dreams and wounds and maggots

When's the last time you dreamt about maggots?
For me, it was last night. I dreamt that I was pulling giant maggots - I mean foot-long 20 pound maggots - out of my friends' legs using my bare hands. And once they were out, I kept trying to kill them without success. Stepping on them, chucking things at them, cursing does one kill a 20 pound maggot?
I'm not losing my mind, I swear.
Presumably the dream was prompted by this leg.

It belongs to an older gentleman who started coming to clinic a few weeks ago. Grace messed around in the disgustingly smelly 10 inch long wound that circles almost his entire lower leg and found 2 tunnels...with maggots in them. So we went on our maggot regimen: daily dressing changes where we smear the openings of the holes with vaseline to suffocate the maggots out. When they show their ugly little heads, we ignore the goosebumps and squirming of our own stomachs, grab them with tweezers, and pull!

Fortunately, with good antibiotics and daily bandages, the infection is going away and it's been two weeks since we pulled our last maggot. The leg is showing very healthy pink/red tissue and the area above is softened and becoming less painful. Our patient says he's had the wound for 2 years, so we guess that it started with some sort of vascular issue which means it may never heal completely. But hopefully it can improve dramatically.

And hopefully, I will never dream about giant maggots ever again!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Klinik Jubilee medical training week

We have visiting teams in Gonaives at least 3 weeks out of 4. It feels as if they come and go so quickly that I'm constantly struggling through a muddle of new names and faces. Occasionally though, a group comes along and jumps head first into my world, embracing everything I do with a spirit more interested in learning and in getting to know me than in "saving Haiti". This week, Grace's church in Salt Lake City sent a group to Haiti that didn't just jump in; I think they went deep sea diving.
We called it "Medical Training Week", closed clinic for half days, and gave our staff the opportunity to learn from the doctor, dentist, and OB nurse on the team. Lectures, hands-on practice, and lots of Q&A.
We started each morning with breakfast in clinic, a special treat for our staff and a fantastic way to bond. It was the week of Valentine's Day, so Julie, our team hostess, decorated clinic for us and served scrumptious meals each morning. You can't see it in the photo, but she actually cut the watermelon in heart shapes! She also had small daily gifts for every staff member including me and Grace. Medical Training Week had also become Clinic Staff Appreciation Week.
The group brought a much-needed and hugely appreciated surgical lamp for clinic, as well as a battery pack and solar panels to power it. They spent a morning rearranging furniture and setting it up exactly as we wanted it. Our staff was thrilled to use it for the first time...on a pretend patient! 
In the afternoons, Tyler and Kelley, the dentist and OB nurse, guest-taught in my community health classes. I learned more about teeth and pregnancy complications than I'd ever known, and my students asked so many questions that we ran over our alloted time.
The most fun was outside of clinic and class hours when I took some of our guests exploring. We wandered in the rice paddies for an hour and found a marsh with horse and donkey trails through it. Where horses and donkeys graze you will find manure; manure will make your potted plants happy, so we went back a few days later and collected poop. Yes, poop. Nine-year old Cole was not impressed.
We spent an afternoon in Kathy's workshop, perusing the artisan goods for sale. Everyone bought something - I bought a bag to replace the one that was stolen the night I got mugged - but eventually we all ended up in a corner sharing plates of plaintain and Haitian fried chicken.
On the last day, I took Jeremy, Tyler and Kelley biking. We did my usual 30 minute "tourist" route through the fields to the river,and then I asked if they wanted to go home or keep riding. I've never had a group opt for a longer ride, but this crew did and we went another 2 hours through beautiful villages and farmland on the far side of the river.
Sometimes I don't even notice when one team leaves and a new one comes. Well, I noticed when our friends from Salt Lake left - noticed because I actually felt sad and even a little bit lonely. Perhaps it was all the time walking and talking; perhaps it was the cozy breakfasts with 18 people crammed into our little clinic. Perhaps it was the wild laughter during a lipsync that Chris and I performed in honor of Cole; perhaps it was the good questions they asked and the honest answers I felt free to give. 
Anne of Green Gables always called people kindred spirits, people who almost instantly, almost magically understand you and become friends. That's what this week felt like: kindred spirits. 

(Photos courtesy of Kelley and Tyler Caruso.)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Welcome home, Lovena!

I'm sure you remember Lovena, my little darling from Jubilee who went to stay at Dorothy's because we couldn't control her malnutrition.
After 7 months at the rescue center, she came back to Jubilee, walking and looking healthy and plump. Her grandmother had told me that she wouldn't be able to take Lovena back but when the trustworthy orphanages nearby had no open spots, we didn't really have another choice. I was nervous - what if grandma refused Lovena when she arrived? What if she deliberately neglected her to convince me to find a new home for her? 
On the appointed evening, I was waiting in Jubilee with Lovena's family as my friends drove the delivery truck back from Port-au-Prince. Little by little, the group with me grew until most of the neighbors were sitting in the dark with me, waiting expectantly. Her young aunt and uncle, Chelda and Ecclesiaste, bounced anxiously beside me, "When is she coming, Miss Keziah? When is she coming?" Against the black starry sky, 10 year old Chenchina stood up and extended her hands to the heavens, "Jesus, please make our Little Mouse get here soon!"
Minutes later, the trucks headlights appeared behind the old market building and pandemonium ensued! The children, about a score of them, started jumping up and down, yelling and cheering and laughing and hugging one another so exuberently that they kept falling on the ground. The dozen adults started running toward the truck and practically fought to be the first to hold little Lovena.

Lovena is home. Home with the family who loves her, despite the hardship of caring for her, despite the cultural pressure to give away an extra child. I do not doubt that her life will be difficult; I do not doubt that she will be hungry and dirty and sick sometimes. But she is home. And that is where she belongs.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A house for Rudenchly

We rented a little house for Rudenchly and his family in early January, but a few weeks later, we found out that they had been approved for one of the new homes that Much Ministries is building with a grant from Cross International.
The house, small but sturdy, went up in about a week and Rudenchly moved in with his mom, Leila, and her 2 other children, on Friday. They now live in what we call TiJubilee (Little Jubilee), a mini community beside our school.
It's great to have my little buddy nearby and to know that he is in a trustworthy structure that won't burn down on him again. And I'm sure Leila is thrilled to have her own home, legally and fully hers. I just hope she doesn't bring him to clinic to play with me every single day. I really shouldn't ignore everybody else for half an hour like I usually do whenever he comes in!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

One of those days

I've lived in Haiti for over 5 years and I tend to forget that the things I see and do every day should not exactly be normal. Occasionally though, I have a day when I remember. Today was one of those days.

I saw Katie, my friend who teaches at the Jubilee School, searching through her students backpacks on the hunt for a stolen lollipop. She stuck her hand into a small outer pocket and yelped! She had shoved her fingers straight into a mound of hot, sticky rice which the student had hidden in his bag. He wasn't the only one; we found rice stashed away in half a dozen other knapsacks.

"I'm taking it home to eat later," the kids explained, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

Ten minutes later, I watched our clinic staff do the intake for a new patient in our MedikaMamba malnutrition program. Her name is Linda, she's 5 years old and she weighs 24 pounds. Most American children weigh that much at 18 months.
We have a contract that the parent is required to sign before we admit a child into the program. Linda's parents are both deceased so her grandmother is her guardian. Her grandma can't read or write, so without thinking I turned to Linda's older sister, who is in 3rd grade in a Haitian school, "Can you read and write?" She nodded and then laboriously scrawled her name.

That was when it hit me - children saving rice for later because it's probably the only food they'll get all day and 3rd graders barely being able to write shouldn't be normal. It shouldn't be normal...but it is. It's my life; it's what I am surrounded by every day and it doesn't often make me sad or hopeless. I sometimes fear that the cause may be callousness, but I think that it is actually a subconscious choice that I've learned to make. I can choose to be overwhelmed by the abnormalities or I can look at the the moments that are simply good. Moments like Katie's students yelling her name and giggling madly as they shove rice-y backpacks at her. Moments like Linda devouring her first MedikaMamba while her sister walks out of clinic with her arm around me.
Today was one of those days. One of those days when I remembered that my life is not normal and decided, yet again, that it's OK.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Tug discovers the joys of the Caribbean

Coconut - the newest addition to Tug's toy box. Makes for great chewing and hours of entertainment. Cheap and readily available. It would be perfect if only the coconut hairs didn't pop up all over the apartment.
If only Tug's mouth was big enough to hold the coconut without dropping it on the tile floor with a resounding bang...
If only he wasn't constantly trying to chase the coconut around the dining room like a mouse... 

If only coconut didn't make him sick to his stomach. The poor boy's been heaving and acting out of sorts for several days. It seems that we may have to switch to a new fruit, maybe mango. Won't that be a delight to clean off his face and every surface in the Safe House? 
Haiti - inspiring creativity and ingenuity in all aspects of life, including pet amusement!