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.)