At 7 a.m. Tuesday we were traveling back from Belle Anse—for six hours each way—on roads that had been damaged more than usual by Tropical Storm Issac. Our remarkable driver was a choir director named Bertrand, sweet natured, who put on his seatbelt. A good sign: caution or self preservation? In Port-au-Prince in the rented stick shift 4×4, he’d seemed to miss the concept of downshifting, or even moving out of third gear once he had arrived there, but soon our limited appreciation of his skills increases vastly as he navigated cratered and washed out roads with what can only be labeled fierce determination. I kept waiting for the point where we’d get out and push, but in the end the only reason why we had to get out was another vehicle.
Not sure if they found the poles or perhaps keep them handy? The usual 20 or so people who ride on top were standing along the side. Unloading the truck (my first thought) seemed not an option. We waited while they broke out the rock in front of the back wheels with a pick axe and finally moved the truck forward enough to get the drivers side front wheel on the ground…
More miles of dust and jarring, iPod on shuffle playing Big Bad Voodoo Daddy singing “Maddest Kind of Love”—what are we doing out here in the middle of this island???? Well, for one, we are enjoying our episode of air conditioning in 90+ heat day and night for a week. More than worth the bumps just for a respite. The heat becomes a constant oppressive presence that makes it hard to think and impossible to sleep—at least for me. And, as Pavarotti sings “Nessun Dorma” on the iPod, we finally come over a ridge and see Belle Anse (“beautiful coast”), which is so well named.
It is a fishing village, and we seem to be the only car in town. Bertrand and our translator Bekert both grew up here and know everyone. Holly and I are an item of interest in this very rural area, a child says “Les Blancs!” (the whites) as we pass and for the first time I felt the color of my skin. We eat lunch at “Le Coin” which apparently has no menu. They order for us, the local “pinkfish” over rice and beans, yummmmmm. Meanwhile, we can see through the open door: a woman is losing a battle of wills with a very stubborn donkey who is NOT moving, and a fellow pulls a loudly grunting pig past.
We walk to the beach and wade in the surf with pants rolled up; soft warm clear aqua colored water on a beach with thousands of small rounded rocks that roll shushing as each wave goes out. So beautiful. Again, I feel the color of my skin which is going to be lobster red if we stay long. We are to stay in a motel for the night, and meet the 26 students who are coming from all over the district the next morning. As we walk up to what is clearly a construction site I have my doubts—it is called “Cocky Hotel Resto & Bar.” Bekert assures me the water works and they turn the electricity on for a few hours in the evenings.
Our rooms are small, painted concrete, with a bed, shower (cold, blessedly), sink and toilet in each, with window screens and doors that lock. Holly and I have planning to do for the next day and tell our escorts thanks and bye—but they return shortly and stay nearby. Bertrand says in his mixed English that we are in his place and he must make sure we are safe. He sleeps in the room next to ours. The electricity comes on about 8:30pm and the fans work!
We retreat inside to escape mosquitos. Holly comes to ask me for help with the shower: she can’t reach the faucet handle which is high up on the shower head beyond her reach. Done with work, it is too hot for sleep. I listen to piano and cello on my headphones while the night passes. Eventually roosters crow us up to breakfast of Haitian coffee with canned evaporated milk, and white bread with a triangular packet of a soft cheese. The tray includes an ice pick: Holly and I learn to pierce the cans of milk. I ask our motel attendant, James, for hot water. He smiles and says “cafe.” We have this conversation a few times, and I show him my packet of Jasmine tea. He smiles again and shows me the coffee. I drink coffee.
Holly, at breakfast, at Cocky Hotel, Haiti.
Holly at the session with the students with Bekert, our diligent translator.
I have been translating our powerpoint presentation into French, which had been our method at the class in Port-au-Prince… Bekert thinks the powerpoint should be in Kreyol for this group, and we hurriedly rework the presentation for the class. As we walk to the meeting room, children wave, and we exchange “Bon jour” with many of the curious. People are already waiting half an hour before class will begin. Several of them have traveled hours to get here. It is hot, the electricity works, the one fan in the room diligently stirring the air. The projector works, so we begin.
I introduce the concepts of homeopathic medicine, describe the nature of the training program and the goals of creating community homeopathic caregivers who will work in their villages for acute and lesional therapeutics, epidemic prophylaxis and health education. We ask the 26 students who have gathered to tell us what the health problems are in their areas: malaria, cholera, typhoid, hypertension, anemia, malnutrition, epilepsy, yellow fever, dengue fever, flu and diarrhea, asthma, coughs, gastritis, vaginal infections and fibroids. They are mostly the same issues we saw in clinics in Port-au-Prince and Lespinasse, but with more epidemic disease. Twenty-four of the attendees decide to enroll in the program, and complete applications. Most speak and read French as well as Kreyol, very few have work, some have volunteer experience, some have medical training. On their enrollment forms, when asked about the health problems Haitian people face, we read again and again: no clinics, no doctors, no medications available in their area. They ask if there will be more classes offered after the initial program, how the medicines will be supplied and resupplied, whether clinics can be opened in their villages. We give out small introductory dispensing kits for each village/area and teach about the use of five remedies for injury/trauma—enough to get the new enrollees started. We let them know the next training session will be taught by one of the strongest Haitian students from the Port-au-Prince class with support from me and Holly. This is a big step to begin having Haitians teach Haitians, a milestone in the program to help Haiti have some self-sufficiency in local health care.
Bekert and Karen, meeting with the attendees from the villages all around Belle Anse.
At lunch break, we meet with the group of midwives (l’femme sages) from the region, which I am surprised to find has two men amongst them. Lauren Fox, one of our stalwart HWB volunteers, is a midwife, nurse and homeopath who has interest in working with the midwives and has given us a list of questions for this meeting. Holly asks how they have been trained. They reply that they started with no knowledge and learned by attending births. They learned from older midwives before them, but they have no training in anatomy, physiology and therapeutics of pregnancy and delivery, and ask earnestly for education. I am struck by how much courage it must take to sit by a laboring woman’s side with no training, no meds, nothing but local tradition and best intentions. Holly asks how they get paid, and they shake heads: none of them is paid at all. Sometimes they do not have the fare for a moto-taxi when they hear a woman in another village is in labor, so they can not go, and they hear later that she has died unattended while trying to give birth. The mortality rates are high. She asks how often they are attending births: each of the group of eight attends eight to ten births per month. The women in that region do not have access to birth control. We ask if they are interested in learning about homeopathy as well as basic education for pregnancy / delivery / post-partum, and they all reply yes. They ask when this training can begin; we let them know that we will begin to plan, and realistically will not be able to start anything with them until 2013, assuring them that we want to help and will begin gathering resources for this. Such a big to-do list. Getting pregnant should not be a death sentence for anyone.
The midwives from the region around Belle Anse.
The dust and jostle of the ride back to Port-au-Prince ends, and Holly and I are caught between the need to have so many planning conversations and being too tired to work anymore. We are heading for the airport early tomorrow morning to return to the worlds we know. We are encouraged by how forthcoming and sincere these people are in their desire to help those around them in need, in the care that they take in their studies, in the opportunity we have to make a real and substantive difference in the daily lives and health of their communities. That assurance, an ice cold drink, and the promise of sleep in the cool interior of an airplane will send us well on our way home.
~ Karen Allen, CCH