Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Poorest of the Poor

Hinche is considered the sticks to all who reside in Port Au Prince. This is where the poor people live, out in the countryside. It is the 5th largest city in Haiti, with 50,000 people, a hospital, bustling commerce, a central plaza, a large market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The people here are poor. The hospital does not have running water nor 24/7 electricity. The Red Cross blood bank was temporarily shut down when their solar panels were stolen.
Hinche Market
At the orphanage, boys play soccer with torn, knee high soccer sox, no shoes. Some play without even that, kicking barefoot a soccer ball on the dry, dusty, rocky earth. The children here are orphans or have been left because their families were too poor to feed them.
The midwives are paid $1.50 an hour for work that saves peoples lives. A teacher can possibly get paid $3.25 an hour at the better schools. The midwives say that their pay is not enough. I ask them what they can do about that and there is not really an answer. I think they just live without enough. The unmarried midwives still live with their families. Midwives that are now working in Port Au Prince live communally to afford their living quarters. They say that everything in Port Au Prince is expensive.
We were invited by Gampson, a local boy, to visit his church. He told us that we were going to where the poor people live. A turn off of the main road, heading toward the river, told me that we were heading into the rougher part of town. There were less smiling faces calling out friendly greetings as we walked by. A young boy ran up to me and asked me to take his photo. I snapped the photo and was immediately reprimanded by an adult in the community. “Why are you taking his picture?” I told him that the boy had asked for the photo and his angry interchange came to an end. This is the ghetto, poorer than the Hinche poor, relegated to the river’s edge.
Women and children bathe themselves, their clothes, and pots and pans in the river. The river represents one of the town’s borders. Last year we were told that this was the only place that we should avoid. As we walked deeper into the ghetto, my hyper-awareness increased as the narrow dirt road wound its way closer and closer to the river. We stopped in front of a small tropical shack. This is their church—dirt floor, no electricity, a pastor that was outside to meet us. It seems that everyone’s father is a pastor here, so they don’t look very differently from the other men in town. Within the church, 8 benches, 4 per side, were lined up and filled with children. Dina asked what activity brought them all there this afternoon. The answer was us. It was hard for me to not think about the soccer games, jump rope, cards, chess, music and swing sets that the orphans had at their disposal at the Maison. The orphans weren’t so bad off after all.
Four plastic yard chairs were lined up against the front wall of the church. These were for us. We sat down and they clapped. Gampson’s mother appeared and soon Gampson was handing out the baby clothes that we had brought for them. He handed them out one by one and forced the women to pose with their babies and the new piece of clothing that they chose for their child. I felt badly that we only had baby clothes and nothing for the older children. I asked Gampson to he walk back with us to the orphanage later so I can give him a bag of piwilis (lollipops) for the kids. 
Kids outside church
We are the curiosity and the hope and the problem. Gampson’s mother has been praying for someone like us to come along and take interest in their community. She wants us to come back and set up a health clinic for the people. We tell her that next year we will be coming back with the chiropractors and we can set up a clinic at their church. She feels that her prayers have been answered and she will pray for us all year until our return.  A year is a long time to wait and a three-day fix is only a band-aid.
Gampson's church
With the mobile clinics, we travel to villages outside of Hinche where even poorer people live. They have minimal resources, sparse crops that can be brought to market in Hinche twice a week. Each Saturday, on the outskirts of Hinche,  animal markets sell goats, cows, straw, saddles and rope.  Crowds walk the sides of the roads and for a moment, I feel that this is what India must be like. This is the developing world, what Brother Harry calls the “fifth world,” where oxen pull wooden carts with bent axels, humans pull oversized wooden wheel barrels with unfathomable loads. More people than can be counted go without shoes, a change of clothes, enough food, clean water. At the mobile clinics, we see dehydrated children with fevers and skin rashes, old folks blinded by cataracts.
 At the mobile clinic, the midwives charge 25 cents per visit. Some women don’t even have that. The midwives see close to 40 pregnant women at the busy clinics. At one impoverished village, a rare fight broke out perhaps a result of the heat and frustration of having to wait. One woman arrived topless to the clinic. As she was lying on the sheet-covered platform to have her prenatal exam, I thought her lack of clothing was just temporary. I later saw her speaking with the midwives, bare-breasted—the poorest of the poor. I wanted to give her the labor skirt that was donated by a mother from the US. On this particular day, however, tensions were high and the unfairness of giving to one and not all may have caused a riot.
The spectrum of poverty is multi-dimensional, flowing freely like the river. We observe from the river banks, sidelined, casting nets. If we can catch a few souls, even for an hour or a moment, we feel that we have done what we came to do. The river is endless and deep, such that the retrieval of a few makes an invisible difference.

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