Haiti Blog July 21-25, 2013

Here in Hinche
July 21, 2013
After two days of travel, we are here in Hinche once more.
We left San Francisco yesterday morning around 7am. Dina, Viola, Mary Louise and I and our 500 pounds worth of stuff. We had successfully acquired a bag full of sneakers and shoes, three bags worth of T-shirts, volleyball shorts, knee pads and clothes. When I say bag, I mean a 50-pound bag of luggage! 12 volleyballs were donated by SF Juniors and we even received a volleyball net from a parent at the SF Waldorf School. We had soccer balls, malaria pills, a few medical supplies and various and sundry gifts for our Haitian friends. We were ready for adventure!

We arrived in balmy Miami around dinnertime, settled in for a short stay and went out for a lovely, local seafood dinner. Air conditioning was a luxury we knew would not follow us to Haiti. In the morning, we woke up to catch our 10am flight to Port Au Prince. I am always touched to see the scores of volunteers on the plane. Happy people, just like us, giving of themselves. I was attempting to put Dina’s heavy camera backpack in the overhead bin, when the man behind me asked me if I needed help. I said, “Sure.” He said, “Happy to help.” I knew that he meant it on a deep level. Those who travel to Haiti do it because they love it. We receive a small sense of satisfaction to be helping someone in need. Haiti will benefit from our small acts of kindness for years to come. With compassion, we lend a hand, hoping to make a difference.
Ronel and the jeep (not the pink one this time) were waiting for us at the airport. Each year I notice the improvement in the airport infrastructure and feel confident that there is, indeed, movement happening in this country. We loaded the jeep high with all of our bags. 8 volunteers in all, each with their 2 fifty-pounders and two carry-ons. Ropes, bungee cords and years of experience transformed an overflowing truck to a moving tower of luggage with plenty of room for 10 of us to sit. Viola and Mary Louise rode in the back, seeing Haiti for the first time. Tap taps, donkeys, the green and brown countryside — they absorbed the sights with excitement and curiosity.

After 3 hours of driving, we arrived in Hinche. Our first stop was Maison Fortune where we were greeted by our young friends, Odey and WaWa. They didn’t know we were coming. A moment of hesitation turned into warm hugs as they recognized us. My own outpouring of Haitian Creole probably resembled jibberish as my feelings of excitement could not keep up with my rusty language skills.
The girls had been moved to a different campus. It is about a half a mile away  from the school and main campus of Maison Fortune. Even as we drove up, we saw Barbara walking down the road. I excitedly told Ronel to stop the jeep! Barbara is one of the oldest girls at the orphanage and she is definitely the alpha female. As such, she remains aloof at times, observing rather than joining in the younger girls’ ruckus. When she saw us, I saw a smile of recognition cross her face. She was happy to see us.
As soon as the younger girls saw us, the swarming began! We had told them the year prior that we would bring Viola to visit. One of their most common questions is if we have any children. So, we had talked about her and shown photos. Nearly as soon as Viola and Mary Louise got out of the Jeep, they surrounded them; a couple of them said, “Li belle.” She is so beautiful. They grabbed their hands, blurting questions in Creole that Viola and Mary Louise didn’t understand. The smile was understood though and there was general merriment and celebration.
Later that evening, we sat on the porch of our building, surrounded by girls. They hugged us, asked questions, sang to us, played hand clapping games. They are happy in this new compound. It is spacious, clean, safe. It’ll be a great place to teach volleyball, away from the boys who would steal the volleyballs to play soccer. It feels protected; the girls look healthy. Mishou has grown, as well as Manoushka and Islande. Well, they’ve all grown!
We are so happy to be here in Hinche once more — safe and satisfied.

Haitian Friends
July 23, 2013

It is hot. Haiti hot.
My body is so tired, but I can’t sleep. So, I’m sitting in the moonlight, writing a blog post. I would rather sleep. But, I can’t.
Coming to Haiti this fourth time was as much about seeing my Haitian friends as volunteering for the program. Genette, Magdala, Filomen, Guerlie, Esther. I love that we have carved our niche into this program and that, not only do people remember us, but big hugs are to be had whenever we see our midwife friends. Today, even the cook at the Midwives for Haiti house remembered me saying, “Aren’t you the one who sang, “Kijan ou ye? Kijan ou ye?” I launched into a chorus of the song we had made up our very first year here. It is a simple, nonsense song of the few Haitian Creole phrases that we knew. How are you? I don’t know. Not now. People love that song!
I saw Genette yesterday for the first time. She is as strong and competent as ever. I kept trying to ask her if there were any specific trouble areas with the program that she wanted me to work on. She just said that everything was moving along fine. She later showed me her new house that she is renting with her husband, Louinet. It is a cement structure, two rooms — a living room and an adjoining room that contains their bed, their dining room table and a stove and fridge. This is a huge step up from her previous home that didn’t even have electricity. I am so happy for her! I see the framed Sapling Award that she received at the MANA conference last year. There is also a snowy TV turned on, practically the first that I’ve seen in Haiti. Her position as Clinical Director of Midwives for Haiti is helping her move up in the world. She deserves it.
Magdala, Filomen, Ibanez, Paulene, Marie Ange and Judeline are the midwives at the mobile clinic. There is one student that accompanies us as well. Ami and I are with them and I am skeptical that they are going to need 8 midwives to do the clinic day. Boy, was I wrong! We say 82 women in about 5 hours. I was exhausted and overwhelmed by the end. Not having eaten and coming down with a cold did not help my depleted energy level. Did I say that I haven’t been sleeping? It’s too hot.
But Magdala and the midwives were so happy to see us. I was reminded of how hard they work. Heck, they do those clinics 4 days a week. I was wiped out after just one and need to take tomorrow off. We saw mostly healthy mothers and babies which was a treat. We did, however, also identify one woman with extremely high blood pressure (200s over 100s), one woman with a prenatal breast abscess and yet another woman who appeared to be in labor and yet, not really. She kept complaining of pain, but I did not palpate a contraction when she said so. Maybe it was a UTI, false labor, some other mystery complication, but we drove her and her sister back to the hospital in Hinche at the end of the day.
In the meantime, Viola and Mary Louise are making fast friends with the girls at the orphanage. I finally returned around 5pm to see the girls playing soccer, Mary Louise getting her hair braided by Barbara, and Viola being loved on by Sofia and some of the younger girls. Barbara even wrote Viola a secret letter. She wrote, "Dear Princess Vayola, I am happy to see you. I want to be your friend..." This is a major victory. Go Viola!!

I am happy to announce that we are all happy and well here in Haiti, minus a few stomach upsets. Kenel, our Creole teacher and Haitian son, is going to Port Au Prince tomorrow with 11 other young men from Maison Fortune. They will all be taking the national college entrance exam that allows 100 lucky (or connected) (or rich) young Haitians to attend the State University for free. If I am understanding correctly, the boys have other opportunities lined up for them, if they don’t make this slim cut. Most likely Kenel will enter the Catholic University in the fall, sponsored by the Virginia parishes that support Maison Fortune.
Gladius is another one of our translators. He will be going to the US in 2 weeks to attend a community college in Virginia. This is huge!! We are so happy for all of our Haitian friends and their continued opportunities.
We feel blessed for friends and community, as we build relationships even here. Viola, as expected, is speaking Creole already!! M kontan wey ou — I am happy to see you!

Photos from the First 5 Days in Haiti
July 25, 2013

Girls at Maison Fortune

Mary Louise and Viola learning Creole

Moto is the way to go!

2 hours of electricity at night means FANS!!

Bringing School benches to..well...school

"Danse" with Joska

Ready for Soccer

Does this remind you of another photo?

Haiti hot!

Marlande and Neslande, sisters

Happy campers!

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