Haiti Blog August 1-3, 2011

August 1, 2011 Post: What do you do in Haiti when it rains?

You go out and wash your hair, of course!
Have we really been here only a few days? So much has happened. We weathered last night’s thunder and lightning storm, only to find that once it starts raining cats and dogs in Hinche, the kids start having a ball. The soccer field and baskeball courts were just as active, except that the mud soccer players now had to share the field with the kids shampooing their hair and others running around bare naked in the rain. The rainstorm occurred just around dusk, light waning, only to be lit up by the dramatic lightning overhead. Boys in the church pavillion were sliding on their bare butts as if the floor was a Slip ‘N Slide. Naked as jaybirds, they pushed off and slid sitting up, over the polished stone floor. This was livin’! Having a ball Haiti-style in the middle of hurricane season. The heaviness of the rain beckoned us to come and play, to experience nature in one of its magical incarnations. Before long, I found myself standing in the middle of the soccer field, rain drenching my clothes and hair. Dina joined me and we worked our way over the flooded field to the pavilion and watched the 20 or so boys, sliding on their bottoms. This was pure joy for them, experiencing no self-consciousness at all that they hadn’t a stitch of clothing on their bodies.
Today we went by jeep to the mobile clinic near a small church amid farming land about an hour by dirt road from Hinche. I say “an hour by dirt road” because it was probably only about 20 miles out. We only saw about 11 women, which is light for MFH, but it was great to be unhurried and practice my midwifery Creole live.
On our way out to the mobile clinic, we picked up Filomen and Marie Ange at the hospital. I got my first peek at Unicef’s cholera tents set up within the walls of the St. Therese hospital. I am sure I will learn more about that later, but early recon tells us that at first, the tents were full, then, as the epidemic came under more control, people started to clear out. There is a sense that there has been a second wave of outbreaks, perhaps even from poor sanitation at these tents.
I met Filomen and Marie Ange on our first trip here. When we saw them, we exchanged exclamations and hugs, so glad to see each other again. Not two minutes down the road did Filomen  start singing our Haiti song that Dina made up last year. We joined in, emphatically, laughing and singing, remembering the words together and knowing that we were all immediately on the same page. We picked up Magdala to another round of hugs and rejoicing, blabbering away in Creole and feeling the effect of a little more language under my belt.
I am so happy to be here, with the midwives again. I know that they are working hard to continue the vision of midwifery in the Central plateau. The mobile clinic has expanded to 16 sights every month, an incredible feat.
Courtney spent the whole day at the Azile. Susan and I went back to the Midwives for Haiti house in Hinche in the afternoon to organize the stock room and bring in the supplies that we brought from the US. We drank beer and ate our stew and dumplings, content with a very full day of work in Haiti. Each day represents a lifetime of learning and appreciation for the people of Haiti—their joys, their suffering, their challenges, their successes.
Ayiti, m’kontan we ou anko! Haiti, I’m happy to see you again.

August 3, 2011 Post: N'ap Kenbe!

“N’ap kenbe”. We are holding. We are hanging in there, holding on. I feel that I have found one key into Haiti: communication. Last year Dina and I crash coursed ourselves through a couple of Pimsleur Creole CDs and used a free iPhone app for volunteers to Haiti to learn Creole. This year, Dina found HaitiHub, which is a Skype 2 week class with a wonderful speaker named Carlo. Dina took the class for 2 weeks and I listened in for a week before I left for NY. One of the most valuable things about the class was Carlo’s way of introducing us to sayings in Haitian Creole, which are many.

How are you? The simple act of greeting someone can set off a flurry of call and response answers that define village life. Pa pi mal, things are not worse. “Nou la”, we are here. “N’ap kenbe”, we are holding. “Tout bagay anfomm”, everything is “in form,” everything is good. “Jamn”, or “jamn jamn”, with each greeter’s fist coming together, means strong. We are here, strong, solid. A look into Haiti’s history of oppression, and their own liberation, directly reflects the pride and commitment that Haitians have for their own country. They affirm to each other that all is good because they are still here, holding on to their culture, their people, their children, their life together.

Being able to greet people like this, especially from a “blan”, a white person, has brought immediate smiles, a letting down of the barrier between foreigner and resident. I am here with you, I am holding with you, here in Haiti. I call and respond with you and we exchange a ritual of communication that has been passed down for generations. We are here with open hearts, learning, understanding, speaking with the people.

At the hospital yesterday, Dina and I waited for Susan outside of the prenatal clinic. The small building, which housed both prenatal and pediatric clinics, was crowded with people. Three Midwives For Haiti students worked in a small room doing intake exams. Susan and the interpreter, plus the pregnant woman, would now make 6 in the room. I was happy to wait outside. Sitting on the ledge of a wall, we waited, offering Trader Joe’s dried mango slices to the women and children around us. Opening the door is so easy in Hinche. The people are warm and welcoming with the simplest act of kindness. Before long, we had mothers and children around us, they as curious as us to meet someone from another world. The assumption at first is that we are so different, our landscapes: world’s apart geographically, economically, culturally. But, easily, we find common ground and are laughing at ourselves. By the end, I am able to say in Creole: last year, Dina spoke better Creole than me, and this year, I speak better Creole than her. They erupt in laughter, agreeing and rejoicing that we both are trying to connect. Susan finally comes out of the clinic. She is already recognizing that the best place to find us is in the most boisterous crowd with children and women, laughing and pointing and generally having a ball.