It’s dusk and on the hills that seem empty countryside during the day one sees fires everywhere. They shine from the shacks in which each family cooks its meals over an open charcoal fire here in
Grand Bois (or Gran Bwa, in the local lingo), Haiti. Occasional families have built bread kilns from the rock that is everywhere, but most simply hang a pot over the fire for a one-pot meal.
I’m surrounded by the staff and friends and taken-in orphan children of the ServeHaiti clinic, all speaking rapid Creole. The kids had to fight off an aggressive chicken that jumped on their little table. A thin little dog and some ducks wait at the door for their chance. For dinner we’re having rice and bean sauce (again) but today there is some turkey roasted over our own open fire. That explains the absence of the big bird that’s been pecking in the yard all week.
It rained last night, turning the dust into an unbelievably sticky mud that clings to everything. It’s sticky and gummy when wet, and dries into concrete. There’s no getting it off your shoes, so we’re tracked it all over, despite Donna’s hours of sweeping (with all the orphan kids, who adore her, in tow).
Donna took me down to St. Pierre this morning, a hair-raising drive. Imagine the worst road you ever saw — twice as bad as anything between the clinic and Port au Prince — with deep, car-swallowing ruts in between bowling-ball-size rocks. At the end of the road is a small 100-year-old church and a much bigger community than at first is apparent.
We attended Ash-Wednesday Mass at the church, presided over by the athletic and strong-voiced Pere Reginald. He insisted we address the congregation, and my few words of greeting in broken Creole got a big laugh.
Donna, a professional photographer — I’ll post some of her shots when we get time — and I took our cameras out into the village, to see the spring where everyone bathes and fills their water jugs. As Donna has been here dozens of times, she introduced me to some of the friends she’d made. Life in this place — without running water, without sanitation, without any economy other than the fields and the market, with no health care other than that provided by our clinic way, way up the hill — is joyful.
As yesterday’s post no doubt showed, there is also pain and despair. After I’d posted last night, we saw a man who’d collapsed from malnutrition and a woman who looked pregnant due to bloody fluid that filled her abdomen. A Cuba-trained resident studying here under Dr. Leo told us it was the third time since January the woman had such fluid drained. Dr. Michael and I looked at him: So what did the lab tests show? As it turns out, it’s too costly to send such samples all the way to Port au Prince, just to get unreliable or unhelpful results. Does the woman have parasites? Has she got liver failure? We just drained off the fluid and hoped for the best.
The rains that made the road to St. Pierre so dreadful cut down the flow of people to the clinic. Just a trickle today; nothing more dramatic than a very old man dying in pain with prostate cancer. If it doesn’t rain again, I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
Ooops. Just as I wrote that sentence, the steel roof began ringing with a furious rainstorm. Everyone is shouting to be heard. The plan now is to make our way through the mud to Port-au-Prince, where we will order some supplies for the clinic and get a sense of what is happening in the capital city of this beautiful, crowded, and troubled land.
I was going to sign off, but two things just happened. One is that the wife of the man who collapsed from malnutrition — who was sobbing inconsolably last night — just walked in the kitchen door. She’s part of the maintenance staff, as it turns out. As she came in, dripping with rainwater, she recognized me and laughed out loud at her predicament.
The other thing is that the power just went off in a flash of lightning. So I’ll log off. The reward of serving others, to paraphrase Paul Farmer in Mountains Beyond Mountains, is getting the chance to do it again. I didn’t understand that the first time I read it. That has changed.