From the hilltop porch of a guest house, every light in Port au Prince glows eerily through the haze of bonfires burning here and there across the city. An evening breeze carries music and whistles and the singsong voices of people filling the street. It’s Carnival in Haiti.
Our party arrived with 11 duffel bags stuffed with medical supplies and electrical equipment for rewiring the pump for the clinic’s well. Customs was a bit of a problem when we were tagged for inspection and a duffel full of pills was opened. After a brief discussion, the inspector agreed to allow us to pass in return for a couple of baby acetaminophen. Although she didn’t say so, it seemed to us that she was worried about a sick child at home.
On the road from the airport, people hung from the backs of the tiny colorful tap-tap buses you’ve seen portrayed in those painted tin cutouts. The real thing hardly seems any bigger.
By accident, the clinic’s Dr. Leo was returning to Haiti from Canada on the same flight we were on. He and Michael, our obstetrician, both knew our driver, who will be taking us up the road on the six- to 10-hour trip to the clinic. Michael asked about the health of the driver’s wife, who, as it turns out, is quite ill and requires a complex operation too risky to perform in Haiti. Leo and Michael are working to get her a travel visa to the U.S. As we discussed the case, we passed any number of people on the street in obvious need.
I asked Michael how he manages to prioritize: how can he expend so much energy on one person, when so many must do without. He looked into my eyes and said, “You just help the person in front of you.”
It’s a lesson I’ll try to learn.