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    People Everywhere, Water Not

    A most amazing day. We left Port-au-Prince in a Nissan Patrol and soon were free of the city — and paved roads. Most of the way, we made about 5 miles an hour over huge rocks and ruts and seas of dust. We wove between pedestrians, mules, donkeys, goats, bicycles, and a few hardy and hard-used trucks filled to the overflowing with people.

    The scenery is stunning. There are a few trees here and there, but mostly thorny cactus and rocks. As we got higher into the hills, water became more and more scarce. Springs, separated by miles of shoe-destroying road, were miles apart. Finally we reached an area where cattle and donkeys and people shared a muddy trickle on either side of the road.

    Dr. Leo suggested that we stop. Donna and I asked a pretty teen girl (and her mother) if she would pose for us, and her broad smile revealed that she’d already lost most of her adult teeth — the ravages of sugar cane, which is chewed not only for its sweetness but also for thirst.

    We hiked up the stream about 50 yards to the source: a small spring at the feet of an immense tree, whose roots apparently created an artesan well (or at least that’s the local lore). A concrete form about 10 feet square was carved into the rock to create a wellhead, into which people crowded to dip their buckets.

    Our interpreter, Janvier, asked people how long they had walked to get there. Some said they’d walked a couple of hours with all their families’ buckets — and of course, on the way home the buckets and jugs and bottles would be full, and the path would be steeply uphill. Next month, when the dry season begins, the spring will dwindle to a trickle. People will sleep all night at the spring, hoping their bottles will fill by morning. Then they’ll trudge home — most with just a single bottle for their families.

    Some of the children at the spring had their heads shaved, and bore patterns of little scars on their scalp. Ringworm, Dr. Leo said. If you hardly have enough water to drink, bathing is not a priority.

    Of course, cattle share the stream, and people bathe along with them. They also bring their families clothes to wash, and dry them on the bushes high up the side of the hill.

    All this being said, the people we met were in high spirits. They laughed at our pathetic efforts at Creole, and joyfully helped hand us across the slippery rocks to look into the wellhead. Eyes were bright with intelligence, humor was everywhere, and despair was nowhere evident. If you don’t believe that resilience is a human quality, you haven’t been to Haiti.

    And now we’re at the clinic. Dave, the electrician, and I installed a series of new car batteries and an inverter to boost the clinic’s voltage to power the new well.

    Right now, a woman is in labor. The baby is in the occipital posterior position, so the doctor has her on her hands and knees to help the baby’s head to turn — an old obstetrician’s trick, he says. If the delivery is tonight, I’ll be there to assist.

    Tomorrow, Dr. Leo will treat a couple of kids who’ve come from distant parts to be treated for tungiasis — infestation of the feet by egg-bearing female “jigger” fleas, which swell to the size of peas, causing intense pain and secondary infection. Each flea and each egg must be removed by scalpel and forceps. I’ll get to observe, so stay tuned and you’ll hear how the kids came out. Of course, if the kid hadn’t been barefoot, the fleas (which don’t jump very high) couldn’t get in.

    By the way, Carnival is in full swing even here in Grand-Bois. Dr. L and the PEPFAR funded people hosted a huge party that drew about 200 people, who got HIV tests in return for free T shirts. The music plays as I write.


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