Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saturday should be quiet.

Yesterday the long awaited solar technician arrived from Port-au-Prince (Potoprens). An American trained Haitian who knows solar systems, computers, the internet, and electricity.  He worked on our set up for the better part of a day, uncovering a system which was never properly installed, leading to the suspect terminal breaking off and shorting out.  None of the connections were tight, apparently emiting sparks and causing the batteries to drain rapidly.

In the process of checking everything out, he inspected the wiring system in the house.  "What system?" I inquired as some plugs are 2 pronged, some are 3 and electricity enters via flimsy wires held up by a stick.  Light bulbs continue to illuminate after I have turned off the switch from the power company.  His first suggestion was to change the fuse panel for a breaker panel.  Over the years I have asked 3 different electricians to make this change - none could.  So Jack spent this morning (he doesn't usually work weekends) searching every shop - large and small which might carry electrical supplies - everything necessary to bring this house up to code in any country. With true Haitian tenacity, he didn't quit until securing every item.

As you know, last week we travelled to Sen Rafayel in part to update photos and family information of our students, and in part to make staff changes.  We have decided to move away from students manning the office to hiring 2 of our graduates, Djohn, a carpenter (top photo) and Kesner, a tailor (bottom photo).

Both will have time for office duties, welcome the income and be able to continue in their trade.  Both accepted the job and each received a telephone to keep them in touch with 'head office'.

Djohn is awaiting tools promised from the States to continue his carpentry.

Last week we found a sewing machine for Kesner but lost it because I did not have the cash on hand.  So we wait again.

In the meantime, Joceline and Stephen arrived for their half day of work.  As they entered to the excited barking of the dogs, the phone rang.  It was Kesner.  His younger sister Chemen, 18 years of age had just died.  Could we pay for her 'bwat' (casket)?  In July 2005, his 6 year old brother Djempson died and we paid for the bwat.  Like her younger brother, Chemen had never been to school.  She had taken on the role of mother at age 12 when their mother died.  Too much responsibility at too early an age, no support.  A brief life of malnutrition and illness - gone too soon.

The phone rang again - Djohn in Sen Rafayel.  Thieves broke into our little office and stole all the furniture.  Students were lined up - what should he do?   I told him to tell everyone the office is closed due to a death, lock the door, then find Kesner and be with him.  We will make an unplanned trip up the mountain after I have been to the bank Monday.

Auguste called to set a time for the graduation tomorrow.  Sister Rosemary called to cancel our birthday lunch as she is not well.  Jack arrived on a motoscooter with packages filled with the electrician's wish list.  Both will arrive tomorrow at 9 a.m. (after church at 6) and rewire the house, making it safer and more efficient.

Amid the phone calls and conversations, pre-planning a trip to Sen Rafayel, I cannot get 18 year old Chemen Cadeau out of my mind.  I don't beat myself up - I know we do as much as we can.  And we're not here to fix or save or rescue, rather work together in supportive, nurturing relationships, respecting individuals' need for dignity and control in their lives.

But an 18 year old girl should not be dead from a cold.  Chemen died of "opresyon" [shortness of breath, asthma, hyperventilation...]. We have had a great deal of rain, and most of our young people in Sen Rafayel sleep on the ground. Kesner told me she developed a cold with a cough on Thursday and died this morning, because she couldn't breath.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book 'Wherever You Go There You Are' writes of generosity ... "practice sharing the fullness of your being ... above all your presence.  Share it ... with the world." (pg. 62)  "Initiate giving.  Don't wait for someone to ask.  You may find that, rather than exhausting your resources, you will replenish them ... At the deepest level there is no giver, no gift, no recipient ... only the universe rearranging itself." (pg. 64)

If everyone who reads this would rearrange the universe in whatever way their financial situation allows, some good would come from Chemen's death.



P.S.  Chemen's funeral will cost $2800 H or $350 U.S..  That includes the bwat , benyen (bathing/preparing the body) and the deklarasyon - death certificate.

Kesner would be very grateful to anyone who could help him pay for the funeral.  His brothers, Jocelin (18 years of age - twin of Chemen) and Jodelin (13 years old) are both ill.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sen Rafayel, Haitian Students, Fullness of Life

In my spare time here in Cap-Haitien, I read.  I have always been a voracious reader.  I have been reacquainting myself with Jon Kabat-Zinn's profoundly insightful guide to living "Wherever You Go There You Are".  I can spend time with just the title.  Saturday found us very present in the village of Sen Rafayel.  Staff put out the word that we wanted to meet with each student, to update photos and information.  Most were waiting in school uniform when we arrived.

We departed Cap-Haitien at 7:30 a.m. with a cooler full of iced bottles of water, and arrived at about 11 a.m..  The 28 km trip was the maiden voyage for our truck.  The route threw every conceivable challenge at us - work crews (state and private), huge puddles the size of small lakes and mud, mud, mud.  But the bridge between Dondon and Sen Rafayel was repaired.  Under Jackson's watchful eye, Auguste drove up the mountain and Jack drove the return.

Once there, there was no time to scour the village looking for a latrine, just get to work.  Auguste sat in the single, windowless room, filled with flies and mosquitos, taking information while I stood in the sun trying to coax smiles out of everyone, burning (although covered with sunscreen) and swatting the same critters.

As usual, our presence attracted a crowd of curious.  The younger ones had often been put in their best dresses in the hope that we would be able to provide support for some wanting to start school.

Many of ours presented with multiple problems - Wilsaint needs a hernia repair, a great deal of dental work and the tikay(little house) he shares with his frail aging mother, 3 brothers and 2 sisters is in ruins, destroyed in the Jan. 12 quake.  They are living amidst the rubble.  Illiomene has an untreated stomach condition and dental problems, and the tikay she shares with neighbors was destroyed.  She is an orphan with no siblings.  Just two of the many.  Kabat-Zinn writes "We have got to pause in our experience long enough to let the present moment sink in; long enough to actually feel the present moment." (pg xiii).  Although there are always demanding crowds of all ages, there is a sense of time standing still.  Sen Rafayel does that to me - forces my attention on the present.

Leaving is always a challenge - in addition to those for whom we currently provide support, there will be several who catch my eye and I am again in the present moment with that young person, listening to their compelling story, receiving their painfully written note of hope presented on precious scraps of paper.

One of those, Consienne, wrote "... m pa gen moun ki pou ede m paske manman avek papam avek. Mwen te gen yon fre ki t'ap ede'm li mouri konnya....manman pa gen possibilite pou ban nou mange.." Trans: I have no one who can help me because my mother is blind and my father is blind.  I had a brother who was helping but he's dead now. My mother has no way of feeding us..."  I left Auguste and headed for her house to meet the parents and check her birth certificate.  Her brother was helping the whole family, and was killed in the quake in Port-au Prince.  A brother and sister are stranded in Port-au-Prince unable to get home to Sen Rafayel.  She is one of too many.

The trip home was thought provoking - debriefing, exclaiming over road conditions, drinking in the scenery.  Upon arrival, a truck to unload, animals to feed, Sunday food distribution to prepare for.  And Sunday morning - a victim of the mountain terrain - a shredded tire which somehow got us home before giving out.  Monday morning I couldn't help but laugh as I noted how many staff members it took to replace a tire - 4 humans and 2 dogs.

Then the trickle began - Danius with Malaria symtoms (positif), Mary Modeline with Typhoid symptoms (positif), Edwina, Camiose and Christamene for the first day of our book repair program, which began by unpacking the texts books picked up in Sen Rafayel.  The office and house have piles of books everywhere - each one with a note explaining its purpose and placement.

Tomorrow we will pick up boxes just arrived from Pennsylvania, Sunday attend Paulaine's graduation and in between, the fullness of life.  It's true - wherever I go, there I am.

Kenbe pa lage

PS - We are waiting for a technician to come from Port-au-Prince to repair our solar set up. As it is 'enpan' (not working, needing repair) and hydro is very intermittent, emails will require longer response time.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Earthquake aftermath Port-au-Prince, Nursing students, Leogane

2 a.m. The storm has abated and hydro has arrived. While I will not hop out of bed and iron clothes, although the heat has dropped somewhat and my bed no longer feels like an electric blanket set on high, I will try and assemble some thoughts on our trip to Leogane July 1-3. It will take more than a blog, but it is a start. The dogs are restless tonight, (toumante ko li) and I guess I am as well. I have been since the trip through the south.

We set off on a high note as this was the first time Auguste had ever flown. He seemed to regard the 45 minute departure delay as part of the adventure, and was spellbound for the entire 30 minute flight, seeing his country from a very different perspective. Once on the ground, another delay connecting with our driver, then finally on our way.

The high spirits generated by the flight experience quickly gave way to shock, disbelief, silence as we drove through downtown Port-au-Prince, a city I no longer recognized. In place of homes and businesses, endless piles of broken concrete and twisted rebars everywhere we looked - monuments to the countless, unnamed who remain buried beneath the rubble. What should have been hopeful I found disturbing - signs of rebuilding, albeit on a small individual scale, the white "sand/limestone" that caused so many deaths - was again being used - it was the only available building material.

Heading out of the city onto the highway, a sea of tents covers every available inch of space, most homemade, pieced together with whatever could be found. They line the sides of the highway, the median of the highway, packed together, no personal space. The road surface itself is buckled and heaved, and seems as though a giant knife has sliced through it is many places. Now I understand why the international community was unable to get to our kids for 5 days after January 12.  The visual of tents was relentless - with us from Port-au-Prince right in to Leogane.

Our destination was unexpected - the now unused L'Hopital Ste Croix. Another 'first' experience for Auguste - sleeping in a hospital bed. The guest house and home of our hosts, John and Suzi had been destroyed, sparing their lives, although another story of heroism and rescue is there to be told. Part of the hospital is structurally sound, so they have set up shop inside, welcoming us and showing us plans for rebuilding the hospital, making it once again a vibrant part of the community. But for now the community is in tatters.

Our nursing students, Alland and Wisly on the left, Gaby and Brunie on the right, welcoming Auguste and myself in Leogane.

After much needed rehydration, we headed for the nursing school to see our 4 students, each so excited at the upcoming ceremony, more at ease with life than I had seen them in Cap Haitien as they struggled with Post Traumatic Shock. It's still there but they are so busy, it's either being kept at bay or worked through. Time will tell. They are still living in tents, although the field hospital has moved out of their school and is now set up in tents adjacent to the school.

The juxtaposition of sleek new buildings (the school is being used for classes) and tents took my breath away. How and when will this ever end? I talked with some of the children in their tents, signs of malnutrition obvious. An 11 year old doing laundry as mother is ill. A cooler filled with items for sale but no ice or electricity to cool anything. Curious goats and a "plein aire" art gallery.

The next morning, a few feet away, a subdued yet joyful ceremony unfolded, acknowledging the struggle of the year not yet past, the loss of 3 students and thousands of community members, and the hope of a future in a profession Gaby, Brunie, Wisly and Alland have come to cherish. The capping ceremony (kwaf-la ) was held in the courtyard, covered with huge pieces of tenting to protect us from the sun, giving everyone and everything a blue cast. The church had been destroyed, but Haitians rise to the occasion and find another way.

I am always proud of our young people, but never more so than I was that weekend, watching in awe as they took on the reponsibility of serving their communities and country in a profession that has already changed their lives forever.

As we headed for the airport early Saturday, Auguste pointed out the Statue of the Crying Woman, new to him. When originally erected, it served as a reminder that children were dying needlessly and mothers were weeping for them. Now the statue's presence is even more poignant, as she cries for the increasing number of those lost.

Reliving the visit moves me to tears - not just the late (early?) hour but the immensity of the task undertaken - to support these amazing yet vulnerable and fragile young people as they continue the journey we have embarked on together - you, me, them.

We will revisit Leogane - it seems to be calling to be the home of the southern post of Lakay Fondasyon Sant-la. The faces of the young people - proud, defiant, fearful, joyful - still young but aged irreversibly by the events of 2010, are calling out.

And this being Haiti, the hydro left at 3:15 a.m., as quickly as it arrived. Morning now, a little solar energy before I start up the fridge, time to let go of Leogane as staff and students arrive. Thank you to Jane in Georgia for connecting me to the HSC Guest House, John and Suzi for taking such good care of us, thank you to Jamille and Michele, nurses from Pennsylvania who gave so much to our kids at the nursing school, and to the amazing Mme Hilda, Doyenne of the school, words are insufficient to thank you for the care and encouragement you have given and the courage and leadership you demonstrated through these past 6 months. You are truly one of Haiti's heroes.

7:20 a.m. someone is knocking at the portay - it's Paulaine on her last day of school. She has come to pick up the icing sugar we bought for her baking test, to present me with the pizza she made this morning as a thank you, could she please take a shower, and do I have a tooth brush and toothpaste as her's are finished?

I am having pizza for my 65th birthday breakfast.

Pi ta



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