Friday, December 17, 2010

Cholera, School Exams and Rain

Voodoo (vodou) drums (boula, asoto, kata) were back last night, creating a lullaby in tandem with the rain, which has been falling for more than a week.  The drums, part of a wake ceremony for the dead, have been curiously absent for almost 2 weeks.  When I asked  if it was the rain hampering the ceremonies, staff  replied no, too many dead.

Rain means cooler temperatures (19 celcius today).  When you're used to 30 plus - that's a shock.  No one has proper clothing for a seasonal change.  It also means we can't do laundry as nothing dries, mold and mildew are taking over.
Jocelyn bundled up against the cold
Garbage continues to pile up as well. The newly distributed garbage dumpsters (poubel-yo) are never emptied so they become sites for burning. Toxic smoke fills the air on a recurring basis.

Poubel on Rue L.
Not surprisingly, chest infections abound. We have 6 students with pneumonia, Marie-Modeline being the most serious. As Carmene and Jack were off work, Auguste and I made the journey to her place in Madeline to deliver the last sleeping sponge and some bedding.  Most of our young people are sleeping on either cement or dirt floors with no covers, no mosquito nets. A full-scale 'bedding program' is currently out of  economic reach. Sleeping bags don't work here as they quickly become sources of damp and mildew.The sleeping sponges come in from the neighboring Dominican Republic but that supply route has become a mere trickle in the face of  'kolera' fears.
Auguste carrying sleeping sponge.
On the way home we stopped at one of the "Medecins Sans Frontieres"  (Doctors without Borders)cholera clinics to see if we could talk to someone about Sen Rafayel but there was no one with authority (pouvwa)  present.

 "Doctors without Boarders" cholera clinic in Cap-Haitien.
Carmene returned to work Thursday.  She had phoned early Monday to tell me her mother was ill in Sen Rafayel.  Family comes first at Starthrower - I just ask that they keep me informed somehow.  Her mother had Cholera and was forced to use the hospital which was charging our young people such outrageous amounts.  Carmene paid $60.25 USD for treatment (10 bottle of the sewomoral, which is potable water, salt and sugar) and $12.50 USD per night at the hospital to sleep on a rough plank on the floor, no covers, no pillow, no food, no water for visitors to wash their hands.  We had bottled  sewom here so Carmene knew what to do but the sugar and salt needed were not available in the marketplace in Sen Rafayel.  She was also upset by the hospital deaths during the brief time she was there - 4 people - all ages and stages of life died in front of her as she tended to her mother.  Her sister, who has been with Carmene since the quake, travelled up to take over home nursing duties,so Carmene could return to work.

Some good news. After hearing the story of the charges incurred by our young people for Cholera treatment in Sen Rafayel, a friend of mine who works in the medical field here contacted the minister for Sante Publik (Public Health).  He acted quickly, contacting officials at the hospital in Sen Rafayel  and  Medecins Sans Frontieres as well. A medical team arrived in the village late Thursday  and we are told  cholera treatment is now free.  Small victory but a victory!!

Jack also returned to work Thursday for a half day. Monday morning, he had arrived saying he had had a bout of diarrhea during the night but it was not cholera and he was fine.  I observed him throughout the morning.  He spent much of his time in the latrine and his energy level plummeted.  Late in the morning he finally admitted to being ill.   I asked Auguste how he felt about driving Jack home as he probably had 'kolera'.  Auguste was 'dako' (ok) with that.  Thank goodness for the truck.  The speed with which Jack's energy and overall wellness deteriorated was eye-opening.  I sent him home with 8 bottles of 'sewomoral'.  In some ways he is one of the lucky ones.  His neighborhood (katye) DOES have communal latrines.  Unfortunately they are pay for use and you have to find the keeper of the key and pay him when you want to use it.  He appeared for work Thursday looking wan but determined.  He was adamant about staying but quite content to leave at noon when it was suggested.

Auguste records books taken as Rosema and Esmann browse
Some schools reopened on Monday after an almost month long hiatus due to the elections/protests. Sen Rafayel schools are still closed due to the heavy rains, mudslides and rockfall.  In Cap-Haitien, our young people went from an unwelcome break into exams, which means everyone drops in for food and water as well as pencils and pens for writing.  Auguste and I had taken a day to clean out the office. In the process we decided to offer some of the text books the schools had not used for the past couple of years to anyone wanting supplementary study materials.  There is no reading for pleasure here - just study so the books were a big hit.  In the process of looking through the books, Rosema discovered that the handwritten photocopies his teacher had been distributing at a cost of just under $2 USD were taken verbatim from an older text book no longer on the purchase list.  Apparently those funds go directly into the teacher's pocket. The book has 78 pages - in groups of 3 or 4 pages to-gether so at least 20 required purchases by students. One way to supplement income - there is no copyright legislation in place here - anything can be copied. 

Daylight has broken - rain clouds linger but so does the elecricity. In closing my thoughts return to Carmene describing the hospital conditions in Sen Rafayel.  She is one of the very few people I know here who has a mother living.  She said that it seemed that those who did not have family to care for them were the ones who were dying.  Mothers and daughters - perhaps because I have just finished reading 'The Red Tent' by Anita Diamant  family relationships speak to me.  I wonder about our young people - 90% of them raising themselves and sometimes siblings with no role models, no support, no words of praise or encouragement.  Only time will tell what bearing this will have on the people they become.



PS We learned late Friday that there will be an official announcement on Monday  regarding the results of the Nov. 28th elections.  As schools have been disrupted since that date, most of our young people are writing exams Saturday and Sunday. This is an unprecedented action, but understandable given  the potential for renewed violence if results are unacceptable by the populace (pep-la).  Should Cap-Haitien be 'cho' (hot) again on Monday, schools will close early for the Christmas break and remaining exams will take place the first week of January. I'll let you know.

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