Monday, December 1, 2014

Homecoming, Loss and Perspective

Charlie died last Monday at 10:30 in the morning. His owner, student staff member Rosema was at school. Charlie (Tchaly in Kreyol) was the 4th born of our Jolie's 5 pups (March 2013). Charlie was ill when I arrived in the country Friday. That afternoon, Auguste took Charlie and Rosema to the only person in Cap-Haitien with veterinary training. He had no idea what was wrong with Charlie so he gave him vitamins. When Rosema told me Charlie's eyes were yellow, I said there was something wrong with his liver. I checked his symptoms with a few reputable web sites and came up with infectious canine hepatitis (a virus). Symptomatically his death was textbook and painful. Oh for a visiting vet or a donation of veterinary supplies, the time and money to take some vet courses myself, or BETTER YET send a student through a veterinary college. Or all of the above!
Charlie at 6 weeks

Charlie at home with Rosema and
visitor Monica
Rosema was inconsolable. So we buried Charlie in our yard with a short ceremony which celebrated his very brief life. The ground was baked and it took Dieugrand and Rosema a pick axe, shovel and 45 minutes of intense teamwork to create a resting place.
Dieugrand loosened  the earth and Rosema shoveled.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. My arrival in the country was 3 hours late. When I finally emerged from Arrivals, I scanned the crowd for Auguste. He had told me he was ill while I was in Canada, but he had lost so much weight I did not recognize him. Anyone who has met Auguste knows he did not have a spare ounce to lose. After my initial shock began to recede and he reassured me that he was on the mend, I asked what else was happening S'ak pase?
Manman Myriame te mouri madi a. "Myriame's mother died Tuesday" he said very quietly. Another shock to my already reeling system. Myriame is a second year university student (Nursing) and much missed student staff member. She came to us in 2010 after living through the January 12 earthquake during which she saw her aunt, uncle and cousins killed.  Although she had both parents living, we admitted her to our program as she was suffering from post-traumatic stress and I thought the casual nature of our drop in center would offer her friendship and support without making demands. I gleaned this from her mom on our home visit.

Manman Myriame was at least 30 years my junior. She died of infection after giving birth to a son, Daniel. Because she was the breadwinner in the family, working in the market 7 days a week selling rice by the cup (gode diri ) , the one room apartment they shared has been lost. The new baby will be put in an orphanage as soon as one can be secured. In the interim he is being cared for by our housekeeper/cook Joceline, a widow with 7 children living in a 6x8 tikay. Talk about a big heart.
Myriame and younger sister Fatia, also in our program, returned to school this week. We will do our best to keep them in school. With the death of a parent, the care of younger siblings falls to the oldest, in this case Myriame.

Director Auguste and coordinator Lusnot help Myriame
catch up on homework before returning to school.

Loss is part of life, no matter where you live. It just seems larger and closer here. And more pervasive.
Driving in from the airport, I was stunned to see that the dozens of thriving businesses, churches, schools and apartments which populated that stretch of road were gone. All had been marked for demolition before I left and some 'deconstruction' had begun. But the speed with which the project was completed must have left former owners and tenants stunned. As with the airport, the huge number of homes lost and persons displaced was about tourism. According to Le Nouvelliste, the stretch was being cleared so that tourists could see the ocean as they drove in from the airport.

Dozens of businesses had the death sentence 'a demoli'
spray painted on their fronts

   Demolition began with a couple of buildings.

    Each week as we passed en route to Sen Rafayel,
more 'signs of progress.'

I'm not against growth, change, progress. But when they take place without planning, without consideration for those who will lose everything, one has to wonder.  Hundreds, maybe thousands have been displaced, no remuneration, no relocation strategy. Looking at the project as we passed one day Auguste finally commented that it looked much like Port-au-Prince after the quake, which was a war zone. We had passed through on our way to a ceremony for our then nursing students in Leogane. So he had first hand knowledge.

    I had to pry a comment out of Auguste as he
       watched the demolition.

Driving in from the airport this time, everything  is gone. Just a peaceful vista for the tourists to look at as they drive in from the airport.
A seascape for the as yet unknown 'tourists' who will drive by.

Here loss and suffering are partners.  6 of our students lost their housing in last months rain/floods. Another two dozen lost all their belongings, including school uniforms, shoes, text books etc.  A parent, a pet, a home, a business. There is no eradicating loss --  anywhere  but we can ease suffering, wherever we are planted. There are often no words and no consolation, but being present and bearing witness, telling the story are gifts we can give.

We're still okay. The challenge is to find perspective.


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