Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The hsitory of the world on a baby's head

There could be many reasons why I am not still sleeping. It could be the full moon that has lit up my room and made me think it is morning. But no, it is not the same golden pinks of a Haiti morning; the light that emerges from the mountains. It is the cool, white light that weaves itself into dreams.

It could be the garden next door where a cow tied to a tree cries. Or a farmer burning their fields or a dog setting off a chain of crowing roosters long before it is time for their daily chorus. Or maybe it is the few hours of electricity that only come on in the wee hours of the morning or the touch of the mosquito netting as I toss and turn; the way it comes loose and wraps around my body.

It could be any of these things but it is my dreams that wake me; the dreams that connect my daily work with the places deep inside me that do battle with the lessons offered to me here in Haiti. It is my dream that wake me; the dreams of a baby's hair.

A newborn baby's hair here in Haiti is the softest and most wonderful thing one could ever imagine. It is black and rich and curls around your fingers when you feel the bones of the head when you do a newborn exam. It melts in your fingers. Each week, when the mothers and babies return, I gently check the openings of the baby's skull. It is second nature for a midwife or doctor; this sweep of the hands over the baby's head. We measure the head circumference, record it and graph it as we look for patterns of health or disease.

As the baby's I have cared for here, grow older, I notice far more about their tiny heads. I notice their hair. I come to suspect that I can tell what the baby is eating based on the texture of the hair. I notice when it begins to fall out and become thin and coarse. I notice the sores on the scalp that start as spots and move to open wounds.

I come to know when they are no longer just breastfeeding by the texture of their hair and the health of their skin. I see that healthy start slip through my fingers.

In my dreams, the babies and I are in a box surrounded by the sea and fish of Haiti's waters. There are all the fresh fruits of Haiti and rice fields filled with Hatien rice and yet we can not get to it. The box is made of thick plexiglass and we can see the food but we can not touch or eat it. I keep banging on the plexiglass as I try to tell someone to let us out so the baby's can eat.

In the clinic, I pass out bars of soap and squeeze ointments into small bags and offer shampoos and advice about good food and sunshine to sterilize bedding. I do this many times a day.

But at night, when I am alone, the images erupt in the grief and anger of dreams. When I wake, bathed in moonlight and stuck in the mosquito netting, they stay with me until i must get up and write them down and be free of them.

In five hours, another line of mothers and babies will walk in our door and I will try to get us out of the plexiglass box that I feel trapped in with them. I think to myself that I can read the history of Haiti in a baby''s head; the exploitation of natural resources and people that rob that baby of nutrients. I can read that story on a baby's head. I see the sores and scars and fallen hair like a map of the world. I rub oils and ointments and lotions into that map and try to erase the way it was written but I can not.

I, like millions of people who have woken up in Haiti, am healed by her mountains and the colors at the start of day. Night will pass and the dreams will only be lingering reminder of those things I struggle to say come daylight.

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