Friday, May 24, 2013
The road to need is never too long - Hatein Proverb
The road beside the house where I stay in Henche is a collage of people, animals, vehicles and items for market. Even when I am lying in bed and it is still dark, the road begins to sing. I listen for the men singing on their way to their farms or the women singing early morning hymns. There are cows, horses, donkeys, mules, goats and dogs. They call to one another; their songs encouraging me to get out of bed and out onto the road. The children walk to school in matching uniforms. Women ride horses piled high with plantain. A man proudly leads three goats. They come down from the mountains, over small trails and through streams. They started out some time ago to be here in the market town by daylight. All day long they pass by signing and shouting and calling to friends.
Within this parade of people, animals and vehicles are women walking to the hospital to get help or have a baby. If labors are short and easy then they remain in their villages and pray all will go well. The smallest of trails might not have access to a motorized vehicle in an emergency and so some women set out to walk. I do a history on a woman who has walked all night with her sister because it was cool then and she would not need water. They have not brought any money but later someone from the family will come. She walked to the town so that she might have a tubal ligation after the birth. Another walks because her labor is too long or she believes her water is broken. Another has taken two little whits pills to abort her baby and she is bleeding and afraid. If they are lucky there is money for a moto but mostly they walk blending in with the market women and school children and business of the day.
Haiti has 4,161 km of roads. Of these 1,011 m are paved. The rest, like the roads that pass before my house are hard packed dirt that washes out with the rain and leave large pot holes and gullies. The road becomes paths that wind between cactus fences into small villages where there may also be a small school or church. Like the United States, the roads emerged from the trails made thousands of years earlier by the first people of the Americas.
The World Health Organization maintains that the ability to transport, in an emergency, is a key strategy in preventing maternal deaths. That villages need a plan for getting a woman to a road and to a hospital. They need ways to carry a woman down a path, onto a boat and onto a truck for transport. Roads save women's lives. They also bring much needed food to their village, medical teams, schools and access to greater markets.
So vital were roads to the future of Haiti, that Canada alone pledged 132 million dollars in 2008. At other times, the World Bank promised 50 million, Canada pledged 75 million and the United States pledged 31 million. Taiwan donated 300 new buses. Despite these pledges, the road construction moves slowly. We drive and walk through streams on our way to villages for mobile prenatal clinics. Women walk miles to get to the clinics. The tap taps that sing through the larger urban centers are not available in rural areas and even motos must be called and do not provide regular transport. When you tell a woman she can go to the hospital for birth control, she looks down the road as if to say and how would I get there. I walked five miles just to get here.
The construction of roads has been plagued with hurricanes, coups, violence and earthquakes. It has also been stopped by a land law system in which there was no registration of land ownership. This meant that when a road project was begun, someone could walk up and say that is my land and you can't build a road until you pay me. They pay them and another person comes up and says it is theirs. After some time of this the construction company is fed up or out of money and the road is not built.
The women on their way to market or the clinic or a husband trying to get his wife to a hospital, make their way past never finished road construction. Where I live in the United States, a traffic jam can send people into a furry of insults and violence. A pot hole is cause for a flurry of letters to the editors. In Haiti, the large machines block the road and people learn to walk around. A ten minute ride, even in a pick up truck, becomes two or three hours for a women in labor.
The people with the money for roads say they'll be back when the land is surveyed and the deeds secured.
In the hospital, baby in arms, women prepare themselves for the long walk home; often with no food or water and only a sister to walk along beside them. If you are lucky there is a friend or relative in town but if not, it is best to get an early start before the sun gets too hot.