Wednesday, June 5, 2013

August 2010..... first night in Haiti

Jacmel, Haiti
August 2010

I waited on the porch of an old French tavern that had survived the earthquake.  It was dark and the rain poured down all around us.  The midwives were still working and it was too wet to make may way up the dirt road to join them.   And so I waited in that dark, not knowing the language or the place where I was to stay and work.  

Behind me were two rooms piled high with donations. There were packages from school children in Maine and medical supplies in damp, deteriorating boxes.  The supplies spilled out onto the porch and served as tables for volunteers.  When the electricity came on, I could see that there was a bulletin board with some information for volunteers along with baskets of teas and protein bars others had left.  The table was scattered with charts, papers, ash trays and beer cans.  Young men talked on cell phones and smoked out in the yard under trees. 

A small lean to kitchen with a propane burner stood out in the garden with a pot of rice and beans for whoever might come home to eat.  The cook had left before the rains began.  

My room looked out over the garden and back yard; a room that surely must hold many stories in its slanting floor boards and shuttered windows.  The bed draped with a mosquito net, was at first, the vision of a canopy bed and not protection from malaria.  It was all a wonder, to me, that rainy night.  I wondered what the midwives were doing and wanted so much to go and be a part of whatever was needed.

When they returned they were wet and exhausted from many births and a long day of doing prenatal care.  They were relieved for another set of hands and I suppose I was relieved to be needed.  They only took licensed midwives and not students.  By the end of my time there would be two midwives from Canada and a newly graduated doctor from France but on that first night I could see that for some time it would be me and the young midwife from Canada. 

I was shown the bathroom and the supply room.  If someone went into labor at night, the guard would wake us and walk me up the road to a geodesic dome that had been built by volunteers.  The hospital was in very bad shape and most people were still trying to build back their homes and lives.  Lying in bed, in the dark, I could not imagine what lay before me.  It was hot, the netting stuck to my skin. The roosters did not seem to understand that we were just going to bed and not waking up.   They called them the 24 hour roosters.  

I thought of my own chicken in Oregon and hoped that they were safely inside and not being eaten by racoons.   I thought of my children and grandchildren; of my many students and all the babies i had caught over the years and all that had brought me there, in that bed, waiting for the earth to turn.  I was not sure if I would be helpful.  I had no understanding of Haiti's healthcare system, the matrones who helped at most deliveries.   I heard the reporters talk about there being no infrastructure to begin with.  I heard the phrase, "build back  better" but I had no understanding of the political and economic forces that were at the heart of these statements.

I had been an ESL teacher for refugee children. I had welcomed many refugee child into my home and family. I had taken a class at Oxford on refugees and forced migration.  I had taken online classes in emergency obstetrical health through John Hopkins University.  I had tried, I thought, trying to reassure myself.  I was not carelessly going into another country. I had made this commitment years ago when my daughter from Cambodia was young.  I would, I told her, go and help people who were in your situation. One day.  She only laughed back then. It seemed a long way away and now here I was.  Fulfilling a promise to a child who no longer cared and perhaps even thought it foolish.

In the morning I went to the porch.  It was light and I could see that most houses were completely fallen down.  Pieces of cement were stacked waist high everywhere I looked.  People were already busy hauling away cement and trying to rebuild.  Across the street, on a hillside, a carpenter built wooden caskets.  Many of them were for small children and babies.  I watched him for some time and then gathered my birth bag to go to the dome and start working.

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