Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Trial in the Death of Oliver's Mother

There was a death but there is no trial, no coroner report, no peer review, no investigation, no law suit.

But in classrooms, across the United States, children are having mock trials of Christopher Columbus.  My grand daughters are in the midst of this study at their school.   They read Morning Girl about a Taino Indian girl and are now trying Christopher Columbus of the death of her people.

Christopher Columbus is greeted by the Taino Indians who he described as friendly and welcoming.  In less than 25 years, most were killed and others fled to the mountains and the outer islands.  

I say to my grand daughter, they are still dying.  It was not Espanola.  It was Ayiti; the word the Taino gave the land where Columbus landed and created his first settlement called LaNavidad.  

And so I accuse Christopher Columbus of the death of Oliver's mother.  I accuse him of creating "Colonality of Power"; a system in domination remains in continued notions of superiority.  I accuse him of taking an island free of gender discrimination and embedding it with attitudes that helped lead to Oliver's mothers death.  I accuse him of Hegemony; a system in which oppressive values an ideas permeate a society without being imposed.  

Christopher Columbus was taken back to Spain in 1500 where he stood trial for the genocide of the Taino people.
Today many people ask how Haiti is, without ever making a connection to long lasting effects of Columbus's legacy.

I accuse him of leaving an on going form of post colonial oppression that won't go away; that leads to a system where Oliver's mother was not able to make decisions to help herself and her children.  

Today I am going to talk to their class about the Taino in Haiti and the lasting legacy of Christopher Columbus.   I will tell them about the ways they escaped to the mountains and how they helped the slaves with their fight for freedom.  I will tell them about the beautiful ways the people love the land and care for one another.  I will tell them about the things that were taken but also of the things that could not be destroyed.

This story and others like it, make children really sad which is why I believe so strongly in service learning as a teaching methodology.  It allows the children to learn the truth about Christopher Columbus and his relationship to Haiti.  It allows them to understand that Haiti's challenges were created by colonialism and not just an earthquake.  But it also allows them to try to do some small things to help.    I'll make them a Santa list of things babies, like Oliver, might need in Cabestore. I'll tell them how hard it is to get to the market and how they might not have the most basic of things that could help a baby.

One day,  God willing ( as the Haitians say )  I will pack their gifts and make may way back to Canestore and offer them to the mothers there.   In this way, the circle of giving and receiving in cycles of healing and compassion.

And I will tell these children, over the holiday, when someone comes into your house.  Quickly offer them the best chair and sit with them and share a story.  Offer them whatever little you have.   Each time you do this, you honor the Taino's and the best of Haiti and show Christopher Columbus he did not win. There as something stronger than swords and it survived in the remote villages and hamlets of Haiti.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Carrie Wortham Birth Center, Your Mom - Finding the Good Spirits

I had gone to Cabestore to help set up a new birth center.   Next to the church, it is the biggest building anywhere around and it is painted bright pink.   Women can go there for prenatal care and to give birth and for postpartum check ups.  There is trainings for the matrones and occasional medical clinics.   Its where Oliver's mom went for her check ups, when he was still inside her.  Tap, tap , tap went his little heart inside her.  Tap, tap, tap.

I tell Oliver that this is a sign that the "good spirits" are moving in to Cabestore ; that the bad spirits that took his Mama are getting smaller and weaker and the good ones are growing.   I tell him that sometimes when one good thing comes, many more follow.  

I tell him that each day, we get up and get to decide how we are going to live this life.   Sometimes we have to look, but the good spirits are all right there too.

I tell him the birth center is named after a woman I knew and she died too, right around the same time as his Mama.  Some "bad spirits" took her too.   I tell him that bad spirits come when people aren't paying attention to where they are going or who they may run over, as they plow through the world blind to other's well being.   I tell him, he can't walk yet but when he can to look where he is going and it will help a lot.  I tell him, even if he becomes rich and powerful, to watch where he is going and not run over anyone.  Slow down, I tell him and watch where people are going and help them out, if you can.  

This woman, Carrie; the one the birth center was named after, had a particularly good ability to create   good spirits.  She danced, ran, made brownies for everyone, took care of stray cats.  She was good at creating good spirits in the midst of some pretty, hard moments.   Its a talent but one anyone can practice this and get better at it.    

So, I tell Oliver, given that the birth center is named after a person talented in creating "good spirits" I believe its a good sign for his community.   I tell him good spirits are coming his way and he just needs to hold on.  

I tell him we are having a lot of trouble with "bad spirits"in our country too.  I tell him greed and not looking out for other people, is at an all time high.   But loving people and the fight for watching out for others, is also at an all time high.    I believe your Mama, was killed by centuries of greed.   I also believe there was a bacteria or a virus that we could have stopped but more important, she was killed by a deep division between those who have and those who do not.   Sometimes, in Haiti, I hear people blame the next door neighbor for these bad spirits but I suspect this only serves to keep you from understanding the source of the real "bad spirits."   I want you to know that your Mama loved you and most likely died of a water borne bacteria that caused severe dehydration that lead to her death.   The "bad spirits"; things like a lack of education, a lack of good farm land, a lack of food and too many children in too few years were all things that could have been prevented her death too.   Education, family planning and health care are human rights.  

In the future, the women indoor small hamlet, will get good prenatal care and access to a safe birth and easier access to family planning.   But most of all the birth center will stand as a beacon for our belief in good spirits.   Many volunteers will make their way to your small, rural community.  Haitian midwives will train there.  

There is nothing I can do to bring back your mother.  I can not change the events that led to Carrie's death.  All I can do is to work to understand the "bad spirits" that led to their deaths and try, each and every day to work hard to understand those things that bring "good spirits" as well.    I was raised a Quaker.  When I was little they said my only job, in life, was to walk around and try to look for the light in each human being.  To nurture that light and not be afraid to be a witness to the things that seek to put that light out.  To not be afraid.   Because of this, I  chose to interpret the "bad spirits" as the absence of light and not a specific curse.  I saw "bad spirits" is the absence of human rights, the absence of dignity and equity. And so, in this way, I believe your mother was killed by a "bad spirit" and that her death was preventable.  That "bad spirit"was greed.  This greed grows a big hole in people's hearts and it cannot be filled by things, or speed, or beauty or power.  The hole just keeps getting bigger and bigger and it feels like the "bad spirits" just want more and more and just keep taking more and more victims.  It feels that way sometimes.

I am a midwife, and I know that every baby is born with a "good spirit" growing in their heart.  The light inside each new born baby is so powerful and so sweet, it can nearly knock a midwife over.  I suspect that's why I'm a midwife.  I like to swim in that light.   I suspect the reason I like a nice, quiet, natural birth is so I can see that light a bit better and make sure the baby gets set straight in the world; knowing this goodness is his or her's birthright.  I like to keep a baby naked and on his Mama so that for a little bit all things are equal, with each baby and the world.   The inequities will come soon enough.

You were born into your Mama's arms.  You were bathed in this light.  They say your Mama thought of you, right before she died, and gave you to the women who is caring for you in your own village.  Sometimes, I am scared they will tell me you didn't make it.  I know the odds are against you.  

Hold on.  You were born in a sea of light.  There are "good spirits" all around you.  Hold on.

Keeping Oliver

Oliver's Dad stares at me with helpless grief.  He says, "The baby cries at night without his mother's milk."   His other children cling to his hands and pants and gather tight around him.

He is not the first father to hold out a motherless baby and plead for help.   He is not the only father, in Haiti, to consider adoption and then keep his baby.  Oliver's father hands the baby to the translator and then takes him back.  This goes on for several days.   The older women do not want him to go but he seems to lean towards letting him be adopted; to offering this one child a better chance.

One evening, he consults with the priest and the priest, who has shown no prior concern for the mother or baby or the community's well being, says the baby should remain in the small hamlet.  And in this way,the fate of baby Oliver is decided.  There is no plan for who will give him formula, watch him while his father farms or how he will go to school.   His chances of living in Haiti, are perhaps 1 in 10  but without a mother, they are far less.  

There is nothing more we can do.  I make lists of supplies for future volunteers to bring but even if they bring emergency formula or liquid vitamins, I am not sure they will make it up the trail to where he lives.   I amanita sure who is paying attention.

I tell the father "rice milk with Hatien rice - not white rice."  I tell him carrot juice at least once a week and many yams and sweet potatoes.   I say, "Not just white rice."   I give him vitamins to mash up into his food.

On the long way back to Portland, I am waiting at a hotel for a ride and meet a man who was adopted as a young child by an Australian family.  He came back to find his mother.  His adoption was not easy.   He has found his birth mother and is building her a new house and trying to help her village.   His children swim in the pool.   I listen to the Australian grandmother tell the story.  It was not easy for him to  know his Hatien mother gave him up for adoption.   He's struggled with his identity and felt he had to find her.  He was not a good argument for adoption.  Some would suggest structured sponsorships so that children can stay with their families but still attend school and get food at a school canteen.  There are other ways, they would argue but none of those existed in the Oliver's small hamlet.  It was adoption or stay where he was.    

I think of my adopted daughter from Cambodia.  Her older sister sent her to the refugee camps on the Thai border.  It was dangerous journey. There were land mines and no one knew what would become of such a small girl.  Most of her large, extended family was dead.  There were no parents and  her sister was just a teenager.  And so she made the journey from Pahl Pot to a refugee camp to my family.  Years later, when we return to Cambodia, I am harsh in my thinking.  I think, "You could have kept her.  What were you thinking sending her through land mines to a refugee camp.  " I do not say this but I think it.   I think she has mistreated my daughter but had she not sent her away, she would not be my daughter.  I believe this daughter dwelled in my heart for all my life; that she was placed in my arms as sure as any child I gave birth to.   She is a grown woman now and can return to Cambodia and see her sister.   Her sister says, "It all turned out" though now I am sure she wishes she had her sister full time in Cambodia.   Perhaps,as she observes, this woman who is too American, she has regrets.  There were years of separation; years with no contact.  Years she did not know if her sister was alive or dead.  

The translator only wants to take baby Oliver to Port-Au-Prince.  It is a few hours away and yet because the priest says no, the father says no and returns to his house with the baby.

When I go up to their house, the father offers me a chair and I sit in the sun. Baby Oliver melts into my arms.   He puts his small head agains my chest and breathes softly.  His hair is red now; the color of malnutrition but he is okay.  I tell him he is going to have to fight to live.  

I tell him, that although the world has some pretty bad "spirits" it also has more good spirits.  I tell him sure there is greed and some downright mean people, but there is more good.  The sun is filtered through the chestnut tree.  It is time to harvest the chestnuts and the men are busy getting them ready for market.   The light falls on his face.   His big, happy. Haitian family is standing around us and everyone's talking and laughing and out on the road farmers are singing as they return from work.

"Hold on" I whisper to Oliver.  "Hold on to all this goodness; to the songs and stories and the people who love you. Hold on."  

Friday, December 11, 2015

People only appreciate things if they pay for them

In Haiti, I am sitting somewhere and the topic of fees for services comes up.  In general the philosophy of the NGO is that:

1. People do not appreciate things they do not pay for.

2. It is the culture of Haiti to make people pay for school and healthcare.

3. The priest who is working with them, says they must charge.

4. Everyone can pay something.

5. Developed countries have taxes so in fact the people in our countries are paying for education and healthcare.

So, it follows, that if, the now deceased Rose, appreciated healthcare and her children's education more, she would have paid for it.   But given that she is dead, she must not have appreciated these things and thus did not pay for them and thus her children are without a mother.   It was not for a lack of resources but rather a lack of appreciation.

In my country; even in the poorest of neighborhoods, school is free for the children who walk in the door.  The children can never be expelled for lack of fees, books or improper clothing.   Their parents may or may not pay taxes, but the child walks in the school free of that burden.   There is no proof that children with expensive private school education, appreciate their education more than a dedicated public school student.

In my country, people all can get health care.  They are subsidized if they have less resources.  If they are considered disabled they get healthcare at no cost.   We give elderly people some form of subsidized healthcare.   Countries with far better health statistics than ours, have government sponsored healthcare.  No one in those countries says that they don't appreciate their healthcare.  It is simply considered a human right.  One does not have to appreciate it to obtain it.

In the United States, if you enter the emergency room, you must be treated.  Things go wrong. It doesn't always work but it is the law.   You can call 911 and someone will come and get you.  It is true you might get a huge bill, but you will be less likely to die.

Most all schools and clinics, in Haiti, are subsidized by foreign donors.  People like you and me who have it in our DNA to help others.   The donors can not possibly imagine Rose, dead, in a small house, her children stunned while the rain beats on the roof.  

Each year millions of dollars are collected for schools, books and healthcare in Haiti.   People say, "Where does the money go?"  

Rose could have gotten on a moto and gone to a hospital and they would  have seen her for free.  Someone would have taken her, I believe and I know the hospital would have seen her.  But she did not go because of a culture that has rejected the peasant woman as stupid and unclean and undeserving.  She lived in a culture of class distinction that did not allow her to believe that she would be welcomed and that they would really have seen her.

Rose and her community lacked faith and hope and a belief in charity beyond their own lakou.  The bad spirits of class distinction are rooted in her death.   It was better to stay home, with people who loved her, than risk the humiliation and rejection, that past experiences told them all, might await her.  

The problem with the fees, is that there is too much room for corruption and the true purpose is, not to fund anything, but to maintain a class division that is deeply rooted in Hatien culture. ( And US culture)  It sorts out the better off from the have nothing at all.

So today, as you go about your day, how many things are available to you and the people in your community regardless of their ability to pay for them or pay taxes?   Would you have it any other way?  Do you believe in a social system that guarantees people certain things such as education and healthcare.  If you or someone you love, gets these things for free, do they appreciate them less?

In my experience, people appreciate things when they are given a voice and are invited to contribute, in whatever way they can.  Parents can help with cleaning, repairs, and painting.  Children can learn to grow their own food for a school canteen.  Councils and democratic process can bring people into the community.   People appreciate things when they are valued and listened to.  We give children free school and healthcare, because they are children and what their parents do or have is not their responsibility.    

Rose died because she was, in our big world, a person of little value.   I did not really know her and Rose is not even her name.  I know that her family and her community, believe she died of bad spirits and so, in writing this, I am perhaps trying to do my own ceremony of driving these bad spirits from the world.
People from Haiti, risk their lives to seek work in other places.  A person who makes it to Florida may find work that will help pay school fees and fund medical emergencies.
In my world, the mountains collapse from over logging and the destruction of wetlands.  Homes are destroyed and people trapped in landslides.  They want to take farm land and forest to run oil lines through our state.  They demand this even as the world around us crumbles from too much destruction of the environment.  The poorest people of the world, ask us to use less so they can simply live.

Rose and her people did not know how to ask. They were denied an education.  The graveyard is full of their friends and family.  In the past, any decent, was met with death and the loss of land.   The bad spirits which came with a lack of voice and empowerment, took her away.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Rose's ecological footprint

I listen to reports from Paris about climate change.

Young girls walk to get water for their family each morning.   The water pump is also a place for friends to meet and visit with each other before heading back home.  

I think about Cabestore and Haiti and Rose's small hamlet.

Rose consumed very little in her short life.  She walked almost everywhere she went and used no electricity.   Her clothes were  second hand from the United States.  She ate whatever they could grow; the exception being the rice they were forced to buy from the Dominican Republic, when their rice fields were lost to them.

Her global footprint was very, very small.   She had almost no possessions;  her furniture was home made and she would be lucky to have a pot for cooking rice and beans.

But her life was not bad.  It was beautiful.   She woke up to beautiful mountains and clean, sweet, meandering streams and rivers.   The noises of dawn; of children and animals and friends were reassuring and happy.   She had sisters and cousins and friends; a good husband and beautiful children.

She believed in God and she believed that God dwelled in all things.

On the radio they say, "Are Americans willing to eat less meat, use less electricity, consume less?"   They say, "What if the developing world, used as much as Americans?"

Do we need to keep a certain part of the world, without, so we can have so much?

I add the factors leading to global warming to the reasons Rose died; the reasons why Oliver does not have a mother.  Poverty is a big business and Rose was one small casualty of the pursuit of wealth that has no bounds.

Yes, Rose, a bad spirit killed you, but perhaps not the one you thought.  It was not one that a Leaf Doctor could have rid you off.  It was he bad spirit of greed that surrounded you and enveloped you, even in that quiet, peaceful hamlet you called home.

They say that it was once an island of tropical birds and that whales and dolphins were always off shore.   They say there were giant hardwood trees and the rivers were full of fish.

I see you walking there, your baby indoor arms; a great woman with a very small, ecological footprint.   In a world full of environmental heroes, this morning I nominate the women of the world who walk so gently on this earth.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

When one mother dies.

Every Mother Counts

This is the name of a maternal health organization and indeed the one that is helping to make the new birth center possible.   It helps pay for the education of the midwives and the remodel of the building.  There are t-shirts and water bottles and other things with their logo floating around us as we set up.

It is based on the idea that if a mother dies, there is a terrible ripple effect in the community.   The baby has no milk, the children can't go to school, there is increased risk of sexual exploitation, there is starvation and of course the life time of grief and loneliness people feel when their mother dies so young.  Women work hard in Haiti.  They tend gardens, cook, wash clothes by hand, go to the market and bathe children.  All the work that they do must be done by someone else, if they die.  The oldest daughter loses her childhood.

There is some debate about how far this statement reaches.   Rose had prenatal care at the mobile clinic and delivered her baby safely at home with the help of a local matron.   The matron attended a matron training program.  But here we are four months away from the birth and the community is faced with life without this one important mother, her dazed husband and her children.   The newly installed midwives, are not so sure the nutrition of this four month old baby is their concern.  He was not born at the birth center and there is no formula.  What can be done?

In the USA, the father would get formula from WIC and food stamps.  He could go to a local food pantry or get an emergency box of food.  His children would get a free breakfast and lunch at a school that required no fees or uniform or books.   They would simply walk out of the house, dressed the best they could and go eat breakfast before school.  If they needed clothes, there would be a clothes closet for them to pick out new and gently used clothing.  If the baby or any of the children, needed temporary foster care, it would be provided.

In the USA, we have safety nets.  We all pay a portion of our income to assure some basic services for children who, for many reasons, are in danger.  Most of us, most of the time are thankful for this.

In Haiti, Oliver's Dad is trying to decide what to do with him.  He clearly loves and enjoys his children and does not want to give this baby away.   It has only been a few days, since his wife died.
He asks if he can get him back later or visit him or know how he is doing.  These would all be reasonable requests in the United States.   The translator shakes her head.  

A volunteer offers to help support the baby by sending money each month to the translator. The  baby would have food, clean clothes and above all a good education.   More than that; he would stand a chance at living.

The volunteer midwife and I, standing in the rain, know his chances of living are not good.   Many babies in Haiti never reach their fifth birthday.  In many places as many as 1 in 4 die in the early years.   Their bodies are weakened by malnutrition and the constant infestation of worms that destroy what nutrition they have.   There are all the mosquito born diseases of malaria and dengue.  There are all the kid infections that are easily remedied with antibiotics that are left untreated.   There is untreated water and latrines too inconvenient to use.  

The father is still considering the bad spirits that killed his wife and is not considering the possibilities of parasites and infections and malnutrition.   He is being told his wife's death was not preventable.  It was just fate.  The idea that they can prevent the baby's death is difficult to grasp.

A woman stands with the baby in her arms and insists she should take care of him; that Rose asked her and so he has to stay there in the family Lakou.   It feels unfair, to me, that he should have to choose.

We bring him formula and baby clothes.  But it is not easy to get formula week after week, after we have all gone home.  He comes at dusk, later in the week, and says the baby is crying. He is hungry and the children have no food.   We give him evaporated milk and some protein bars.   He says that on Friday,  he will bring the baby for the translator to take home.   He is sure.   The translator says she will make sure he knows how the baby is and that sometimes there can be a visit but the baby will be legally hers.

He nods and walks out into the darkness that surrounds us.   A woman is in labor.  We turn towards the birth room as he walks away.   The mist is settling in and there is a chill in the air, even thought the days are hot and still.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Rose's Choice - "Send the children to school."

Oliver's mother and her large extended family grew up in Cabestore.  For as long as anyone could remember they had all lived and loved and given birth and died along those steep, mountain paths.

As a baby girl, Rose would have learned how to carry water, on her head, as she walked to the nearest spring to collect water.  Her cousins and sisters would join her as the mist rose from the countryside and the roosters crowed.  Perhaps her Mama would yell at her if she took too long but this was her time to meet girlfriends and share news from the other hamlets.   There were five other children and many cousins in her lakou, that sat half way up the mountain, with the corn fields forming a safe and comforting  blanket around them.

Rose was born into the dictatorship of Baby Doc Duvalier.  By the time she was five, Aristede had become the first democratically elected president.   In the years of violence and secret police; of hope and hope destroyed; they had lost land and family members.   They could not afford to loose anymore farm land and still feed their family.  Large, fruit and nut producing trees were cut and taken by the government police.  They stood by and watched; no longer knowing what a full stomach felt like.   She sat, under the tree, and braided her sister's hair and told stories.   When there was food to harvest, all the men would work together and sing and she would prepare a meal for them and bring it to the fields.   At the ned of the day, someone would come and take much of what they harvested but still it was food and she was happy.  

By the time, Rose was pregnant with Oliver, the best land had been taken and the fruit trees of her childhood were gone.  The land, like her body, were tired and over used.  You could only harvest so much without a rest; from a woman or a piece of land.  When there was more land, they could let pieces rest but no longer.  

Rose had never gone to school.  No one in their extended family could read or write.  For all the elections, dictatorships and occupations; no one had established public education.   When the Catholic Church established a school, she knew it was not for her.  She longed for a school uniform and matching ribbons for her hair but this was not for children like her.   She quickly learned to cook and care for babies and to help while her mother was working the gardens or gone to market.

Her older cousin had joined a small house church which followed the teachings of Liberian Theology.  He had returned home excited about the possibility for a new and equitable Haiti.   Soon, the government appointed clergy came and said they had no title to their land.   Her cousin argued that it had been in the family for hundreds of years; that the children would starve without it but the land was taken.  They could still farm it but a portion of every crop would go to the church.   The cousin was furious and said he would go,by boat, to the United States and earn money to buy land with a proper title.  He said all the children must go to school.  Even if it meant starving.  The children had to go to school.   He forbid everyone from the smallest pleasures; coffee and a piece of sugar cane; a little rum and betting on the roosters.  We had to send the children to school; one child at a time.   Rose knew this did not mean her as she was too old and was needed at home. She never drank coffee or drank rum or betted on roosters so none of these restrictions bothered her.  One older boy was chosen to go to school.   The older men argued that it would mean more work for them on the farm and that why was one son chosen and they all had to pay.  Her cousin argued "Someone has to know how to read."

The hope of Arrested died when he was overthrown.  Even out in her little hamlet, the news reached them.  Aristide had been overthrown and there was the return of military rule.   Her cousin sat under the last big tree and wept.   The next day, he left for the farms but never returned.   Some said he made his way to America and would return one day with money to buy land, with a title. Others said he was killed and his body thrown to the dogs.

Rose married a sweet man with enough land to feed a family.   Rose made him promise the children would go to school, even the girls.  He climbed a mango tree and threw down mangoes for each of them.  They sat there and talked about their life; how it would be different for them.   They would work hard and send the children to school.   They would be careful.   They would sacrifice everything for their children's education.

And so perhaps, when Rose had to choose the books for her children's school or the fees or the uniform or going to a doctor in town; she chose education.  

They say it was "Bad Spirits."   They say bad spirits have plagued that family for many years; starting with the cousin who joined the Liberation Theology Movement and down through the generations.  

The oldest daughter stares at me and wonders will become of her.  How can she ever finish school without a mother.

I wonder how it is that the United States occupied this country three times to assure democracy and never once in all that time, established a free education for everyone.

Let me explain, if a child goes to school without the proper clothes or books or fees; they risk public humiliation.  They can be shamed in front of classmates and neighbors as a poor child.   They are chased away and called names.

What would you have done if you were Rose?  As you sit there breastfeeding baby Oliver and the children say they must buy books or be turned out.  What would you do?   You know you have diarrhea and have vomited.  The clinic said you need to go to the hospital but you think- these things pass. Do you go or do you buy food for your children and pay the school fees?  

Later they call someone in to remove your bad spirits but all Rose is thinking is - take care of my children.  Make sure they go to school.  She hands her baby to an older woman and shuts her eyes.   His cry gets weaker and weaker as she sees her cousin waiting for her, there in the branches of the tree where she last saw him.

She calls his name.  She whispers, "I sent the children to school. "  

(  These things all happened in Haiti but perhaps not to this one woman or her family.  It is based on historical times but all can not be assigned  to this family or place. )