A mother died in Cabestore and I felt a deep determination to find out why. I walked out of the birth center doors and out into the community. I wandered up small, muddy rained out paths, jumped over small streams and followed behind cows and horses and donkeys. I greeted small children and sat beneath trees in neatly swept yards and watched. I wanted a diagnosis. We are taught to make a diagnosis before we can hope for a cure.
In the process I discovered that a lack of education and basic health services, as well as oppression and poverty, were the most likely causes of her death. If we could have done stool samples or blood tests on family members, we never did. If we could have tested the water or asked to do STD testing on her husband, we simply did not. I asked visiting doctors and the community health workers, but in the end I had to accept the “Bad spirits” theory and set out to discover what the bad spirits were, where they came from and how they caused her death. I looked for a different diagnosis.
I do not know if Oliver lived or died. In my walks up to visit the baby Oliver and to help his family, I wandered off the beaten path.
Wen I returned from Haiti, it seemed that one parent, after another, in my community were dying too. Wonderful people who had children and partners who still needed them. They died of cancer or heart related incidents. Circles of grief rose up around us as winter settled in. They were too young. Their children were too young. Their partners wanted more time with them.
I took to wandering the hills and riversides in my community too. Everywhere people were looking for answers in well-funded laboratories. There was no lack of electricity or education of food but I was in despair. I thought of Oliver’s mother and I thought of these parents. I thought of other young parents who had died in recent years with only a month or few days warning.
Around me, activists and community leaders fought against oil trains and fracking and other forms of pollution. I saw how the very wealthiest often used the land and air and water to make fortunes with little regard for the people who depend on that very land and water and air to live. I knew that this had been going for a long, long time. My own community, though green and lovely, was sitting on a time of earthquake fault, oil trains and gas farms. The air was filled with arsenic and the rivers killed the fish that tried to swim upstream.
In the world, when the wealthiest use up the land closest to home, they head to another place to spray DDT or deforest land.
I felt that the mothers and fathers were dying from an overwhelming greed that filters down and alters their genetic code, nestles in the site their placenta implants, in cells and blood and in time sweeps them away from us. Perhaps it is “bad spirits.” Perhaps it really is those indefinable ways that people put curses on us all by poisoning our air, our earth, and our water.
I could tell a hundred stories of how our power is taken from us but I want to tell the story of how Haitians have organized themselves against all odds to throw off oppression in the form of colonialism, slavery, imperialism, and dictatorships. What doe sit have to do with maternal health? Everything.