Friday, March 18, 2016

Daylights savings in Haiti

 Learning and writing about the many ways women in Haiti work together in an ancient network of survival and dignity within a community of friends and family. 

On Saturday night, coming back from a walk to see the sunset, we reminded ourselves about the time change the next day.  But when Sunday came, the big news was that the interim president had decided to not follow the daylight's savings time change.  It seems the last president had declared Haiti would follow day lights saving but this president has said, "no."

"What time is it?"
"This president's time or the last president's time?"

Still most people, rise before the sun and walk to their gardens or to the markets or to school with no regard to clocks. The roosters crow with increasing intensity as dawn spreads across Haiti.   Life proceeds within an ancient dance of dawn and dusk with no regard to the debate over daylights savings and US time.

We hear singing and the sweeping of the yard.  Children walk to collect water.  Animals are led to market.  The women call to each other on the road.

I ask the students, at the midwifery school, who all arrive at different times, what they think.  I explain why the US has daylights savings to help the farmers.

"The farmers work when it is cool here.  They get up in the dark and are finished by the time it is hot."

"You cannot save daylight, like its money."

I see.

I too, get up in the cool, dark of early morning.  Apple is suppose to change our phones and computers for us but they cannot keep up with Haiti's presidential elections and decrees and so they stick to US time.   The clocks break.

Within this,  we all keep moving through day and night and dawn and dusk.   I try to feel time, like I imagine the women do; in the sounds and in the touch of my skin and in the way the air smells.   I sleep outside so I can feel and hear the time.

A person I met says, it is not that the women want to live outside of time and clocks.  They have no choice so they create, within the structure they are given.   It is brilliant, she agrees.  But it is brilliance born of repression and necessity and not choice.

I wonder if brilliance, born of necessity, is any less brilliant or does it shine brighter for its journey.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Where women go to pray

"Where two or more are gathered in my name."  

At dusk, the women of Haiti, climb Prayer Hills where they sing and pray in small groups or by themselves.
This simple chapel was built on such a hill.  They may not have he clothes, necessary to attend church on Sunday but they make their own places of prayer.  

Friday, March 11, 2016

International Women's Day

International Women’s Day

It is Women’s Day.    Partners in Health makes large, plastic banners, in partnership with the health department and displays them in front of buildings and strings them across the street.    The women carrying food to market, unable to read, pass beneath them.  Young girls herd goats or carry water; unable to pay the tuition for school.   It’s Women’s Day in Haiti.

At the hospital a fourteen year old is diagnosed with HIV, syphilis, genital warts and possibly TB.   She is pregnant and wearing a nightgown that hangs from her shoulders in shreds.    They have discharged her because she has a cough and they believe it is TB.  They won’t treat the HIV or syphilis because she is alone, without family.  That is the rule.   After being discharged, she sleeps on a hospital bench so she wll not be raped again and again. 

It's Women's Day in Haiti

I do not give up.  

Anyone who might help me is at the Women’s Day Party, across the parking lot.   They have bright new t-shirts and are being given lunch.    The maternal health wing staff have migrated over there.   We buy her food and a Tampico and water.  

I am told that if she had TB, maybe they would let her sleep over there.  But, sad to say, there are no more TB tests.  I walk out back and find one and she spits into cups.  If she has TB, we can get her a bed and perhaps treatment for her HIV and syphilis and a safe place to sleep. 

It’s Women’s Day in Haiti, so it is a hard problem to solve. People are busy. I do not want a t-shirt. I want a bed for this young, sick girl.  They say she is not sick.  I say she has HIV, syphilis, was raped, is pregnant and possibly has TB.  How sick does one does have to get.   Oh and genital warts and severe malnutrition.  

“She is crazy.”  

“Maybe we’d all be crazy if we were raped and dumped in a strange town.”   

The translator looks up and says,  “Welcome to Haiti.”   Now can she go and get her free t-shirt. 

Finally, it is agreed that she can sleep on the triage table in a hall for a few hours.   We settle her in and put a portable curtain I dig out of a supply room, around her. 

Wen I return to check on her, she is gone.  I panic, but  then there  she is braiding someone’s hair in the soft, afternoon sunlight.    She has nothing but the shopping bag we have filled with a few items but still she offers to do what women do – braid each other’s hair. 

I watch this single, powerful act of solidarity.  I watch her divide her new friends hair into small strands and twist and turn and braid.  I watch this powerful act of sisterhood; this powerful act of belonging. 

It’s Women’s Day in Haiti.
I watch this single, powerful act of solidarity.  I watch her divide her new friends hair into small strands and twist and turn and braid.  I watch this powerful act of sisterhood; this powerful act of belonging.  

It’s Women’s Day in Haiti.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Maroon Women - their lasting lessons about self sufficiency and freedom

The Maroons

Add caption statue dedicated to a marooon woman who was hung the day after she gave birth.    

Did you remember this book?  You looked at a picture and it looked like one thing but when you looked more closely it was something else. If you looked beyond and into the picture’s details, your eyes focused on something else entirely different from your first impression.

You began to understand.   You began to see what was disguised.   Here we see “poverty” but then, over time, our vision clears and we see something else so profound and so remarkable its wisdom takes our breath away.

Such is the way of my Haiti sheroes, the Maroon Women.    Drug and imprisoned in the native Africa and brought to a plantation in the Caribbean, they found ways to run away or to support the Maroon communities in the mountains.  In the mountains, they met Amerindian women and together they created a new society, a new language and from their self-sufficient communities, they fought a covert was for freedom.  There were more men than women and often the women stayed at the plantations, to help with complicated plots of sabotage and gathering supplies.  

These women were healers and farmers and mothers.   They were abused and raped and beaten and enslaved until one day they slipped away, despite the dangers of being caught, and lived the life of a maroon. 

Nanny- famous maroon healer in Jamaica

From the time, the first African joined the first Amerindian in a cave or small, hidden ravine; they knew they loved freedom more than fear of death or a lack of material things.  

The first building block was their lives in Africa and in life, before Columbus.  The second building block was all they learned from the Spanish and French who invaded their island and brought them there to be slaves.    They took all these lessons and became Maroons.  Some ran away from the plantations and others supported the movement from within but the goal was a new society based on a self-sufficient ability to live on the land and never, ever return to the plantation. 

When I look closer, I no longer see poverty.  I see a brilliant determination to be self-sufficient.    The elite of Haiti, along with their US partners, try to get them to return to the plantation but they are sons and daughters of the maroons and they resist even today. 

Ah – the ships that arrive to this land take many, many forms over many years.    If they wanted to break their spirits, once and for all, they had to take away their ability to live self sufficiently.   They had to create dependency.     

But this morning, I am rooting for the maroons all over the Caribbean. But I am also rooting for the maroon in all of us.   The part of us that is willing to create, new communities, to live simply, to create new ways of communicating and say no to the “plantations” in our own lives who seek to burden us with debt and the use of things we do not need.   

Many years have passed since the first maroon communities were formed in Haiti and Jamaica and Florida, but that spirit lives on. In my work, I see the plantation of the elite and the plantation of NGO’s and the “church” but I also see the maroon.

A small group of midwives comes to me and says we want to start our own birth homes’ simple backyard birthing rooms for their communities.    I watch them as they watch me.   I do crazy things like make them write a mission statement and goals and a timeline and budget.  I feel I have to teach this so they can survive. 

I help a student catch her first baby.   I take vitals and try to be a creative fun teacher.   I try to teach to stop eclamptic seizures.  I do these things.

But I am thinking about maroons and the maroon in all of us.    The maroon in me loves the maroon in you.   Sometimes, I wish I were different.  I wish that this spirit were not so strong in
Me. I think of sitting in meetings and pulling a mask down over my face and then running for the woods, as fast as I could when the meeting was over.  

Thank you to all the maroons for all the sacrifices for freedom and all the lessons you continue to teach today.  You are my International Women’s Day Sheroes.