Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Days 2-5 In Country- Croix de Bouquets

Waking up on Day 2 in-country it felt like I was being punished. Instead of getting to go out to be a medic with a rescue team somewhere, I was sent to the boondocks with a construction team. I seriously wondered who I annoyed to pull that shift. But I was assured that they felt that this was the best place for me. I could do all of my duties, medic, press secretary, etc from the boondocks. And as one person put it, "after your experiences at the airport yesterday, and now getting to go help build an orphanage, you are going to go home very attached to these Haitian babies." You have no idea how right he is. I've already looked it up. Single moms can adopt from Haiti. Put me down for a dozen please!
Oh, Juli, this is also the story that will explain to you how and why I need you to send me new scrubs!
So off I went on a bus with 15 guys to the middle of nowhere. Or at least that is how it felt. The story from the orphanage and building side of things is already up on You can read it there, and see the pictures.
From my point of view-
First, I had to channel my inner "fire girl" and remember how to live with 15 guys. Do I sleep in the same room with them? (It was safer for us to sleep in the unfinished orphanage, rather than out in the exposed field with no gate yet.) Keep to myself? What? I had to work my way, in the dark, to the latrine. (More on that awful thing later.) The foreman, Ken, asked if I needed an escort, I declined. He stayed just inside the door for me anyway. I walked my way across the construction debris filled yard, in the dark, to the latrine. I swear to you every time I approached that stupid thing a chicken flew at me. Oh did I mention the yard was also full of chickens, roosters, and goats?? Well, it was. What would you do if you walked around a concrete wall, after announcing yourself so you don't walk up on some guy mid-stream, and then suddenly a chicken flies in your face? You scream! Right? Well, I screamed. Which scared the foreman. I assured him I was okay. I did my business, seriously asking myself if I was sharing a toilet with a chicken. I tried hard not to think about it.

I walked back inside and the foreman teased me. I teased him back and said I just couldn't decide how much in the way I was for the 15 guys and asked for his advice (did they want the girl to give them some space? sleep in another room? what?) He told me, "Your biggest problem here is going to be that you have 15 big brothers watching out for you now. You scream, we all run. You can sleep where ever you want. But if you sleep in a room alone, don't be surprised if we all sleep in the hall outside your door."

So I slept in the big round east facing room with the guys. Well, some of the guys. A few moved into the room next door over the snoring issues. And a few moved up to the roof just because they could.

We hired the local church members to cook for us. And oh my heavens was it good. We would "hire" the local Haitian men that kept showing up to go buy us cold Cokes at the store. And you know how much I love a cold Coke.

The guys built a latrine, a kitchen, and picnic tables. I attempted to help best I could. Construction isn't exactly my thing. But then, neither is sitting still.

Now for the parts of the story my mother doesn't want to hear. (and Juli, the goat poop, blood, and pee and concrete on my scrubs are still coming up for you).

One morning I set off with our driver, a Haitian LDS man with our group, and a white Creole speaker with our group, to go buy supplies for the project. Apparently I incite riots just by getting out of the truck.

The first thing that happened-
We parked on the side of the road in the "home depot" district of Port au Prince. I was still standing right by the truck, having not moved anywhere yet, when some guy walked up to me and started messing with me. He asked some really bizarre questions, and I tried to answer. Suddenly, without any warning, there were 20 men surrounding me. There was a lot of yelling, and a little shoving. I was grabbed by our driver, and put back in the truck. From what I was told later, this was a minor incident. The guy wasn't from the neighborhood. The locals were yelling at him to stop talking to me and to get away so that there neighborhood wouldn't get a bad reputation.
I made a promise in my head to never ever get out of the site of one of the men in my group ever again. Not that I was out of anyone's site. But you better believe I really won't do that now.
A few minutes later, flanked by my new bodyguards, we met a man from NY. He was Haitian born, but raised in NY. He returned to Haiti to live about 3 years ago. He spoke perfect English. He told us his wife had been badly hurt in the "event." She's a school teacher, and was at school when the quake hit. The school fell to one side. She grabbed a child and held on to him (saving his life). Her foot got caught on something. She hung upside down, holding the child, for several hours until help came. This man thought her foot was broken. I didn't have a medical kit on me, but I can still tell if a foot is broken. So he took me to her. It wasn't broken. It wasn't even sprained. It was just badly bruised and swollen. How do you tell a woman who lives in under a tarp in what used to be her back yard to "ice it, keep it elevated, and try not to walk on it." Especially in a city with no electricity and no ice anywhere? I told her instead that she was very brave and a hero, and to not walk on it, and try to take some advil, if she can find any.
I stood up after helping her to find a line of people waiting for me. White people = food and medical care. There was a little girl with a raging fever, and probably malaria. Another woman with paperwork showing she had been diagnosed with cancer before the earthquake but doesn't know what to do now. A little girl with a sore on her leg with worms crawling out of it. A young mother handed me her baby and said, "he doesn't see good." My completely uneducated diagnosis? From his severely pointy cone shaped head, and his inability to control is tongue, arms, or head muscles? He has cerebral palsy. Treatable and manageable in the States. In a tent city? He will die in a few months.
What do you do? How do you stomach all of this? The answer? You just keep moving.
Later that day, after buying a few construction supplies, we headed back to our orphanage camp. In Haiti it is very common to see broken down cars EVERYWHERE. And almost all of them have 3 guys hanging out of them, pretending to fix them all. (I swear they are making the cars worse.) Not surprisingly, our white moving van broke down. We had just turned off the main road and on to a dirt road. We were blocking the road and in the way. It was blazing hot outside and in the cab of the truck, so we hopped out to stand in the shade. Again, presumably out of nowhere, a guy appeared. He kept indicating that he was hungry. He pulled up his shirt and pointed at his stomach. He kept saying “Manger!” (eat!) We had no food to share with him. But he wouldn't stop. He kept insisting, and then starting banging on the truck. He hugged the white translator. He knelt in front of me and kissed my hands. He banged on the truck again. Finally we realized he thought we had food in the back of the truck. After all, it does look like a food drop truck! So we opened the back of the truck to show it was just corrugated sheet metal. I thought for sure he would go away. But no! He kept insisting. Suddenly more men arrived. What was just one guy insisting on food, was now several angry men. Thankfully (and in answer to all of everyone's prayers for our safety) our “tow truck” arrived right at that moment. Our “tow truck” was actually an ancient school bus. The driver (a Haitian) jumped out, grabbed me by the arm, and seriously pushed me into the bus. Several of his “employees” followed me- clearly to keep me inside and protect me. Again, things escalated for no good reason. We showed the angry men inside of our bus- again, there was no food in it. They still were not happy. I looked out the window and realized one of the men was holding a machete. NOT GOOD. (But I still snuck out my camera and took a picture from the safety of the bus. Don't worry, no one saw.)
And then, just as strangely and quickly as the incident started, it dissolved. Machete boy stomped off in the opposite direction. We used a rope to tie the moving van to the ancient school bus. (And by “we” I mean the men on the outside of the bus, while I was kept safely on the inside.) And then a whole different experience where I pray that neither the bus nor the moving van would over turn on that pocked and bumpy dirt road.

Oops, okay, I'm going to post this story without getting to the goat poop part. Sorry Jules. Stay tuned for the next post!

(I will come back later to post more pictures)

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