I have arrived in Haiti! The new chapter of my life has begun and it's a book that I never want to stop turning the pages of. I wasn't sure how I would feel coming to Haiti without a return date. Would I be anxious or feel trapped? Would I be able to handle life in Haiti knowing that it wasn't going to change anytime soon?
The moments leading up to this trip and even my journey here has been peaceful beyond what I can comprehend. My flights from Minnesota to Haiti kept me in great company. A gentleman I sat next to on the plane from Minneapolis to Florida offered to pay for me to go to the Admiral's Club during my 3 hour layover in Miami. It was a nice and unexpected gift.
I am one of those annoying travelers.. I absolutley love talking to the people I sit with. I did not sleep, I only talked... for 3 hours to MIA and then another 2 hours to Haiti. I love hearing stories, destinations, how each person ended up in the seat next to me and where they are headed now.
When I arrived in Haiti it was dark. I paid a Haitian at the airport to help me with my bags. I had 3 huge suitcases weighing 70 lbs a piece. Usually I am strong-willed and independent and will not let anyone touch my bags, because that means I have to pay them( yes I'm cheap). This time I decided I would love some help and would tip generously. I can't say my Haitian helper was the greatest at locating my bags. I ended up hauling each of them to my cart, but he helped me the rest of the way out of the airport. Shirley was waiting for me right outside the airport. She had flirted her way into an area that only the travelers can enter, so she met me a lot sooner than I expected!
We went home to Shirley's place in PAP. There were signs welcoming me into the country and a huge cake that she had bought to celebrate my arrival. It was a wonderful welcomming!
I have been in Haiti just shy of a week now. Day 1- arrived home late and slept. Day 2- Sunday. Church, cleaning and decorated Shirley's house for Christmas. Day 3- Drove to Leogane at 5am. Spent the entire day at the orphanage while Shirley was at work. Day 4- Pediatric health fair at FSIL nursing school in Leogane. Day 5- running around like a madwoman through the Haitian markets because apparently I need to wear a red or green dress for the party they are having at the school on day 6(today!)
Ok, so that is the general summary. Now some more details. My greatest struggle so far was the pediatric health fair. It was set up at the nursing school. Over 300 children from the community came for health care, a bath, a new hairdo, and a present for Christmas. I asked Shirley how I could help and she said I could do whatever I wanted to. I wanted to give the babies and kids their baths. I mean, I don't speak the language too much, and I love bathtime, so it seemed like a perfect fit for me. Just as I was about to start with the baths, Shirley came after me and said that the dean of the nursing school needed me to see the pediatric patients instead. Oh sheesh, I better put on my thinking cap! With the first patient I had a minor freak-out moment. There was no doctor. None of them showed up. So it was a bunch of student nurses and a few that had graduated. Here I was, with a sophomore nursing student who spoke minimal English as my translator, my colleague; the nurse who I would bounce ideas off of. I almost walked away. I felt so inadequate and un-equipped. How on earth was I supposed to evaluate and prescribe for the kids? I couldn't walk away. Maybe I was too afraid of what the Haitians would think if I, one of the only nurses, walked away and said I couldn't help. So I took a deep breath and did my best. I saw ear infections, colds, coughs, scabies, upset stomachs, gave malaria tests, treated UTIs... and the list went on. Luckily, I had a drug guide, another american nurse and a few Haitian nurses closeby to bounce ideas off of. By the middle of the day, I felt much more comfortable. I realized that most of the things I was seeing, I really did know how to help, and the things I didn't know how to help, I could tell them where to go for help. I saw patients all day. I realized at about 4pm that I hadn't eaten all day and had barely drank anything. I was exhuasted. At night I went to a restaurant with another American, Rhyan. She lives here and runs an organization called Espwa Berlancia. She has a heart for children who are HIV +. We ate dinner together and shared our Haiti stories and our passions. She is 26 and from Minnesota. She rents a place here for her organization. She has 2 Haitian babies she is in the process of adopting. They came out to dinner with us. Gup is 2 years old and Annabelle is 5 weeks old. We ate a BIG meal. It was so good and the restaraunt was adorable! The floor was a nice, soft sand, and it was very cabana- like inside. Cute lights, all wood, and a Haitian staff. We had soup, pasta with Shrimp, and even a little fruit dessert! That night I took baby duty so that Rhyan could finally get a full night of sleep. I woke up a few times during the night with Annabelle to feed her, change her and rock her back to sleep. It was a sweet night for me :)
Okay, I have to explain my Haitian shopping experience. I must give my story some justice! The dean of the nursing school invited me to their Christmas party.. but I needed to wear a red or green dress. So... off to the market I went with some friends. First we went into actual stores. They had dresses that looked like 90's style bridesmaid dresses. The other options were slinky and had open backs or were short and tight. Neither were the look I was going for. I would try on dressesin the back of the store, and wander into the next-door beauty salon to look into the mirror. I was so embarassed! I didn't like any of my options and I felt so picky and stuck-up, but really, I was just self conscious and wanted to wear a dress that I felt confident in. The next stop was the "mache" the Haitian market. It is like a giant garage sale with used clothes from the USA. I found a really pretty dress and started trying it on (in the middle of the market!). The lady selling it was trying to shove me in. It was clearly too small. I couldn't even get it over my shoulders. But she was determined and pulling my arms and pushing my head through. It was traumatic for me! I was begging her to stop but she would not listen.She really wanted to make the sale. Talk about clausterphobia!! Ah. A nightmare. My Haitian friends stepped in and told her she needed to stop and that I did not want the dress. A few little shacks later, I found a dress that would fit. It is one shoulder, long, and has some sparkles near the top. I'm still a little uncomfortable in it beacuse it is something I would never choose in the USA. BUT.. while in Haiti, do like the Haitians do. I'll post pictures after tonight. I have a great farmers burn to go with the red dress. I forgot to wear sunscreen yesterday and I'm burnt to a crisp on my chest, shoulders and back. Still have a pale face. Go figure.
Am I talking too much? Just one more thing.. I LOVE the orphanage! I mean, I always knew that, but I'm realizing that it is the highlight of each of my days. My favorite room is a little wood cabin that houses the toddlers. It walk up to the door and the kids run to me, stick their arms out to me and call out "mama!" How do I choose which cute little stinker to pick up? They are all so adorable! And generally speaking, really content babies. They have "graduated" from the baby room, although many of them cannot walk yet and are just under a year old. This is the cute part, because they are treated a little bit like big kids. They go on scheduled walks during the way and toddle around on the wood walkways, stumbling and wandering in other directions along the way. Baby Ben is no longer so tiny. He stayed in my tent the summer of 2010. He was really sick with high fevers and was very small for his age. He would sleep with me and I'd take care of him in the middle of the nights. Often times I would have to give him baths in the middle of the night to cool him down. Now he is over a year old and can walk. He has a special place in my heart. He doesn't know why I love him so much, but that is okay!
Haiti is such a blessing to me. I had been anxious and obsessed with time for the past couple of years. I was depressed and angry at times. I could never put my finger on when it was I started having such anxiety. I knew it started sometime in college but I didn't know why. I could look back on my life prior to college and remember never really dealing with these issues. Well, it's gone. Maybe I'm in a honeymoon place, but this is exactly where I want to be. Every morning I wake up and say, "Thank you Jesus for bringing me here." I come home at the end of the day with my feet black with dirt, twigs stuck in my hair and I take a shower with a bucket of water that I pulled up from the well. I use the toilet and have to dump water into the toliet to flush it. Last night I fell asleep with one baby mouse running around under my bed, and many others who were stuck to the glue trap and squealing their way to death. I guess I was programmed for Haiti. I love the simplicity of life here. I'm learning the language more. The dean, Hilda, says I am a white Haitian. :)