A view from a roof in Port au Prince


Haiti’s Unexpected Exceeds My Expectations

The title of this blog wraps up my last two weeks. The hospital in Milot temporarily closing left me no choice but to leave until things settled in my little town. I had the option to return home for some rest, but it felt like defeat to leave Haiti because of a few bumps in the plans. On top of that, I still wake up every morning so happy to be in Haiti, so I wasn’t ready to take a break from that joy. After thinking through my options, I headed to Children of the Promise (http://childrenofthepromise.org/)
Under the mango tree at COTP

I’ve bragged about this place before and affectionately called it a “baby heaven.” It’s located about 40 minutes from Milot in a little town called Lagosette. I stayed in dorm rooms with some other girls my age and had a healthy mix of baby time and relaxation. I was surrounded with 60 little ones under the age of 2.  I’d wake up in the morning, have an awesome breakfast of Crepes and syrup, and then start my day with the kids. The nights were a healthy change of pace for me. I was able to play card games and hang out with some of the American volunteers, which I hadn’t done for a few months. It felt good to be just one of the crowd and not feel like I had to lead any of the volunteers or be responsible for them.

 The Children of the Promise nurse was out of a town, so I had some nursing things that I was able to step in and help with. There was nasty ringworm of the head spreading to lots of the babies, so I spent a good part of the day bathing the kids, scrubbing their heads, cleaning them up and giving them medication. The good thing is that these efforts were not fruitless and the ringworm started to clear up. The hardest nursing task that I had to do while there was pulling maggots out of a little boy’s head. I will save the details because I literally had trouble sleeping after seeing that! I was very challenged by the nursing tasks I was presented with at the infant care center, and I was looking forward to when their nurse would return.  

My highlight of staying at Children of the promise was a celebrating a birthday for two of the babies. I spent the morning making the cakes with one of the birthday toddlers and then after nap time all of the babies got dressed up and we had a birthday party complete with cake and singing. The birthday toddlers had the dibs on their cake and did the typical ‘fist in the cake, frosting on the face’ ritual to start out the party.

After about a week at Children of the Promise, their nurse returned and shortly after I packed up my bags. My friend Gretchen Olson moved to Haiti at the beginning of February  for a 3 month stint of overseeing  Grace Village an orphanage in the town of Titanye that is supported by Healing Haiti (http://healinghaiti.org/pages/GraceVillage/) It is located about an hour outside of Port au Prince.  I decided to take the break I had been given to spend some time with Gretchen and see all that she was doing.

I took a 20 minute plane ride from Cap Haitian to Port au Prince. It was quite the Haitian experience. My plane was tiny.. TINY. I had a laminated ticket that looked like those cheesy bookmarks you get in grade school.  I handed the flight attendant my ticket and walked up the stairs onto the plane. There were maybe 20 seats total on the plane. I had a window seat which wasn’t hard to grab considering there was only a single line of seats on one side of the plane so most seats on the plane were window seats! There was zero leg room and no overhead compartment. There was just enough room for me to sandwich my backpack between my lap and the seat in front of me. It was only a 20 minute flight.

I had been warned by my Haitian friends that it was a terrifying ride, but I figured they were a little biased considering they hate flying in general. About 10 minutes into the flight I wondered if our plane was going down. We were bouncing in the sky and I imagined crashing into a mountain.  I was hoping that a plane crash wouldn’t hurt. Maybe I would go unconscious before feeling all of the pain. No one on the plane was screaming, so I chanced it that maybe this was a normal flight. Soon enough, we landed safety on the dirt runway in Port au Prince.  I followed people off the plane and we waited by the entrance into the airport. About 5 minutes later, our luggage was wheeled to us and we picked up our bags and left. Such an easy day of travelling! I walked out the doors of the airport and heard a familiar shout of my name. It wasn’t hard to spot the cute blonde shouting my name. It was Gretchen.

We piled into a Healing Haiti car. Before we headed to the orphanage, we made a quick stop at a big supermarket in Port au Prince. It was one of the little girl’s birthdays so we wanted to pick up a gift for her.  I also jumped at the opportunity to stock up on some groceries at a grocery store that was bigger than the closet-sized ones I had access to in the North. I left with a bag full of cereal, soymilk, apple juice, wheat bread, cheese and vanilla ice cream. We chose a pair of purple sparkly sandals for the birthday girl. After a bumpy and slow moving trek through traffic, we made it to the orphanage just before the bed time. Gretchen had been telling the kids about me for days before my arrival, so everyone expected me. I could tell how much the kids loved Gretchen just by how excited they were to meet a friend of hers. I was tackled by teen-aged girls who wrapped their arms around my waist and danced to a chant of my name.  It was time for the nightly  worship so I followed the kids into their dining area. Gretchen did a formal introduction and the the kids sang welcome songs to me. After that their Haitian guardian led a nightly worship service. Several of the kids had a chance to use the microphone to sing solos. They love performing!
The walls of Grace Village
A beautiful sunset. My view each night. 

I had a great experience at Grace Village. The biggest highlight was getting to spend so much time with Gretchen. We worked with the kids all day and at night when they were sleeping, we had time to talk, pray together, and hash through our Haiti thoughts and uncertainties about what the future holds.  I am so proud of the work Gretchen is doing with the kids there. She is mother, administrator, nurse, friend, cleaning lady, etc. She does her job gracefully and naturally.

Being with the kids was such a blessing for me. I spent most of my time with the girls. There were 15 of them ranging in age from 4 years to 17 years.  The kids had a six day weekend from school because of Mardi Gras so we had them with us all day. It felt like a summer camp, and like I was a cabin leader. We played hide- and-seek, head’s up 7-up, and don’t break the crystal ball. One morning Gretchen and I surprised the kids with a big pancake breakfast.

Hanging out with the girls :)
It was a very different experience to be at an orphanage with older kids. They were intelligent and responsible and would help take care of the little girls. One of the oldest girls, Blondine, let the little 4-year old sleep in her bed with her every night and would wake her up in the middle of the night to bring her to the bathroom so she wouldn’t wet the bed. I received more hugs and “I love you” during this week than I have in the last few years combined. I had a strong connection with the girls. Now that my Creole language skill are advancing, I’m able to hold conversations and get to know people better which I’m sure aided in falling in love with these girls!

Today I am flying back to Cap Haitian and will settle back into my home in Milot. I’m looking forward to my return. I've really missed my home there despite all of the wonderful experiences I’ve had away. The hospital re-opened yesterday. We have a new CEO and will be seeing some changes that I am excited about. The first team of volunteers comes next Friday so I have a week to organize things around the guest compound for them. Spending a week with Gretchen gave me a lot of tips on organization. She is a wiz at organization and I feel motivated to implement more structure for the visiting medical teams that come to Milot. I am also excited to visit baby Michelet. A week without seeing him feels like an eternity. My mom sent down some baby clothes and bottles with Gretchen and I am excited to deliver these things to his house.

I didn’t know how long the hospital closed or when I would be able to return to Milot. I didn’t know what to pack in my bags because I wasn’t sure where I would go or the things I would do. The beautiful nature of these past two weeks was that I was given exactly what I needed- even when I wasn’t aware of what those needs were. I had time away from responsibility, I held babies and kids, I worshiped with other Christians, I saw an old friend, and I ate cereal and pancakes. My needs are continually met in Haiti and it’s something that I can only give God the glory forJ .


It's lovely to love

Below are obsessive pictures of my new found love. He's smaller than the past men I've loved, weighs significantly less, doesn't argue with me, and boy do I love him! This is baby Michelet. He is 3 weeks old, weighs 4lbs and was my baby for the past few weeks. His story is a mix of sadness, sweetness and hope. His mom is 22 years old and married to a 44 year old man. She is epileptic and had many episodes of seizures during her pregnancy. At 7 months gestation, she was required to have a C- section in order to protect the life of the baby inside of her. The result was itty bitty Michelet! I took care of baby Michelet before I even knew it. I frequently visit the NICU to feed and hold the babies there. Michelet was there shortly after birth. I have pictures of us together from his first few days. He is swaddled with me in my scrubs  

Michelet really caught my attention when I found a little isolette in the hallway next to his mom's bed on Med-surg. When the beds fill up, patients are required to take a bed in the hallway. This is a common sight to see, but children and babies are never on this floor. After her many seizures, Michelet's mom had some mental repercussions. The first day I found them the mom was quite literally covered head to toe in her own feces. Not only this, her feces also were also smeared on her IV tubing and the rails of the bed. She was very weak and would not look anyone in the face. She could only mutter a few words. In Haiti the family members are responsible for cleaning up their loved ones. There was no family near her, so I gloved up and spent the next hour cleaning her, her bedding and sending the cleaning people to mop of the floor around her. After I had mom fixed up, I could fix my attention on the tiny baby in the isolette next to her.

Many visits to Michelet and mom were to follow. A Sister at the hospital stocked me up with baby formula, a bottle, miniature sized clothes, a baby blanket, and a baby hat and booties set. I set up a feeding schedule for him and kept a little notebook by his bed side to track the care I was giving him. My next strategy was to get some volunteers hooked on him, which was quite easy! Michelet became a heart-throb immediately, and I soon had various volunteers checking in on him throughout the day to hold him, feed him and change him. I made visits as often as I could- both day and night. The volunteers noted that he recognized my voice and knew me. I felt so special to have his love in return!

Over the days and weeks, I finally met more of Michelet's family and developed a great care for them. His dad worked during the day and would come at night to sleep in a chair next to mom and baby. I taught dad exactly how to mix the baby formula and would instruct him on what times to feed Michelet during the night. Dad would show up in the same over-sized and dirty clothes every day, but he always had a toothless smile that made me smile in return. One day he brought me a 10lb bag of fresh oranges that he had grown as a thank you for all I had provided his baby with. His gift was a big surprise to me and a sacrifice on his part. I reaped the benefits of fresh squeezed juice the next mornings :)
Mom, Dad, and baby Michelet

Michelet went home from the hospital a few days ago. Dad brought me by motorcycle to show me where they lived. He said he hopes I can continue to visit Michelet now and even on my future trips to Haiti so that Michelet can know me. I love this little baby boy so much. My arms ached when I passed my first day without seeing or holding him. His family is very poor and short on resources and I often think of Michelet and hope he is well fed and in a clean diaper. I fear that those expectations might be too high given his situation. One thing I have peace in is that I know his family loves him and I also know his family loves God. I visited him again in his house and was happy to see that dad had bought him a little mosquito net to sleep in so that he doesn't get bit. I hope to do home visits at least once a week. Also, I instructed dad to bring Michelet to the Children's Nutrition Center at our hospital every week to be weighed and given a new supply of baby formula. Below is a picture of Michelet's home. His grandma, aunts and uncles, cousins all live here as well as his mom and dad.

There is so much more to tell you all about, but I'll just give you a quick summary. I love the life I have been blessed here with in Haiti. I am thriving in my environment and learning so much from the doctors and nurses that come to volunteer. I deliver babies, sew up wounds, do CPR, and many other things that come my way.  This past week there were some riots in the town of milot and some violence directed toward the hospital. As a result, I had to temporarily leave the hospital. I am now volunteering at Children of the Promise. It is an infant care center about 40 minutes from the hospital. I live with 60+ toddling babies under the age of 2. They are so sweet and I am kept busy as a nurse here! I will make it back to the hospital as soon as I can, which will hopefully be sometime next week. Love you all and thanks for reading my update :)