Sunday, April 20, 2014

Faces from Jacmel

Alexis ... I operated on him a few years back
Baby and Momma
Kevin's patient ... That Face!
Patient ... Playa ...
Watching Curious George
Selfies :-)
These kids saw me in town and started yelling "Blanc, Blanc!"
and laughing ... and i think I'm a brown girl ... apparently, not in Haiti :-)

Monday, April 14, 2014

What I Know about Love

My Angel - Post Op

If you know me, even a little, you know that I love children. When your faith is faltering and you seek a glimpse of integrity and grace in this oft jaded life, you will doubtless find what you seek in the actions of a child. Don’t look to narcissistic, vacant, unimaginative adults who think their baseless wisdom will lead them to understand love … look at the children. Really study them. Their grace is effortless; their intentions, honest; their hearts, well their hearts are truly miraculous.

Ruthferlie was visiting clinic to see the orthopedic doctors for her bowlegs. Nothing need be done but wait that problem out and let her grow. She had an umbilical hernia too so Kevin asked me to see her. When I walked into the room her huge eyes locked on me and would not leave. She was sitting in a chair next to her mom and as I started to ask questions through a translator, Ruthferlie got off the chair and came to me. I was standing, continuing to talk to her mom, and she just wrapped her arms around my left leg and hugged – really hugged me. I put my hand on her head as I continued to nonchalantly talk to her mom but inside, my heart was overwhelmed as her little body clung so tightly.

Children know. Children see what is in your heart. They see the good, and the bad, the victory and the struggle. They see the pain and the beauty, the hope and the despair. Not only do they see it, but the special ones, they try to fix it. After I examined her, I left Ruthferlie with her mom and retrieved the paper work I needed to complete. When I walked back into the room, Ruthferlie walked into my arms and I filled out the forms with her tiny body propped on my left hip, as she squeezed me with all her might. It was 90 degrees that day and every bony inch of her was radiating that heat – she was literally warming me with her love.

That child will never know the gift she gave me that day. All I did was fix her belly button, but she snuck into my heart and fixed some of the broken with pure, unadulterated,* love. If you want to understand love, the really, really, good kind, let a child teach you.

*pun completely intentional

(disclaimer: There are plenty of adults I know who love with the vulnerable purity and grace of children. My point is more that children know this love effortlessly. In my experience, adults often struggle through circumstance and ego, while floundering at the process of getting back to honest, fearless, unconditional love ... The title of this blog is a joke ... I really know nothing about love - but I keep trying to learn from the ones who do it best.) 

For Diane

Truth: we tire of news that is not headline grabbing. Our attention moves quickly away from that which lacks urgency, and that which lacks of tidy finality. My dear friend Diane England asked me to report on what is happening now in Haiti – now that we hear so much less in the news – now that the acute, dramatic emergency seems to have passed. How are things progressing? How are people surviving? What is it like now?

I have visited Haiti four times and only after the acute emergency of the earthquake had passed. The sentiments expressed in this post are solely my observations – and surely more reliable, less subjective references can offer a more accurate accounting of the progress. (Check these out for numbers and hard facts: This is a statistics free look at what I have seen change over the three years that I have been coming to Haiti.
Pazapa 2 years ago
Pazapa Now
Mural Project 2 years ago
Mural Project at Waterfront Now
Mosaic Sidewalk along the Waterfront

1. Construction
Each time I return to Haiti I witness the results of more construction. On arrival this trip I was welcomed with joyous, Haitian music echoing boldly in a new airport terminal replete with a modern immigration area and updated baggage claim. Every step of my trip saw new building construction. In Jacmel, I walked on a new mosaic path along the shore and observed the expansion of the mosaic wall project I had seen two years ago. I worked in the CCH (Community Coalition for Haiti clinic building in two modern, bright, operating rooms. We visited Pazapa (a tremendous center for children with special needs in Jacmel) and saw the progress on their permanent home. Where once temporary shelters stood, construction is nearing completion on classrooms, offices, and a cafeteria. Back in Port-Au-Prince I stayed in a hotel ( in Petionville that was as nice as some resorts I have stayed in in the US. I ate at a restaurant (Papaya) that would be right at home nestled in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. I saw fewer tents, though they are still there in ridiculous numbers. I saw less trash, though there is still plenty of rubble and litter. But in my mind, there is no doubt, that while building hotels, and restaurants, and schools for the disabled, Haiti is progressing and revitalizing.

2. Physical Exercise
Humor me; this is one of my “things” about being in countries less fortunate than ours. Think about it: if people, in numbers, have the time and energy to “work out” for recreation, something in your society is moving away from the fight or flight energy expenditures that are necessary in an acute trauma or disaster. If you can step away from using your energy for staying alive and keeping those you love alive, and actually spend some time “getting in shape” … well that just tells me you finally have some extra energy to burn and things are less dire and less stressful in your life. Again, my observations and opinions are NOT scientific but this was the FIRST time I saw Haitians exercising in Haiti! As we were walking the shoreline in Jacmel, I observed a man swimming in the ocean and then running out of the water to do push-ups in the sand. He would then jump back in the water and swim out past the breakers and repeat. I’ve never seen that in Haiti before – never. Driving through Port-au-Prince, we saw an outdoor cluster of metal gym equipment (identical to equipment I have seen – and played on - in Mongolia). All of the equipment was being used and a large group of people were waiting their turn. It was rush hour at the gym – and it made me smile. This was a people moving away from their posttraumatic stress and coming back to a more rich life.
Workers at Project Stitch
Founders Dr. Joann Cherry and Scott Gillenwater
 award participants at Project Stitch graduation

3. Sustainable Industry
And finally, my last measure of progress and hope has to be the success of projects promoting homegrown, local, sustainable industry. Project Stitch ( founded by a Dr. Joann Cherry and my friend Scott Gillenwater, teaches participants how to use sewing machines and tailor. Culling its participants from patients who have suffered spinal cord and amputation injuries, the project provides an underserved population with a vocational skill, an opportunity for employment, financial independence, and the consequent feelings of self-worth. The participants create ties, bags, school uniforms, curtains, tailored shirts … and they sell them to support themselves and their families. Scott shared the progress of this program with me – it has grown, and it will continue to grow providing opportunities for its participants to reintegrate and thrive in Haiti's evolving future. Industry like this, if supported by locals and visitors alike, will carry Haiti into a self-sustainable future. 

So for Diane, my report is positive. I have a more substantial faith in Haiti’s recovery. Every time I return, I see more slow and steady progress. As I frame my goals for future visits, I look towards opportunities to teach local health care providers: doctors, nurses, and medical assistants, in order to foster self-sustainability.  Please check out some of the organizations I have highlighted in this post and feel free to contact me if you are interested in helping in anyway.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Things You Don't Tell Your Mother ...

Our Plane and our Pilots ....

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti: Scott picked me up at the “Big Airport.” Though I hadn’t seen him since January 2011 he was easy to spot, an always-friendly face casually leaning against the wall in scrubs and a t-shirt. Flaunting his mastery of Creole, Scott hustled me past the cluster of porters jockeying to push my luggage cart and off we drove to a quick lunch at the Shack. My jitters were only slightly dampened by the Prestige at lunch as we arrived at the “Little Airport” for my flight to Jacmel … in a very, very “little plane.”

Prior to leaving the US, I had been asked to accurately weigh myself and each of my bags so that the pilot could determine how we would distribute the contents within the plane. I had dutifully bought a scale, weighed everything, and weighed it again … I was not going to be responsible for any aeronautic shenanigans in Haiti.

As we loaded the bags, I admitted to Roger that I was nervous – really, really nervous about this flying Volkswagen I was about to step into. The former Alaskan bush pilot was nice enough, mustering all the social skills of an awkward loner, he smiled and feigned reassurance. The teenage Haitian co-pilot was more personable with a big smile and contagious enthusiasm … there was no going back …what was I getting myself into?

So there I was, lap belt fastened securely across my waist, clenching my fists, saying silent prayers as the doors shut with their hollow, tiny smack and the propeller started to cut through the humid Caribbean air.  What seemed like a silly sprint down the runway sent us nose up, headed above the city in a slow climb. And then, we were suspended; high above Port … in a flying VW … I took a breath and momentarily believed in magic.

The flight was quick – 15 minutes of floating above Port-au-Prince, following the tropical coastline, and crossing over the mountains. I clenched my fists again as we spotted the surprisingly short runway in Jacmel. There was one quick correction of the plane's horizon and then we touched down in the most perfect landing.

After we unloaded the plane, I took my newly minted bravado and loaded myself into the bed of the pick up truck with all of our bags. In the moment, in that setting, things like seatbelts, helmets, big jet airplanes, seemed so “cautious” and the thought of sitting inside the truck seemed so “confining” … it was a quick re-entry but I was back in Haiti, hanging on to the side of the truck, immersed in the sites, the smells and the embrace of the warm, heavy air of Jacmel.

View from the bed of the pick-up :-)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Haiti: Take Four

Jacmel Bay

My fourth trip to Haiti … I have been looking for a way to start my own project and I wanted to go back, check out a facility in Jacmel, meet some people, talk to some local doctors, see if there is need for a pediatric surgery presence and if there is a way to make it work.

I was thankful that Drs Kevin Latz, John Rast, and Adam Bosser let me tag along. These guys have been going to Haiti since before the quake; consistent and dedicated in their delivery of orthopedic and plastic surgery services. It is an honor and a pleasure to work with them.

Dr. Rast, Dr. Latz, Dr. Thurston, and Dr. Bosser at La Florita

 This was a scouting trip – I took lots of notes: supplies I would need, logistics to consider, personnel that would be helpful, places to eat, contacts for patient referrals … And I operated on some beautiful patients.

So, I think I can make this work … I am aiming to start a non-profit and begin annual trips to Jacmel this fall or winter depending on how quickly I can get things moving. Stay tuned and if you are interested in helping out, comment below.