Traveling to Pestel

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Last week was busy, but who am I kidding? Most weeks feel busy here.  Last week felt extra busy as a few friends and I revamped the birth room between program days. Every night I went to bed praying we wouldn’t have a birth until the chaotic uproar of that room was put back in order. The prepared midwife side of me went to bed each night mentally checking off the last place I saw the pitocin, the ambu bag, and the chucks pads.

Sunday afternoon, in the middle of birth room messes, Beth M. asked if I would like to join her to travel to Pestel, a village in the south of Haiti. She was headed there to take a, now grown, adopted child there to meet her birth family. I looked around the room and thought, “There is no way I can leave with this room in such a mess.” As the afternoon went on and few more people came to help bring organization to the chaos, I decided maybe I needed to get out of Port-au-Prince and the birth room for the day.  

Early Monday morning, before the sunrise, a group of seven of us climbed into Beth’s truck and headed south. Beth M, Rosie (the adult adoptee), and I rode in the back of the truck. The still dark sky was filled with stars…stars always seem more abundant here with the lack of electricity and street lights. Riding through dark, empty, Port-au-Prince streets always feels a little eerie. During the day the streets are filled with too many cars, people everywhere- going places, selling things, washing cars, sweeping streets, etc. It seems impossible that all that activity ceases in the dark of night and the streets are empty.

We quickly made it out of the city, thanks to no traffic, but by the time we arrived in the next town, Haiti was awake.  The sun was up, markets were open, music was blaring and the road was blocked. Our detour, thanks to a bank robber and demonstrations, added about two hours onto our trip, but it didn’t so much matter as we took in the beauty outside of the city we are so accustomed to. We traveled over paved mountain roads until the mountain roads became unpaved, uneven and filled with red clay potholes.  We kept on until we arrived in what felt like, the middle of nowhere. Eight hours after leaving PAP, a few pop-a-squat pee breaks, and two detours later, we arrived at the village pastor’s house where Rosie’s family had gathered to meet her. 

The anticipation had been building as Rosie was anxious to meet her family. Her story is hers to tell, so I’ll leave out all the details. It was sweet to get to watch her connect with family she wasn’t even sure she had. Shortly after meeting her family, Rosie asked if the house she was born in, twenty-two years ago, was still standing. Her family said that it was and her brother and his wife had been living there. We were assured the house was only an hour walk up the mountain.  Beth M. and I both assumed that meant more like two hours, but everyone in our group was on board and excited to see where Rosie took her first breath. We started up the rocky, mountainous path and joked along the way that we’d have to take it slow for us Americans who aren’t used to such climbing. The Haitians laughed and agreed that we were indeed not experts at this climbing thing. About two hours into the hike…straight.up.the.mountain. we asked, “How much further?”  Their reply, “Just 30 more minutes.” We kept on for another hour, stopping to only to snap a few pictures and take in the beauty around us, a great disguise for taking a moment to catch our breath. As we started up an even steeper incline of mountain with more unsteady rocks, it started to look like it might rain, so again we asked, “How much further?”  Again their reply, “Just 30 more minutes.”  It was like the Haiti version of “are we there yet” that I endlessly bugged my parents with on long road trips between Texas and Illinois while growing up. At that point we decided it would be best to split up. Half us would continue on and half of us would head back down, hoping the half that headed back down the mountain would be able to find a road for the truck to meet those of us who continued on our way up the mountain.  We said goodbye, hoped nobody got rained on, and went our separate ways. Because it looked like rain, those of us who decided to go up the mountain speed climbed up, up, up for another hour before FINALLY arriving at the house where Rosie was born. It was a simple little hut, with a tin roof, red clay-stained rock walls, and a dirt floor. We were far beyond any place that had running water or electricity.  

As I stood in the middle of this little house, in the room where Rosie’s mother had given birth to her along with five other siblings, I was in awe of Rosie’s story, amazed that she was getting to put the pieces of the beginning of her life together, and struck by the strength of the Haitian people. I felt like we midwives usually do…honored to be watching stories unfold and witnessing the strength of the people we are with.  

We didn’t stay in the village where Rosie was born for long because it still looked like it would pour rain at any point. Someone said we should hurry because they could smell rain and I kept thinking there was no way me and my birkenstock sandals were getting back down that mountain if it was raining. The rocks were giant and I almost face planted 50 times. Every time my foot would slip, the guy behind me would remind me, “we are in hurry. This is meant to say you must go slow or we will not be getting back down the mountain.”  Yes, thank you. I just didn’t verbally need to be reminded 50 times that climbing or descending a mountain in birkenstocks was not exactly what I had planned for the day. My bleeding feet were a sure reminder, but regardless I was high with the joy and amazement of our little adventure.  We hurried half way down the mountain where we were met by the other half of our group and the truck! We piled in and head back to the village pastor’s house. It was almost dark by the time we arrived and it was decided we should stay there for the night instead of driving 6-ish hours in the dark. 

The village pastor and his wife graciously fed us dinner and gave us a bed in a small concrete room with a tin roof. We could just imagine our Port-au-Prince peers laughing at the Haiti adventures we were experiencing as we made the short trek through the trees to the outhouse, and shined the flashlight in to make sure there were no tarantulas hiding before entering. As Beth and I pulled back the covers on our bed and climbed in, she said, “We forgot to check for bugs.” In one swift movement we threw back the covers and shined the flashlight to check for any other living thing to trying to share a bed with us. There was lots of laughter all around as we were all aware of how ridiculous the comforts of our own lives seemed in the poverty of this rural place.  

There’s an element of simplicity, peace, and minimalist living that rural Haiti seems to show off for visitors, but there are so many things that feel complicated for the people who live there. There is very little access to schools, no access to running water, electricity, jobs, or healthcare. The people of rural Haiti show their strength in their day to day lives. Having access to life’s basics like a place to sleep, water to drink, and food to eat seem to consume all their time. These people work hard for what they have. They are strong and they are relentless. It’s that midwife thing again…I’m just here and I feel so honored to get a view into their lives…different, hard, filled with superstition, pain, and imperfection. For all that feels sad and hopeless here at times, there is still beauty and I loved drinking it in this week. 

Systemless Systems and Laughing For Longevity

Thursday, January 1, 2015

In the back of my mind I'm resolved to be better at giving you little glimpses into life here.

For me, living here is a strange sort of normal.  When I moved here over a year ago there weren't many things in my day to day life that felt like major adjustments. There were a few small things that took some getting used to, like using three different energy sources for electricity, not having the ability to jump in a car and go somewhere when I needed to, and not speaking the same language.  They were all small adjustments, but typical ones you make when moving to most third world countries. They were all adjustments I made and feel fairly comfortable with these days.  I haven't written much, partly because much of what I do feels normal to me and the day-to-day life feels like it could be boring to readers.  I've been encourage to write regardless of how I feel my life looks to the outside world.  Here it goes...let's see if I can do better this year.

Over the past year I've been working to be a legal resident of Haiti. I finally got all my papers this summer before I spent a few weeks in America. The next step was getting a Haitian driver's license. I submitted my paperwork a few months ago to start the process. I tend to be a procrastinator when it comes to these things...all the rigamarole and the unknown procedures and systems here confuse me greatly.  On Monday, all my paperwork was done and all I had left to do was go downtown and get my picture taken for the license.  Beth M, Jimmy- a teacher here, and I left our little neighborhood at 9am for a 10am meeting time with guy who helps us process all our paperwork.  

From our place in Clercine to Downtown Port-au-Prince is about 5miles.  Traffic in Haiti is a crapshoot.  You may encounter very little traffic or you may sit in a “blokis” (traffic jam) for hours on end.  We finally arrived at the old US Consulate and what is now Haiti’s version of a DMV, near what (pre earthquake) used to be the National Palace. A lot of has-beens…and that’s indeed what this building was.  

There was a line of people standing outside…we were pushed through a door and squeezed through small hallways of people into a large room at the back of the building.  The room had rows of metal chairs and was filled to almost double what the “max capacity of 60” sign noted was safe for this room. There wasn’t much sitting room, but it is very cultural to think there’s always room for one more. Beth and I squeezed our bums into a row of chairs. We both looked around the room and noted there were only three other women besides us in the whole room. Haitian women driving is definitely a newer thing. Hats off to the brave women who do it! 

Beth and I spent almost an hour chatting…her reminiscing about processing adoption paperwork and applying for US visas in the very room we were sitting in while I tried to imagine US citizens accepting this building as a place of government. The walls were painted, long ago it would seem, sky blue.  Dirt smudges abounded and the drop ceiling in the room was a piece of work. We finally realized this ‘line’ of people ahead of us was going nowhere.  Beth laughed like you do when you’ve been here for 25 years and accepted that any number of things could be keeping this line from moving. She noted that it was probably a computer down and shortly after we were told that was indeed the case. We decided to wait another hour and see if the line was moving before deciding to make our 5 mile, 1.5 hour trip downtown unsuccessful and come back another day.  
Thankfully within a few minutes the line started to move and we began the game of musical chairs. I think, though I’m not entirely sure, it is very cultural to sit.your.booty.down. if there is a chair to be had. As the line moved the 100+ people closer to getting their license picture taken, we literally changed bum locations 15 times. It felt something like this:

 Move one row back, one row to the left, and two chairs to the right. Stand up, touch your toes, submit your paper to the lady at the desk, do a confused dance while you decided how this chair changing system works and sit down. Now move three chairs to the right, two rows forward and one row the right. Sit for 3.5 seconds. Now stand in a line of 40 people and wait for your picture to be taken. 

At one point I thought, “Aha! I understand this pattern of moving people.” There was one, unofficial, guy in the room telling everyone where to sit. I studied him while trying to figure out the system and finally gave up because there was just no pattern.  Sometimes getting logistical things done here feels like a systemless system. Oh how there are systems, but I do not understand them. 

Listening to Beth call her husband, John, and tell him the process was taking us so long because of the blokis and a computer system being down was a good reminder. Her joy in telling him and the laughter that reverberated over the phone reminded me that longevity in a place you don’t really understand takes a lot of laughing sometimes.  

In the end, we got our license pictures taken. It’s amazing to me that what I see as the systemless system will actually produce a little card that looks like a license in the, supposedly, near future.  Now…we wait. 

Haiti traffic blokis

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