The Tap Tap and the Tent City

I’m lying in “bed” thanking to universe for the science behind wet+wind= cooling. I am thankful for a room to myself, indoors. I am thankful that we are not in the tent city tonight. Thankful for FaceTime…oh my God, I am thankful for FaceTime.

Today I worked for seven hours or so in the office. It felt good to be here working on stuff in my competency. Something calming about putting plans together and rounding up information. Felt routine almost, and routine is an amazing thing when you are this far outside of your element. And I am so far outside of my element that it feels fictional.

Late in the afternoon, Beth I was asked if I wanted to go tour the “camp” and if I had rain boots. We walked there down steep hills with gravely rocky roadways, and by structures that had various spray painted markings on them that I learned today indicates what state of disrepair they are in. It is sobering to walk by so many buildings with red spray paint markings, indicating that they are compromised even by Haiti building code standards, which, by all accounts, are woefully inadequate. We were soon to enter the tent city, and this would make those buildings look like bed and breakfast establishments.

The gate at the camp is flanked by men who look like they are casually guarding it. Like everyone here, they are friendly and gentle. We first pass by a tent that has been converted into a bar. We later get a beer here, will get to that. This is the first in a series of shops and restaurants set up to serve the people in the community. There appear to be more shops than actually homes, but I imagine they break down the shops and the tents are also their homes. The streets between the tents are so muddy that I am constantly sinking into it and then having to stop to pull my boot from the muck. I am so grateful for my boots. So grateful.

People and kids all around me are shoeless and the kids sometimes are unclothed in the rain…bathing. The tents are not tents in the way we think of them. Tarps mostly, supplemented with corrugated metal in places, burlap sacks in places and wood that has clearly been scavenged from somewhere. As we walk by, the kids shout out “Hey There!” the only thing they know in english, taught to them by the American military I am told. I respond with bonswa, and they giggle.

The Kreyol language is a bit of an adventure for me. As I hear things, I try and stop to see if I can connect it to something I know in French. Often I can…but not always. Bonswa, for instance, sounds just like bon soir in  French, but they take great pride in the spelling differentiation and having their own language. I am committed to learning.

I am stunned by how truly beautiful the people are. There are kids who could easily model in the United States. They are that beautiful and they are everywhere here.

On our way to the medical facility, we stop at the shop of an artist in the camp. She is a lovely woman, and her work is beautiful. The paintings are $25 dollars a piece, and are on canvas, but not mounted. I want to get some to bring home with me, of course. 

Through a heavily guarded gate is the climb up to the hospital. And it is quite the climb. I wonder how people who are truly ill can make it up this hill, but quickly check myself. This climb is hard from my perspective. From theirs, it is surely the least of their concerns. The hospital was formerly a relief hospital operated by the American military, at least I think that is what we were told. In any case, it did not work very well and was abandoned and donated to (organizaton). The reason it is so high on a hill was that it was next to the helicopter landing pad, which was in great use after the earthquake.

There is a canopy for triage, but this is not the first triage location. The first is before you even go through the gates to determine if you really need medical attention. This triage is to determine if you will be sent to the pharmacy, the hospital, the birthing dome or directly into the isolation tents if you are infectious. Only the birthing dome is fully contained without dirt floors.

We meet two very young boys there. One of them is chatty and clearly brilliant. He is curious, speaks English, French, creole and Portuguese and, while we are standing there, asks the woman with us from Pakistan for an urdu dictionary because he wants to learn this language as well. I am told later that he is indeed brilliant and quite adept at getting the other kids to do things for him. A bit of a scam artist apparently. This does not surprise me. He is quite charming. But it does make me a bit sad. I want to pluck him out of the mud and deliver him into some kind of apprenticeship. He is so incredible curious and resourceful.

The trees up here are native and wild, overhanging everything. 

As we turn to leave, a tap tap pulls up in front of the hospital and we can hear ferocious screaming coming from it. The midwife is emerging from the dome as our guide asks her “besoin d’aide?” and she apparently does need the help. She rushes over to help her…no scrub up, no gloves, there is no time. The woman has endured an arduous ride up an impossibly bumpy hill in the throes of extremely active labor, and the baby has crowned. As the woman screamed in agony, it occurred to me how removed we are from the birthing process in the states. I have never heard this. I was not even screaming during my births. Women give birth in my network all the time, and I have never heard this.
In any case, moments later, a very small, newly born girl, in a blanket, is carried to the birthing dome to be washed. The baby is screaming her beautiful head off, and I feel instant compassion for her to be born as she has been in such a dire environment. I know babies all scream, but this moment feels particularly poignant to me. This moment firms my resolve to do what I can to help this country build a different reality for her. I want her to have access to a different life. Her specifically. I want this for everyone…the two brilliant beautiful boys who are still standing just outside the emergency tent, the woman selling mangos in front of her tent in the camp, the little girl, wearing only a long shirt, walking through the muck of the roads after the rains. But this newly born baby fills me with a sense of urgency and hope at the same time. For her, life is not yet something to endure. Right now, nothing is defined. So, for her, things must be different.

On the way back to the house, we stop for a round of beers. Three citizens of the tent city are already in there and greet us warmly and are so friendly that I want to talk to them, despite the fact that I will have to crank out my rusty French. Fortunately, our guide knows one of them well and we begin chatting with him, in English. We are handed ice cold beers, colder than any I have been served in the states, and we pull three iron chairs around from the theater set up on the side of the tent (this bar also acts as a makeshift cinema on weekends at times, showing movies on a television screen that is about the same size as my laptop computer screen).
We talk with a man about the challenge in translating (he has done translating for the organization before), and that you must factor in the cultural relevance or much of the meaning can get lost. It is a truth one can only know if you speak more than one language and have spoken it in different areas, and this observation startles me here in the middle of this tent city, drowning in its own debris and muck. And this is what we need to know in the United States and everywhere where there is money. We need to know that there is a brilliance here that defies our “you must have gone through university educating in order to be valuable” mentality. Here in this primitive tent, with electricity stolen from the wires run above our heads, sits a man who has just communicated a concept that I have struggled to explain to college educated clients in high ranking corporate positions. He is not even aware that he has made this much of an impression on me. I carry that into my evening, however, and into my thinking. I later ask if anyone in the organization has ever seen anything written by this man, and she says she might have something.

I get back to the house and am just in time to get in on an impromptu trip to the grocery store. When we get into the store, I make a mental note that the volunteer materials need to be revamped. There is so much available here that I could have avoided packing into giant bags and bringing with me. I am thrilled to buy some rice and beans for the days when we are on our own for food. I meet a couple of the other volunteers who invite me to go hiking the next day…something I will not end up doing after all. Maybe another time.


Love,
Kim

Living Dangerously

“The voodoo priestess can kill you
And she does not even need to be anywhere near you.”
I am sitting in the back of a pick up truck
Against the tailgate
Because here I am in Haiti,

Living dangerously.

“It is hard for you to understand their magic.

Because you are not of here.”
The women with me in the back of the truck are American too.
They are skeptical.
We are always so skeptical of things we don’t understand.

“People in the rural areas,” his English perfect,

his accent perfectly Haitian, “they believe everything is voodoo.
But it is not everything.”
One of the women in the truck bed with us speaks up,
“Maybe they can kill people,
because people believe in it.”

Our young host looks down as if trying to find a connection

In the grooved floor of the truck bed.
There is none there either.
“You are probably safe,
you are not from here,” he decides.

“But we are of this land,

This soil is in our bones.”

A car pulls up behind us and the headlights frame the dark outline of my head
And shoulders
Until my reflection in the back window of the truck
Looks like I am
The absence of light.

“Yes, you are probably safe.

Still
If you see a white woman on a horse
Or a black dog that is unusually large,
Do not go home.
Do not go to sleep.
Just in case.”

Arrival and the Haitian Flop

Hi Kimberley fans. It’s Tina. With Kim’s permission I am posting a few entries in the form of notes I have received from her. I am taking out any reference to famous people and the name of the organization to comply with the media agreement she had to sign. Kim sends lots of love. She is receiving your emails and good wishes. She doesn’t have much time for personal correspondence. Being inspiring is apparently more than a full-time job. 🙂

I am sitting in the large living room area in the headquarters. I am sitting here, in the middle of everything and everyone because the room I am going to be living in for the next three months is currently full of someone else’s stuff who has not quite moved out yet. I am not upset so much as I am overwhelmed. Trying to find the fun and adventure in this. Not quite there. I feel pretty certain that everyone here thinks I am deadly serious. Maybe I am.

My room is quite a luxurious set up compared to the other accommodations here. As a long term volunteer (most are here for two weeks or so) I get my own space. A giant room upstairs has been divided into two rooms but a wood frames and partial walls of plastic tarp. I almost cried with relief when I saw it. There is a light, two electrical outlets and a small window. There is a standard issue cot there, not sure if I get that. I have my fingers crossed. There is no door, but at this point, I could not begin to care less. It feels positively palatial. I wish I could move into it right now.

It rained like crazy this evening. Wild lightning and thunder torrential downpour type stuff. I put on my swim suit to go stand in it on the deck outside of my room. There are two tents on that deck…all space is occupied here. In any case, a guy saw me go out and showed me a little secret. He has a covered front area and a bucket sitting on the ground. When it rains, you can go out and dump the water from the cover into the bucket and then pour it over your head. It is freezing and wonderful. I have done it twice already. No one is up there, and it is dark. Heavenly. I needed that.

The drive here was wild. Reminded me so much of Nepal, with beat up streets running down into winding roads with houses and buildings all over the place.

Anyway, the streets are tragic. Things for sale everywhere. Art, drinks,  something that looks like it might be cleaner…not clear. In any case, the people seem extremely friendly, just desperate. The airport was insane.

The minute I am outside of immigration, I am in the middle of a sea of people who want to be the one to help me out to whatever form of transport I need to get to. In this sea of faces, I am supposed to pick out two that are in a picture that was sent to me…a small picture. Fortunately, One of them is holding a sign with my name on it.  I have six men literally surrounding me, and more waiting to jump in if a space opens up, when I see him through the crowd. He is completely mute, and not impressive in stature, but he effectively takes over my case…though the six continue to follow us to the parking lot and will end up asking me for a tip, even though I was clearly taken care of. I totally get it. They are just trying to earn a living in a country starving for work. But I have maxed out. I silently pray for the power to shut down mentally, but it does not come.

I have been praying this prayer all day. Wanting to shut down and just barrel through. It eludes me, except in very small moments. I almost lost it when it became clear that I would not only not be getting a phone, but I would also not be getting hooked up to the internet tonight. I am breathing into everything. Breathing. Into. Everything.

I met two Haitian boys on the plane today. Early twenties. They live in Boston now and are visiting for three days. They were sitting next to me and very sweet throughout the trip.

All around me in different rooms, people are laughing and joking and chatting away. I know I should join them. I don’t want to. I don’t want to act. I don’t want to pretend like everything is peachy. I just want to disappear and process. I have decided to count the days after all.

Thing is, the people seem like people we would like to hang out with, at least at first blush. I find myself wondering what brings all these people here. So many are here for over a year.

The house is giant, but not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination. The view is stunning, so it must have been magnificent once. There are many more than 20 people here, however. Many more.

As we drove to the house from the airport, I was told about a medical condition here called “the Haitian flop” by the medical team. Apparently, people are brought in without any physical issues at all, yet they are completely unresponsive to any kind of stimulation. They do not respond to anything the medical community knows how to do to rouse a passed out patient…pricks, shots, aromas…nothing. They have found the only way to revive them is by doing something to the nose. In any case, they have experienced trauma so extreme that they are complete and in all ways incapacitated. Have lost all feeling and are in some kind of emotional coma. This brought up a conversation about PTSD (the other person who arrived with me is a therapist)…to which I eventually replied, “when do you determine it is post trauma? Seems to me it would have to end for it to be PTSD.” This produced an interesting conversation. It feels really weird. This country is so relentlessly battered. It is impossible for me to fully comprehend what that must be like. The sheer relentlessness is mystifying. 
Love,
Kim