Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

First, a note. My name is Monica Kidd, and I was the October/November mission’s blogger. It was my job to try to capture the experiences of our team: Karen Cimer, Steve Clarke, Tiffany Keenan, Carolyn LeMay, Eunie McElwaine, Sara McKinnon, Angela Noble, Dana Richard, Yoella Teplitsky, Leon Waye, and myself. We came as nurses, paramedics, doctors, lab and optometry providers, general make-it-happen people, but each one of us was a student. Thanks to Yoella, who provided most of the photos in the last post of this series. Any inaccuracies below are my own.

Sunday, October 28th, 2007 Fort Lauderdale Airport

Woke up just after three this morning when Leon began moving around the hotel room, having not slept a wink. I had tried to sleep on the balcony on a cushion from the couch. The wind was wonderfully gentle and fragrant, but the ocean was roaring so I relented and came in just before midnight.

By four, we had rushed our big plastic boxes of gear, our hockey bags, our wheelie bags, and our backpacks down to the entrance of the hotel and loaded into two vans plus a trailer. Carolyn and Yoella went with Leon to return his uncle’s convertible. (Leon is the most well-connected person I know; at the age of 24, he is a clinical biochemist, a registered optician, and played The Broom on the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast last year. He managed to finagle three hotel rooms that normally go for $800 per night for a quarter the price.)

In the airport, conversation swirled around water balance – the need for coffee and water versus the lack of a toilet on the plane, the facilities that would be waiting for us in Cap Haitien. Eunnie, on her sixth trip to Haiti, was full of advice. We all wandered around, a bit restless and nervous, wondering if there was some last-minute purchase we should be making. Waiting and waiting for the plane. (Days later, Yoella figured out that we forgot to factor in daylight savings time.)

At seven, we boarded our Lynx aircraft, a Metro III with 17 seats. We taxied to take our place under threatening clouds and the full moon still high in the bluing sky. Then we lifted away from the earth.

10 o’clock Cap Haitien, Haiti

A long, noisy flight. Touched down at Exuma, Bahamas for refueling. Broke through the clouds and slowly approached Haiti, the flexed knuckles of the mountains and sprawling green valleys parceled up into neat green squares. Then Cap Haitien: low buildings with rust-coloured roofs lying at the toes of the hills. The sudden touch-down. We are in Haiti.

11 o’clock

We cleared customs without difficulty and got most of our bags, except for one containing eyeglasses and medications that failed to make it. They’re due in three flights from now, but that could be anytime. In the airport, Yoella spotted a tall, thin man and asked us in a quiet voice whether we thought he might be Harvard internist and medical anthropologist Paul Farmer; she pulled out a newspaper article with his photo for a positive ID. I thought not, Karen thought so, and Leon marched right up to him to ask. The man denied being able to speak English, but later Yoella overheard him chatting away (in English). Outside, the driver of a tap-tap (a small Toyota pick-up truck – the country’s main form of ground transportation) was arrested for not having the correct papers. We loaded our gear in the back of three tap-taps as groups of stylish Haitians stood around in the dirt streets, watching.


A tap-tap ride through Cap Haitien is a tempest of diesel, burning garbage, dust, cooking food. A woman in a pink dress and NYC ball cap riding a horse side-saddle. A school boy in a blue blazer and brilliant white pants. Goats, tethered and free. Roosters. Food stands. A crackling stereo bawling out lyrics that sound like this to my ears: America, America, America, break the neck of this appetite.

We arrived in Bod Me Limbe at one-thirty, having traversed some major water in the intrepid little tap-taps. Drove down the road into town to big smiles and waving hands, children delirious with excitement, down to Jo’s house, whose cement walls are whitewashed and painted with sunflowers. Hugs, kisses, staring. More kids than I could count. Into the school yard then where the people who’d been on previous trips admired the new paint job, the doors, desks and seats in the classrooms. Everything solid and calm.

We spent the next four hours unpacking medications from boxes and setting up the pharmacy, setting up the surgical supplies and triage rooms. Supper was at five o’clock in the gazebo around wooden tables and chairs. Big communal bowls of diri ak pwa (rice and beans), some kind of meat, potato and carrot salad, flatbread, beer from a cooler in the kitchen. (An army marches on its stomach, so expect plenty of details here about what we ate.) Kids gathered around the walls of the gated compound saying Bonsoir, Bonsoir. The breeze was fresh, but my skin was sticky as fly paper. I was so tired I could barely speak, anxious for sleep.

After supper, Tiffany held a meeting. She laid out all the nametags on a table and asked me to come up and draw a name, place the nametag around that person’s neck, then that person would be given the opportunity to say a few things about him or herself. The tradwi (translators) unfailingly said they were proud to be here and that it would be “no problem” to help in any way. We went over our triage procedure and were given our tasks for the next day. Then home to our rooms where we set up in the random electricity. I slid into my silk sheet under my mosquito net and was fast asleep by eight o’clock.

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