No birds in the trees here,
where women’s eyes are burned by the sun
and the sea stirs a nightly pot of turquoise.
Children pad barefoot through broken
bits of flotsam and stare
their silent challenge
at our walls of language.
Tonight the world lies in perfect darkness,
Haiti’s hot breath on our skin.
Later that morning
It’s nine AM. Already I’ve tested someone for malaria, diagnosed a meniscal tear, and a range of arthritic and stomach troubles. Tiffany and Steve’s tent is on the roof. Fritz Pierre, a lawyer from the city who works with the humanitarian group Vwa Ayti (Voice of Haiti) has come to speak to the men’s and women’s committees tonight about a project to build community toilets; he used my examining room as a bedroom last night and has left a mosquito coil burning, which gives off a delicious incense. The air is cool and fragrant.
A woman came in with her daughter, who explained her mother had been struck by a fever a month ago, and since then she has been unable to speak, and too weak to use her spoon. Her mother also said she felt something hard in her stomach, and had been losing weight and bleeding from her rectum. When I examined her, she had no neurological problems whatsoever – she could move her tongue, swallow, make intimidating fists, and walk without difficulty. She also spoke a few words to her daughter, yet she believed she couldn’t. Maybe another Voodou experience? But there was, indeed, a lump in her stomach, as big and hard as a softball. That, combined with the weight loss and rectal bleeding, likely meant cancer. And there was nothing we could do.
Later, a woman told me she had, several times over the last few years, fallen out of bed with evil spirits. Epilepsy? More Voodou? I saw elephantiasis of the scrotum. Yoella had a patient who told her, “I came here to die.”
Karen's sister tracked down Jo’s cell phone and called to ask if she was alright – apparently a big storm hit Haiti the other day, and we had no inkling. We all wondered what people were thinking at home. By the end of an airless afternoon, we had seen 192, though only 125 were scheduled. We sorted files until nightfall, by headlamp. Even Fritz helped. Things I learned today: coconut is good for constipation, a mouthwash of boiled cloves is good for toothache (I always thought you had to jam a raw clove near the painful tooth), and ginger water is good for nausea.
At supper, Leon presented Yoella with a group gift, comprised of three boxes, two containing items he smuggled out of her own luggage, and a box of candy from the endless supply in his lab. Lots of laughter. Afterwards, Fritz held his meeting about the toilets. Thirty men and women from the community piled into a tiny classroom and debated for two hours, with various people standing to give their passionate soliloquies. No one disagrees with the toilets; but who will build them, who will maintain them, and who will get paid are matters of extreme delicacy.