Monday, November 12, 2007

Wednesday, November 7th

Karen improved overnight, but now Tiffany is finally sick. We stacked our mattresses in a classroom, packed away our mosquito nets, and brought our bedding over to Jo’s house, where one last breakfast of his incredible oatmeal awaited us, along with the usual bread and manbo (although many decided the impending boat ride would be better on an empty stomach). We lugged our gear down to the beach and watched the school kids – now able to return to classes with us gone – assemble outside the gates in their frilly green uniforms. We waded our gear out to two covered boats and shoved off shortly after seven in the morning.

We made our way to Cormier Plage, stopping for a look around the nearby community of Labadie, and a visit to a craft market Alex set up for us. We bought a king’s ransom of paintings, wooden bowls and boxes, little brightly-painted lizards made from metal reclaimed from old oil drums, and soapstone carvings. At the private resort of Cormier Plage, we rested on pristine beaches, took hot showers, drank cold beer, and partook of strange delicacies – fresh tomatoes, papaya, chocolate ice cream, chilled white wine. Tomorrow we would return to Cap Haitien in tap-taps to catch our flight back to Fort Lauderdale for another night in a swank hotel, and then set off in our various directions for Canada.


So much of this trip has seemed foreign and strange, like I borrowed someone else’s ill-fitting skin. I am covered in bed bug and mosquito bites, my bowels are still doing disturbing things, my hair feels like it grew out of a Barbie doll, and all of my clothes should be burned. My right eye has been twitching with exhaustion for seven days straight. I smell bad. This is my first trip, so I haven’t had the opportunity to see first-hand evidence of people coming back healthier than before they knew us. I’m sure it must be true, but every day there was so much to leave behind and push on through, to treat symptomatically or not at all.

I worry about about Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s observation that:

Haiti is the parish of the poor. In Haiti, it is not enough to heal wounds, for every day another wound opens up. It is not enough to give the poor food for one day, to buy them antibiotics one day, to teach them to read a few sentences, or to write a few words. Hypocrisy. The next day they will be starving again, feverish again, and they will never be able to buy the books that hold the words that might deliver them. {from Aristide’s Parish of the Poor (1990), quoted in Paul Farmer’s AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame (2nd edition, 2006)}

I hope we made a difference. There was the little girl whose life I’m sure was saved with two injections of antibiotics, and the man who got to go to TB clinic, the woman who might not have to die from diabetes. Karen and Carolyn both reminded me that a bag of simple pain medicine and antacid and vitamins might not mean much to someone who can run to the corner store, but to someone who has never had relief from a headache, it can seem a miracle. Maybe even knowing the world is watching and that someone bothered to come and care means something to the 1249 souls we met.

But I know this: in three years of medical school, constantly fighting against becoming detached from the various meanings of human suffering, this work was real.
~ Monica Kidd

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