June 11, 2010

The Best Job in the World

UN Peacekeepers

All I could think today was that Randy Moore has the best job in the world. He came to Cap-Haitien, Haiti in January for only a two-week stint and is still here six months later. Haiti grabbed hold of him and never let go. I followed Randy around today in the sweltering heat as he checked on patients in the clinic at St. Francoise de Sales parish, packed up medical supplies and equipment and then charged out to the neighboring towns to deliver his goods to various hospitals and clinics. He’s like Santa Claus, only he is helping to save lives.

Let me back up: I arrived only yesterday in Haiti, and it already feels like a week. After a very pleasant seven and a half hour Caribe Tour bus ride through the Dominican countryside (if you don’t mind that there is no toilet paper on the bus, no soap, no running water and the bathroom door doesn’t shut—but hey, they give you lunch!), we stopped at the Dominican Republic/Haiti border. Disembark, back on the bus, disembark, dodge the pawing hands of the Haitian boys trying to beg dollars or sell you snacks, explain in Spanish to the Haitian customs official why you—the only gringo on the bus—wants to go to Haiti, surrender your passport, back on the bus, wait some more, wave to the UN Peacekeepers, give your uneaten rice and chicken lunch to the begging boys, retrieve your passport, and an hour later, you are in Cap-Haitien! Piece of cake.

The scenery deteriorated dramatically once we passed through the border. I cannot sugarcoat this, readers: Haiti is desperately poor. I visited this country in 2002, hoping to start a hemophilia program. Paid out of pocket, and spent a week with the Christianville Mission gang in Gressier, just outside the capital Port-au-Prince, which is now devastated after the January earthquake. I saw Haiti then but didn’t really see Haiti, and I was there for a week! In two days here I think I have seen much more of Haiti with Randy.

Your sense are bombarded: lush trees, plantain vegetation, deep blue skies; mosquitoes everywhere so that you must always carry DEET and use heavily, even in bed; acrid charcoal permeating the air everywhere; concrete houses and tin roofs; and trash…. More than you have probably seen in one place in a lifetime. And the heat—it has to be 90 degrees or more, with some humidity, but you are always, constantly dripping. After the DR, I am just used to being a soggy mess all week!

But I am thrilled to be back in Haiti. Randy, a nurse and humanitarian, was waiting for me in his white Ambulance Land Rover; we had corresponded by email but had never met. After a friendly greeting, he whisked me away to his new home, the amazing St. Francoise de Sales parish, a lovely little enclave just outside Cap-Haitien that houses a church, operating room, a primary school for 400 school kids, maternity ward, clinic and several huge storerooms filled with donated medical supplies. Randy is the regional distributor of all things medically donated. He’s a popular guy in this town.

He gave me a tour of the grounds, and we met Doussaint, who complained of headaches and seemed debilitated by them. We also saw a mom, about to give birth any time. Randy told me how he’s assisted in births many times, even on the roadside while transporting women to the hospital. Haitians are stoic and strong; they have an extremely high tolerance for pain, as they must live with it so much.

I get to stay at the parish, in a medium size room with the bare essentials: ceiling fan, but no AC, cold showers only; kind of like being in a dorm room. Great food; noisy location. All night long dogs bark, trucks roar by and shake the building. It’s really noisy! But after a day like today, we just collapse in sweat, and enjoy a cold drink on the second floor veranda and get better acquainted.

And it was a great day: I have met some amazing humanitarians, all medical people, who are devoting their free time to helping Haitians who are ill. Infectious disease is rampant, poverty is endemic, and the needs seemingly endless. But what a country! The more I learn the more fascinated I become.

Tonight Randy shared with me how very real voodoo is to Haitians. While the country is categorized as mostly Catholic, like its neighbor the DR, Catholicism is closely wed to the indigenous belief in voodoo. Strange rituals, zombies, curses, sacrificing… it’s all here.

What’s not here is hemophilia care. We know of only two children with hemophilia, about of a country with a population of 8 million. My goal is to start the long-term task of building a hemophilia program, to prepare Haiti to join our world community, and hopefully be included as a Hemophilia Citizen at the 2012 World Federation of Hemophilia Congress. But… one step at a time. We first need, above all, one person on the ground here who will be dedicated to hemophilia. We are blessed to know that Randy has volunteered to be that person. And of all things, he used to work for Coram back in the day, and had quite a few hemophilia patients. He already knows about hemophilia, remembers his “kids” fondly, and wants to help us build up this program.

When I leave Saturday morning, we should have a strategy to move forward. So many of you asked me if you could help those with hemophilia in Haiti following the earthquake. I had to tell you all that there was no help we could give, because no one knew where the patients even were, not even the Haitians! I am happy to say that after this week, it’s all going to change.

Tomorrow, we drive for 90 minutes to meet 10-year-old Mitch, who has hemophilia. Please tune in on Sunday evening, when I will post the results of my visit! Thanks to Randy, we will help Haiti.

See my Gallery at www.kelleycom.com to see my photos of Haiti so far.

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