Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Downtown PAP looks so attractive, with its wide boulevards, park-like plazas containing large statues of Haitian horse-riding, French-dressing heroes from the war for independence, like Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe. There is a history and art museum and of course, the National Palace, a castle-like building that’s so white it makes the surrounding area seem cleaner.
The U.S. Consulate doesn’t add to the architectural ambiance. It’s a sterile, utilitarian office building, made foreboding by the fortress-like wall that surrounds it. Unfortunately, this is a dangerous part of town, which is why we haven’t spent much time here. The peril from bandits also explains the wall and the two U.N soldiers—blue helmets—stationed directly across from the entrance to the consulate.
This morning John and I get out of the car and walk over to Gate 1, the entrance for Services for American Citizens. Nine Haitians stand around the metal door. John says he’s never seen so many people waiting at this gate. When the guard slides the little window open, they press their papers forward, hoping to gain admittance. One woman has her papers handed back, the guard telling her she needs to return on January 8, the date of her appointment.
John stands at the back of the group and holds up his U.S. passport, the magic ticket. The guard notices him and nods. I wonder if the Haitians think, “Once again, the whites move to the front of the line. They are always the privileged ones.” If it were not for Jackson, I would feel even guiltier.
A couple minutes later the guard motions us through the door into the closest thing to the U.S. most Haitians will ever get to. “We have an appointment with Ingrid,” John tells the guard. One guard writes down info from our passports and calls Ingrid, while another waves a wand over us and checks our pockets. As we finish, the cheerful, attractive Ingrid arrives, and escorts us to the waiting room.
“I thought it was you I was talking to on the phone,” said John. He has been bringing kids and young adults to the States for surgery for more than a decade. John used to handle the visa work himself, but after September 11, it’s become increasingly onerous work. We’ve been lucky to find people in PAP who can handle the paperwork and dealing with consulate officials.
The last time John John obtained visas, I was with him. In November 2004, we applied for visas for Caleb, Suze and Katia. My posts are already too long for me to be able to describe how unpleasant the process was. Suffice it to say, that it was after these experiences that John decided he could no longer be responsible for getting the visas. I fully concurred. Now, we contract out this step in the process.
So today, those memories make the experience tense, though Ingrid is a soothing presence. She gathers Jackson’s passport, visa application, picture, medical letter from John, and $100 cash fee, and goes to input the information. The visa is actually an elaborate multi-color copy, covering two passport pages, which contains Jackson’s picture, identifying info, type of visa, sponsoring organization, and place of treatment.
She returns in about 20 minutes to tell us that Jackson must come in to be fingerprinted and interviewed. John and Ingrid walk out of the waiting room, and John returns carrying Jackson as Ingrid holds the door. They go through the waiting room, make a left into a hallway and then enter an office.
James McDonald, the consulate official, prints each of Jackson’s index fingers. Because of the special circumstances, the interview is perfunctory: how old are you? Have you ever been to the United States? Where will you be staying? These are all questions that could be answered by reading the visa application, though in fairness to the official, Jackson didn’t complete the application himself.
In five minutes John and Jackson are back in the waiting room, , , where we wait for another half an hour, and Ingrid smilingly brings us the visa and wishes Jackson well. John carries Jackson back to the car with many Haitians watching. I can feel their approval in the air: Look at the good blanc carrying the sick Haitian. It’s not a sight they’ve likely seen before. Pierre drives us back to the hotel. We arrive before 10 am, with three hours to spare before we have to leave for the airport.
Thank you Senator DeWine. It’s never been so easy.
Today the rising sun cast its pink tones on the rim of the sky at 6:10. We were up and ready to start our morning of negotiating the Haitian and U.S. government bureaucracies, a process that would be infinitely greased by the phone calls from Senator DeWine. Despite this, I didn’t sleep much last night, thanks to a congenital habit of worrying, with an assist from the water pump that rumbled loudly for 10 seconds of every minute.
As we waited for Pierre, the nice gentleman who was going to drive us on our rounds, I tried to pace away the anxiety. What was the worst thing that could happen? I mentally recited the mottos of Tom Rath, the protagonist in “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” a novel I read on a prior trip: “It doesn’t really matter. Here goes nothing. It will be interesting to see what happens.” Tom developed these philosophies when he was a paratrooper, preparing to jump from planes during WWII. Later, he applied them to other tense situations in his life. Alas, while I admire their stoic detachment, these mantras are a little too post modern for me, plus I’m no good at dealing with bad outcomes.
At 6:45, Pierre pulled into the parking lot in his maroon Maxima, and we were on our way. We made a left on Toussaint L’Overture Blvd and went through the roundabout, wound our way through the hills of Martin Luther King, a road heavily patrolled by the Haitian National Police, and turned right onto John Brown, the street where the Haitian Immigration Office is located. People had begun to assemble for the day at the only place in all of Haiti where its citizens can get a passport. “See those guys standing on the sidewalk?” pointed John to a group of five young men standing in front of the building. He explained that they offer their services to applicants to expedite the process of getting a passport. For a fee, of course.
John had to carry Jackson through the bowels of the Immigration Building and up a couple of flights of stairs to the Monsieur Chavane, the Director of Haitian Immigrations. A sign posted on his door asked all to leave their guns outside the office. Director Chavane was expecting us. He talked briefly with John and looked at Jackson’s papers. He then directed an official to take us to a room down the hall, where Jackson was fingerprinted.
When we came out of this office, we saw a woman sitting on a bench, smiling at us and holding a little girl. “Bonjou,” she said. John recognized her immediately. The little girl has a heart defect and the mom had brought her to see John a couple of weeks ago. Seeing us at Haitian Immigrations with another sick Haitian, whom we were getting out of the country, caused the woman to dissolve into tears. John hugged her, and told her we would search for a hospital for her daughter.
As we sat down to wait back near the Director’s office, Pierre, clearly impressed by the attention and speedy action we were receiving whispered with wonder in his voice, “They wouldn’t do this for me.” Pierre works in an orphanage and has spent the last three months trying to get a U.S. visa for a 2-year-old who has a heart defect. She has been accepted by NYU, and the consulate has been giving him the complete runaround, saying that they must have the original letter from the hospital.
I wanted to try to convey to Pierre that the superlative service we were receiving today was due to the intervention of a Senator DeWine. He is in the parlance of Creole, un gran moun, a big man. But I thought that explanation might sound kind of lame: to Haitians all blancs are gran moun. So I didn’t say anything.
A few minutes later, Director Chavane came out of his office and handed John a manila folder. It contained Jackson’s passport, which had been extended for one year for humanitarian reasons. John hugged the director.
A group of men gathered around Jackson as John explained to them what was wrong with him. Why is his heart bad, the director wanted to know. Rheumatic fever, said John, very common in Haiti. John gestured over his shoulder to the woman with her three-year-old who had followed us into the Director’s waiting area. “That little girl has a heart problem too. I am searching for a hospital for this little girl.”
John and Pierre shook hands all around. John picked up Jackson and carried him down to the main level. After resting a few minutes, we got back into the car and headed the few blocks to the American consulate for Round Two. It was only 8:30.
Monday, December 26, 2005
If all goes well, we’ll be departing Haiti tomorrow. So the last book I will read in its entirety on this trip is “The Jane Austen Book Club,” by Karen Joy Fowler, which I finished last night. I purchased a hard bound copy at the Peoria Public library for $3. Why do we pay retail for anything?
With so much attention being paid to Jane Austen these days, mainly thanks to Hollywood, I felt out of the loop, only having read part of one of her six novels, Sense and Sensibility. Somehow, I also own unread copies of Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice, which I will throw in the suitcase for future trips.
“The Jane Austen Book Club” describes the conceit of the novel well; it’s about a group of six people, five women and one man who meet monthly to discuss one of Austen’s novels. The women are Austen fanatics—in real life they seem passionately devoted too—and the man is a newcomer, which puts him a little at a disadvantage. Each chapter discusses one of the novels and the history of one of the character’s lives. There is probably interplay between the characters and the novels that I don’t get, being under read in Austen.
Fowler is a fine writer who coins nicely turned phrases and makes observations that raise a window shade on reality. “Sylvia thought how all parents wanted an impossible life for their children—happy beginning, happy middle, happy ending. No plot of any kind. What uninteresting people would result if parents got their way. Allegra (Sylvia’s daughter) had always been plenty interesting enough. Time for her to be happy.”
In the end, “The Jane Austen Book Club” isn’t really my kind of book. It was easy to read and not too long, but filled with characters that I have a hard time connecting with. Some of them were kind of snobby and not-so-nice; the histories of their lives were unpleasant in a vague, American, late 20th century way. But a lot of people, particularly other women writers, really like this book.
I read parts of two other books “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Bonjour Blanc” by Ian Thomson. Tom Sawyer elicited memories of reading his adventures while at my grandparents’ farm. They had an illustrated copy of the book. Hmmm. . . when I return home, I think I’ll ask my mom if she knows where it is.
Earlier this year, I bought “Bonjour Blanc” for John, as he said it was the best book about Haiti he’d ever read, and he’s read a lot of ‘em. Thomson is an English author; I had to order this book on line and wait several weeks for it. Thomson packs a lot into each chapter—history and observations. His writing is good—detailed and dense. I would read a chapter and then have to put the book aside for awhile.
Some of his chapter titles include: In Cahoots with the Macoutes (the Tonton Macoutes were the murderous henchmen of the Duvalier years), Paris of the Gutter (Port-au-Prince), The White Black Men of Europe (The Polish men who came to fight with Napoleon against the rebellious slaves but defected in mass when they saw how evil the cause of the French was).
I am looking forward to finishing “Bonjour Blanc” soon. By the way, the title refers to the name the Haitians call foreigners. It’s vastly preferable to the “Hey you!” that is hollered at us regularly, a lovely legacy from the Marine presence in Haiti in the early 1990’s.
Tomorrow (Tuesday, 12/27) will be a long and hopefully not too tough day. We are leaving here at 6:30 am to go to Haitian immigrations to get Jackson’s passport and then to the U.S. consulate to get his visa. Then we’ll return here, pick up our bags, and head to the airport, only about five minutes away, for our 3:30 flight to Miami. It will be a grueling day for Jackson, so please say a prayer for him.
I think this will be my last post from Haiti from this trip, but I will keep you updated as to how Jackson is doing.
Big things often start with the most happenstance of incidents. Or at least they seem to be happenstance. Thursday evening we were at our usual position in the dining area in front of the computer. Our main worries were keeping Jackson alive and finding a hospital for him in the States. We and Haitian Hearts supporters at home were working on contacts with hospitals in
Minnesota, Connecticut, New York, Alabama, Colorado, Peoria, Bloomington, and Joliet, Illinois. But so far, it was nada, with the shutdown for Christmas fast approaching.
A short man with grey hair and bright, kind, blue eyes pulled up a chair to talk with John. His name is Father Tom Hagan, and he runs an organization called Hands Together, which schools and feeds thousands of children in Cité Soleil and has many other anti-poverty projects in Haiti. Father is one of the few white people whom the gangs allow to pass back and forth through the
treacherous slum. He has been in Haiti for ten years. Father arises at 4:30 every morning to say Mass for the Missionaries of Charity, at their home for abandoned and dying children, where we go to Sunday church. This Thursday before Christmas, Father had brought a group to our place for a special evening meal.
We told Father about the plight of Jackson Jean-Baptiste. He offered to call his friend, U.S. Senator Mike DeWine, a Republican from Ohio. Senator DeWine is the Senate expert in Haiti, having taken a special interest in the country after several visits. He helps support the work of Father Hagan.
Before 9 am the next day, we had an e-mail from one of the Senator’s assistants, Barbara, who said they had been trying to call John’s Haitian cell phone, but had been unable to get through. She left DeWine’s cell and home phone numbers. Later that evening, John called the home phone. Senator DeWine answered, and John explained Jackson’s situation to him. “He is such a nice guy,” remarked John after the call, which kept cutting in and out. “He’s going to call a hospital and tell them about about Jackson.”
The next morning, again before 9 am, we had another e-mail from Barbara, saying that Cleveland Clinic had accepted Jackson! Could this be true--Jackson accepted by one of the best medical centers in the United States? Barbara left the phone number and e-mail of Jeanne, Dr. Cosgrove’s assistant. John immediately called her and made arrangements to e-mail detailed information on Jackson’s condition.
While John was on the phone, I e-mailed the Senator’s office our thanks and also explained another little dilemma we needed help with: Jackson has a Haitian passport, but it expires in May 2006. In order to grant a visa, the U.S. consulate requires that the Haitian passport be good for at least six months; Jackson’s passport misses this deadline by a month. We were in the process of obtaining Jackson a new passport, but in Haiti, these things take time. Was there anything the Senator’s office could do to waive this requirement?
With our first round of e-mailing done for the day, we headed out to run some errands. While we were out, John’s cell phone rang. It was Ingrid from the U.S. consulate’s office asking if we could get to the Haitian immigration department as they would issue Jackson a new passport immediately. We were then to go to the U.S. consulate, and they would have the visa for us. The only problem was that it was 2:20 pm, and the consulate was closing at 3 pm—not enough time to pick up Jackson’s expiring passport and make it through the holiday traffic, to both places by three. After numerous phone calls, we arranged to do this on Tuesday morning.
The last phone call came from the office of U.S. Ambassador Tim Carney. He was concerned because he had heard that we were staying on Delmas 31. “We don’t stay there,” said John, “But we do work there.” “That’s a dangerous area,” said the Ambassador’s assistant. “The Ambassador wants to encourage you to be vigilant.” We thanked him for his concern.
Still hardly believing that Jackson was truly accepted, we trudged back to our lodgings, where, of course, the internet service was down. We were afraid to tell Jackson that we had found a hospital until we saw written confirmation from Cleveland Clinic. Years of working in Haiti makes one suspicious of good news. Upon noticing our concerned faces, the owner offered us the use of his computer, which was receiving the on line connection. In John’s mailbox was
the most beautiful attachment ever: a letter from Cleveland Clinic, saying
that they would provide surgery and medical care for Jackson at no cost!
Jackson was with us when we read the letter. He said, “Tanks.”
We also say thanks to a lot of people: Father Tom Hagan for all his work in Haiti and for caring enough to make the call on behalf of Jackson; Senator Mike DeWine for putting the influence of the most powerful country on earth to work for a poor Haitian youth at the request of people who aren’t even his constituents; U.S. Ambassador Carney for responding to Senator DeWine’s
request and the staff of the embassy and consulate for expediting Jackson’s visa; the head of Haitian immigrations who is willing to meet us at 7:30 Tuesday morning to give Jackson a new passport; Dr. Cosgrove and all the wonderful people at Cleveland Clinic, who by accepting Jackson are truly living their motto, "Every life deserves world class care," the Haitian Hearts
supporters at home who took Jackson’s cause as their own and phoned up a storm to try to find him a hospital; our family and friends who prayed and sent encouraging messages to us. We couldn’t do any of this without you.
Thanks to John, who didn’t hesitate in keeping Jackson with us in our room, who daily examined him, adjusted his meds, worried over him, and who epitomizes Winston Churchill’s great quote, “Never, never, never give up.”
And most of all to thanks be to God, Who sent us His Son, a baby born to poor parents, who was in all worldly ways powerless.
If all goes well, we will be on a plane to Cleveland on Tuesday afternoon.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
I am sitting outside typing and in the distance, I hear the ominous rapid sound of automatic weapon fire and several loud booms that sound like they're inflicting damage and pain. The sounds are bouncing up, likely, from Cité Soleil, the slum by the sea. Amidst the firing, the 3:20 pm American Airlines flight to Miami soars just overhead, having departed about 20 minutes late. A Haitian has told us that the gangs possess hand held missile launchers and have attempted to shoot down the jets, whose flight pattern takes them over Soleil. Who knows, but this sounds like an urban legend.
We’ve been hearing a lot of gunfire lately. Eddie, one of the hotel waiters, pooh poohs my concerns when I mention it to him, “It’s just MINUSTAH (the U.N. troops) and chimeres (the gangs) fighting with each other. Nothing to worry about.”
Earlier this week, a Canadian U.N. soldier was killed near Soleil. He was driving another soldier to the airport, when their SUV was ambushed. He was shot in the leg and bled to death. A handful of U.N. soldiers have been killed since the U.N. has been stationed in Haiti: some Jordanians and Sri Lankans, but no one with skin as white as a Canadian.
There will be reprisals, and they will be severe. In fact, it may be the reprisals I'm hearing. The very unfortunate thing about the shooting expeditions into Soleil is that innocent people, who are also terrorized by the gangs, will likely be killed. Unavoidable “collateral damage” says interim Prime Minister Gerard LaTortue, in a favorite phrase of warring presidents.
Many of the U.N troops aren't exactly professional soldiers. I heard a Canadian observer say that she thought the U.N.'s lack of response when they've witnessed kidnappings could be due to anti-American sentiment. The Jordanian troops might not be big fans of Americans.
Who knows? In Haiti, truth is an elusive animal.
We visited Rick and Sandra Sowers, a couple from New Jersey in their late fifties who run a guesthouse a short walk from where we stay. They have been coming to Haiti for several years and say they have never seen it so bad. A friend of ours, Wes, from North Carolina was staying with them in October when he was kidnapped in front of the guesthouse one morning. Fortunately, he was released unharmed at the end of the day after $10,000 in ransom was paid. “I don’t think Wes will be back to Haiti ever again,” said Sandra, a true shame given all the good he has done. “Lots of organizations, like World Vision, pulled out this summer. I tell the Haitians this is your problem. It’s a small number of people—maybe 400 or 500 in all of Haiti who are causing the problems. They are driving away the people who come to Haiti to help. The Haitians have to take care of this problem.”
Another bit of bad news for the Sowers is that it looks like the elections are again going to be postponed. Groups coming to Haiti are the lifeline of the guesthouses, the reason they exist. No guests are in evidence at the guesthouse; a place that should be bustling with people coming and going, packing and unpacking, complaining about the heat and mosquitoes. We see just a few Haitian women in the shiny-floored kitchen preparing a midday meal.
“We have a couple groups scheduled for January, but I’ll bet they cancel if there are no elections. You can’t blame them.” The feeling is with a legitimately elected Haitian government in place, Haiti will become more stable. I think this is true, but the key word is legitimate. There are reports that people can’t get voter I.D. cards and not enough polling places exist. If the elections aren't seen as a true reflection of the will of the people, peace may not prevail. Despite, this, some Haitians we talk with seem fed up with the delays.
Rick and Sandra are disappointed. “One more bad incident, and we’re out of here,” said Rick. "You have to follow your gut," John replied.
The internet is down at our place so I'm typing these words from a cyber cafe on Big Delmas. Delmas is one of the main thoroughfares in PAP and normally quite crowded but nothing like I've seen today: cars on the sidewalks and people in the streets. We squish our way up stream. Once in awhile I make eye contact with someone stopped in traffic and, with a smile a moment of intimacy is established. The service here is slow and the power has already gone out once. It doesn't take long to get spoiled.
So much to report from the last couple days, including contacts with Dr. Paul Farmer, who does great work down here and with the poor in Peru, Russia, and Rwanda. He takes seriously the statement from one of his heroes that physicians should be attorneys for the poor.
Will hope the service is up and running later today or tomorrow. If it's not, I hope all reading these words have a most blessed and Merry Christmas.
Across the street from the outpatient clinic where John and I spend most of our weekdays, is Grace Children’s Hospital, funded by International Child Care, an American organization. The only inpatient ward in the hospital is for children, most of whom have TB. There are usually about 50 children in the two rooms that comprise this ward.
In the first smaller room, five cribs line the outside wall. Some of these beds contain scrawny, lethargic babies who are too weak to even eat. They look like skeletons covered with skin and are just this side of a heartbeat alive. Sometimes when we return to the ward, we notice that previously occupied beds are empty. “Where are the babies?” we ask the doctors. “Yo mouri.” They died, they tell us with as little feeling as if we’d asked directions to the restroom. In a country with endemic child death, those who work among it must remain impassive in order to function. Or at least I would.
At the other end of the room are iron barred beds. The couple toddlers in these beds stand and look at us with the bright eyes of well children. “Abandonee,” one of the nurses tells us. Their mothers who probably couldn’t feed them left them at the hospital. We take a special interest in one of these children, who fits in our arms like they were made to hold him.
Another boy, a big, brawny two-year old named Thomas, seems to lack the instinct to ingratiate himself with any interested looking adults that orphans need to survive. He has an aversion to people he doesn’t know; when we put our hands out to pick him up, he shakes his head violently and twists away. Thomas seems angry when we pay attention to him, though he appears to like it when we play with the other children.
When we return home, I tell my mom about Thomas. “What will happen to him?” she worries. Many of these abandoned kids stay at the hospital for months, as there are no slots for them in the orphanages. But on two subsequent trips, we check in and note that Thomas is still on the ward.
At home, a good man, Tom Murphy, dies. He was a former Catholic priest who married and then became an Episcopalian clergyman. When he was pastor at St. Mark’s, he matched the parish with a sister parish in Haiti. He is responsible for many Peorians, including moi, going to Haiti.
“I had a dream,” said my mom after Tom died. “In my dream, I asked Tom Murphy to watch over Thomas.” If any one would do it from heaven, it would be Tom.
A few days ago, we again stopped by Grace Children’s Hospital. This time, Thomas’s bed was empty. Some orphanage slots opened up, and he and a couple other children went to their new, hopefully temporary, home.
Merry Christmas Thomas, and we think of you often.
John’s workday is slightly more productive than mine. While I head for my courtyard seat, he passes through the waiting area of the clinic, lined with mothers sitting on wooden benches holding babies, to the office that he shares with Dr. Jean-François, a young Haitian pediatrician. They will spend the next several hours examining and treating sick babies and children. Dr. John and Dr. Jean-François are physicians cut from the same scrubs; they love to consult with each other about patients and discuss different protocols for treatment.
We met Dr. Jean-François about a year ago. He is 38, drives a Toyota Tercell, which he’s owned for seven years, and dresses in neat long sleeved cotton shirts, always adorned with a tie. He is a short, compact, friendly man, who exudes competence and calmness. The first day we came to clinic, he burst into the exam room laughing with happiness at seeing John. It’s great for him to have an American doctor to talk with.
Dr. Jean-François is an excellent pediatrician; during his residency, he was the head resident. He is very precise in his exams, his documentation, and his prescriptions. He loves to teach, as does John, so they teach each other. John brought him some Christmas presents: several issues of the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancelet, a British medical journal.
The last patient the two doctors are seeing today is a three-month-old baby with a terrible grunting cough and a temp of 102. His parents from Croix des Boquets (Cross of Flowers), a town on the outskirts of PAP, where much of the area’s beef comes from, look as poor as the dirt on their clothes. John has given them 500 gourdes (about $12 U.S.) to help pay for the tests and any medicines that will be prescribed. Sometimes parents will bring their child in for an exam ($2 U.S.), but they won’t have the money for the blood tests, xrays, or medicines that are needed. This is one of the frustrating realities of practicing medicine in Haiti, especially for American docs.
This baby likely has pneumonia. The question is: what is causing it? The cause will determine treatment. Due to the baby’s dry cough, Dr. Jean-François feels 80 percent certain a virus is the culprit. He declines John’s offer of a heavy duty antibiotic, Rocephin, generic name ceftraxione. We have brought this precious medicine from the U.S. as it is expensive and in short supply in Haiti.
In the U.S., not giving this sick of a baby an antibiotic could result in a malpractice suit. As a rule, bacterial pneumonias kill more rapidly than those caused by viruses (untreatable) or tuberculosis (treatable). As John points out, if Dr. Jean-François is wrong about the cause, he is taking a big risk not giving the baby antibiotics. Dr. J-F looks at it a little differently. In Haiti, Rocephin is as scarce and valuable as gold; his philosophy is that he doesn’t want to waste it on a baby who doesn’t need it. Plus, it’s never good for a baby who doesn’t need an antibiotic to receive it; it leads bacteria to become resistant to the medicine.
John is picturing what he would do for this baby if he presented at the emergency room with these conditions: blood tests, x-rays, antibiotics, and an admittance to the hospital would greet the baby. Anything less could be grounds for a lawsuit. Dr. J-F understands the differences between practicing medicine in Haiti versus Miami. It’s just that he’s in Haiti.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Here is what the beginning of a typical “workday” is like for me in Haiti. John and I walk about a half a mile, up a disgusting, garbage strewn hill, past the friendly Haitian National Police to the corner of Delmas 31 and Rue E. LaForet, where we catch a tap tap and hold on as if we’re riding a bucking bronco for the half mile crater-pocked ride to the outpatient pediatric clinic of Grace Children’s Hospital.
John walks into the building to see patients, and I head for the courtyard to read and make notes for these posts. Please note that courtyard, while possibly technically true, is a euphemism. I sit on a concrete slab, surrounded by a field carpeted with dirty diapers, juice containers, rusty cans, and old food bags, which is no doubt a delight to the goats grazing about. Haiti is paradise for goats. Given the diet of the average Haitian goat, it’s amazing their meat is even edible, but edible it is and delicious, too.
Another thing I am confused about is: how does anyone know who all the animals roaming PAP belong to? In a land of hungry people, I would think there might be a property dispute or two about the ownership of the goats. And don’t they wander off? I think it’s a case of some invisible laws or practices known only to Haitians and indecipherable to blancs that applies. These mysterious rules govern other regions of Haitian life, like who decides which routes the tap tap drivers get.
Regarding stealing, though, John has often said that the worst thing in Haiti is to get caught taking stuff that isn’t yours. If you’re going to steal, you better get away with it, otherwise, the painful justice of the streets will prevail. As I’m contemplating these profound thoughts, the sun is rising in the sky, and I scoot closer to the building, which is casting a shortening shadow.
Once in awhile, while I’m reading, writing, or staring off into space, a Haitian will stop and chat. Today a teenager dressed in a Hooters t-shirt and a short denim skirt, holding a portly nine-month-old approaches me for a little friendly conversation. Nadia is polite and smart. She patiently answers my questions put to her in broken Creole. When I don’t understand one of hers, I tell her, “Mwen pa parle kreyol bien.” She slows down and carefully enunciates each word. I ask her if the is a sister of Jaybe, the child she is holding. She momentarily looks confused and says, “No, I’m his mama.” My next question is: how old are you? Only 17. I’m a little disconcerted to learn of her young age, but it is good to see a chubby baby in Haiti. Jaybee is not lacking in the threads department either. He is nattily attired in long shorts with red, white and blue panels and a knit red Polo vest. Nadia doesn’t ask me for anything and after a few minutes, politely says, “Au revoir,” and walks away.
George Orwell (née Eric Blair) was born in India at the beginning of the 20th century. His family returned to England when he was young. When George was in his early 20’s, he spent five years in Burma, working as a military police officer. The novel Burmese Days is one of the fruits of this stay.
The novel tells the story of John Flory, a 35-year-old man who has been in Burma for 15 years. Like many expatriates, Flory finds himself at home neither in Burma nor in England to which he hasn’t returned. Through Flory’s life and those of seven fellow citizens, Orwell exposes the wretchedness of the colonial system, both for the colonizers and the colonized. The petty, awful prejudices the Englishmen hold, the ridiculousness of their sacrosanct Club, which serves gin before breakfast, the inhuman kowtowing the natives perform before the all powerful white man—the servants refer to their masters as holy god—and a myriad of other despicable details combine to make palpable the bleakness of this outpost of the British Empire.
Flory alone of the characters seems to understand the moral dilemma of the English: that they are in Burma to steal from the Burmese. He alone has a Burmese friend, an ingratiating doctor, who argues for the superiority of the Englishman. Flory is so lonely, in his intellectual and moral isolation, that he falls in love with a newcomer, Rebecca, who he imagines will sate his loneliness. But she is clearly wrong for him and more closely resembles in interests and beliefs the other members of the Club.
Burmese Days isn’t a happy book. Like the other works I’ve read of Orwell’s, it’s a highly moral and political book. Orwell gets away with this because he is such a good writer, and the morality that infuses his work I find admirable. He largely conveys his point of view through the details of his story, but is more didactic, in a good sense, then a writer like Graham Greene. Burmese Days reminds me a little of Greene’s The Comedians, which tells the story of an Englishman in Haiti. Both books describe oppressive places through the eyes of privileged participants.
Haiti, which has suffered so much under colonizers—the native Arawak Indians were exterminated and the slaves kidnapped from Africa were treated brutally—is a good place to read a book like the Burmese Days. Orwell is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. I am trying to space the reading of his work, to make it last as long as possible.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Jackson has rough days and rougher nights: he didn’t sleep at all last night, which only makes him feel worse. He ate a little breakfast this morning and some bread for supper. He is weak and hasn’t left the room today. His mom came to visit and left depressed.
We don’t want Jackson to lose the will to live. This morning, John gave him a pep talk: you must remain strong; people at home are working to find you a hospital. Jackson asks questions we can’t answer: how long will it take? How long will you stay with me? In his mind he is calculating, “How long can I hold on?” The physical and psychological strain of his ordeal is immense. John’s letter about Jackson’s plight was published today in the Peoria Journal Star (see edited version of original letter below). Jackson bites the inside of his mouth to keep from crying and asks, “What did it say?” We are in some weird race against the anatomy of a sick boy and the anatomy of a greedy country.
Almost all of you reading these words, and definitely the girl writing them, will never have to face what Jackson is facing. First, we will never get rheumatic fever. At the hint of strep throat, we will be on cheap antibiotics, stat. Secondly, if we do develop some malfunction of our heart valve, or any serious health problem at all for that matter, we can get care. There will be no languishing on a plastic poolside chair in someone’s hotel room, hoping a hospital in the benevolence of the Christmas season, decides, yes, we will operate on you.
I ask myself, “Why is my life worth anymore than his?” It’s tempting to reply, “That’s just the way the world is.” But only the people who can get care respond like this. When you can’t get care, how can you think anything but, “Why won’t anyone help me?”
The problems we are facing in finding Jackson a hospital, the problems all the people in the developing countries face are caused by sin writ large. We should care and do more.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Peoria Journal Star
Haitian needing new heart valve not getting help here
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
About 100 years ago Finley Peter Dunne stated, "The job of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." In this case Haitian children who desperately need heart surgery need to be comforted, and Peoria's OSF, our $1 billion health-care industry, needs to be afflicted.
Haitian Hearts is in Haiti now, and we are caring for a 21-year-old man named Jean-Baptiste. He was operated on at OSF six years ago when he underwent a successful valve repair. He presented to us 16 days ago in acute congestive heart failure. His entire body was swollen with excess fluid, and each breath was difficult for him. Jean-Baptiste couldn't eat, sleep or walk. He stared at us with scared yellow eyes.
Jean-Baptiste needs a new heart valve. I have pleaded with OSF since May to accept him and have offered $20,000 for his care. Many people in the Peoria area, including his previous host family, have attempted to contact OSF to advocate for Jean-Baptiste.
I believe the main reason Jean-Baptiste and other Haitian Hearts patients are being abandoned by OSF is because of my public criticism of OSF and its dangerous conflict of interest with Advanced Medical Transport (AMT) in Peoria. They are monopolizing emergency care when someone calls 911.
I would think that if OSF did not feel challenged by my allegations, the hospital would be more than happy to follow the Sisters' philosophy that no one is turned away . . . not even Haitians.
Dr. John A. Carroll
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
A 13-year-old boy, all arms and legs, has come in. He is sweet-looking and quiet, in the throes of gangly adolescence. His skin is pale, and the collar on his denim shirt is dusty. He has HIV. In Haiti, the acronym for AIDS is SIDA, backwards like many things.
John asks the woman with him if she is his mother. “Wi,” and “Non,” she confusingly replies, both shaking and nodding her head, as she stands behind the boy. Dr. Jean-François, the young Haitian pediatrician, who sees all of the children at the clinic with HIV, says to us in his ever-improving English, “I will explain to you later.”
But while the boy and woman are still in the room, Dr. Jean-François begins his explanation, still in English, of the reason for her ambivalent reply. “This is the boy’s aunt. His mother is dead, and he thinks his aunt is his mother.”
At the end of the exam, John tosses the boy a piece of gum across the desk. He catches it with ease, and says, “Thanks.” I am a little alarmed by this English response, wondering how much of our talk the boy understood.
After they have left, Dr. Jean-François tells us that the boy has said to his aunt, “If I have the bad disease, I will kill myself.” I hope this isn’t a warning, because he seems too smart to fool.
One of the piti piti joys for me in coming to Haiti is drinking Coke—yes, Coca-Cola, that most American of beverages. In Haiti, the sweet, caramel beverage is available in half liter and smaller glass bottles, and I tell you, from no container does Coke taste better. I know nothing about where Port-au-Prince Coke is produced, though I would think the recipe is uniform throughout the world, or understand the effect of bottling on the beverage’s flavor. As a Coke connoisseur, I just know it tastes best here—and that’s not homesickness talking. I’m drinking it straight out of the bottle as I type. I don’t even like to dilute it with ice. The sweetness and tang of the soda seem pure. I’m sorry I can’t do any better than this at describing the sensation. Maybe you beer drinkers who prefer glass bottles to cans can understand.
After John and I have been at clinic for a couple of hours, I usually walk across the street and buy three half liter bottles from the street merchants. They charge $3 Haitian or about 35 cents U.S. a bottle. When they see me coming, they begin digging in their red coolers under the bags of water and the bottles of juice and other sodas for the Cokes, which are invariably at the bottom. Hopefully, this will mean they will be cold, although the ice in the cooler has usually long since turned to dirty water. It doesn’t matter though; such is the superiority of Haitian Coke that it tastes great lukewarm. The street vendors are unfailingly polite. They wipe off the bottles and gently pry off the tops, leaving them on to protect the precious drink. I pay them the money with the understanding that I will return the bottles when we are finished.
Here’s a little lesson in economics: down the street from the clinic is a neat little convenient store. John and I used to stop in there for a beverage. They had Cokes in a cooler, but these Cokes weren't in glass bottles. Their Cokes were in plastic bottles or cans: drinking these is not the same taste treat. Sometimes the Coke in the plastic bottles is flat, the seal from the plastic screw top having gone bad. These Cokes aren’t even as good as American Cokes. And the prices are triple what we pay on the street. Triple the price for an inferior product: large scale capitalism at work? And then, of course, where’s the most expensive place to buy food or beverages any where in the world? Hotels! (I found this out when pricing wedding receptions). The Coke in the slightly larger than a third of a liter bottle that I am currently drinking cost $1.65 U.S. Outrageous.
Okay, this has been a long post about a frivolous topic. Let me redeem it, or spoil it, depending on your view, with some political commentary. I read a review of a recently published book, “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats” In the book, the authors profile the eating habits of 30 families from 24 countries. They also photograph them with a week’s worth of food. One Mexican family of five is pictured with the 12 2 liter bottles of Coke that they drink weekly. Mexico leads the world in per capita consumption of Coke. I don’t know why this is—what kind of marketing does Coke do below the border?—but, it’s probably no coincidence that 65 percent of Mexicans are overweight. It doesn’t take a nutritionist to figure out that drinking Coke on this scale—or even semi-regularly—means a person is substituting it for healthier beverages, like water.
I think this concept of the spread of Coke worldwide has something to do with globalization, and not in a good way, unless you’re a Coca Cola stockholder, but I don’t possess the political/economic knowledge to ‘splain it. I don’t understand the pricing either. Does the container really cost more than the drink? Is sugar this cheap? Maybe the Haitians who harvest it in the Dominican Republic aren't earning enough?
If we’re not careful, we’re going to turn into a world of diabetic, artery-clogged, tooth-rotting roly pollys. And because of the caffeine, we’ll be addicted to the stuff. If you said to me, “Well, that kind of a world would be better than one in which children are starving,” I would agree: give the developing world their shot at the diseases of excess. But I think it’s a little bit of a false dichotomy. Is it truly either/or? Drink Coke (eat McDonalds) or die? Maybe Marx was right: societies have to pass through the stage of capitalization before more humane economies emerge. Or maybe capitalization is as good as it gets. I don’t know.
So for personal and political reasons, I should quit drinking Coke. But I can’t give it up in Haiti. (My mother always said my favorite word was later). I’ll end with a song I inexplicably began humming yesterday. I think it sums up—especially it’s last two Brave New Worldish lines—what we’ve been talking about and also encapsulates the fresh-as-a-new-snow, innocent-as-a-babe-in-a-manger commercial spirit of Christmas
I'd like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees and snow-white turtle doves
I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms and keep it company
I'd like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills "Ah, peace throughout the land"
I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company
It’s the real thing, Coke is what the world wants today.
That's the song I hear, that the world sings today.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Haiti has been waiting for elections since February 29, 2004 when Jean Bertrand Aristide was deposed to Africa. After multiple postponements, the first election is scheduled for January 8, 2006, with a runoff to be held in February if necessary. More than 40 people are candidates for president and I can speak knowledgeably about none of them. Let me tell you what few facts I know.
According to the polls, the most popular candidate is Rene Preval, who was the prime minister in the early 90s, as a Lavalas candidate. Lavalas is the party of Aristide. Now Preval is running under the Lespwa party. Preval had the good fortune to draw the #1 spot on the ballot. He is disliked among people who don’t like Aristide (i.e. the well to do). The owner of our lodging establishment was bemoaning the fact that the election will probably produce another leader just like Aristide. I assume he was talking about Preval. Preval’s election posters are everywhere. As John and I were tap tapping it up Delmas yesterday, we saw numerous posters of his with his face was covered ominously in red paint? A warning or a threat? Who knows?
The second most popular candidate, again according to the polls, is Dumarais Simeus, a rich businessman, who talks a really good game about cleaning up Haiti’s corruption, i.e. ending business as usual. The hitch? He’s a U.S. citizen, and a Texan to boot. Despite his U.S. citizenship, he got Haiti’s Supreme Court to state he was eligible for the ballot. The second time the court voted thusly, Gerard Latortue, Haiti’s interim prime minister, fired five of the justices, an act that’s not allowed by Haiti’s widely ignored constitution. In practice, it’s probably not a good idea if citizens from other countries are eligible to run for president. But I really like some of the things that Simeus says—as an independent rich guy, he might be more immune from all the shady activities that seem to characterize Haiti’s government—and the fact that Latortue doesn’t like him is a vote in his favor.
Some of the other cast of characters include Marc Bazin, a past U.S. government favorite who is unbelievably running on the Lavalas ticket (probably trying to capitalize on the party’s popularity), Guy Phillippe, an ex-soldier thug, who helped drive out Aristide, and Charles Henri Baker, a businessman, whose skin is whiter than mine, lest you think all Haitians are black. There’s a sizeable, prominent Haitian-Lebanese population here. There are about 35 other candidates that I don’t know enough about to offer any information.
People who believe that Aristide was driven from office unfairly think these elections are a sham. What’s the point in voting if the people’s choice can be ousted by the powerful? And reports indicate not nearly as many polling places have been set up as for past elections. However, the limbo period of the interim government has been dragging on for so long now—almost two years—that most Haitians of all political stripes seem to just want to get the danged elections over with so the country can move on to its next crisis and/or set of corrupt, incompetent leaders.
I think if the fix isn’t in, Preval will prevail (sorry), he has such a commanding lead. But a smart, young physician we know thinks that whomever the U.S. government wants elected will win, and that surely isn’t Preval. There’s a lot of evidence from the U.S. “escorting” Aristide out of the country to the appointment of Gerard Latortue, a Boca Raton, Florida resident as the interim prime minister that Uncle Sam calls the shots in Haiti. If that’s the case, then maybe we should end all the behind the scenes nonsense and declare Haiti the 51st state. Now, there’s a provocative thought upon which to end a post.
I forgot to mention that in between working at the clinic, attending to Jackson 24 hours a day, ministering to others who stop by in need of help, and ensuring that his wife is a happy Haitian visiter, John managed to attend and speak at a press conference last Thursday, coordinated by American attorney Bill Quigley. It was the usual: Amnesty International declared prisoner of conscience, Father Gerard Jean Juste, is sick with terribly swollen lymph nodes, which could mean a number of things. John has examined Father twice in prison, and with his permission made the results public.
John was so great at the press conference. He spoke in English and then in Creole. He said that Father is representative of many prisoners who are not receiving adequate medical care. John said that we love Father Jerry Jean-Juste and that we love the Haitian people. So true. C’est vrai.
Father Jean Juste has been jailed since July on the beyond dubious charge that he had something to do with the murder of journalist Jacques Roche. In reality, Father is a friend of Aristide’s an outspoken supporter of justice for the poor, and a possible candidate for Haiti’s presidential elections. The combination of these qualities make him in the words of a Haitian elite, “The most dangerous man in Haiti.” We are friends of Father’s and are very concerned about his health. This prompted John’s participation in the press conference at Father’s parish, St. Clare, and which you can read about in the AP article below.
Jean-Juste needs care in the U.S.
By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Dec 15 (AP) -- A jailed Catholic priest who had been
considered a potential candidate for Haiti's presidency may have cancer and
should be released to seek medical treatment in the United States, his
lawyer said Thursday.
The Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a supporter of ousted Haitian President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has declined an examination by government doctors
because he doesn't trust them, attorney Bill Quigley told reporters outside
the jailed priest's church in the capital.
Dr. John Carroll, a supporter who examined Jean-Juste in jail, said the
priest has swelling in his neck and under his arms and an abnormal white
blood cell count, which are possible indications of cancer or an infection.
"Every day that goes by, we are wasting time," Carroll said. "If this is
indeed cancer, his life is in danger."
Michel Brunache, chief of staff for interim President Boniface
Alexandre, said government doctors had examined the priest and said there
was no indication that he had cancer.
Jean-Juste has been jailed since July, when Haitian authorities accused
him of suspected involvement in the abduction and slaying of a well-known
local journalist. Authorities later expanded the investigation to include
alleged weapons violations. The priest denies the allegations.
The investigating judge, Jean Perez-Paul, has declined to reveal his
findings but said he will soon forward his recommendations to a government
Jean-Juste, who has been compared to Aristide, a former priest, has
emerged as a prominent figure in the ousted president's Lavalas Family
party. Lavalas activists had attempted to register Jean-Juste as a presidential
candidate in elections, but Haitian authorities ruled he was ineligible
because he is in prison and could not appear in person to register his
Haiti's national elections are scheduled for Jan. 8.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
I’m a little behind in my book reports. I’ve read George Orwell’s “Burmese Days”—excellent, and I’ll comment on it more fully in a future post. Yesterday, I started and finished “Among Heroes,” about the people on board Flight 93, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11.
This book kept me from sleeping last night. I kept replaying the following scene in my mind—or rather trying to as the picture the words conjure exceed the capacities of my imagination—: a 757 flying upside down at more than 500 miles an hour, 30 feet above a person on the ground, seconds before it crashed into said ground. No wonder nothing was left to find. Equally disturbing were the author’s profiles of the generally stellar passengers on board. What a waste.
I can’t say I didn’t know what I was getting into with this book, as we all know what happened on 9/11. Nonetheless, it was disturbing. I don’t usually choose to read books like this, but I was on a plane at Newark, on the same runway, only a few planes back. Our flight never made it into the air, as one of the other hijacked planes had already hit the World Trade Center. If everything had just been delayed a bit longer, maybe Flight 93 would have been grounded too. Anyway, I feel a little bit of a kinship with these people as we were all passengers at Newark, on an uncrowded Tuesday.
John was in Haiti on September 11. These were the days when it was still somewhat safe to go into Cité Soleil. He and Rich Bertchi spent part of their day there. Later, Haitians offered them condolences. Like everyday’s not 9/11 here.
With our extended stay, I have had time to dip into Mark Twain. Let me paraphrase a story Twain told, relevant to this blog. A missionary preaches in church one Sunday. He preaches so movingly Twain knows he will put a dollar in the plate. As the visitor goes on chronicling the wretched misery of the foreigners’ lives, Twain ups the amount to $5. And a bit latter, he thinks he’ll write a big check. As the plate is passed, the missionary continues on with the deprivations of these poor people. On and on he talks. Twain abandons the idea of the check. The pathetic descriptions continue and the amount he wants to contribute falls from $5 to $2 to $1. When the plate finally arrives, Twain takes 10 cents out of it.
Okay, I don’t want my blog to do this to you, dear reader, regarding the problems of Haitians. Non, non, non. There’s a moral behind Twain’s story, which I know you’ve figured out, but I’ll let another writer, Chuck Palahniuk, elucidate it. I haven’t read any of Palahniuk’s books, but he wrote “The Fight Club.”
Palahnuik’s thesis, probably not original to him, states how crucial humor is, especially when the topic matter is sad. As he said, “tragedy on top of tragedy is overwhelming.” Furthermore, it’s not very effective.
“In college, we read about a group of people who were shown photographs of dental decomposition in various stages. The people who were shown photographs of mild deterioration and mild tooth lose increased their dental care, their dental hygiene. But people who were shown severely deteriorated mouths, hideous photographs, these people just shut down entirely. They quit brushing their teeth and flossing altogether. It actually made them worse. That’s why if you’re going to portray sadness, if you’re going to have enormous amounts of sad, dark material, it has to be presented in a funny way, or there has to be intermittent funny scenes to release that tension, to bring people back up, to contrast with the sadness, so that it can occur again and again.”
I remember noticing this strategy at work in Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Schindler’s List.” Scenes of overwhelming brutality would be leavened by a humorous scene here and there. These alternating scenes produced an almost wave-like effect, as if the viewer was running emotional wind sprints.
Haitians are funny people and goofy, hilarious stuff happens all the time. I’ll try to portray more of this, as I haven’t enough. It can feel callous to do. But in the name of results and good writing, I’ll do it. By the way, all this writing about writing has a name: meta-writing. I learned that in graduate school.
Yesterday afternoon, Faustina’s mother, who is normally pleasant and mild mannered showed up, roaring mad at Jackson. Seemed she’d been calling his cell phone since 5 am to pass on a message to us. I tried to tell her that Jackson was really sick and probably not thinking much about his phone. She didn’t care. As she stormed off to the room, John jumped up to accompany her. “I better go down there to prevent a homicide.” Sometimes Haitians don’t feel a lot of pity for each other, even when they’re friends.
Jackson has lived his life in a crummy cinderblock house, two hours and several tap tap rides away from here. He is dying, or some days seems to be, in a one star hotel.
John met Jackson when the good doctor brought back Faustina, another child with a heart problem, from the U.S. When Faustina’s relatives came to pick her up, her aunt said, “We know of a boy who also has a very sick heart.” Bring him to me, John said, and the next day Jackson showed up, very sick as advertised.
I doubt he was as sick then as he is now. He is exhausted, catching only a few minutes of sleep here and there, when his body will allow him. He can’t get comfortable; he’s on his back, then his stomach, then his side, then sitting in a chair, holding his head in his hands. He reclines on the chaise lounge with his arms over his head. His abdomen pulsates quickly, like a time bomb; his huge liver vibrates with each beat of his heart. No position feels right when your heart isn’t working properly.
Here’s the physiological explanation for what’s going on: his mitral valve is too tight, a condition known as mitral stenosis. This causes blood to back up in his left ventricle, stretching it to a grotesque size. Blood and fluid also fills his abdomen, which is why his liver is enlarged.
Given the meds he is on, Jackson isn’t getting rid of fluid as well as he might. “It’s hard to pin everything on his mitral stenois,” said John. He thinks there is something else going on, most likely pericarditis. Pericarditis is a restriction of the pericardium, which is the lining around the heart. Jackson probably has scar tissue from his operations which has hardened into a fibrous rind around the heart. As with his valve problems, the only solution for pericarditis is the knife.
The end result of all this physiological malfunction is that Jackson is suffering. He has lived most of his years, only half of them healthy, in a shack on the side of a mountain. Now he is dying in a hotel room with its comparative luxuries of hot water, a flush toilet, and air conditioning. He’s 21; we should be watching him live, not die, especially with something that is curable only 600 miles away.
Still all is not hopeless. I mentioned false hope in a previous post, but I really don’t believe in the concept. It’s oxymoronic: hope, by definition, can’t be hopeless. And today, Jackson got up, wearing his multi-colored swim trunks. “How’d you sleep?” asked John and he nodded, meaning better. He turned on the television and started watching some pseudo-Tex-Mex western staring Martin Short, Chevy Chase, and Steve Martin, all wearing ridiculously oversized black sombreros. A shooting star in the middle of a dark night.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
We hear the above statement from Haitians so often that John jokes it should be their national slogan, printed on the flag, instead of L’Union Fait Force—Unity Makes Strength, a philosophy that doesn’t seem to be much in evidence through Haiti’s history. Don’t forget about me, though: it’s a widespread sentiment.
Most recently, the guy who sells rock statues, paintings, and other tourist gifts in front of our hotel called it to us as we trudged through the driveway after walking back from clinic. He was getting worried, as we had been here a number of days and had made no purchases. Poor guy is always catching us leaving in a hurry for clinic or tired and dusty on the return trip, not ideal times to make a sale. Speaking of making a sale, as with most of the street vendors, I have seen no other prospective buyers surveying his wares. He must sell enough, though, for this to be a decent location.
“Don’t forget about me.” Katia puts it in her greeting card. Father Gerard Jean-Juste reminds St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, not to forget about the Haitian people. The parents of some of the Haitian Hearts children utter it, lest we go on to others, now that their children have received surgery.
Haiti is a forgotten country; why wouldn’t its citizens want to remind foreigners that they count too? Sometimes I think the only purpose my presence in Haiti really serves is maybe to make people feel a little less forgotten, not so abandoned. John provides life saving medical care; when we show up, perhaps these poor moms and dads and kids feel like someone from that rich world to the north, cares about them. The poor are often not noticed or remembered. We don’t really know the difficulties of their lives. We haven’t heard their stories. It’s no wonder we frequently hear, “Don’t forget about me.”
We were scheduled to depart this island paradise today but are sticking around because Jackson isn’t doing so great. Nights seem to be the worst; he was up throwing up through much of the early morning. John couldn’t get a blood pressure on him today, as he had lost so much volume. There really isn’t anyone to take care of him here besides John. Hopefully, we’ll find a hospital, but the time Jackson has left is dwindling.
This is only the second or third trip that we’ve made to Haiti with a computer. Between blogging, writing letters, and sending and receiving e-mails, we can get a lot of work done. Earlier in the year, we weren’t even staying at a place that had internet access; we would check our e-mail a couple of times a week at a cyber café, a wired guesthouse, or in the office of a grocery store, whose owners were nice enough to let us use their computer.
How soon what seems to be an unparalleled improvement turns into not good enough, Now, John and I compete to use this laptop—we need a signup schedule. We are actually talking about buying another computer so we can both type away until our fingers fall off. In Haiti, there is always a lot to say.
My fourth reading selection here in Haiti is the appropriately named “My Losing Season,” an autobiographical tale of the author’s last year playing varsity basketball at that citadel of tolerance and gentleness, The Citadel. This is a good read for when you’re in a bad mood, because pages of the book share this sentiment, especially the parts about Conroy’s physically and emotionally vicious dad and his only emotionally vicious college coach (unless you count running the suicide drill physical abuse).
Conroy was the most valuable player his senior year, the season his team went 8-17. Talent-wise, his teammates ranked him 11th of the 12 players, which may tell you something about the book and the team. Despite the lack of success, Conroy made me feel his love for basketball and how it rescued him from an abusive, peripatetic childhood.
By the way, one of Conroy’s teammates, Greg Connor, did his residency at OSF. He’s a few years older than John. When John was working as an orderly at the hospital, Connor used to page him and ask of the popular pickup games that go on all over Peoria, “We’re playing tonight, right?”
Conroy’s writing style is opposite of Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner: complex, loquacious, and full of bright similes and metaphors. Here are a couple of examples: Of Hell Night, the Citadel’s initiation into the life of the college, “It was a night that my own soul felt like an acre of Omaha Beach on D-Day.” I think that about conveys the harshness of it.
He comes up with numerous ways to describe the swish: “His shot would soar toward the rafters, go higher than any jump shot I had ever seen back spinning beautifully, until the laws of gravity brought the ball rippling through the net with that sweetness of sound—the swish, like a flower inhaling grass.”
I could feel Conroy’s ambition, which he almost always writes up to, and hear his first born male’s voice, personal and moody. My sister-in-law Diane lists Conroy’s “Beach Music” as one of her favorite books and it’s one I am going to read when I return to the developed world.
I checked out “My Losing Season” from the Lakeview Library, but I’m going to buy a copy and, as a writer’s exercise, underline all Conroy’s descriptive turns of phrases. The book will be marked up.
We don’t see a lot of reading going on in Haiti. John remarked that when he opens the office door at the clinic to call the next patient, “I see all these moms sitting, there and none of them are reading. It’s sad.” Not that there are racks of magazines on the waiting room walls; even if there were for lack of literacy, they would go unread.
I used to think John was exaggerating about the classes for new Haitian immigrants that were held in Little Haiti, a neighborhood in Miami. “The teachers would try to teach them to make circles, squares, and triangles, and the Haitians were awful at it.” How could adults not be able to do what kindergarteners are capable of?
Then, this summer, we brought Frandy and his mother to St. Louis for medical treatment. Frandy can read and write and speaks English, but his mother has had little education. The hospital wanted her to sign a consent, and said it was fine for her to make an X. She kept trying to hand the pen to Frandy, but we insisted that she had to put her mark on the paper. She grasped the pen, as awkwardly as I would a pair of knitting needles, and she put one little line on the paper and tried valiantly to cross it with another little line. It was hardly what you’d call an X, but we counted it.
Frandy’s mom is not dumb; living in her world, we would be completely reliant on her skills—going to market, cooking over a fire, keeping their little cement house as clean as possible, getting along without electricity. But what seems natural to us is the result of years of schooling, which she hasn’t had the advantage of. She can haul water like you wouldn’t believe though, and has the biceps to prove it.
If the Haitian women in the waiting room could read, they could probably appreciate like few others the notion of being losers among winners. As Conroy writes, “Loss is a fiercer, more uncompromising teacher, coldhearted but clear-eyed in its understanding that life is more dilemma than game, and more trial than free pass.”
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Mirlande, a beautiful 13-year-old with pigtails, who weighs 66 pounds, sits on the edge of the bed, all legs and arms. She holds her knees, which ache from rheumatic fever. John listens to her lungs and heart. Her left lung is full of fluid, possibly caused by tuberculosis, and her heart murmurs overwhelm the sound of the beat. Her mother, who sits next to her, tells John that blood tests revealed her daughter has sickle c, a serious blood condition.
Karen Bultje, a Canadian woman, who has lived in Haiti for 9 years, and runs a little school and shelter for children not far from us, has brought Mirlande and her mother to us. Karen had already arranged for the girl to have an echocardiogram. John reviews the echo results, which indicate that the rheumatic fever has damaged all four of this girl’s heart valves—mitral, tricuspid, aortic, and pulmonic. “This is probably the leakiest heart I’ve seen,” says John.
Mirlande sits in front of us, alive and beautiful. She isn’t able to go to school because of her sicknesses, but they don’t keep her from smiling.
We don’t have a hospital for Mirlande, not even close, but we will take her echo back to the United States, because as Karen says, “You never know.” We can at least leave this long suffering girl and her long suffering mother with a little hope. In a place like Haiti, false hope glitters like the real thing.
Haitian Hearts gives the mother $100 U.S., for medicines and food, which Karen will administer. We also give Mirlande a small supply of aspirin to thin her blood, furosimide, to get rid of excess fluid, and penicillin to keep the strep and rheumatic fever from returning. Karen will arrange to get a chest x-ray to see what’s going on in that left lung.
Am I depressing you and overwhelming you with profiles of all these sick children? Do Haiti’s problems seem insurmountable? I think that’s the danger with profiling so many sick and poverty-stricken people. People can shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s hopeless, and there’s nothing I can do.” Sometimes we feel like we hit an emotional wall, seeing so many needy people, all of them deserving.
Just remember the corny starfish story, about the man who walks on a beach carpeted with starfish, picking up one and then another to throw them back into the ocean to keep them from dying. Another man observes this behavior, and points out to this Don Quixote that there are thousands of starfish stranded, and he’ll never be able to make a difference. As the beach walker bends down and picks up another starfish and lofts it into the water he replies, “It makes a difference to this one.”
Emmanual got his visa! Hip! Hip! Hooray! Thanks to the heroic efforts of Chris, who along with her husband Hal, runs the orphanage where Emmanual is staying, this tiny, weak baby has been granted admittance to the most powerful country on earth. Now, he at least has a chance, when before with his bum heart and his frail constitution, he had none.
The rest of this post will be an ode to Chris. Chris sat at the consulate for two full days, skipping cheerfully through the U.S. government’s hoops, as she got visas for Emmanual and two other children. Letters aren’t on letterhead? We’ll get you those letters.
When Haitian minors leave the country without their parents, the Haitian social services department, IBESR, or Bien et Sociale must grant permission. This requires another flurry of paperwork, all which must be translated into French. Smart-thinking Chris approached IBESR before she even began the visa process to enlist their speedy cooperation in this case due to Emmanual’s health.
On her second day at the consulate, rather than waste time waiting, Chris drove to IBESR so that they could begin their paperwork (normally they require three days to do this and will begin only after the visa had been granted, but because Chris had alerted them about Emmanual ahead of time, they were showing more flexibility). As she left the consulate, she asked, “When do you close?” As long as you return by 3:30, you’ll be fine, she was told. She got back at 3:25 and was informed the consulate was closed. “No, no, no, you said 3:30, and I have to pick up Emmanual’s visa,” she persevered. At last, she was given the visa.
I have to tell you that just relating this story to you drives me crazy, and I won’t even tell you what it does to John. Thankfully, Chris combines the perfect temperament and a prodigious work ethic to do the kind of bureaucratic battle she must to run an orphanage in Haiti. She even gives the consulate officials the benefit of the doubt.
I could fill this blog with stories from and about Chris, like when she went over to another orphanage that had collapsed—the American manager had a nervous breakdown, the Haitian staff were on strike, the usual—to rescue 12 disabled and sick kids who hadn’t been fed in several days. While she was there, cleaning up the kids and their beds, she cut her leg and got a severe infection. She was her off her feet and sick for more than a week. Oh, but she still brought the 12 kids to her orphanage.
Chris and Hal are currently caring for 70- some children in two different houses on the same block. Many of these kids are in the process of being adopted by Americans and others are living with them until their parents get back on their feet, as much as they can do that in Haiti. Chris and Hal are heroes to these kids, their parents, and us too. They put their trust in God and work like mad to do His will. They are role models for all of us.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I brought a jump rope to Haiti to try and get some exercise. I take it to the driveway that runs down one side of the rooms where we stay. I skip for as long as it takes for me to say five decades of the Rosary. The rhythm of the Hail Mary also helps me set my cadence.
One morning as I was jumping, I heard the whack, whack of metal on wood. It’s a sound that’s not unfamiliar in Haiti: that of a machete biting into a tree trunk. I peered over the six foot wall that separates our lodgings from the field next door. On the other side of the wall, a row of thin, scraggly trees rises 30 feet into the air. I could see a man working diligently to fell one of the trees. It’s amazing how much Haitians can accomplish with a machete.
What seems to be an innocuous act takes on more dire connotations when one considers the fragile ecology of Haiti. In plain English, the Haitians have cut down so many trees that the topsoil is eroding. Now, in parts of the country, growing crops is difficult. And when the hurricanes and heavy rains come, no earth slows down the deadly waters. Haitians who cut down the trees don’t intend to ravage the environment; they simply have no other economic options. They make charcoal from the wood of the trees and sell it to people for cooking fuel.
The poor 21st century Haitians aren’t the first to ravage the trees. This deforestation has been going on for centuries. The French cleared land (or rather had the slaves do it) for sugar cane plantations.
“Narrating Haiti” is a phrase attributed to Dr. Paul Farmer in Tracy Kiddor’s book about the good doctor, called “Mountains beyond Mountains.” Dr. Paul takes a fact, say the existence of a dam in the Artibonite plain, and explains, more fully then I did above, what this fact says about the history and exploitation of Haiti. There is usually a deep well of truth buried under the simplest occurrence.
Bobby Ferlmann told me about this book by Afghani-American Khaled Hosseini, a few days before I left for Haiti, as we were standing in line at Office Depot. I told him we were adopting a child from Haiti, and it put him in mind of this novel, though it’s not really about international adoption. I really enjoyed this book. Like Isabel Allende says in a quote on the cover, “This is one of those unforgettable stories that stays with you for years. All the great themes of literature and of life are the fabric of this extraordinary novel: love, honor, guilt, fear, redemption.”
Without giving too much away, the book is about how one man, actually a boy, twice betrays the person who loves him most, changing both of their lives forever. The big question the book addresses is this: after committing a major crime, it is possible for one to redeem oneself? Happily for all of us imperfect creatures, the answer is yes. “There is a way to be good again.”
The Kite Runner also highlights some of the terrible prejudices that exist between different ethnic groups in a country. The reader learns a lot about what Afghanistan was like before the invasion of the Soviet Union and the rise of the evil, fascist Taliban. Hosseini, like many foreign born English-language writers, has a lucid straightforward writing style; he strings his words together, like a pure stream of water running through the reader.
So would I recommend this book? For you, dear reader, “a thousand times over.”
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Jackson had a rough night. As John explained, the heart has to work harder when the body is prone and doesn’t have gravity going for it. In Jackson’s case, fluid builds up around his lungs and causes him discomfort and distress; it must feel a little like drowning. He was moving around a lot last night, in a futile attempt to get comfortable. John gave him some more diuretics and aspirin, and I think he was finally able to get to sleep.
Jackson has been sick since he was 15-years-old, when his heart valve damaged by rheumatic fever finally caught up with him. If not for his surgeries in Illinois, he would be dead like his two older brothers who succumbed to the kinds of things that Haiti throws at a person. Jackson lives with his mom and sisters on the side of a mountain. When his mom visits him, it takes her about three hours by tap tap to get here.
Jackson is very quiet; sometimes he even seems sullen. I try to imagine what is life must be like for him, being in Haiti, so close to death, hoping that the blancs who make periodic appearances in his life come through for him with an American hospital. He looks like a boy, but he is a man; he has pride. I think it pains him to have to ask us for food or when people at the hotel stare at his skinny physique.
Prior to bedtime, I sat in our room with Jackson and watched the movie, “Some Came Running,” a 1958 flick starring Frank Sinatra, Shirley Maclaine, Dean Martin, Arthur Kennedy and others. Sinatra plays a WWII vet who shows up in his hometown with a bad attitude and a background as a writer, which he wants to deny. The film is shot in dark, shadowy, atmospheric light. A dance-like alley fight is choreographed to herky-jerky music. I only saw part of the show, and would like to watch it all as well as read the book by James Jones, which it is based on.
While watching the movie, I sipped rum and coke, the perfect drink to accompany an American movie from the fifties. The liquor was courtesy of Jackson: in a touching gesture, he somehow procured two bottles of five star Barbancourt run, which is manufactured here in Haiti, not far from Jackson’s home. The smooth, golden liquid is much cheaper here than in the United States.
This morning, I could see that Jackson’s abdomen was once again bloated. John upped his dosage of furosimide, and we will hope that provides some relief. We are scheduled to go home on Saturday, 12/17, and we still have no hospital for Jackson.
I'm pretty sure that Rose Gallagher wouldn't want to be described by the above tagline, but that is how I view her. She is a warrior for the poor in this country, who are so easily dismissed. John and I and all of Haitian Hearts appreciate her--no, depend on her--and her fight for what is right: getting people the medical care they deserve. The slogan of one of the medical centers that has accepted Haitian children is: Each life deserves world class care. Rose believes this, and so do we: here are her letters on behalf of children needing medical care.
December 9, 2005
Urgent Request for Intervention by Inspector General in US Consulate
Decision Regarding Raphaella Alexandre and her mother
Mr. Howard J. Krongad
Inspector General, US Department of State
Dear Inspector Krongad:
For many years, we at Hospice Saint Joseph in Port au Prince, Haiti,
have connected funding organizations and hospitals in the US with the visa
services they need at the US Consulate here. Recently we have encountered
numerous obstacles in our efforts to send sick children to the US for
treatment available nowhere in Haiti. We hope that some needed changes
can be brought about with your assistance.
Immediate Request: Yesterday, December 8, the Non-Immigrant Visa Unit
of the US Consulate issued a visa to Raphaella Alexandre, a severely
burned (face, torso, arm) 6 year old expected at the Shriners Burn
Hospital in Boston next week for treatments that will take from 3 to 6
months. Her mother, Audanise Alexandre-Saint Felix, was refused a visa to
accompany her on the grounds that the mother would use the visit as a
pretext to stay in the US. We wish this decision changed as soon as
Article 214(b) of the most recent US immigration legislation was cited,
in a French document, as grounds for the denial. The officer then
requested new documentation that would release the child into the custody
of any US citizen who could take her to Boston, plus a second document
from the parents releasing her into the full custody of the family that
has already prepared to welcome both child and mother. The receiving
family, who are not Haitian and do not know the language or culture of
Haiti, specifically requested that a family member accompany the child.
We are expected to send a traumatized little girl for a long hospital
experience among US children with intermittent periods spent in a family
that has no knowledge of her culture or language. They have already
expressed hesitancy about having her without a relative.
What I witnessed yesterday and in other recent exchanges with consulate
personnel indicates a new pattern. Nothing resembling an interview takes
place. Decisions are arbitrary and sometimes the officer does not even
examine the file but bases the decision on his initial impression of the
person. Marked changes in the manner of operating have taken place, not
when the US legislation changed, but when the head of the Immigrant Visa
My previous experiences
I can document anything I write and I will describe only my direct
-Twenty seven years working with people of Haiti
-US migrant stream, resettlement out of migrant stream, detention
prisons, - Miami area, Fort Pierce FL, Roanoke VA, Washington DC
-Lived with Haitian families in Port au Prince and in 7 areas throughout
the country to understand language and culture
-Expert witness in immigration hearings about country conditions in
Haiti - MD, VA, FL, DC
-Directed Labor Department offices at Southwest VA migrant locations
during apple season for Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Association –
predominantly Haitian pickers
-At 4 Indian River Community College sites taught ESOL courses to
Haitians and other peoples, also courses to prepare for naturalization
-At request of court administrator and concerned local citizens,
coordinated basic research for 2 years to improved interpreter preparation
for courts, hospitals, Federal and Florida governmental agencies so that
the community colleges could do more of the preparation and more persons
could become better qualified as interpreters and translators
-Doctoral work included major project and thesis on Haitian boat people
in the US – describes alternate models of resettlement more appropriate to
Haitian people and studies whether they see themselves as exiled or as
I would like to stop at this point to prepare more information for you
on a separate e-mail. That way the help needed immediately will be
distinct from the on-going serious problems.
Thank you for the attention you and your staff can give to this.
Part 2 US Consulate Port au Prince
Request for Examination of US Consulate Non-Immigrant Visa Unit
Rose Gallagher or Dawn Pinder
Hospice Saint Joseph
33 Rue Acacia, Christ Roi
Port au Prince, Haiti
Phones: 011-509-245-6177 and 011-509-550-0158
December 11, 2005
Inspector General Howard J. Krongard
US Department of State
Dear Inspector Krongard:
This is part 2 of a message I sent Friday about a 6 year old burn
victim. What follows are a few experiences I have had that show the
treatment people frequently receive who request visas to go to the US.
Selecting one section from the present US immigration law, article 214(b),
and using it to revoke visa applications and discount interviews, is
uncalled for in many cases. The seriously sick children and their parents
with whom we deal are not a threat to US security.
Even under the present legislation, we at Hospice Saint Joseph usually
brought sick children, their parents and all documentation to the Chief of
the Non-Immigrant Visa Unit, Mark B. O’Connor, who arranged to grant the
visas, often the next day. On their return from the US, we, with parents
and children, would go by to thank the chief and the staff. Total time:
about 20 to 30 minutes.
In October I spent many hours observing at the US Consulate with a 9
year old awaiting heart surgery in the US and her mother. From the date
of our appointment, we sat 5 full work days in the Consulate, starting at
about 7 a.m. There were not a great number of people awaiting medical
visas but it took until the 4th day to hand in any documents. Tropicana
Band musicians and staff all went ahead of medical visa applicants one
day. UN personnel were taken as they arrived during their work hours on 4
days. At one point there were 5 UN vehicles parked outside. The
computers went down 2 afternoons. Upon reaching an examiner on day 5, I
said I was familiar with the case and could be of some help. I was told
by him with startling harshness to “Take the child and get over there”. I
was so amazed at his rudeness and message that I did not move fast enough
and had to be told a second time. This was the Vice Counselor. I do not
begrudge musicians and UN personnel an opportunity to
spend time in the US, but there must be a better way to handle medical
visa requests, some of which require expedited service.
Presently the US Consulate does not hold encounters that could be
termed interviews. The setting is hostile. The interviewer sits behind
heavy glass. Those to be interviewed stand below in a sort of phone
booth. Usually the acoustics are poor. The interpreter stands behind the
interviewer. Most interpreters, at least in the drawbacks of this
particular setting, do not meet minimal standards for qualifying as
federal interpreters or even standards set by the interstate consortium
which sets qualifications for the 30 or more states that do meet
The first words from the examiner or the interpreter are, “Parle vous
francais?” This is an intimidating opening, the equivalent of
stating, “You are indeed stupid and uneducated”. Less than 5% of the
people of Haiti speak and understand French whereas all but a few speak
Haitian Creole and many more speak Spanish and English than French.
The official may presume that the person is lying and simply deny a visa
without examining any documents or holding any conversation. The chief
and the examiners have been frank in telling me that they have a perfect
right to do this under provisions of present immigration law. But it
happens much too frequently. The problem is that those making judgments
have very little knowledge of the people or culture of Haiti. Most do not
venture beyond the US compound, and have never been into the countryside
or learned the language, which is the gate to any culture.
A woman, three generations of whose family I have known well in the US
and in Haiti, received this type of arbitrary and unmonitored decision
mentioned above without interview or examination of her papers. In 25
years of frequent contact with them I have never experienced a dishonest
word or action on the part of any family member. That is an assertion I
would not make about many people. According to her file, the examiner
judged on sight that she was lying. The solution suggested by phone by
Ms. Jennifer Langston, Chief of the Non-Immigrant Visa Unit, was that she
take a number of airplane trips throughout the Caribbean and bring the
plane receipts to the Consulate so that they could see she is a person of
means. The woman wanted to spend 2 or 3 weeks with her sister who was
having back surgery. She and her husband plant and harvest their rice
crops with the help of a number of people whom they hire. They also have
a center where the wife sells, wholesale and retail, rice,
beans, cooking oil and other staples. They raise and support 9
children. Neither of them has ever been to school. In the countryside
where families have lived for generations and many intelligent and honest
people have never been to school, exchange of goods and money depends on
knowing with whom one is dealing and giving one’s word, a pledge which can
be trusted more than any piece of paper. I could have testified to all
this but I am either blocked at the outside door or told to get out of
hearing range of the interview.
Calling the Consulate has become difficult. We have recorded in one
applicant’s file a period where, in the course of about a week, 11
unsuccessful attempts were made to reach Ms. Langston’s office. In a
series of conversations one morning, I was told by 5 employees, one after
another each the supervisor of the previous person, that they could not
give me any information, not even the address of the State Department.
They were only following orders, each one stated.
Services within the building itself are below standard. When I reached
first place in line recently to pay the visa fees, the staff person
excused herself to find a roll of paper for her receipt machine. She
returned 25 minutes later and found the roll in her desk. Another 15
minutes was spent inserting the roll. The receipt with which I could
obtain reimbursement ($200US) from the applicant’s funding foundation was
so light that it could not serve as a receipt. I requested that the staff
person darken the totals by hand and initial the corrections.
Impossible. Out of the question.
I can document all of the above from my notes taken as the events
This comes with much gratitude for whatever changes for the better you
can bring about.
I am praying in the shrinking shadows of the mid-morning sun for Emmanual. Please join me. Emmanual is the fragile, 10-pound, 14-month old for whom we are seeking a visa today. It is crunch time as Chris and Hal, his American custodians, are flying to Ohio on Saturday, 12/17, and he needs to be with them.
Chris is going to the consulate armed with letters from the hospital, the host family, the host family’s accountant, John, and Haitian Hearts, which will be chipping in $10,000 for Emmanual’s surgery. The consulate wants assurances that no public monies will go for Emmanual’s medical care or living expenses while he is in the States. The letters provide this documentation. Hopefully, they will be enough, as Emmanual doesn’t have much time.
Our experiences with the consulate haven’t been pleasant. Many of the officials seem to view themselves as sworn gate keepers, whose solemn duty it is to keep Haitians, no matter how small or sick, out of the U.S. Or at least to make it difficult for them to gain entry.
Haiti is the low country on the State Department totem pole, where new employees are sent for training. This ensures a revolving door of staff, and consistency in rules seems to be non-existent. For example, for one baby who has been accepted for surgery in New York City, the consulate has demanded an original letter from a hospital, even though for other cases they are processing, they have accepted faxes and e-mails. Raphaella’s mother was arbitrarily denied a visa based on the official’s unsubstantiated belief that she wouldn’t return to Haiti. In the past, and perhaps currently, the consulate wouldn’t even distribute its own visa applications, forcing applicants and their sponsors to go to Soge Bank to obtain the necessary form.
The attitude of many of the staff is fake politeness that doesn’t mask their hostility to these sick, poor Haitian children and their advocates. Rose, a U.S. citizen and long-time Haitian resident is so incensed by the behavior of consulate officials that she has written the inspector general for the State Department. I am including her letters as a separate post.
While no Third World countries make the list of 27 nations whose citizens don’t need a visa to enter the U.S., we believe American policy toward Haitians is especially discriminatory. The treatment of Haitians by the consulate is just another example.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Don't Freak--It's Still Live from Haiti:
After my husband John started a blog, dyinginhaiti.blogspot.com, (our blog names reflect the ying and the yang of our relationship) I was jealous of his snazzier template, so I decided to change mine, though I do know that my discerning readership realizes that content is king. You also don't mind reading really long sentences. One of these days, I will learn to post pictures and save us all 1,000 words.
Here's an embarrassing admission: I'm a sucker for self-help books, but only good ones. And so the second book I read in Haiti was "It's About Time: The Six Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them" by Linda Sapadin and Jack Mcguire. It is a good one, and here's what I learned. My dominant procrastination style is Dreamer with some elements of Worrier and Overdoer mixed in. I also learned that I need to differentiate between feeling good--like after I eat chocolate--and feeling good about myself--like after I jump rope. Got it? Hopefully, I do. Blogging is fun for me, so I'm off to do some more difficult writing--like the long awaited tuberculosis tutorial.
While eating supper, we heard scattered gunshots all around the hotel, which is scary but not as scary as the heavy artillery sound of automatic weapons. We could also see some small fires burning in the mountains around Port-au-Prince. John asked one of the waiters about the gunshots. “It’s probably just people shooting their guns in the air,” said Eduardo. John whispered to me, “I think the waiters are told to tell the guests that so they don’t get scared.”
As the gunshots continued, John went down to talk to the guard. Normally, the entryway to the hotel parking lot closes at 10 pm. Tonight, though, the guard had slid closed the heavy metal doors about 4 hours early. When John returned he reported to me that the guard doesn’t have a weapon—is a gunless guard an oxymoron?—and that he didn’t seem particularly scared by the gunfire, though they both jumped when they heard a shot that seemed as close by as one of the crowing roosters. The guard told him that the big, muscular grandsons of the owner of the hotel, who are in their mid-20’s, have military guns. “They wouldn’t hesitate to mow the bad guys down,” said John.
I continued working on the computer for awhile, and John went down to the hotel room. When I joined him and Jackson, they were watching “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” I remember what a TV event that show was when it first aired in 1973—the greatest made for television movie ever. “This is really good,” said John, as Cicely Tyson in the title role and the entire cast bring alive the history and injustice of American’s “racial relations” from the lynchings of the Reconstruction era to the hard start of the modern Civil Rights movement.
Watching this movie in Haiti adds to its relevance and poignancy, especially watching it with one of the descendents of Haitian slaves. Perhaps no where in the new world were slaves treated as cruelly as in Haiti. They were killed in such numbers that the birth rate didn’t keep up with the death rate, and a new supply had to be constantly kidnapped from Africa. Today, no country more than Haiti, with its scandalous poverty rooted in past and present exploitation, embodies the poor treatment of people of color by whites.
“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” contains violent scenes, including one where a white Louisianian shoots a black man who has been advocating for his people's rights. After watching this, Jackson asked John a question prompted by the movie and also, I’m sure, his own experiences, “Why don’t white people like black people?” John gave the only answer he could: “I don’t know.”