Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mass Production of Mud Cookies. Really.

Maybe you've heard of mud cookies before. If you have, you probably try not to think about it. We have a couple sitting on top the piano in our living room. They are a reality check. They are a perspective check.

Here's the reality: people are so hungry in Haiti they will resort to eating mud cookies to fill their stomachs. In Cite Soleil, John came upon a place where, as you can see in the pictures above, they mass produce mud cookies. The woman who makes them say that the dirt comes from Hinche, a town of 50,000 in central Haiti. We haven't been able to discover why the dirt from Hinche is special. The woman making the cookies said that pregnant women eat the mud cookies.
It is really difficult to think about people eating mud cookies. Sometimes when we've shown people in the United States our mud cookies, we get blank faces in response, as if they can't or don't want to acknowledge the reality of what the mud cookie means. It does put one's own problems into perspective. To some, it may seem cruelly unnecessary to show people the mud cookies when it doesn't seem as if there is anything they can directly do about the conditions that cause people to eat mud cookies. But you never know when an experience like this will change a person's life. And at the least, as Dr. Albert Schweitzer says, the encounter may encourage people to "Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cholera: A Terrible Disease

"We found Radha lying on a thin blanket in her hut. Her body was twisted into a knot of pain. Her hair was wet, saturated with sweat, as was the pink sari she wore. The smell in the hut was terrible. . . (her) mother was trying to keep her clean, but Radha's fever rendered her incoherent and incontinent. She vomited again violently as we watched, and that provoked a new dribble of diarrhea. . . what kills people who are contaminated with the cholera bacterium is dehydration . . The word cholera comes from the Greek word kholera, meaning diarrhea. The diarrhea of the cholera sickness has a singularly vile smell, and you never get used to it."

I shuddered when I read the above passage, just a few months ago, from the novel Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The novel is based on Roberts' experiences in India. I remarked to John how horrible cholera sounds and he confirmed that it is.
Cholera hasn't occurred much in Haiti. Back in 1990 when I went to the country for the first time, the health department recommended many vaccinations (typhoid fever, hepatitis) for travel to Haiti but not cholera, though the vaccination was suggested for travel to other parts of the world. (Note: if I read the literature properly, for the last several years, cholera vaccinations have not been recommended for travelers going anywhere).

Things have changed in the last few days and now Haiti is battling this terrible scourge. Cholera can kill in hours. The loss of fluids causes extreme dehydration, which leads to dangerous electrolyte imbalances.

The treatment for cholera is Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT), a solution of sugar, salt, and other minerals dissolved in water that is administered to patients to keep them from getting dehydrated. In time, the bacteria works its way out of the patient's system.

We hope and pray that the cholera is contained and does not spread to the camps or other places in Port-au-Prince.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Valses to Voodoo

This past Friday we attended a piano concert at Bradley University's Dingledine Music Center. Pianist Joshua Russell played pieces composed by Haitian pianist and composer Ludovic Lamothe, pictured above.
The concert was a revelation. I didn't know that Haiti had a tradition of classical music. The music was energetic and full of surprises. Russell, who teaches at Bradley and who has taught music in Haiti and did his doctoral dissertation on Lamothe, described hearing a recording of Lamothe's playing as life changing. He said that even though the compositions were all written, Lamothe sounded as if he was inprovising, playing with a captivating freedom. Russell has recently released a CD of Lamothe's music called Valses to Voodoo.
In Lamothe's compositions, one can hear the influences of Haitian folk music, the rhythms of voodou drums, Latin American rhythms, and the music of Frederic Chopin. Lamothe was sometimes referred to as the black Chopin.
It's impossible to convey the magic of music in words, but if you want to learn more about Joshua Russell's interpretation of Lamothe's music, check out his website.