Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Fete in Haiti

The Surprise Fete-

Yesterday around 25 graduates of Midwives For Haiti held a "fete" for me. This was supposed to be a surprise party but I got suspicious when a midwife who works in Port-au-Prince showed up dressed to the nines with no apparent agenda. I changed out of my scrubs into a blouse and skirt because clearly this was not going to be a casual event. Gradually between 3 and 4 pm, more and more midwives arrived and started filling the table downstairs with huge and colorful plates of food. Some of these midwives I see only once or twice a year at continuing education sessions so it was quite exciting to see them so pretty in their party dresses and some of them brought their small children along.

After they rearranged the classroom so that the tables were in a large square, covered with tablecloths, and decked out with red napkins and bouquets of flowers, they invited me and the other volunteers to "chita" (sit down) in places of honor. Val Josette from class 3 was the mistress of ceremonies. There was singing- "How Great Thou Art",  solos- some with improvised words to give gratitude to Midwives For Haiti, and speeches. Volunteers Cara Osborne, Zelda Collett-Paule, and Sarah Taylor were there to enjoy the music, the party, and food.

In one speech, a midwife described how women in her community seek her out for her midwifery skills and medical knowledge. She noted how empowering it is to be able to own property because of her midwifery job, and how empowering it is to not have to ask a man to buy her things.  This inspired another graduate gave a recitation of a poem she had memorized for graduation last year. She apologized to the men in the group before she gave it- our faithful driver, Ronel, one of the male midwives, Frid, and our translator, Emmanuel. The poem was about the power of women, how capable they are, how they are not to be disrespected, how much in trouble a man is if he does not respect the women in his life. While she gave it there were hoots of approval and when she finished, there was great cheering and pounding on the tables. Clearly she had struck a nerve for all of them.

There were gifts for me and Carrie and Steve. Carrie has been such a wonderful addition to our team at Hinche.  The students and graduates know they can count on her to be an advocate for them, to problem- solve with them, to be a laison between here and the administration in the States. And they love that she has learned so much Creole so quickly.

I gave a short history of how Midwives For Haiti came to Hinche, the role my faith has played in the beginning and continuing work of Haiti and the obstacles we have overcome. I know they are some of the hardest working people in the world. Who in the U.S. works 8-10 hours a day in intense heat delivering loving care to mothers in clinics, in makeshift clinics under trees, in understaffed crowded hospitals and birth centers?

They recognized the sacrifices of volunteers, the hard work of our drivers and translators. They know it takes a team effort to make the supplies keep coming, the mobile clinic keep rolling, the patients delivered safely, the education of new midwives to go on for 6 and 1/2 years.

I was blessed by this "fete", the obvious care they had taken to prepare it, the love they brought to me and the rest of the MFH staff. I am so blessed to be a part of this thing that is bigger than me, bigger than each of us, and blesses both Haitians and volunteers each year.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Back in Haiti in April 2013

This morning after coffee and oatmeal, I jumped on the back of a motorcycle to go to the hospital. It felt good to be back in Haiti to keep tabs on our program and see our students, friends, and teachers again. I wanted to check on Zelda, the CNM volunteer from Homer, Alaska, as it was her first day at the hospital and it can be a bit overwhelming, to put it mildly, with all the critical patients mixed up with the normal healthy patients and figuring out who are the students, the teachers, and the preceptors and who is the regular staff. Then there are auxiliare students and nursing students, too, and it can be overwhelming.

Zelda told me a baby had just been born with an emphalacele, which is an opening at the umbilicus that the intestines protrude out of. This baby will need surgery and that means going to PAP and there is a question whether or not the family can come up with the money for both transport and the surgery. The baby also appears to have some other chromosomal abnormalities. The hospital is fortunate to have a pediatric resident from Ireland helping out and she will do the follow-up.

Later in the day, Dr. Alice Hirata came back from mobile clinic with a patient who was 32 weeks pregnant, an unusually large abdomen for the dates, and a suspicious mass in her uterus. After getting a second opinion from Dr. Eads, they decided this woman has a baby with a neural tube abnormality, similar to hydraencephaly where the brain is displaced with an abnormal amount of fluid. So that baby will not live after birth.

One has to wonder if the poor nutrition in the impoverished areas of rural Haiti makes these kinds of abnormalities more frequent. It gives us more motivation to get education about nutrition, multi-vitamins, iron, and worm treatment to more women earlier in their pregnancies.

One thing that stands out to us is the stoic way these Haitian women accept the fact that they have a baby that will probably not survive. It is almost as if they have braced themselves for it ahead of time and they are not surprised. Not like we would be in the U.S. where we see abnormalities less frequently, expect a healthy baby every time, and ask for the answer to why if it does not happen.

It makes me think about the issue of control and how we live in the U.S. with the perception that we can control so much of our lives. Here in Haiti they to do not assume they have control. They are willing to think that curses, voodoo, and God controls their life and seem to have a lot less stress as a result. We worry about preventing cancer and preventing accidents, and want to know what we did wrong when things did not go as planned. They seem to accept that they are not in control. In some ways, I envy their ability to lay the blame anywhere but on themselves.

We also worry about the future much more than they do. They are grateful for food and life one day at a time. This makes problems for us when we think they should do long-term planning. But we could learn from them also that most of the things we worry about in the future we have little control over today. It would add to the joy of our days.

Today Sarah Taylor talked with the students and learned some more traditional postpartum practices that are common here. They believe that pinching a baby's cheeks frequently helps it get dimples, pulling on a baby's penis makes it get longer, and sitting over steaming water after birth helps the vagina heal tighter and smaller. The latter has been the cause of 3rd degree burns so there was some teaching to be done about the harm that some traditions have caused.

I am continually humbled by the fact that there is so much to learn about this culture, that I have so little understanding of their beliefs and world view. It is important for us to recognize that we have much to learn, to stay humble, to open ourselves to learn about how they view their problems. Otherwise, we will throw up our hands in frustration and give up. Lots of NGO's have come to Haiti and have done just that. We are saving lives of women and babies daily so we cannot afford to stop learning how we can be more effective in our work here.