An Extension, CDTI Closes, & Joshua Gets a New Home
I'm starting to get sad because I only have 2 more full days left in Haiti. It's been such a wild journey here and I'm not looking forward to it coming to an end. Truly, I'd extend my stay here by at least another month if it weren't for grad school that I had to go back to. Today, I conducted my final group with the kids at General Hospital. I was just finishing up with a new group of kids here who were much easier to work with than the others had been. They were older, healthier, and more engaged. Hivelt brought his guitar today and we made some real music with the kids. They loved it. When I got back to the hospital, I had to say goodbye to my translator who has been so incredibly helpful over my time here. Without him I would have never been able to communicate with the kids and my program would have been pointless.
When I got back to the hospital tonight, I learned some bad news. I found out that CDTI would officially be closing as of tomorrow. We all knew that things were coming to this, but I think we all had an enormous amount of faith that things would just work out. The healthcare system here is really starting to fail. There's a ton of NGOs in the country, a tidal wave of medical support, but the money is not reaching the hospitals themselves. Many of these hospitals still have to pay their Haitian employees. Because of red tape, many relief organizations are unauthorized to provide financial support to cover administrative costs, especially when it comes to private facilities. While there were extenuating circumstances surrounding CDTI, what is happening here is indicitive of a larger problem happening around the country. The ER up at Daquini hospital had to close, over at Canopy Vert they have had to drasticaly cut services, and rumor has it that April 12th, emergency services at General Hospital will cease. The supplies are here, the people are here, but the financial support to keep the lights on, pay for the diesel, the Haitian salaries, and everything else just is not coming in. Will this be the beginning of the collapse of the healthcare system here in Haiti? Will the country be forced to rely on NGOs support of the country's medical needs. What happens then when the NGOs finally have to pull out? Will the government be ready to handle the burden all on its own? I don't know the answer to these questions, but the reality is a cold one.
Knowing that this would be the last "normal" night at CDTI, I decided to stay the night with the patients. After all the medical staff went home, I settled into the courtyard with all my new friends. I sat with my favorite patients over in Tent 11 and gave them a little heads up that things would be closing tomorrow. We were able to talk about it a little because of my friend there who can translate. "Mama" was talking and then just suddenly broke down sobbing. She was so sad, and was so worried about what would happen particularly to Joshua who she had come to mother herself. I consoled them and reassured them that all would work out and that we would do all we could to help them all find arrangements.
I found a French MRE I had tucked away a few weeks ago and brought it out. It was so sweet. These MREs have just about everything in them and the food is nearly gourmet. Myself and about 10 of the other patients sat in the courtyard, started the little fire stove the comes with the packet and amid the glowing of the embers we cooked dinner. The hospital ran out of food a couple days ago, so many of these patients have not been eating very well. I pulled out some paper plates and after we would cook each new piece of our meal, we'd all get about a spoonful on our plate and have a taste. It reminded me of that scene from "A Christmas Carol" when they are so poor they are cutting peas in half and sharing them. It was really quite adorable. We'd laugh as we'd try a new piece of our meal, and get excited about what was going to go on the little stove next. It was like we were on our own little camping trip. When we made the asparagus soup, these guys were so cute. There were no bowls, so each person just put our their hand and made a little cup. Then, one of the moms went around and poured soup that they just drank right out of their hands. Aside from the sanitary problem here, it was really adorable. After our little meal, we sat around singing our calm melodic hallelujia song and then I stayed up and hung out with one of my friends who has been at the hospital for the last 2 months sitting by her sister and nephew's side for support. When it came time for everyone to go to bed, the kids said, "Jitterbug... sleep?" They kept saying this and pointing to the wooden palate in the tent. The kids wanted me to totally join their little slumber party for the night. I agreed. I went inside, covered myself in bug spray, and headed to the tent where I curled up and slept the night away on my little palate. It was such a sweet night. Probably one of my favorite night memories here in Haiti. I truly felt like they had taken me in as family.
This morning was the start of what was going to be a long day here at CDTI. The administration got to the hospital particularly early, made a sign, and posted it on the outside of the hospital. It said basically that "CDTI is now closed, we regret the decision, but all services are ceasing from here out." The doors were locked and patients were standing outside the gate with sick children in hand, obvious injuries and just staring at the sign wondering what to do next.
Each tent was privately notified about the hospital's closure, and the process of discharging and tranfers had officially begun. I started to notice a growing sense of restlessness and dis-ease among the patients and I decided it would be good to bring everyone together for some prayer. I rounded up all those patients that wanted to participate and about 50 of us came together, hand in hand, to pray for the days that come ahead. I told them how much we all loved them, what an honor it had been for us to work with them, how special they all are, that they have changed our lives, we will never forget them, and that although this transition is going to be painful for them all after building a community and home within the safe walls of the hospital that they would not be alone. I reassured them that while we will do all we can to find them safe arrangements, that God is really the one who has brought them this far and does not plan on dropping them now. I talked about how God is really the papa of us all here. That he has great plans for his children and that he is going to guide each one of these patients into new opportunities, continued healing, and fill their hearts with hope. As I said my prayer, Maxim, one of our translators, translated to the patients. It was so emotional, he started crying as he translated, patients were crying as they listened, and you could tell everyone's hearts were just torn. Beth shared some beautiful words, a few others did too, and then I told the patients that while today will have it's obstacles that we should focus on the joyfulness of our time together, that we should celebrate the last 2 and a half months of life, healing, and community that has taken place in this hospital. I got us started singing the melodic version of Hallelujia and it turned into a beautiful version of the song, with everyone chiming in. Then, we started to do some celebrating. I ran inside and got the instruments, quickly distributed them to this massive crowd we had attracted and we started to sing loud and joyfully. Many of us jumped around and danced, Katura hopped on her one leg with a big smile, it was beautiful. Everyone gave each other hugs and then we got back to the business of clearing the hospital.
This entire day was extremely emotional. It was the most emotional and difficult day I have had here. Joshua has known something was going on all day and was acting very withdrawn and distant. Throughout the day, he would just break out in a wailing cry. I'd hold him and rock him, but he still was very shaken by the commotion and sense of uncertaintly surrounding the camp. It was so sad watching people like mama and her family pack their stuff and leave. Our little miracle girl with the pelvic fracture walked her way to the car, Ippolita with the beautiful smile had her dad take her away, Joseph was sent to live with his uncle, and several other of our precious patients had to locate tents, tarps and shelters as they prepared to move themselves into a new tent city. Oh, how I cried today and cried several times. It's one thing to leave your patients and know they are still in good hands, safe and well taken care of. It's another thing to come to love these patients and watch them all have to leave you. You're left with uncertainty wondering if they will eat, if they will be dry at night, if they will be safe, if they're injuries and illnessses will improve. Fortunately, we were able to coordinate with several other NGOs and rehabilitation facilities to transfer most of our more serious cases, but they couldn't take everyone.
I left the hospital late tonight, spending as much time as I could with the patients still left. My friend Stephanie came and picked me up and she and her husband and I went out for dinner. We had seafood pizza- pretty good stuff here! I finally pulled into Quisqueya and settled into my tent where I instantly fell asleep after my exhausting day.
As I was walking out of compound today to head down to the hospital, a lady pulled me aside and told me how touched she was by her 20 minute stop in at CDTI yesterday. She and her group had just decided to stop in really quick and see the facility. Boy, did they ever walk in at the right (or wrong) time. She explained how she was so incredibly touched by what I had said. She told me that I was truly being the voice of Jesus and that she was inspired to have more of whatever I have working in me. What's crazy, is that I don't really even know what came out of my mouth or where it came from. I've never been one that is good at praying out loud before in my life and here I am praying outloud for the whole hospital. Certainly, it was God using my flapping mouth to carry his message, because is sure ain't me doing the talking.
I was supposed to leave to head back to the U.S. today. It's really been weighing on my mind for the last 24 hours. The timing of having to leave right now is really crummy. As this hospital closes and we say goodbye to these patients, I feel like I really need to be here during their transition. I've been with many of these patients since the beginning of February. It's April 1st now and as I have been here from pretty much the beginning of the relief work at CDTI, I want to be here through the very end. Some of my favorite patients still don't have arrangements on a place to go. I debated it all morning, shot off an e-mail to my grad school professor and some of my family members, and board of directors. In the end, I decided that I needed to extend my time here for another week or two. It would give me a little bit more time to wrap up things at the hospital, get patients transferred and into new living arrangements, and help with inventorying our supplies and distributing them to other facilities. In addition, I would be able to reach out to a few more of the kids around here in such desparate need of psychological support.
By about 2pm, it was time for one of my utmost favorite patients and children in the world Katura to leave. An organization had donated she and her mom a shelter box and transportation to get to the tent city they would set it up in. This was one of the real hard goodbyes. If there were ever a chance or thought that I'd ever be interested or capable of adopting a child, it would certianly be little Katura. She has a mom and is just fine, but I have grown to love this little child as though she were my own. Although she has come along just fine since her leg was crushed in the rubble and had to be amputated, I worry about her rehabilitation. She's just starting to learn how to use her crutches and gain confidence to continue using them. She usually falls about once a day and that's on a nice solid piece of ground with no obstacles in the way. I fear that the dirt, mud, rocks, trash, and shoulder width space between tents will hinder her progress and lessen her confidence in walking. Oh, I just pray that this little girl gets to have all the things in life that little girls should get to have. Next, it was time for our patient Karl and his mom to start getting ready to go. His aunt Chantall had to depart with them as well. I was so sad to see them all go. Things here just wouldn't be the same.
As more patients left, more tents came down. We were rolling the massive canvas tents up, moving big cinder blocks, piling up the tent poles, and pulling massive rivets out of the ground. We had piles of mattresses and cots that once kept our patients safe and warm at night. In between tearing down the compound, we'd discharge another few patients, help some pack, comfort those uncertain of their next chapter in life. By the end of the day, we had only one tent standing.
One interesting observation today was the growing sense of uncertaintly among the patients. Yesterday, it was like we saw the best in everyone. They were all being grateful, appreciateive, cooperative, and compassionate with each other and their impending transition. Today, it was like everyone was overcome with this last ditch effort to get things for their new life. Several people were going around asking for money, diapers, food, tents, tarps, and more. As soon as we'd give them something, they'd go to another person and ask for more diapers or more money. The stockpiling, hoarding, and neediness was kind of exhausting for many of us.
Later in the afternoon, we were able to set up a Skype session between Joshua and his godfather Josh in Wisconsin. He has come to learn that when the computer comes out, it means he gets to talk to Josh. We wheeled him in and up on the screen popped Josh. I wanted him to be able to say goodbye to him one last time before he left the hospital. As usual, Joshua doesn't understand that video of Joshua doesn't mean he's not actually there. He'll extend his hand and try to touch Josh's face by touching the screen. It's really precious! After a little chatting, the lights started to flicker, and we could hear the hum of the generator wind down as the hospital's last remaining diesel was burned away. The reality sets in even more that this is it, the hospital is closing. Finally, it was time for Joshua to be transferred to his temporary facility at an orphanage in Port au Prince. We met with an amazing woman named Carmen who was sent over by Safewater Nexus. She would be in charge of his transition before transit. We had to get him to a secured orphanage before transporting him to his final home because no one could stay at the hospital any longer. Carmen assured us of his care, I had no worries, and we loaded up Joshua and his small bag of things, buckeled him in the backseat of a car, and waved goodbye. We'd be seeing him in a couple of days for the big move north. As the day wound down, we all locked the doors and headed back to the compound at Quisqueya. It was another exhausting day for us all.
Early this morning we discharged the last 3 patients to their new facilities. Entering the hospital compound today was disturbing. What was usually a lively scene in the mornings with hundreds of patients lined up for primary care, the tents full of patients, and the sound of the kids running over in the mornings saying "Jitterbug, Jitterbug", was now a quiet parking lot full of cinder blocks and trash. There were no sick patients, no lively kids, no buzzing nurses... nothing. Today would be a day of closure for the staff.
I had two Haitian cell phones, mine and the one that Josh had given me that still had minutes on it. Because my secondary phone has really become my primary now, I gave Ketura's mom my original Haitian phone and we have been keeping in touch with them since they have left.
I was able to speak with Katura and her mom on the phone I gave them and felt comfortable that they were settling in well. They had stayed their first night in tent city and while I know it wasn't the safe comfortable community of being at CDTI, Katura still had a spark in her voice.
There is so much inventorying, sorting and distributing of supplies at the hospital that now needs to be done. It's an overwhelming task. Just think of the number of supplies that has come in here over the last 2 months- 7,000 pounds from the Mexican embassy alone! All of the organizing, shelf building, and sorting that has already been done now has to be undone and redistributed to other facilities in need. I think that most of us were too overwhelmed by the task and the reality of the hospital's closure that instead of doing too much work, we spent more time just enjoying each other's company and doing some minor cleaning. I sat on the rooftop for a little while with my friend Alan, a photographer here on assignment. we sat up there eating MREs while he told me stories about shooting the aftermath of Jonestown, being in Vietnam, and his extensive travels around the world. As we talked, we realized that we had a mutual friend, Corrine Gould, the amazing woman who has been of enormous support in my organization and in my efforts to bring antibiotics into the country. Again, it's such a small world.
Later on in the day, I had a great surprise. I found a little tiny market that had... DR. PEPPER! I'm completely addicted to that stuff and haven't had one in way too long. It was $2 U.S. for a can, but I didn't care. It was ice cold and it was good! It's amazing how those little things can become so exciting. As part of our lazy day, the translators threw a big celebration for all of the staff. They went out and bought cake, pizza, pop, and champagne. We put all of the chairs in a giant circle and the translators went around and told us what a difference the hospital and the staff had made in their life. A few of those of us who have been there since the beginning share a few of our own words as well. Desert got up and said a beautiful prayer and then the guys popped the champagne and started to celebrate. This celebration was really significant for me because despite all that we've gone through together in the last couple months, we were finally closing together just as much of a team as we had to operate together when we were open. Some of the translators had made a few cards for a us with their hand traced, some wrote poems, and I realized how much of an impact we really had ended up having on not just the patients but our translators as well.
Following our day at the hospital and some drama I had about getting back to the compound at Quisqueya, I settled in for a night of reflection. Today was Good Friday, the day that Jesus was cruficied and died. It was the day his life ended, as an innocent man, all because he loved the world so dearly. I was thinking about the Haitian nation, the earthquake, the hospital having to close and thinking about the hope that perhaps out of the ashes will rise a new stronger country, healthcare system, and Haitian people.
Today was a big day for Joshua. We were transferring him to his new permanant home in Northern Haiti, near Cap Haitian at the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission in the town of Port au Paux. We arrived at the airport to find out that we weren't going to be able to return until Monday. That meant we would be celebrating Easter at the orphanage instead of with our friends in Port au Prince... I was kinda bummed, but trust that it's where I'm supposed to be. We met up with Carmen at the airport to find Joshua smiling and happy wearing a pair of Strawberry Shortcake pajama pants.
We put him on the plane, buckled him in, and you could tell he was very curious about what was going on. As the plane took off, his eyes widened as he realized we weren't on the ground anymore. He looked out of the side of his head, curious about what was going on. As long as he was holding all our hands he was okay. Justine, Beth and I just comforted him and gave him lots of love the entire way. When we'd hit a patch of turbulance, he's really get wide eyed. We tried to get him to color and he took the crayons, put them back in the package and closed the coloring book, and regrabbed our hands. This kid really knows what he wants and it's adorable. A couple of times I glanced back at him and saw a face I've never seen before, I looked up at Beth and said, "He's gonnna puke all over you!" I was kinda laughing and she jokingly grabbed one of the "sic sacs" and just as she opened it, poor little Joshua hurled. Having never traveled in a plane before, I'm not surprised. Fortunately, it was towards the end of the flight when it happened.
We landed at a small airport with a gravel landing strip and found a pickup truck waiting for us. We had to load 12 people, one being our special needs child Joshua, everyone's luggage, a wheelchair, and a giant bag of diapers into one small pickup. It was crazy! I held Joshua tight in my arms as we made the hour long bumpy ride to the orphanage. Riding through town, I'm witnessing a whole other level of poverty. While the earthquake didn't cause any damage here in Port au Pauix (sp?) it looks like a bomb went off. There are dead dogs in the road, mud, green sludge, trash lining the streets, homes made of cinder blocks or steel panels, and all dirt roads. It's pretty bad and the only disaster that has happened here is the tragedy of inequity and poverty. It's really very sad.
Finally, we found ourselves at the gates of what would be his new home, the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission. You go from the dirty, less than poverty stricken village into a compound filled with volunteers, smiling patients, and clean facilities. Instantly, I thought to myself, "this place will be good for our little boy." We were welcomed by the volunteers and staff. They gave us a tour of the facility. Joshua was smiling and appeared to be excited by the excitement. We saw the room that will be his along with about 6 other kids. He will have his very own bed. There is a big shower room where the kids can go and bathe themselves, which gives them a little more independence. The name of the facility Joshua will be living is Miriam's Place. It' attached to the rest of the mission center and named after the daughter of the donor who provided the funding to start it. Next door is what's called "Heaven's Waiting Room", a sort of children's hospice.
It has a sort ofdining room and a physical therapy space in the back where it is completely padded and filled with toys. Kids can roll around, scoot, crawl, and not worry about getting bumped or injured. Justine sat with Joshua for a while and played with some toys. It was amazing to see how smart the kid actually is. He has reasoning skills and the ability to analyze and make the appropriate adjustment far beyond what any of us ever thought. In the group room, I took the prayer flag kids had made and been hung at CDTI and rehung it now inside Miriam's Place. It added a nice splash of color and happiness.
After our little tour, we went upstairs where there was a big plate of spaghetti waiting for all of us. It was the most hilarious thing to watch Joshua try and eat a plate of spaghetti. He couldn't get it down fast enough. He'd put his whole face in the plate and come up with a mouthful of red noodles and that big grin on his face, waving a fork in the air. It's very comforting to see him so content and acting just like himself. Following his big meal, we found a big red tricycle we put him atop of. Someone had sewn a felt horse head on the front of the handle bars and Joshua looked like the Lone Ranger as he tried to balance himself upon the seat.
As the rest of us settled into what would be our home for the next 2 days until we would be able to return to PAP,we learned some of the realities of staying here that were a bit frustrating for me. No one was allowed to leave the walls of the compound alone or after 6pm, there are bed bugs in the facility, and we all had to wear skirts around the compound. Yuck! Bedbugs and skirts! Not my thing. It's kinda old fashioned around here, but we are guests in their facility and so we will follow the rules, attend the daily morning and evening devotionals, and be respecful of their cultural standards. While this seems like an amazingly wonderful facility that really is doing some great work, I think I'd feel like it was a sentence if I had to stay here longer than a couple days. Carmen and I have been having a good time sticking together and laughing about the silly things that leave us both our of our comfort zone. We are like trouble and trouble! It's nice to have someone around who's on the same page and finds more spirituality stepping out on the rooftop at sunset praying as we listen to beautiful music, take pictures of the moment, and cast off all fears and hopes to the Jesus that rests in our hearts as much as the mountaintops.
Before dinner, Beth, Carmen and I had a translator take us out to see the city and the coastline. We walked down the dirty roads and met a plethora of children excited to see new faces in town. The water here along the coast is absolute turquoise blue. It's fabulous! However, as you approach the shoreline you see it is covered with mounds of decomposing trash. The children came and walked along the beach with us, excited to have their pictures taken, doing back handsprings and back walk overs like a team of little acrobats, running down the beach, and laughing. At one point, Beth and I found a group of kids that let us hop into a game of jumprope. Then, we came across a group of kids who wanted to show us their homemade tops. These kid take pices or orange of mango wood, whittle it down, stick a nail in the bottom, and color it. Then they spin the little top on the ground, and flip it up into their hand. It's pretty neat. Carmen and I both bought one from the kids for a copule bucks. It's a pretty special souvenier!
By the time we got back from our little excursion that left me feeling more grateful than ever for the life I have back home, we were all able to sit down for a nice warm dinner. We had potatoes, chicken, and vegetables... not too bad for an orphanage. Following dinner, there was a little devotional service. While it was very stiff, it was hard not to appreciate the efforts of the whole family who had traveled to the mission together and were leading the service. There was some solemn singing and announcements and then day was finally closed. Carmen and I went downstairs to tuck Joshua in for the night. He was already in his little bed, sound asleep, tiny little hands grasping the sheet close to him. He looked peaceful. One of his new friends came over and tapped him on the shoulder, waking him up. He looked up, saw us, got a huge smile on his face, and reached up his arms to us so that he could give us a hug. We sat quietly with him for a moment and then told him goodnight. He smiled, rolled back over, and went right back to sleep.
To catch up on the enormous amount of journaling that I am behind on, I came up onto the rooftop under a canopy of perfectly clear and bright stars and let my fingers dance on the keys. I reflected on the day and thought abotu what Joshua must be feeling. Does he understand that today's entire trip was all about him? Does he know this is now his new home? Does he feel safe? Does he know that he might never see his mom again? Does he realize these children around him will watch him grow up and become brothers and sisters to him? Does he realize that we can't stay? I wonder all of these things. As we were getting all the details pieced together earlier today, the woman was asking about his birthdate. None of us, including the mom, have any idea when he was born so I suggested that we pick April 4th as his birthday, the day Easter falls on this year. It would be very symbolic of the death of one life and the rising to a knew and beautiful one. We all agreed and it was settled. He's our little Easter boy!