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The past few weeks have been extremely busy for us in the clinic, as we strive to care for all who come to us for medical assistance.  Here is a gentleman with a fever, awaiting diagnosis and treatment recommendations:

Fever patient

Fever patient

This little girl wasn’t particularly sick, but she sure was cute:

Cute!

Cute!

Kivens Jean is a three year old who’s been our patient since before he was born!  We took care of his mother until her delivery and he’s been to see us in the clinic at least 10 times in his short life, due to his parents’ concern about his health and well being.  He’s one of our favorites, so when he’s sick and not smiling, like this, it makes us sad:

Kivens

Kivens

Our patients are thrilled to see our construction progress because they know it’s their prayers, along with yours, that have gotten us this far.  Please keep praying!

For the past three years, construction has been under way to pave the road between Les Cayes, on the southern coast of the southern peninsula of Haiti, to Jérémie on the northern coast. As such, I thought I wouldn’t be sharing any more “road stories” with you. The old road was narrow, rocky and treacherous as it wound up one mountain and down another. With progress has come improvement on both ends of the road, but it has left the middle portion relatively untouched. Thus, fodder for more exciting road experiences! Here’s the latest:

I spent a couple of weeks in Milwaukee and was scheduled to return to Port-au-Prince on the morning of Saturday, November 10th. Nick Matthews, our volunteer engineer, was to fly out to the US in the afternoon of the same day. So, we made plans to meet in Port- au-Prince to discuss a few things before going our separate ways. On Friday morning, the 9th, Nick, Junior and Miller, our truck driver, started out on their way from Jérémie to Port-au-Prince. Around 9am, they were about 3 hours into the 6 hour trip when they came to Riviere Glace, or the Ice River. It’s a river that runs between the mountains and is fed by multiple mountain streams. There’s no bridge over the river, just a concrete “apron” on the bottom. Well, it had been raining all through the night and when they got to the river, it was deep and flowing with so much force that no vehicles were able to pass through. Over the years, we have heard multiple stories of cars and trucks being washed downriver, sometimes with fatal consequences for drivers and passengers.  So, there is a very healthy respect around here for the Ice River. The guys decided to wait it out, in hopes that in a few hours the river would go down and they could cross and continue with their trip. Little did they know what was in store for them! As the day wore on, more and more vehicles lined up on both sides of the river, waiting for passage. The rain that had initially stopped picked up again and the river became more fierce as they watched. After hours of waiting, the driver of a pickup truck announced that, if he drank a little moonshine, he’d take his chance with the river.  Unfortunately, it was an inebriated decision and everyone watched in alarm as the back of the pickup was turned around in the current and the truck washed downriver. Fortunately, it got caught up on some rocks and the driver was able to scramble up the riverbank to escape from danger.

Here’s a photo of the waterlogged pickup:

A few hours later, on the other side of the river, a brave, but not-so-smart truck driver decided to battle with Mother Nature as well. This time, his aim was a bit off and he drove the truck off the cement apron and onto the riverbed, where he stayed for hours.

Here’s the lopsided truck in the river:

My three compatriots spent the night in the jeep and finally made it across the river around 5am, racing to Port-au-Prince, where they met me at the airport 10 minutes before my arrival. We laughed together at their sleepless, but exciting night, and talked about the treachery of the Ice River. After running some errands and seeing Nick off at the airport, Junior and I headed back to Cherlie’s house in Port-au-Prince to rest. The driver wasn’t going back to Jérémie with us, so I was going to be driving the jeep back.  Since I had only slept for an hour the night before leaving for Haiti, I decided to sleep for a couple of hours and then drive through the evening to get home. If we waited until the next morning, we wouldn’t get home until Sunday afternoon and I had to get prepared for a full day of clinic on Monday. Too much to do in one day, or so went my reasoning!

By 5pm I was awake, refreshed with a shower and in the jeep with Junior, on our way out of Port-au-Prince. We made a quick stop in Aquin at Junior’s house to drink a cup of coffee and Junior’s mother packed up a bowl of hot rice and meat sauce for us “in case you get hungry”.  An hour later, we found ourselves at the Ice River, with the depressing sight of 5 big trucks and 3 pickups waiting in front of us. It had been raining in the mountains again and the river was in full force, stopping traffic on both sides as it had done the day before. So much for laughing about others’ experiences! We gingerly made our way down to the river’s edge, and decided that it would definitely be a night spent in the jeep. So, we turned off the engine, locked the doors, ate the delicious rice and sauce and settled down for a fitful night of sleep, interrupted periodically by more vehicles pulling up behind us, voices talking, radios blaring, etc. We made it across the river at 6:30 in the morning, with three guys standing on our rear bumper to give us more weight! It was a little added security and made my heart beat a little less rapidly. We were home in Jérémie by 9am and had a wonderful, relaxing day unpacking and getting ready for a busy week. We said more than one prayer of thanksgiving during the day, and renewed our respect for the forces of Nature. Another road adventure in a country full of surprises!

-Dr. Wolf

Truck Crossing the River

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that our road trips back and forth to Port-au-Prince are often the fodder for interesting stories, not to mention sometimes-dangerous experiences.  We had thought that, now that the road from Jérémie to Aux Cayes is under construction and less treacherous, the road stories would become few and far between.  How naïve we were to think such a thing!  This is Haiti, after all.

We had a group of 5 visitors from Elmbrook Church in Waukesha, WI with us for a few days and decided to drive them back to Port-au-Prince so we could show them around the capital and visit some places of interest to them.  So, this past Friday morning, we packed the luggage on the top of the jeep and set out on our road trip.  About an hour outside Jérémie, we came to a roadblock – the construction crew was bulldozing along the road and we had to wait an hour and a half for them to clear the rocks and debris before we could pass through.  Later, we thought what a difference that hour and a half made!

We otherwise had an uneventful trip to Aux Cayes and then on to Port-au-Prince.  As we approached the city, we saw very ominous dark clouds in the sky ahead of us.  So, we weren’t surprised to encounter heavy rain as we came to the outskirts of town.  What did surprise us, however, was that, before we knew it, we found ourselves in the middle of a raging flood.  Water was pouring down from the hills above onto the main road, totally obscuring the roadway.  It was about three feet deep and vehicles were stuck on both sides of the road, people were struggling to stay upright as they tried to walk through the raging water and we were driving upstream as old tires, baskets, clothing and garbage flew by both sides and under our vehicle.  All we could think was, “Thank God for our new sturdy jeep!”  Our visitors were huddled in back, holding their hands in prayer as Cherlie and I struggled to avoid having the jeep fall into a deep pothole or drift off the road and into a ditch.  It was also getting dark by then, making visibility even worse in the pounding rain.  At one point, the vehicles in front of us came to a complete stop and we didn’t think we could go around them without falling off the roadway.  As we sat there pondering our next move, a small car started to drift backward towards the left side of our vehicle, being pushed by the flood, the driver seemingly unable to control it.  It seemed that everything was in slow motion as I backed up our jeep, turned our wheels to the side and lunged forward, narrowly avoiding a collision.  It seemed that we were in the middle of a raging river, not on a main street in the capital city of Haiti!  I thought to myself as I drove, “I’ve had a lot of exciting experiences in Haiti, but this is definitely one of the most harrowing!”

Finally, after about 45 minutes of submerged driving, we reached higher ground with better drainage and the garbage-strewn river subsided.  We breathed a collective sigh of relief and marveled at what we had just experienced.  How grateful we were to reach Cherlie’s home a short time later, where we enjoyed showers and comfortable beds to sleep in.  Needless to say, there were many prayers of thanks offered to the Lord in heaven that night!

Elmbrook Church Visitors

Luggage packed on the roof of the jeep

Bulldozer blocking the road

As many of you may know, we are in the middle of a 3-year project to improve and pave the road between Cayes, on the southern coast and Jérémie, on the northern coast of the southern peninsula of Haiti.  We’ve traveled on the “new” road several times in the past few months and each time has ended up being quite an adventure, due to the varying state of repair of the road as the crews work on it.  In early December, on our way home from Port-au-Prince, we were held up for 4 hours (2:30pm until 6:30pm) while the bulldozers blocked a portion of the road to work on it.  Then, at 10pm that same evening, as we were about 2 hours from Jérémie, we were blocked again by a broken down truck that was stuck in the mud in a very narrow portion of the road.  No one was working on the truck and it was evident to us that we were going nowhere fast!  We ended up spending the night in the jeep and got home to Jérémie around noon the next day.

Well, this past weekend, we decided to drive into Port-au-Prince to take care of some business and it ended up being another road adventure.  We left home around 5:15am on Friday with a light rain falling.  By the time we got to the outskirts of town, along the ocean, it had turned into a downpour.  At 6am, we came to a section of the road where there was no road!  The rain had washed out the flimsy bridge built over cement culverts that was serving as a temporary structure until a large cement bridge was built over a small river.  Rather than turn around and call it quits, we decided to stay to watch the action (remember, we don’t have TV in Haiti, so we have to get our drama from real events as they unfold!).  First, a motorcycle came by with a member of the Brazilian road crew.  Then, pick-up trucks began to appear.  One by one, the Brazilian engineers showed up, surveyed the situation and sped off again in their trucks.  Then, a busload of Haitian road crew workers arrived.  They walked around in the rain, talking and pointing and discussing.  Finally, by 9:30am, the bulldozers and dump trucks showed up and the crews began to pile rocks and gravel into the flat area where the river met the ocean.  After several truckloads, the bulldozer went to work, moving the rocks and gravel around to cover the riverbed.  Then, came the road grader to smooth it out; then, more truckloads, more re-arranging and more smoothing.  By noon, the engineers were ready to let some of the vehicles pass through.  There were about 25 trucks, cars and jeeps lined up waiting.  The first two jeeps went through without problem.  Then, a little Suzuki jeep got stuck, as the river water began to pour over the temporary road.  So, the road crew fastened a chain to the bulldozer and towed the jeep up the riverbank to the other side.  More jeeps and several pick-up trucks went through and then it was our turn.  We had no problem getting through the water, sand and gravel with our new 4-wheel drive jeep, and off we went on our way – or so we thought.

Two hours later, we came to the same area of the road where we had been stopped before, and there before us was another roadblock.  The bulldozers were at work again and we were told that the road would be blocked until 6pm.  So, we waited, talked with people in other vehicles and watched the heavy equipment operators push rocks and dirt over the side of the mountain.  Finally, at 5pm, we got word that jeeps were able to pass through an area higher up the mountainside, where one set of bulldozers was working.  It would be a challenge, though, since the route was steep and the footing was unstable due to the recent work being done on it.  We decided to take a chance, and followed two other jeeps up the steep slope and down the other side.  We ended up being in a rapidly moving convoy of 5 vehicles, all headed to Cayes, which we reached in record time.  We stopped to see a Haitian friend outside Cayes, had a late meal with her family and made it to Port-au-Prince by 11pm.  It was, indeed, a long, but adventuresome day!

Events in the country have been adventuresome lately, as well, with the uncertainty of the November presidential elections, the continued presence of cholera and, more recently the appearance of former President-For-Life Jean Claude Duvalier.  We are uncertain as to what will transpire in the next few weeks and months on the political front, making it very difficult to plan our activities and those of expected visitors.  There have been some demonstrations and tire burning in the streets of Jérémie, as well as Port-au-Prince, but these have fortunately been short-lived.  On the health front, several cholera centers have been set up in the town of Jérémie, and in villages not far from our clinic site.  The number of cholera cases seems to be diminishing, but we are continuing our educational messages regarding prevention, since the basic principles of good hygiene are important for all to learn.

While we were struggling on the road to Port-au-Prince this past weekend, the heavy rains caused a mudslide in Jérémie with destruction of a house and the death of 7 inhabitants.  It also caused significant erosion of hillsides and destruction of portions of the road up to our clinic site in Gatineau.  In one area, the hillside completely broke away, leaving only a very narrow section of road over which to drive.  If it breaks away any further, we will be stranded on one side or the other and will be unable to pass through to go back and forth to our clinic.  We’re hoping the government will authorize repair of the road soon, so that our clinic operations can continue without interruption.  Please continue to pray for the safety of all.

January 12, 2011, the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that occurred in Haiti, is a national day of mourning in the country.  Over 200,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were injured that day.  1.5 million were left homeless, the majority of whom are still living in temporary shelters and tents in Port-au-Prince and its environs.  Lives lost, lives changed, a capital city destroyed, all in the space of 40 seconds.  We join with our Haitian brothers and sisters today in prayer for this country and its suffering people and we invite you to add your prayers and thoughts to ours.

There have been many articles in the press recently questioning the use of funds that were donated in the aftermath of the earthquake.  As one looks around Port-au-Prince, there are a few improvements evident to the casual observer.  Most of the buildings in the city have been evaluated by engineers, but only a few of the ones that were condemned have been razed.  Some rubble has been cleared and a few buildings repaired.  Temporary wooden shelters have replaced a few of the tents in tent camps and water and sanitation facilities have been provided to those living in the camps.  Government ministries and departments have been relocated to temporary quarters and many of the destroyed government buildings have been razed and the rubble cleared out.  The presidential palace has been left as it was immediately after the earthquake – a testimony to the tragedy that claimed so many lives, young and old.

In the area which Friends for Health in Haiti serves, there was not the physical destruction that there was in Port-au-Prince.  But our patients still mourn the loss of children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.  Their lives will never be the same and they still speak of that day, January 12th, 2010 with sadness in their voices.  Our clinic overflows with patients each time we are there, many of whom were previously living in Port-au-Prince and have now returned to their rural homes.  We’ve contributed seeds and agricultural assistance to the communities around us and are helping them organize themselves for further development projects.  We are finalizing construction plans for a permanent clinic building that we expect to start in a few months and this will allow us to significantly expand our services, save many more lives and provide employment for skilled and unskilled workers.  The funds that have been contributed to us are being used for long-term solutions in our area – prevention and treatment of illness, agricultural development, water and sanitation and employment.  We strive to be sustainable, appropriate and responsible.  Thank you for assisting us in achieving our goals.  The Lord is at work!

As some of you may know, last spring we sent out an appeal to the churches in the New Brunswick, NJ Presbytery for used clothes and shoes to be sent to Haiti.  We were packing up some drums with backpacks that had been donated by high school students in Wisconsin and wanted some clothes to pack along with the backpacks.  Well, the response was overwhelming and Kingston Presbyterian Church (my home church) was filled with so many wonderful items that we had to buy extra drums to accommodate them all.  They were shipped from NY to Port-au-Prince and were brought out to Jérémie during the summer.  We have been gradually sorting through them and giving some to needy patients and members of the communities around the clinic.  Many of these people still have Port-au-Prince earthquake survivors with them and their resources have been stretched to the limit.  So, this is a small way that we can help ease their burdens.

We recently decided to borrow an idea from churches and Emergency Departments in which I’ve previously worked and that is to create a CLOTHING BOX for the clinic.  It’s filled with clothing of all sizes, infant caps, afghans and quilts made by the Presbyterian Women in New Jersey, shoes, socks and underwear.  We’ll be using the items to give to those patients we feel are most in need, especially the newborn infants and malnourished children whose parents are the poorest of the poor.  Below is a photo of the box filled with wonderful treasures, as well as a photo of a premature newborn who we saw three days after her birth.  Her mother is 16 years old and we’ve been seeing the baby, mother and grandmother each week for several weeks, giving them infant caps, blankets and clothes for the little one.  Many, many thanks to those who contributed clothing and shoes in our efforts to relieve some of the physical needs of the Haitian people.

The Clothing Box

Tiny Recipient of NJ Gifts

 

 

This update refers to my previous blog from December 9th.  Yesterday we met with the local government leader who works in the area where the three murders occurred.  He said that Thursday night, he was called to investigate the situation and he interviewed several people and summoned the commissioner, or highest government lawyer in Jeremie, to investigate.  It seems that the deaths were a payback to the witchdoctor for previous wrongs and the ones involved in his death used the poison story as an excuse for murder.  Several people heard Pierre admit to having poison powder in his possession, however, and it is unlikely that there will be any charges made.  So, it is now in the hands of the local authorities

Today was a day I’ll not forget for a long time – a day where rumor became reality and justice seems like a nonexistent dream.  Let me first give you some background.

Over the past two weeks, there have been reports of cholera cases here in the Jeremie area, but it has been difficult to get an estimate of how widespread the disease actually is.  Fear of the disease is rampant, however, due to lack of knowledge regarding transmission and prevention and, more significantly, due to the deep-seated suspicions of people whose lives are lived in fear of the supernatural (i.e. Voudou).  There have been concerns among the local people that malevolent individuals are trying to poison local water sources as a means of making people sick and blaming it on cholera.  Just last week, according to local rumors, in a town near our home in Jeremie, there were two young men who were inquiring about the location of the local water source.  After talking with the men for a while, some of the local villagers felt that the men were intending to poison the water source, so they killed them on the spot – no police, no trial, no judge – a case of vigilante justice.  There were rumors at the time that local witch doctors were responsible for the cholera deaths, which were actually poisonings as a means of fulfilling curses on the individuals involved.  This led to some of the local witch doctors leaving the area out of fear for their lives.

Today, when we were up in our clinic, we heard that there were many cases of cholera in a town up the mountain from us called Previle.  Many people had already died, including two members of a family who died this morning as some of our patients were passing through the town.  There is a small government clinic in Previle and they, with the assistance of Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) have set up a cholera treatment center where they are treating and hospitalizing infected individuals.  Local individuals felt that the source of the cholera was a nearby river that has become contaminated.  But, there are also concerns that the local witch doctors were poisoning the river and other water sources.

One of the most powerful witch doctors in our area was a man named Pierre.  We had interviewed him during our initial community assessment and had seen him several times in our clinic.  We actually waved to him this morning as we passed him on the side of the road outside his house.  This afternoon he was questioned by some local individuals who heard that he had poisonous powder in his possession and was intending to poison one of the local water sources with it.  When he got up to go into his house to presumably retrieve the powder, they stabbed him with machetes until he died.  They then killed two other men who admitted to working with him.  We heard about the deaths as we were closing up our clinic, but the news took on a deadly reality as we drove past their bodies lying along the road on our way down the mountain, blood scattered on the dirt around them.  No one else was in sight – just the bodies lying in the darkness – no police, no UN, no neighbors.  Suddenly vigilante justice became very real.

All I can think of as I write this evening, is to ask for prayer for this country and its people, the majority of whom are law-abiding, non-violent, wonderful, hard-working individuals.  Unfortunately, it is the violent ones who are shown on the news and are responsible for the deadly acts such as that which we witnessed today.  Pray for our work here, which is known as a Christian evangelical endeavor, to not only improve the health of those we care for, but change their hearts as well, removing their fears and giving them power over the evil in their world.  Pray!

We were able to drive up to our clinic on Tuesday this week, finding the road very slippery and gutted out, but passable.  We had to put our jeep into 4-wheel drive “low” position, that gives the most power, so we could make it up some of the steep, slippery hills.  Our patients were grateful for our presence and we expect a large crowd on Thursday as well.  They walk for hours on very slippery, muddy paths to reach us, and we’re glad to be able to help meet their health needs.

Major losses from the hurricane in our area are mostly agricultural, with the loss of banana trees, coconuts and recently planted bean seeds.  One of the nearby Protestant churches had significant damage, as well as the pastor’s house, and some schools had damage to their roofs.  We’re working with local leaders to assess the extent of damage in the areas around our clinic site and will see how we can most help these communities.

At this point, the road between Cayes and Jérémie is closed to all traffic due to mudslides in the area around Beaumont.  We’ve seen the Port-au-Prince buses sitting in their stations in Jérémie for the past few days and now have an explanation as to why!

The cholera epidemic has now reached Port-au-Prince, according to Haitian government health officials.  Over 70 cases have been identified in people who live in Port-au-Prince, but contracted the disease while visiting outside the capital.  Several cases have been reported in patients who have not left the capital city, which means that it was acquired there, rather than in the area where the epidemic began.  This is a serious development, because it means that the bacteria causing cholera is now in Port-au-Prince itself.  Officials are setting up cholera centers throughout the city and clinics and hospitals are gearing up to handle the epidemic.  Flooding from the recent hurricane, Tomas, will only add to the risk of spread of the disease.

At this time, there are no reported cases of cholera in the Grand’Anse department where we are located.  We’re taking the epidemic seriously, however, and are augmenting our own stock of antibiotics, oral rehydration packets and IV fluids in preparation.  Each time we go up to our clinic, we do health teaching with our patients, instructing them to be careful about the water they drink and to practice good hygiene and hand-washing.  We also have several hundred “hygiene kits” that we will distribute in our area, if needed.  We appreciate your prayers as we attempt to deal with this new crisis.

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