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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.

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

The political situation in Haiti is calm for the moment.  The person who was nominated for the position of Prime Minister, Ericq Pierre, was not confirmed by the Parliament, which was a disappointment to us here in Jeremie.  Mr. Pierre is from the Jeremie area, and, if elected, he would have helped fix our roads and make other improvements in the infrastructure in our area.  We’re waiting to see who will be nominated in his place.  In the meantime, we’re hoping that there won’t be further unrest as the political process moves along.

This has been a record-setting week for us in the clinic, as we saw 60 patients on Tuesday and 40 patients on Thursday, despite pouring rain all day.  It was quite a feat for just the two of us!  The high volumes are partly because we are closing for a few weeks, as Cherlie and I go to the US for some conferences, business and family visits.  We’ll be attending the annual conferences of two organizations, Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH) and the Global Health Council.  The theme of both conferences is on community-based primary health care, which is our interest, so we’re hoping to learn a lot and make some valuable contacts.

Things have been pretty quiet here in Jeremie for the past week.  There have been no further political demonstrations, although people are still unhappy about their dismal economic state and the high price of food.

The big news last week was that we had torrential rain for several days.  On Thursday morning, the 17th, we were packing the car with our medications and supplies when we got a call from a patient who lives near the clinic.  She’s one of the few people up there with a cell phone and she has to go to the top of one of the hills to get reception.  But, she was good enough to call us and let us know that the rain was falling heavily up there and no one was expected to come to the clinic.  Besides which, the roads were very slippery and dangerous and she advised that we not try to make the trip.  This is a frequent occurrence for us during rainy season, where the rains make the rough roads impassable and the muddy footpaths that the patients walk on to get to us become slippery and dangerous.  So, once again we had to cancel clinic and patients who would have come to see us had to either wait or go elsewhere.  How happy they will be when we live up there fulltime and our presence won’t be dependent on the weather or road conditions!

Today, Thursday, we were able to successfully make it up to our clinic in Gatineau without running into any problems or disturbances.  There were about 6-8 places along the road coming out of town where there was black dust on the road and burned steel wires from tires which had been burned there earlier in the week.  These were obviously areas where roadblocks had been created with burning tires and debris, keeping traffic from passing to and from town.  Roadblocks are a common form of demonstration here during periods of political unrest, and something that we’ve seen often over the years.  We’re hoping we won’t see more in the future!

It appears, from reports we’ve gotten from Port-au-Prince, that the demonstrations and violence there has abated as well.  All of this has been due to the rising price of goods and increasing hunger and poverty in the country.  There have been a number of news reports lately about Haitians making and eating mud pies, due to lack of food.  While that hasn’t been typical in our area of the country, there has definitely been a worsening of the economic situation in the country as a whole and an increase in the level of hunger and poverty in the communities around our clinic site.  Every day we hear stories about the scarcity of food, due to poor crops and high prices for seeds, and we often truly wonder how these country people are able to live each day.

With poor nutrition comes worsened health, making people more vulnerable to infections and illness.  We’re seeing increasing numbers of patients in our clinic with high fevers, pneumonia, malaria and typhoid fever and several patients with suspected tuberculosis.  We give vitamins and worm medicine to nearly everyone, to help improve their resistance to infection and fight their illnesses.  We’ve received donations of infant formula and milk, which we give out to our pediatric patients’ mothers.  But, our greatest need at this time is to receive enough funds to be able to begin construction of our clinic facility and living quarters, so that we can live in Gatineau fulltime, provide medical services on a daily basis and begin to help improve the economic status of our neighbors.  We appreciate your continued prayers and would be grateful for any financial support you are able to give us during this difficult time in Haiti.

Hello all,

Just wanted to write a quick note to let you all know that there has been some political unrest here in Haiti this week.  Protests against inflation, the high cost of goods and lack of food were scheduled for yesterday, Monday, all over the country.  Unfortunately, in many areas, the protests became violent and began even over the weekend.  The town of Aux Cayes (which is the area I used to work in) was particularly affected, with several injuries and some reported deaths.  Roadblocks were set up and traffic was unable to pass through town to come out here to Jeremie.

Yesterday there were several protests in Jeremie and all the businesses were closed.  There was some violence reported and several roadblocks were set up with burning tires and burning cars.  We didn’t leave home because we knew there would be demonstrations.  But, this morning, we packed up our supplies and meds as usual and went on into town, expecting to go up to Gatineau to hold clinic.  When we got to town we were told that there were large roadblocks set up on the road we have to take to get out of town and people were throwing rocks and bottles at motorcycles and vehicles.  Several buses tried to get through and had to turn back.  The police and many of our friends recommended that we not try to venture out.  There were a number of random attacks going on in town and down at the wharf yesterday and today.  So, we had to cancel clinic, which we felt very bad about, since there were many patients waiting for us.

We’ve been told that the demonstrations may last all week, and most of the schools are closed at least until Friday.  So, we’re not sure if we’ll get through to go to clinic on Thursday.  In any case, we will try not to take unnecessary chances, since anti-American feelings run high during times of unrest here.

I will try to keep you informed of any other developments.  Appreciate your prayers.