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by Dr. Katie Wolf

For several years now, I’ve been trying to get the FHH Board of Directors to hold a board meeting in Haiti, rather than in Milwaukee. We finally were able to set it up for November 2nd this year and all the appropriate plans were made for the board members to come down for the meeting and a brief stay in Jérémie.   Well, as you know, when plans are made that involve Haiti, they are often subject to change and these plans were no exception! The excitement began a few days before the board’s arrival, when I discovered that Tortug’Air flights were still on hold due to problems with the airplane. So, the first test of the board’s resilience was the 7 hour drive from Port-au-Prince to Jérémie in our jeep and another vehicle. They crossed that hurdle in flying colors when we arrived in Jérémie around 8pm Saturday evening, November 1st. The discomfort of the rough roads was more than offset by the meaningful conversations that took place in the vehicles. And, when we got to Jeremie, we were treated to a wonderful spaghetti dinner, thanks to the efforts of Cherlie, Tim and Ralph (they were with the Montview group and stayed on for the board meeting, helping Cherlie with laundry, bed-making and cleaning in preparation for the board members’ visit).

We woke up on Sunday morning, the day of the board meeting, to the sound of rain outside. It wasn’t just a drizzle, it was pouring rain. Having been through many months of drought, we were glad to have rain, just not on this day! But, rain it did. Our plans had called for going up to the clinic site so the board members could have a grand tour of all the construction, seeing first hand the buildings we have worked so hard to complete in the past few months. Then, we were going to hold the board meeting in the living room of the newly completed residence quarters, looking out on the beautiful valley below. Well, it seemed that the Lord and Mother Nature had other plans.

We slipped and slid our way up the mountain in the pouring rain, determined that everyone would at least be able to see the clinic site and buildings, even if we couldn’t do the “grand tour of the grounds” that I had envisioned. As we went further up into the mountains, we came to several areas where flooding had occurred, covering the road with water and threatening to overflow the banks of the creek running along the road. As we made it through each flooded, muddy section, we breathed a prayer of thanks for a sturdy vehicle and knobby tires! About half a mile from the clinic, though, we encountered an obstacle that required some contemplation – the creek we had to cross had become a raging river and the rain was continuing to fall. We piled out of the two vehicles and stood by the banks of the creek looking at the water swirling in front of us. The general conclusion of the group was that it wasn’t worth risking the jeep and our safety in order to get up to the clinic site. But, if we didn’t go up, the five members of the board who had flown in for the board meeting (other than Tim and Ralph who had been there the previous week) would have made the trip to Haiti somewhat in vain. So, we stood and watched, thinking through alternatives, weighing risks and benefits, counting the cost, etc.

The creek turned raging river

The creek turned raging river

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Weighing our options at the creek crossing

And, then something happened that made us stop in our thoughts. A local Haitian man, in barefeet and shorts, began walking across the raging creek. The water came up to his thighs, but he was able to cross without losing his balance or being washed downstream.  Mmm. Food for thought. If he was able to cross and didn’t get washed away, maybe we could indeed cross in the jeep. Still, there was hesitation. Maybe if the jeep went with a few people and proved that it was safe, the rest would follow. Well, that didn’t make sense, since we need all the weight we can get in the jeep in order to keep the tires on the stone creek bed and not have it whisked downstream. Okay, so it’s everyone or no one. Still there was indecision. What should we do? And then the same Haitian man crossed the creek again. And, again he kept his footing and didn’t get swept away. Finally, everyone was agreeable to take a chance and cross the creek. I turned the wheel over to our Haitian driver, Miller, and we all piled into the back of the jeep. As we held our breaths and prayed a few prayers for safety, we went down the bank on one side, across the creek and slid a bit down stream as we made it up the other side. As we drove up the other bank, we all clapped and saluted Miller for getting us across safely. He, of course, took it all in stride, wondering why these people were so worried about a little water in the first place!

We made it up to the site, walked around all the buildings, took a tour of the clinic, lab/xray/pharmacy building and the beautiful, but very wet residence quarters (without doors and windows, the rain was blowing into the residence living room).

View of the clinic, storage depot and pouring rain from the second floor residence

View of the clinic, storage depot and pouring rain from the second floor residence

As the rain continued to come down, we decided that the better part of valor would be to get back down the mountain and have the board meeting at home, rather than risk not being able to get back across the creek and on home later. So, we went home, regrouped, had a four-hour board meeting and thanked the Lord for all the small miracles of the day. Life and work in Haiti is not usually easy, but it is often exciting!

by Dr. Katie Wolf,  Jeremie, Haiti

The past few weeks have brought some rain to our area, a brief trip to the US for me and continued construction progress.  Here are some new photos to show you that the work continues to go on!

The floor of the outdoor latrine was poured and the walls have gone up.  Here are the workmen pouring the columns of the latrine:

Pouring latrine columns

Pouring latrine columns

No good work gets done without a qualified supervisor.  Here’s Cherlie giving pointers on how to finish the latrine:

Cherlie inspecting latrine

Cherlie inspecting latrine

Meanwhile, the pipes have been hooked up to the septic tank.  Now, all we need is water to flush the toilets!

Septic tank pipes

Septic tank pipes

The walls of the reservoir up on the hill are being built as well:

Reservoir rock wall

Reservoir rock wall

Remember the blog where I mentioned that the workmen are living up at the site and cooking their own meals?  Well, here is a pot of rice and beans on the fire with the chief cook standing by:

Cooking pot and cook

Cooking pot and cook

We’ve had a number of thunderstorms in the afternoons lately, which is good for the farmers but leads to a slippery ride down the mountain.  A storm was on its way when I took this photo of afternoon fog in the valley behind the clinic:

Afternoon fog in the valley

Afternoon fog in the valley

After our rain-delayed road trip, described in my last blog, we found that the same rains that caused us delay at Riviere Glace also caused havoc in the Gatineau area.  It rained there for three days straight in mid-November and caused flooding such as had not been seen by most of the community people in their lifetimes.  The creek that runs through our property overflowed its banks for the first time in our six years of being up there.  It washed away the dirt along the sides of the bridge:

Washed Out Sides of Bridge

Washed Out Sides of Bridge

And, it ate out the sides of the creek, changing its course:

Swollen Creek

Swollen Creek

Further down the mountain, the creek overflowed its banks, flooding fields of sugar cane:

Flooded Sugar Cane

Flooded Sugar Cane

And, it left mud on the road in an area where we cross the river on our way up and down the mountain:

Muddy River Banks

Muddy River Banks

Many of our patients lost crops due to the flooding – corn, beans, sugar cane, and even yams that were uprooted from the soil.  It was definitely the worst destruction they’ve had in the area in a long time, and it wasn’t even associated with a hurricane – just a combination of strong winds and heavy rains.

We expect that there will be significant hunger and food shortages in the area around the clinic in 3-4 months, at harvest time.  Our patients will keep us informed as to conditions in their communities and we will keep you updated in this blog as things develop.

~~~

On a lighter note, in our last newsletter I told a story about a patient named Fritzner who has Down’s syndrome.  We gave him a toy car to play with and he used it as a cell phone to “talk” with his nephew Kenken.  Well, when I was in the US recently, I bought Fritzner a toy cell phone that talks and plays music.  Here is Fritzner enjoying his new “real” cell phone:

Fritzner With Toy Cell Phone

Fritzner With Toy Cell Phone

Volunteer engineer Nick Matthews is presently in Milwaukee, helping to purchase supplies and equipment that we need to finish our final clinic construction, and pack them in a container that is being sent down here to Haiti.  In his absence, the rest of us have had to step up and help with supervision of the construction.  Here is “deputized engineer” Cherlie Severe, aka Director of Nursing, examining the clinic roof after it was poured:

Examining the Roof

Examining the Roof

Here she is giving encouragement to one of the iron workers:

Deputy Engineer Cherlie

Deputy Engineer Cherlie

Here are some other recent construction photos:

Framing of the clinic roof, waiting for it to “cure” – Nov. 12, 2012

Framing of the clinic roof, waiting for it to “cure” – Nov. 12, 2012

Pouring the floor of the pharmacy – Nov. 26, 2012

Pouring the floor of the pharmacy – Nov. 26, 2012

Completed pharmacy floor – Nov. 27, 2012

Completed pharmacy floor – Nov. 27, 2012

Framing the front of the waiting area – Nov. 26, 2012

Framing the front of the waiting area – Nov. 26, 2012

Head foreman Boss Tony (left) and Alix, Nick’s assistant (right)

Head foreman Boss Tony (left) and Alix, Nick’s assistant (right)

It’s starting to look like a building!  Please continue with your prayers for us as we come down the home stretch in this construction process.

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

Rainy season has started and it has been raining almost every day for the past two weeks.  All the benches outside our clinic were full of patients when we arrived on Tuesday morning, the 24th.  It began raining in the morning and continued all day, finally stopping as we saw the last of our nearly 50 patients around 6pm.  The road was extremely muddy and we slipped our way slowly down the mountain, grateful for knobby tires and a 4-wheel drive vehicle!  It rained again on Thursday morning, and we had another slippery drive, this time up the mountain, to hold our clinic.  In spite of the rain, the construction workers were there, removing the framing on the newly-poured concrete walls of the bridge.  Here are some photos of their progress:

Poured concrete walls of the bridge

Walls of the bridge

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

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