I have not been able to sit down and start writing for awhile. The month of October was quick, and things have been tumultuous since my return. I don’t really want to go into great detail here but basically, when I returned to Haiti in late September, after having been in the US to get my affairs straight so that I could come back and stay for longer, and after having 2 successful fundraisers for my work in Hinche and the work of Midwives for Haiti, I found out that there was a very deep rift that had grown between those of us living and working on the ground, and those who live and manage the organization from the US. This misunderstanding had already transformed into something so complicated and perverse, without my knowledge of its existence at all, that by the time I found out about it, it was too late. Very sadly, for everyone, the way the situation came down was that there was irrevocable damage done and I left Hinche. This was devastating for me, and I am still recovering from the shock of it, and still missing people a lot, such as Marthonie, who was my loved and trusted co-teacher. I had grown so used to working with her, and we had such an amazing, collaborative, tolerant, and trusting relationship. She is not the only one, but the main one.
I haven’t been able to say anything or write anything, because I have just been in shock about how abruptly my life changed, and have been mourning a great, great loss. I had not foreseen this happening, but in a way something like this is not surprising, given the overall situation that the organization was functioning within (such as the fact that I was living full-time with all the short-term volunteers with no personal space/boundaries/privacy, lack of communication between myself and the directors about issues…it‘s complex).
I have wanted to let all of you know that I am ok, and Blada is ok. But, so far I haven’t been able to say anything, because I have just been in a state of perpetual mourning. I am trying to move forward and move through this transition and accept the loss and also the blessings that will inevitably come out of this. I am starting to see it more in this light, although the truth of what happened and the feelings of betrayel and loss that go along with it will always inevitably stand out in my memory and emotional landscape. Perhaps there will be a way in the future to work with MWH, perhaps in a different context or setting, although I miss the people in Hinche so much and had spent 2 years literally building bridges and trust through working daily with the people there.
Often I have felt like I am dragging my feet, and like I should just get over it and continue and have faith, because that is what I see Blada doing. He is doing fine. This has been sad for him too--we lost our community, and he witnessed my sorrow and held me through it since the beginning of this change. So, he is very strong and resilient, and adaptable. One main reason for this is that he is Haitian. Haitians, most of them, have spent their whole lives having to accept many injustices and hardships as normal life events, and have even cultivated an amazing capacity for joy and humor, which they exercise all of the time (they can laugh and have a great time doing anything…) so, as Blada put it to me, so honestly, he has never had the luxury of escaping the reality here (he can’t just take a vacation from it like I can if I want), and for his whole life he has had to accept hardship and if he allowed himself to dwell on things as much as I do, he would have gone crazy by now. It’s really true. Maybe part of the difference is that I’m a woman too, and I process things differently and definetly live more in the realm of my emotions than he does…but I think it’s not just that, it’s also part of my upbringing and life experience as a North American…you have the luxury to ponder and process your feelings….
To illustrate this difference even more, I will give 2 examples of people I know who recently experienced great loss and nevertheless are living their normal lives…a Haitian midwife I know, before we left Hinche, I heard from someone else that her father had just been murdered--hacked apart by someone with a machete--over something that had to do with land rights/ownership. Yes--her father was murdered. I saw her the same week or the next week, and never would have known if someone elsehadn’t told me. She seemed normal, and was working every day. Haitians have a way of compartmentalizing their grief, so that they can continue functioning and living. I think part of this could be the fact that when someone dies, there is definetly an acceptable time and place for intense grieving, with no restraint. People grieve intensely when someone dies. But somehow after this, they move on, and at least seem to be ok. Another time, shortly before we left, we had a friend who was in the house who suddenly we all could hear she was crying--weeping--and calling out to her father over and over. Finally I approached her to ask her what was wrong. She told me that today marked the 10 year anniversary since her father went missing, in Port au Prince. After this day, no one ever heard from him again. Probably on this same day, every year, she grieves this way for him. Maybe this way she is able to function normally the rest of the days. I don’t know, and I’m not attempting to analyze or name anything about Haitians or Haitian culture--I have tremendous respect and humility towards it--I’m just citing a couple of examples of my experience here that gives rise to my small sliver of understanding of the people here.
So, I can’t and shouldn’t compare myself with Blada, because we come from such different cultures and life experiences. Things will work out and I do realize how very lucky and privileged I am, to still have so many choices, in reality, and such a good standard of living…we have a little house, which we love…it’s private, peaceful…just the 2 of us…it has a kitchen, a bedroom, and a bathroom. But it is big enough. It is lovely. We have water, part-time electricity, and even a stove and fridge!!! It is on the same compound and right behind a little birth center, started by a friend of ours named Sarah--she’s a Canadian MW who’s been living in Haiti for about 4 years, and has an organization called Olive Tree Projects. The situation here is pretty relaxed and slow-paced. I am helping her out in the birth center and hoping to make improvements to its functionality. I am also teaching classes for a group of women who she would like to train as MW assistants for her clinic.
In addition to this, I am volunteering part-time at the public hospital here. I miss the hospital in Hinche too much…I don’t want to be completely isolated from what I came to know as my work in Haiti. So, I have started going. The problem is, I am starting over completely from scratch--no one knows me or trusts me yet--it took me a long time to establish trust with the staff at St Therese in Hinche, and now I am starting over completely with a whole new group of people at St Michel in Jacmel…some of them are nicer than others…things could change but there is definetly one Dr, a female OB, who is very angry and hostile (towards everyone--especially the patients)--that’s kind of her reputation overall, so I don’t have any hope of her warming up to me…but, maybe I can make allies with some of the other people…there are a couple of male OB’s, and several nurses…they are much more well-staffed and well-equipped with materials than St Therese…it’s very different…similar but different…I assisted in 2 births there yesterday…I guess I have been partially hardened to the sadness of seeing women mistreated in the most vulnerable moment of their life (labor/birth)--so, I wasn’t surprised by what I saw and am doing my best to remain neutral, nonjudgmental, and hopeful as well…but, I couldn’t help but notice the hostility towards the 2 women and even yelling and hitting of the second…the first one got an episiotomy and fundal pressure (with normal fetal heart tones and the head still not through the bones)…anyway, it is what it is and I am very honored that I am allowed to enter into the space at the public hospital and witness in, participate in, peoples’ care there…it is a new challenge; I have no delusions about changing anything there, but it will be interesting for me…maybe there will be a few meaningful things that can be exchanged, once trust has been established…we will see…
What else is different about Jacmel…I feel like I left part of my family in Hinche…especially the hospital staff and my co-teachers in MWH…Marthonie, Genette…I miss them so much…I have learned so much from them…they are remarkable beacons of light and knowledge…I have so much respect for them and for everyone back there, working in such a hard situation at the hospital…
Here in Jacmel, it is apparent not only in the hospital but everywhere on the street: the standard of living is a lot better than in Hinche. For one, there is electricity. People have their little shops that have lights on at night. People just seem more at ease, like they are struggling less. People have a different attitude towards me on the street as well--they don’t seem to notice me too much. This may sound like nothing but this is huge to me. It is such a relief. I am learning that I don’t have to be so on guard emotionally. It is so nice.
The beach is close, which is a huge blessing and so therapeutic. I love it.
Another gem here is the gay community--yes, that’s right. Jacmel is kind of hip. I was introduced to this art collective--that’s right--where they have these free dance classes (Haitian folklore (vodou) dance--similar to African dancing)--yes, that’s right--free dance practice sessions with most of the participants being flamboyant gay guys--who are so, so sweet and accepting and welcoming--it’s a community that I had missed--and it is here in Jacmel. So refreshing. The atmosphere is all about acceptance. They have art classes there too--all kinds of art--it’s a really really cool place--an old building--funky--like the way a lot of cafes and art studios in the US try to look--this place just is--you go up an ancient staircase (there’s a lot of old French architecture here) to the top level, which lost its back wall in the earthquake…
What else…yes, just trying to be hopeful about things working out, finding my niche, having true resolution and healing with MWH, etc. Since I have more free time on my hands, I am starting again to study French a little (mostly by listening to RFI online)--the internet here is faster so more things are possible…also I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research online, about midwifery and anatomy & physiology…I am learning a lot and it’s exciting--I’m not retaining everything but I’m hoping that some of the concepts will remain and that maybe they’ll be more familiar if someday I am able to go to nursing school…so, I’m doing what I can to make good use of my time…
Blada is making good use of his time…he found an artist to apprentice with and is learning how to paint and helping with other projects…it’s all useful…it’s all progressive…
That’s about all for now. Loving all of you and thanking you for your love and support.
We had a quiet Christmas--very, very quiet. Now, we just got back a couple of days ago from visiting our friends Kirsty and Mackenzy who have land way out in the country (well, next to a small town) in southern Haiti…it was beautiful there…so refreshing…beautiful black earth, sweet air and sweet earth smells…more trees…beautiful. Now we’re back in Jacmel, relaxing and continuing with our activities here. I stayed up all night helping in a difficult labor and birth the day we got back--it was good--good outcome in the end, after a long, hard labor…it’s amazing what some women go through in their labors…I haven’t been going to the hospital as much as I’d like to--I’m too tired sometimes, and also it’s not easy, because like I said I’m brand new there and I’m all alone with no allies…it’s hard.
Working in the birth center is interesting. It is so different than what I had been doing in Hinche. There are things about it that are nice and also things that are hard. Some of the differences are kind of funny, and I don’t mind adapting to them. Each of the births have been interesting and beautiful, and sometimes they remind me of what births used to be like at Maternidad La Luz, where I trained and worked for 6 ½ years before coming to Haiti. In the sense that we know the women, the clients, and it is personal, and they are supported with kindness, and their families are welcomed and encouraged to participate. There is something so special about this.
However, I have not settled into being here, working here--it’s not an automatic thing, and I don’t feel so at ease. I don’t have anyone I can really relate to on the same level as a MW. I miss my people in Hinche. I miss the meaningful work that I was participating in. I still can’t believe that it is all suddenly gone. It doesn’t feel right at all. I feel like I should be there, working and teaching alongside Marthonie and Genette. I don’t have a community here yet. It takes time to find your place and build trust. Plus, the overall approach to the model of care provided is not congruent with who I am as a MW based on my knowledge and experience, so…I am just trying to do what I can to help, reminding myself that this is someone else’s project and I am not responsible for anything more than what I can do. Hopefully I can help to initiate lots of growth and improvement in different areas.
I am publishing this because I know that many of you want to know what’s going on here. Unfortunately I don’t have any better news to give--it is what it is. All I can do is continue on, hope for the best, do my best.
We don’t know what will happen this year and next year--with work, with our life…when our visa will come through…anything…once again I compare my uncertainty and stress with that of the people here, and it looks like nothing…but it is something, it is my experience.