Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Update on Madame Meristel's Burns

Two weeks ago I wrote about how our housekeeper Madame Meristel showed up on campus with horrific burns. Here's what's new.

That day I took her to Miquette, my dear friend, next door neighbor, founder of TeacHaiti, and, in her spare time, school nurse at Quisqueya. Miquette put a bandage on the burns, instructed her to come back for bandage changing, and sent Madame Meristel with $20 to L'opital Espoir. That amount would cover the visit, but had been too high for her to afford. This is the same hospital down the road where I met the orphan twins and visited patients in tents with Buckner after the earthquake, and it's also where Ben and I met the LEAP pediatric team and observed surgeons last spring.

The hospital gave her four prescriptions. Madame Meristel's husband brought the prescriptions to Miquette, who already had three of them, and found the last, meaning that they didn't have to pay for them.

Miquette also got the full story on how the burns came to be. Madame Meristel has an electric iron in her home (which has a roof now, thanks to you guys). The iron had a frayed cord, and plus Haiti has notoriously unreliable and inconsistent current. With her hand on the iron, she received by a strong shock. The shock seized up her muscles, which simultaneously caused her hand to grip around the iron handle and her legs to buckle underneath her. She fell to the ground, and the hot iron landed on her chest.

I can see your face right now, cause it's the same one I'm making. I can't even imagine how painful that was.

Anyway. She hadn't come back for several days to get her bandage changed, and I got nervous. The wounds were big and totally exposed to bacteria. Plus, it's the dusty season here, and there is visible dust/dirt wafting around in the air. About a week later she did come back for a new bandage from Miquette, who said the burn had shrunk significantly as it healed from the outside in. The antibiotics had worked and there was no infection.

I saw her last Thursday. I told her not to come back to work until she could, and that I was concerned about the burn on her wrist "touching the cleaning water", which is the closest thing I could come up with to expressing concern that she'd get Fabuloso (floor cleaner) or bleach in her burn.

She said she'd come back to work Monday, yesterday, which she did. Yesterday she showed me the burns again, and they truly did look much better, smaller, less angry red. She said she did a lot of sleeping, and thank you for my patience.

When she says things like that, I want to say, "Are you kidding? Thanking me for giving you four days off work when you have a giant burns? That's the least I could do!". But her response tells me that it's perhaps unusual to get that kind of response, which makes me wonder how badly maids typically get treated. I don't know. I'm not tooting my own horn, I'm just wondering again at how different our lives are and how I'm supposed to feel about that.

Anyway, no infection so far and Madame Meristel's on the mend. It really touched my heart how many of you asked about her. She's a good woman.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

What I Remember From the Earthquake

We moved to Haiti on December 30th. I was so scared... I had visions of Taken dancing in my head. Our host family the Herseys were nice, and took us to this cute restaurant at Canne Sucre. I remember loving their patio, which had tons of plants. I remember feeling stupid that they asked me what I liked to read and the first thing out of my mouth was "Harry Potter". I mean, it's true, but that's probably not what you tell your boss who has just hired you to teach high school English. I remember bucket flushing a toilet for the first time, and taking my first cold shower ever.

I remember going to our apartment after four days or so. It was so empty. Now I marvel- it is the nicest apartment I've ever seen in Haiti for sure. Then I was unimpressed. We had a bed, a dresser, two nightstands, a kitchen table, chairs, and two stand-up fans. That was all the furniture in our entire apartment. We had to walk about three blocks to school, and I was so scared. The road was so dusty, and I had to look down to not stumble on the rocks.

I remember the first day of school, and looking back I just see mistake after mistake. For example, I took roll by reading the list of names.... and mispronouncing all of them. Rookie mistake. I said, "What do you want to know about me?" Rookie mistake.

We taught for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Tuesday after school Ben and I walked up to Eagle Market, a grocery store, after school ended at 3:00. We needed laundry detergent because the next day was our first day to get to use the washing machine on campus. We felt pretty proud of ourselves for walking all the way there and back without help.

At 4:53 I was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a V8 and grading geography pre-tests. Ben was in the kitchen to my left, poking around about starting dinner. We had one pot. We had bought just a few groceries. The ground beef was one day old and was already bad.

I heard a rumbling noise. I thought it was a water truck (a big cylindrical tanker, like the type that carry gas in the States) on our unpaved road. It got louder. I remember saying, "We should get in the bathtub." (Texas girl... disaster = tornado). I remember Ben saying, "It's an earthquake" and jerking my arm hard. I got angry and gave him a face, but them realized he was dragging me to the nearest "doorframe", which happened to be the top of a staircase. We sat on the top step, facing one another. I have no memory of the shaking, or the noise. My only three memories are: Ben's face, Ben's hands gripping my upper arms, and the light fixture swinging in circles on its chain from our tall ceiling.

Afterward, Ben said we needed to go outside because of the danger of gas leaks. Then he said we could go inside, but only for sixty seconds, to get the essentials: cash, passports, cell phones. I grabbed the camera, too. I did NOT want to be outside, because frankly I was scared of being in public in Haiti.

We went next door to the Smiths' house. We stood just inside their metal gate, out front of the house. There was a Spanish-speaking family that had literally just pulled in as the earthquake started. Two years later I would discover that that was the Ovalle family, from whom we would later buy our little puppy Jefe. Somebody said there were people trapped in fallen shacks at the end of our street, where the street joined the ravine. Ben and Mr. Smith ran off to help, and I was not happy to be apart from him. They returned a few moments later. A child had a deep cut on his hand and head, and we poured water and hand sanitizer on them. I remember realizing we had no gloves, and that we were touching blood. I remember seeing a person carrying a dead child.

I remember Steve (our school director) banging on our gate, checking on us.  As soon as he saw we were ok, he turned to head back to campus. He said there were many kids there. It was now dusk. We ran to catch up with him. We saw QCS students huddled all over the soccer field. Kids said, "Remember how we studied earthquakes in geography today, Miss?" to me. Kids said they had been on the basketball court and that the ground has picked up and rolled like waves. Mr. Dekoter (elementary principal) was writing down everybody's names. I saw the other members of the Hersey family and stood with them- I hardly knew anyone. It was nearly dark. Ben made the decision to run home to get our camping lantern, and I was not happy to be alone again. I did not trust being in public, on the streets. I remember eating out of a box of cereal with the Herseys. I remember a bird pooping on my head, and feeling like, "Really, God? This is adding insult to injury."

There were rumors going around. A few people had gotten text messages through the malfunctioning cell phone system. Somebody said the Palace was down. Somebody said the cathedral was down. Somebody said the Montana Hotel was down, and Caribbean, the big grocery store. They were all right.

My Haitian phone was totally offline, but I got a few text messages through on my American phone to my parents. They had known immediately thanks to a CNN alert on their phones. I think it was just over an hour between when my mom heard about the quake and when I got a text message out saying we were alive.

There were dozens of kids around, parents unable to get to them. Nobody's phones were working. We all went in the chapel at one point, and I sat with some elementary girl who was crying. We tried to sing. There was a big aftershock. I remember sitting on the concrete bleachers of the soccer field, feeling the aftershocks through the concrete. Haitians were coming in the gate- QCS workers and relatives. A little boy was brought in, severely injured. Miquette was asked to treat him, and I got to be in the huddle because I was holding our lantern. It was the only source of light on campus. I saw his eyes and ears were bleeding. I saw he had wet his pants. I thought he would die. That little boy is alive and well now. His name is Queency and he is a student at TeacHaiti, sponsored by First Baptist Church Richardson.

I remember ending up in one of the on-campus apartments to sleep. I slept on a wicker loveseat and Ben slept on the couch in their living room. Most people were afraid to be inside, but I felt safer and warmer inside. I remember having my first moment alone, first moment to say, "WHAT?" I got out a pen and paper and wrote a bunch of scattered, fragmented notes, which I transcribed last year on January 12 here. I was afraid I would forget important things.

I lay awake on the loveseat, staring at the ceiling and realizing I was under a fan that could fall. Twice that night we jumped up and ran outside when there were aftershocks. I slept with my tennis shoes on. I remember being so angry that I kept hearing the big main gate rattle open. I thought, "Why are they letting people in? It's not safe. Secure the campus."

We woke up to wailing. One of the Haitians who had come to campus had died on the soccer field in the night. Miquette was called out, but the lady was already dead. I remember being told that none of the Quisqueya people were to have anything to do with the body, because then it would become our responsibility and the family needed to handle it. There were still a handful of kids whose parents had not come to get them yet.

I don't really remember anything as distinctively happening the next day. The next week was a blur. I remember lots of things I did or saw, but I have no concept of which day or in what order they occurred. The main events were that many people starting evacuating, that Ben, Jaime and I worked at a clinic at Quisqueya Chapel, and that we helped transport all the baby stuff from Three Angels Orphanage's broken building to our campus. Thirty or so kids lived on the porch of our art classroom, to afraid to sleep inside, until they all got humanitarian parole and were evacuated to the States. We also emptied out the elementary library and the high school buildings so that the US Army could move in and live there. Several people sat us down and told us to leave. We did not eat much, I was always angry when Ben left me alone, and I was super anal about where our stuff was. I blew up at Ben once because he left our water bottle sitting on a table and walked off. I think it was a control issue trying to cope with being totally out of control. We continued sleeping on the couches. I didn't change clothes for three days I think. Els, a coworker at QCS, graciously invited us up to her house on the mountain to have a shower and watch CNN. Ben went on an overnight drive to the Dominican to rescue a stranded truck full of propane, food, and high school kids who thought they were  search and rescue experts.

Here's one thing I've realized. My earthquake experience was not as bad as almost anybody else around me, because I was only experiencing half the trauma. Everybody else was dealing with everything I was, PLUS enormous, traumatic, heavy grief. Everybody else was in clinging to phones, waiting for word about dozens or hundreds of loved ones. Everybody else lost routines, workplaces, familiar stores and places of worship. Not me. I didn't know anybody or any places. I don't say this to minimize my experience, but it certainly does put an important significance on what others endured.

So that's my earthquake story. When I look back at last year's entry, which is where I simply typed out the notes I wrote the night of the quake, it doesn't make a lot of sense. My mind was fragmented, and so were the words I wrote. It certainly won't make sense to you guys without being in narrative form. So I decided to write it this way. I still can't believe it happened.


Twa Anne

 The earthquake in Haiti was a tragedy that surpasses words. Calling it horrible sounds trite. It is horrible when someone has cancer. It is a tragedy when someone dies in a car wreck. However, when over 250,000 people die... language is insufficient to communicate.

But we try. Knowing this story needs to be told and retold.
Today is a special day. Today I am extra aware of the fact that I am alive, and have been alive for the past three years. Today, I try and do what I should do everyday- not take anything, especially the breath in my lungs, or Katie's touch, for granted.

Three years ago today, at close to 5 pm there was an earthquake. And everything changed. You could refresh your memory if you want to deal with the stress-influenced prose here.

Here is story I have not told. The weekend before the quake the Cowboys won their first playoff game in over a decade. I got to watch the game with some new friends and I thought two things that night. First, the guy we were hanging out with, Art McMahon, was cool. Real cool. Second, I was so happy that the Cowboys won. I told Katie the next day that I don't remember being so happy in a long time. The Cowboys were going to be good! I said something to the effect of, "Last night was one of the greatest nights I can remember!"

 I cringe at typing out that memory. How vapid and shallow, being so happy at a stupid game by a stupid team. It was so meaningless, but at the time I thought it was something great. I hold on to that memory and chastise myself every time I think about it because it reminds me of how foolish I was and how I hope I have matured just a little since, and because of the quake.

I do not understand everything that has happened. I have stopped being a person who asks "Why?" about anything. But I am grateful that my sovereign God led me to Haiti before January 10th. I am so thankful He watches over Katie and I during our time here. I am so appreciative of the people I get to work with here. And finally, I have such deep admiration for the people of Haiti. They possess an unbreakable spirit. They deserve such a better lot in life than they have. They teach me what perseverance looks like.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Madame Meristel's Burns

Not great photo. Blame the photographer.
This is Madame Meristel. She cleans our house. You may remember that just a month or two ago, you guys bought her a new roof after hers was blown off in Hurricane Sandy.

This morning I saw her on campus. I heard her call my name, turned around, and literally gasped.

In her tank top, I could see that her chest is covered with a large, yellow, raw burn.

Spread out your fingers and put your hand on your heart. That's how big the burn is. It was disgusting. Her wrist was also burned, about the size of a half dollar. That burn was oozing yellow. I smelled it, and my scent-brain told me it smelled like the earthquake.

Her first words: "I cannot come to work tomorrow."

No kidding.

I asked her what happened, and she kept saying "kouran", which means electricity, so I pointed to the electrical wires above us and tried to ask if it fell. She said a bunch of words I knew but I couldn't make a meaning. I asked if she had medicine and she said something that sounded like kind of like amoxicillin. I walked her down to the nurse's office and thanked God that Miquette was on duty.

Miquette got the story. She was ironing and somehow fell. The scalding iron fell on top of her. Miquette asked if she had been to the hospital, and Madame Meristel just looked at the ground. We can all guess the answer, and we can all guess why. Miquette said, "You are going to the hospital right now."

Here I am on the first day of school, walking around campus in new clothes with my Mac, helping 11th graders decide between genetics and French 3. Then all of a sudden I'm slapped in the face with the knowledge that I'm on an island of wealth, smack in the middle of the poorest country in the world.

This was about twenty minutes ago. I'll keep you posted.


Monday, January 7, 2013

God Speaks. Spaghetti is Involved.

This picture is unrelated to the post. I just couldn't resist. Look at that puppy.
 Yesterday I flew back to Haiti to start the spring semester. Ben had to stay an extra day, so I flew alone with Jefe, just like I flew alone to begin the fall semester. You know, cause Ben cut his finger off.

Even though the circumstances were much more auspicious, I was still nervous for one part: the moment when you walk out of the Port-au-Prince airport. Even though the airport has (three years later) finally repaired the passenger terminal and created an actual baggage claim area that keeps the throng farther back from the exit, there are still dozens of men I don't know crowding around the exit. Frequently approaching and speaking to me. Looking at me. I'll never recover from having seen Taken.

Anyway, God sent me two extra moments of grace. I was waiting to board the plane from MIA to PAP when I spotted Mrs. R, one of my favorite parents. Not only that, but I was seated directly next to her and her 5th grade daughter. I talked to the 5th grader a long time, sharing Jolly Rancher lollypops and talking about clouds. I felt a weight lifted. Even if my pickup forgot about me, they would help me. Then, settled into my seat, I was surprised to see my coworker Nathaniel scoot down the aisle. Another relief. Nathaniel is 1) a big, young man, 2) a fluent French speaker, and 3) my next door neighbor.  I knew I would be safe.

Two more grace moments awaited me.

I knew that my house had no food, and, let's get real, Ben cooks the meals in this little family. I kept back part of my in-flight snack, not knowing if I would need it for dinner. I knew I had a dusty, empty, hot apartment awaiting me. Further, two visitors had stayed there over Christmas- friends of my other next door neighbor. For all I knew, they could have left the place a mess. I was not looking forward to it.

Yet the moment I dragged my bags, dog, and self through the door, my eyes landed on our kitchen table: a Hershey's bar and a beautiful envelope. A thank you note! The house was spotless. They even refilled the water pitcher in the fridge.

I took the puppy out, restless from twelve hours stuck in a mesh bag. On a whim, I walked across the street to let him scamper a bit on campus. On another whim, I decided to walk by Irene and Robbie's apartment to say hello. Wafting out of their door..... heavenly pasta sauce smells! I felt a little downcast- they were about to finish making dinner for other friends, so of course I'd have to leave to avoid rudely intruding.

And then Irene says, "It's for you! You're invited too! Didn't you get my email?"

Huzzah! Happy day!

So I started the day before dawn in frozen Dallas. I lugged and trudged all day by myself. Check-in line, security line, lunch line, boarding line, customs line. I feared the airport and the lonely apartment and bare cupboards.

And then God gave me a safe friend, and another safe friend, and a gracious guest, and a warm dinner with dear friends.

Perfect, really.

Thank you, Dad. You're a really good Dad.



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