Friday, March 12, 2010


It's 11pm and I'm sitting on the roof of the hospital. Above me are stars. Palm trees are silhouetted in the grey sky in the distance. A gentle cool breeze is blowing. Crickets chirp. The rural dog network sends barks from the east to the west and back. The crazy chickens still crow, although it is dark. The smell of burning tires/plastic/garbage which was so thick in the air today has eased, and the air is briefly refreshing.

I've escaped up here after my bucket bath to wash off the thick layer of dusty urban grime. The cold water was luxurious after the scorching heat of the day, removing a plaque of dirt embedded DEET ridden sunscreen that makes my pale Irish skin appear almost Haitian. Luxurious, that is, until the two inch cockroach ran up out of the drain and scurried across my wet feet.

It's just one of those things, at the end of a long, dirty, tiring day that drags a small, poorly-suppressed whimper from my clenched throat.

Of course, it could have been worse. It could have been the banana spider -- giant throbbing bulbous body, pointy spiny legs -- that apparently haunted the shower last week, before some heroic knight in shining armor intervened with a mighty shoe. I'll take the giant cockroach over the massive throbbing spider...but just barely.

There are giant rats out here on the roof, I am told, which apparently climb around and prey on the chicken coops out back, looking for an egg or two. I do hear the occasional scurry and crackling of leaves behind me. I will not turn around to investigate.

A mango just plopped down beside me...too small and unripe, unfortunately, for my own midnight snack.

Mosquitos buzz by, apparently giving my legs some consideration.

Everythings' out looking for something to eat.

Earlier today, we passed a giant line of people on the road to Citi Soleil. American soldiers stood guard, keeping order with impressive rifles. At the front of the line, a Humvee guarding a truck. The precious cargo in the truck? Rice. One by one, Haitians walked away, balancing sacks of USAID rice on their heads. Would the soldiers actually shoot those guns over a battle for a bag of rice? I flash back to the knife fight over tarps witnessed earlier in the week. Yes, this situation could quickly get out of hand.

Food. There is desperation in the lack of this fundamental necessity.

Later in the day, a mad rush of people passed our truck. They followed an unmarked panel truck, shouting animatedly. Men hung off its grill, sideboards, and back bumper, clinging to the rear ants crawling on a jar of sticky honey. What was the precious cargo inside? Food.

Hunger...creates desperation.

Tent cities are growing. They creep up the sides of steep hills, guaranteed to wash away in the erosion of oncoming monsoons. They have spilled out onto the median strips of the main thoroughfares through the city. Spraypainted signs read: "Population 6,000. We need help. Necesitamos ayuda." Growing homelessness and poverty.

Goats line the sides of the road, snouts hungrily picking through discarded bottles and cans, amidst the stench of smoking garbage which has been, for some reason, lit afire. From the top of the truck, I do a doubletake and look down into a pickup truck below...full of dead goats, piled high, legs and torsos askew, heads lolling.. apparently being sold for food. The vendor met my eyes as we passed and laughed at my apparently disconcerted look...pointing vigorously at the goats and then to me.

"Want one?" he gestured.

"No thanks," I replied internally as I shook my head. "I'm trying to cut back on free range, garbage-fed goat..."

I shot him a salute. He bowed at the waist respectfully.

Did you know that newborn baby humans can survive on goat's milk? Apparently the only missing nutrient is folate. Who knew.

Mosquitoes feed on me. They carry malaria, Dengue "breakbone" fever -- a sometimes hemorrhagic, always non-treatable infection; and filariasis -- a microscopic worm which reproduces in the lymphatic system, blocking its flow, and leading to gigantic swelling known as "elephantiasis". I block them with 100 percent DEET. Nevertheless, they breach the chemical barrier and feed on me. I am covered with welts.

Many of the patients downstairs are covered with thick plaques of bumps across their hands, arms and torsos. Chronic scabies. Small mites burrowing under human skin. We treat them...but in this environment, the infection will likely recur.

What a crazy, interdependent, parasitic world, all feeding off each other. Just trying to survive.

Below me, an occasional splash. The tilapia -- an easy to grow, protein-rich fish -- flop about in their small ponds at the side of the hospital.

Downstairs, an elderly woman is dying of pneumonia...the single celled bacteria feed on the vulnerable tissue of her lungs. She has been weakened by the stress of the earthquake...and her immune system appears unable to compensate. She will likely die. We will do our best to make her comfortable, and give dignity to her passing.

Something is rustling in the dead leaves behind me on the roof. Time to retreat to my mosquito-netted bunk. Before I become something's midnight snack.

Please...if you are down there, Mrs. Banana wasn't my shoe that squished your son... Really... Honestly.... Can't we all just get along?


  1. Wow. This is such an amazing blog. You have brought Haiti to life for me. I am awestruck by your descriptions. Thanks for doing such wonderful work and for posting your experiences. You are truly moving mountains.

  2. I love your writing style, so perfectly descriptive! I found you from the RollingsinHaiti blog by way of the Livesays blog -- all outstanding blogs -- and this entry really brought back memories of our visits there. It's true, everything and everyone is out looking for food. And there's so little. Keep up the good work there and please keep posting!
    Gramma Rolling

  3. Yeah I came via the Livesays as well. I love the barking dog network. Glad to hear dogs are still around. We were there in October and Pastor Prophete said "When the dogs disappear, Haiti is on hard times" I didn't notice many dogs in Jan/ Feb. I had been using it as my unscientific hunger sad... thanks for your blog. My brother and friends are down there now and I can share this with his family so they can see what he sees. You are a very good writer.

  4. I have been crying my way through all your posts. I am so grateful that you are sharing your experience in such a raw honest and real way. Those of us who aren't there need people like you the make us "get it". If we can do anything from here please let us know