Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From the Smokey Dusk till the Rum Red Dawn.

Sean calls in a panic on Monday morning. “I’ve got a boy dying with a case of Diphtheria can you admit him in the hospital?” I hang up the phone, down my coffee and go search for Sister Judy, the hospital director. Sister Judy is a short little hobbit of a woman, old and pissed off at everything, she’s been here for ten years and doesn’t have one friend but she almost died in the earthquake so she kind of gets a pass. Sister Judy tells me in a screechy voice that we can’t see the boy since we are not set up for Diphtheria and don’t have the antidote.

I rush to Conan, a reformed misfit who grew up and is best friends with Father Rick; Conan built this hospital and has become my closest friend here. He is tough and quick to anger but he has a golden heart, loves Haiti and understands this world. Conan says we don’t turn any child away we will help him. The boy shows up at the hospital, in the back of the ambulance he’s dying: needs oxygen. The nurse is a young blonde from Canada; its her first day in Haiti, she’s a wreak. Conan and her butt heads, we can’t help the boy, no Immunoglobin, Sean’s pissed; they rush out of the hospital toward Margaret’s hospital in Pettionville.

I’m pissed too; wish we could have done more. I’m convinced we could have done more but Sister Judy just wanted to say no. Power trips run rampant in Haiti. Waste.

The boy can’t be seen at Margaret’s needs to go to General Hospital, ambulance breaks down on the way finally the boy is admitted. General Hospital is the largest hospital in PaP and it ain’t a pretty place. That night Conan and I ride motorcycles up to see Sean and make a plan in case there is an outbreak of Diphtheria, which would be catastrophic. Sean has a RV mobile clinic that I want. We talk, drink and then head back down the hill.

Pettionville at night on the back of a motorcycle is one of the greatest things I’ve known in the world. I suppose it might be the rum but I always get inspired riding at night through the torn up hillside city. I have this funny reaction to rum; it makes me nostalgic for the moment I’m in, I don’t know if there is a word for this. I call it “Rummy.” Half a bottle and I become a lover of everything, everyone and especially of here: my beautiful and fucked-up Haiti.

At night, Pettionville is the Wild West. Pitch dark crowded streets lit only by fires and a few lanterns. Roasted goat smoke stings your eyes, trash burns, whores gyrate, gangs roam, guns flash, the motorcycle swerves to avoid potholes, you use all of your Creole proverbs in the first ten minutes laughing with the driver then you ride lost deep in the Rummy. You shift your position to get at the bottle of rum in your back pocket.

You cry; might be the stinging smoke, might not. Everyone is out on the streets, drinking, fighting and telling stories. There is a party every night and everywhere here as if to celebrate making it through another day. We pass black-lit clubs blasting Copa and Hip-Hop; dogs dodge out of the way as we speed through. At night no one sees I’m a Blanc; it is as it is. Every other building and house has fallen and become a twisted pile of rubble, these are the dark places. In the morning when the numbing of the rum has worn off it is a hard hangover waking up in a broken tent, in a broken city to a broken life. But night will come again and so will the rum.

I arrive in back at the hospital; an Italian nurse grabs me to translate something to a brand new mother. I head into the intensive care unit and find a weeping woman holding a baby no bigger than my hand. The nurse tells me to tell the mother that the baby has a fever and not to worry, it will be all right and the doctor will come soon. I do and calm the woman down and put my hand on the little boy’s warm heart and say a prayer then head to sleep.

In the morning I wake up to find the baby has died and so has the boy with Diphtheria. Fuck, what a hangover.

Conan writes me an email, helps me get through it.

On Wednesday I go to Tetionia for a distribution of clothing. Two men fight each other over a bag of shoes more join in, punches are thrown we need to get out quick. As we drive off our truck falls into a ditch and is stuck. I panic thinking the mob will attack us. The mob has watched the whole thing. They stop fighting and lift the truck out of the ditch and back on the road. As we drive off I watch the two fighting men shake hands and walk off together laughing. Beautiful Haiti.

World Food Program pulls through with food for the street schools. They deliver 50 tons of food and will do so every month. It took a lot of paperwork and charm to pull this one off and unloading the food was a really proud moment for me. This food will feed a hot meal to 8030 kids every day.

Yesterday there was a big party at the GOAL house, a huge mansion high in the Pettionville hills. We dance until dawn. 200 young NGO and Non-Profit workers from all over the world who work non-stop really know how to party. I sleep on the floor then eat brunch with my UN friends in the Latin Quarter: eggs benedict and a Bloody Mary. Mood amongst the aid workers is high, things are settling in and curfews are lifting. I fight with a girl from USAID who works in the embassy about the absence of the Red Cross; she says they are doing great work here. Then she tells me she gets Netflix at the embassy and her mail comes everyday on American Airlines. Grotesque.

It’s night now and raining. I’m dry in my tent listening to Dylan and writing this. Others are not so lucky they are wet and huddling with their broken families in broken tents. In the morning when the clouds break they will dress in the only dry clothes they have; somehow perfectly clean and ironed and head to work, some are my friends who work with me here. In the morning we will exchange greetings in the hallway and tell some little jokes and begin our day. I will never know what their life is really like, it must be brutal: yet they survive and laugh and stand up and fight proudly day after day.

It is extraordinary. It is the power of the human spirit. It is the power of love. It is my beautiful Haiti

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