Google+ WTN Haiti Partnership: 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Team Withdrawal

This morning I am back in Memphis, listening to Pandora on my ipad and sipping hot tea while my schnauzer Rosie lies snoring on the couch next to me.  Every few minutes I give her back a good scratch and she stretches in her sleep.  Three open suitcases lie on the floor around me, and I've started the first load of laundry.  That's as far as I've been able to get since I woke up 3 hours ago.  I told my husband I'm in "slow-mo".
Missing my team members.  We spend 7 intense days together, morning, noon and night.  We share coffee in the mornings, granola bars at lunch, spicy Haitian food and Prestige beers in the evenings. We pray together, get on the bus together, load and unload suitcases together.  We introduce each other to the new and old Haitian friends we've made,  struggling through french, Kreyol, and sign language.  We worry together about the St Vincents children we see who are sick, and remind each other who to check on next, who needs to go to the pharmacy, who hasnt seen the nurse yet.  At recess we blow bubbles with the children and in the afternoons we work on art projects together, smiling through our tears when the children prsent us proudly with the art pieces they make for us. At night on the roof of the guest house we tell each other stories of the day, stories of our lives.  Singing songs in the muggy night air, learning more about each other in a week than most people know about us at home.  All our imperfections come out in Haiti.  I like to say Haiti brings out the best and the worst in people, and we learn "forbearance against one another".  We all strive mightily to offer our best selves to the children while dealing with our own personal responses to the incredible contrast between our American lives and what we see around us in Haiti. Sharing heartbreak and joy.

So to John, Hilarie, Sherye, Tess, Alison, Claire, Brittany, Sonya, Dr Sue Trzynka, Chris, Debra, Jody, Daphne, Kristen, and Calley....there is a Haiti sized hole in my heart this AM and you are all there with me.

Susan and Sherye (aka Ethyl and Lucy)

Susan Nelson

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Man of Steel

  My friend John Mutin has been with me to Haiti so many times I have lost count.  During the first Thanksgiving dinner we had together after I started going to Haiti, I convinced him we needed his paramedic skills to help me take care of the children.  That was probably 2009? He is my first lieutenant, finding the power cord, the clean water, the keys to the clinic and pharmacy, plugging in fans, setting up clinic.  (where are the alcohol wipes, the stethoscopes, the otoscopes, the clinic cards, the hemocue (machine for checking blood), the glucometers?- John will find them)

  This week we had the CBU nursing team working with us, which was fabulous.  We saw over 200 patients in 4 days.   Every patient gets their "finger stuck" for a hemoglobin (iron count) and most of the adults get their glucose checked also.  So while each nurse saw about 30-40 patients each, John saw ALL OF THEM.  In the heat and what I call "clinic chaos",  being interrupted every 30 seconds by some team member to ask ," We  need more alcohol wipes/hand sanitizer/glucometer strips/gloves/tongue depressors, etc. etc. etc."  Team members would rotate out of their stations to take a break or get themselves a small snack, but not John.  He kept going like the energizer bunny.  He has done this trip after trip.  He does not complain and only cries if a kid breaks his heart, which is about 3 times a day!  So this trip I named him the Man of Steel and decided he needs a SUPERMAN shirt. 
John at work

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Rollercoaster Day

Today we had so many emotional ups and downs.  Sonya asked Pere Fan Fan yesterday if she could buy a nice meal "with meat" for all the resident kids and staff at St Vincent's; this is about 70 people.  The kids normally don't eat meat more than once a week so this would be a special treat for them; also Sonya pointed out that eating dinner together is what you do with your family, so she wanted to have all of the team eat with the children.
We were very excited in anticipation of this, so imagine our frustration and disappointment when we were told this morning that the presidential election results would be announced today so we would have to leave the school in the early afternoon.  Many tears shed after breakfast this morning, but off we went to the school with plans to see as many kids as we could and hopefully spend some time with the children before having to leave.

Arriving at the school, I went straight to Pere Fan Fan's office to discuss the situation with him.  Turns out he was upstairs with what we call "Drew's kids", that is the most physically handicapped children in the school.  These children are wheelchair bound and unable to leave their dorm room by themselves, so often spend the day upstairs even when other activities are going on downstairs.  I was very pleased to learn that the new priest in charge of the school ( Pere Fan Fan), goes upstairs to check on these children regularly.  Marie Carmelle, the cook at the school and a longtime friend, told me that the children were all very nervous and tense when their beloved priest Pere Sadoni left the school suddenly this summer.  For about a month the children did not know Pere Fan Fan and were anxious.  After about a month, Marie Carmelle tells me, the children started to relax.  Pere Fan Fan shows affection for them and takes some of them to the park on Sunday nights for ice cream and other entertainment.  

So, finding him upstairs with the most severely handicapped children was a pleasant surprise. He told me the election results would not be announced until midnight tonight, so we could stay for dinner!  Sonya and I hugged each other in delight.

Alison and I and Calley (CBU nurse) checked on Margaret and Vundla and Matthieu.  Alison is a clinical neuropsychologist so was evaluating Vundla for developmental delay and neurological responses.  This sounds very technical and boring, but it really means laughing and singing and trying to get the kid's attention by being silly  (meanwhile monitoring their response).  

Claire with Vundla and Alison
So many emotions on the last day, thinking about things DONE AND LEFT UNDONE as we Episcopalians say in our Confession of Sin.  Have we remembered to give the prescription for cough syrup to the caregiver for Matthieu, who has a fever and a chest cold? Did I double check that we received all the medications we ordered and do we have a final inventory to leave with the priest when we leave?  Did we find the kid who came to clinic yesterday but left before he was fully examined?  Did we give a glucometer to the teacher with the 3 year old daughter with diabetes?  At the end of the day there was a run on glucometers.  I must try to write down all the promises I make to people to give them glucometers, because I always seem to come up one short.  Nothing like telling the music teacher that I gave the last glucometer away and I must wait until I return in March to bring him another one.  
Brittany and I try to give the teachers enough blood pressure and diabetes medicine to last until my next trip, because many of them will not be able to afford to buy their own medication.  If I can help these amazing people continue to care for the children of St Vincent's, I feel like I am contributing in a small way to keeping this school going.  

The art teacher had his students give each of us a colored drawing they have been working on since last week.  A gift for the visitors, he told us.  A treasure to take home. 

At 3:00 the priest told us they had decided to announce the results at 4:00 so we would have to leave early after all.  But the cooks had managed to prepare all the food early, so we had dinner with the children as we had hoped.  I must say it was the best fried grease I've had all week, with griot (fried pork), marinade (fried dumpling), french fries, fried plantains, and picliz  (Haitian spice cole slaw).  My best experience of the day was getting a plate for Rochelle, my blind friend, and holding her violin while she ate.  She played for us today and also played in the bell choir just before dinner was served. 

Rochelle plays in the bell choir.
Leaving is always hard, and this time was no different.  Some of the kids came on the bus to say goodbye, hugs and kisses and tears all around.  It has gotten easier every time for me because I know I am coming back; first timers like Hilarie find it very hard to drive away on the bus.  

Hilarie with a lapful of kids
So much else to say but sometimes photos say it best.  We are all exhausted after this week but happy to have been a part of these children's lives for a short time. 
Tess, Sherye and Brittany on the bus.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Deaf School in Leveque

Leaving CRP3 and Wes behind, our next stop was Leveque where Mission of Hope has built a school in the deaf community.  Many deaf people who survived the earthquake in 2010 apparently found their way to form a community together.  Sherye wanted to visit the school, where we learned about the Haitian government's ministry for Deaf Education and the Mwen Kapab ( I can) curriculum for the deaf.  Encouraging to hear about special programming for the handicapped.  The most exciting part of the visit, however, was the ride along the rocky road to the school.  Brittany said it felt like a DisneyWorld ride. I banged my head against the van door good and hard, and Sonya had the breath knocked out of her at one point.  Met by braying donkeys and bleating goats on the hilltop, we laughed and took pictures of the blue gray mountains and the turquoise ocean.  

We arrived back at St Vincent's at 1:00, after the nurses had finished clinic.  They saw over fifty kids today.  We plan to finish tomorrow and have time for the bell choir to perform for us and some of the students to play guitar or violin.  I'll close today's post with some photos.  Look for smiling Haitian children and sweating Americans!

Palm frond gate

Chris takes Professor's blood pressure.

Susan in clinic

A trip out of Port au Prince

This morning the CBU nursing team went to St Vincent's to have clinic, and Sherye, Sonya, Brittany and I went north out of the city. We travelled to Cabaret and Leveque along a now very familiar well paved road that goes past the airport and up the coastline.  Magnificent views of the ocean to the west, mountains to the east, and miles of rocky dirt fields in between.  Lots of banana groves and what looks like cultivated crops, then open empty fields with the occasional donkey or goat.  Villages have market stalls, filled today with mangoes, plantains, car parts, tires, clothing, shoes, stereo equipment, mattresses, furniture, sheets, juice or soda in bottles, sugar cane in wheelbarrows.  Then there are the SUPER LOTO stalls; small wooden buildings only big enough to hold one person.  Brightly painted green and yellow and orange, they are everywhere.

 Looking for a church and school community called CPR3, we drove past the Monroe's tire shop which was our landmark.  Stopping to ask directions, we turned back and found our way.  The tire shop was still there but had a different name, and the small road turnoff was hardly visible through the palm frond gates and cactus fences along the roadside.  Sonya had special shoes to deliver to a little girl named Wes.  Wes had a problem walking when she was very little and was seen by our podiatrist Dr Bheki Khumalo last year. Plans were made for her surgery, money was raised and Dr Bheki came back to Haiti last August with arrangements to take care of this little girl along with nine other children with foot deformities. Much to our delight, Wes had grown and was walking much better and the decision was made not to operate.   Corrective shoes would be sufficient!  So we were delivering some very particular shoes to a very special girl today.
Shoe delivery

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Clinic day 2

Apologies for no report yesterday other than photos. (slightly delayed by a slow internet)

 Had our second day in clinic today and saw about 60 kids with their teachers.  Most of the kids are reasonably healthy except for their handicaps. Sherye observed that the wonderful thing about St Vincent's is that if you DON'T have a handicap, you are the odd one out. 
Jody, a CBU nurse who works with children at St Jude's, has a wonderful way with the children.  Many of them cannot stand on the scale, so getting their weight requires a creative approach.  Nurse weighs himself first, then picks up the child and weighs again.  Of course, Jody loves the job.  Kids with leg braces, kids with no feet, kids in wheelchairs. All smiling to be picked up by the "wolf - man", the kids call him, because of his hairy arms.  

We found one child with a hemoglobin of 4.3  (normal is 12).  John said her blood came out "like water".  In the States we would admit that child to the hospital for a big workup looking for some dread disease.  Here it is always nutritional.  One of the reasons we bring suitcases full of children's vitamins with iron.  

 The record high blood pressure for the day was 230/108.  It was a patient I have come to know well over the years, one of the deaf teachers. We'll call her Dixie.   Her blood pressure is ALWAYS high, despite my best efforts to bring her enough medication to keep it under control.  The conversation is always the same, "Did you take the medication I gave you when I was here last….March…..May….November….?"  "Yes, I take the medication."   "When did you stop taking it?"  "When I ran out."   "When was that?".  "I take the medication until I run out".    Time has no meaning in Haiti.  Symptoms such as cough are reported as happening "Since the earthquake."  (Which was in 2010).  I have tried to bring enough medication for the staff to have for their blood pressure and diabetes, to last until my next trip.  For some, it seems to work, because their blood pressure and blood sugar are normal the next time I come.  Others, however, like Dixie, never seem to have any improvement.  I wonder if they take the medication, or lose it, or sell it, or only take it sometimes.  
Sending partial post…..power going out.
I wonder how a woman can survive so long with that kind of high blood pressure.  I have been treating Dixie for 7 years, and am fairly certain I am the only doctor she ever sees.  

On a lighter note, many of the boys and girls I know seem to have grown a foot since May.  Frenel, my good friend, who reads me his science homework in Braille, has grown 3 inches. In 6 months.  Some of the older girls now wear lipstick and talk about their boyfriends, just like kids anywhere.  It is a delight to be part of their lives as they grow.  Dieumene is studying English so she can go to University and study child psychology.  She wants to be a child psychologist and work in  Haiti with handicapped children, to tell them that they can do anything and not to be held back by their handicaps.  Dieumene has no arms and grew up at St Vincent's.  Like many others, she has received an education here that kept her from begging in the streets and has given her a chance to grow and develop her potential as a human being.  

Alison doing pentangles with a concentrating student.

In the afternoon, we have arts activities for the children, sidewalk chalk to draw a hopscotch grid, beads and pipe cleaners for the blind children to make necklaces or other crafts.  It is a quiet time after the rush of clinic, and is my favorite way to spend an afternoon.  I often sit against one wall or in the corner, absorbing what is going on but not in the middle of it all.  It's a great way to decompress.  

During the week we read Morning Prayer every day after breakfast, and this week we read the parable of the mustard seed.  A tiny bit of faith growing into a big tree that can cover and protect all.  Our little bit of work in Haiti feels like that mustard seed, and I can see the tree growing year after year.  Its fun to watch.

Susan drawing chalk paintings with the kids.
more pictures
Dr. Sue Trzynka and friend
John watches Bergens draw.
Ariana and Susan
Daphne checks a patient.

Monday, November 2, 2015

First clinic day

Driving through the gates of St. Vincent's is like coming home to family. Familiar faces and arms and hugs. Smiles and cheers. Old friends connecting again. Tears of recognition. A welcome sign greets us. 

November is blessedly cool this year, only 85 degrees.  

Sonya hugs Auguste and he stands up out of his wheelchair. A rare occurrence.

John hugs Diana. Dachnika standing next to John.

Repair of the light socket in the music room now a temporary pharmacy.
Blue sparks flying shortly after this photo was taken. I couldn't bear to watch. Mercifully no electrocution injuries.
Chris helps Brittany set up the pharmacy.

Claire helps a child with the art project.

Chrisnel is blind. He is working on an art project.
End of the day. Brittany counting meds in the pharmacy.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sitting on the Porch

Sitting on the porch at the guest house with Brittany and Sherye, listening to the rain fall in the trees just beyond.  A nice gentle rain that was heralded by spurts of lightning that drove us off the roof.
Left Memphis at 8 AM with our team of 7 CBU nurses, a pharmacist, a paramedic, an interpreter for the deaf, a guitarist, a graphic artist, a psychologist, a friend of my realtor who happens to be fluent in French,   and myself, the family doctor..  Typical mixed group of many talents, with about 20 suitcases of vitamins and medical supplies, bandaids and gloves and bubbles.  Yes bubbles, for the children.  

Sorting through all those bags after we have arrived is always entertaining.  Ziploc bags of hand sanitizer and bug spray, crayons and tylenol.  One team member lost all his clothes, but found them again in someone else's suitcase (?).  The bottle of Glenfiddich arrived safely.  Team members giggling to discover nail polish, anticipating the fun they will have with the kids.

As we sit and enjoy the cooling effect of the rain, it is nice to be back in Haiti.

Susan Nelson

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Seeing Port au Prince like a Tourist, Meeting a Celebrity

Today being our last full day in Haiti, we spent it driving up into Kenscoff which is "up on the mountain" above Port au Prince.  It is cooler up there and many fancier homes can be found.  The Baptist Mission is also up there, which I saw for the first time today.  A lovely craft shop full of hand made bags, linens, jewelry as well as dishes from china and wood.  An American woman walked up and introduced herself as "Madam Wallace", and told us, "I'm 91 years old and I've lived in Haiti since 1946!". When we told her we work at Ecole St Vincent, she brightened up even more and talked about Sister Joan Margaret. She said her name is Eleanor, but the Haitians call her Madam Wallace because of her husband.  I asked her about Larry and Gwen Mellon, who founded Albert Schweitzer hospital in Deschapelles, (about whom I am reading a book at the moment), and she told me about Gwen Mellon coming to Haiti and helping her out with caring for sick children.  She also knows Dr Gretchen Berggren, who vaccinated thousands of children against tetanus during the 70s and 80s.  Apparently Dr Berggren's daughter was baptized by Pastor Wallace.  Then Eleanor mentioned her son's book, Creole Made Easy.  Wally Turnbull, I realized with a sudden shock!  I have studied his book and listened to his CD dozens of times!  It was like meeting the First Lady and not realizing who she was right away.

With more time and a cup of coffee, I could have listened to her stories for hours.  I'm sure she would have obliged!  But we had to leave so I said goodbye and she said she would pray for me and our ministry.  Quite a blessing from a special person who has devoted her life to the people of Haiti.

Sienna and I walked across the street and "ran the gauntlet" of shop keepers pressing for our attention.  We found two delightful paintings and then got out of there, our money spent along with our tolerance for requests from all sides, "Can I show you Madam?  Come see my shop Madam?  I give you good price Madam!"

Tomorrow we will stop at St Vincents to say goodbye to our friends before boarding the plane for Atlanta. Such an amazing two weeks.  As I sit typing for this blogpost at the guest house, sweating and looking forward to air conditioning, I am so thankful for this chance to travel and learn so much more about this country I love.  We have memories and treasures to bring home, and a trunk load of stories.  Thank you to my readers for sharing some of these with me, and for taking the time to glimpse the "other side of Haiti".

Friday, May 29, 2015

Voyage Day #6 Lots of rest and a quick plane trip

Slept from 10:30 pm til 6:30 am in cool beachside hotel room.  Sienna and I cant get over how much cooler it is in Cap Haitian than in Port au Prince.  Morning coffee with fresh mango and pineapple!
Sienna and I spent an hour or so in the ocean; the water was clear and not very cold.  Many vacationing Haitians and a few Americans.  My husband pointed out that if you want to see Haiti like a tourist, you'd better get here before the Hilton moves in and the rest of the world discovers how fabulous it is.  Our hotel room, which could easily sleep four people, cost $120 per night, including breakfast and dinner!

The ride to the airport, through Cap Haitian, drove through traffic only possible in Haiti.  In general there are two lanes of traffic going opposite directions.  The tap taps like to make themselves a third lane, then the motorcycles weave in and out between all, zoom around onto the sidewalk and back into traffic, or cut directly across in front of you to get around a slow moving vehicle.  At the intersection, its hard to tell who's turning right or left because everyone piles into the center and tries to beat the other guy.  At one point we had a clear road in front of us, then a small truck ahead stopped to make a three point turn in the middle of the road to turn around.  In America, most drivers would stop and wait for the other driver to finish his turn and get out of the way.  In Haiti, the solution was to pass BEHIND  the truck, on the far LEFT side of the road.  I'm sure you can't even picture what I'm talking about.  It defies description.

Alongside the sides of the road were every kind of store.  Kris Te La (Christ Was Here) Barber Shop.  Sang de Jezi (Blood of Jesus) Moto Parts.  Stalls and tables with every possible bicycle replacement.  Pedals stacked on one table. Wheels on another.  Gears on another.  Bike frames and wheel spokes, sold singly or together.  A store for lumber, with stacks of two by fours visible through the open door piled to the ceiling.  A tractor trailer with a load of cement bags being unloaded one by one, the first man handing a bag to a second who carried it on his head into what looked like a small warehouse, followed by another man for the next bag of cement, and so on.  Madonna Beauty Shop.  "Miroirs e 2 Vitres" painted on a business door (Mirrors and 2 Windowpanes). Why two? I thought to myself.  One stall with stacks of shoes, another with every size denim jeans, the next with t shirts.  Reminds me of that scene in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, where Bill Nighy goes to buy replacement parts to fix his sink.  I suppose if you lived in a place long enough you would figure out where to buy just about anything.

Checking in at the small airport, Sienna went on ahead of me through security, which takes about five minutes only because the xray machine is broken and the agent must look through each bag by hand.  As I came around the corner I found a waiting room with about 4 Haitians, one uniformed ?airline pilot or crew member asleep on one of the benches, and no Sienna.  Ummm...momentarily bewildered, I could not figure out where she had gone.  I located her eventually in the bathroom and laughed at myself for being so easily confused.  On board the plane, there were 21 seats and 21 passengers, with two pilots.  No stewardesses walking through the cabin making sure our carryon luggage was "stowed entirely beneath the seat" or any sort of pre-flight check.  Just a recording, in English, with the usual safety talk about "In case of a water landing, your seat cushion also functions as a flotation device" and "in case of sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will automatically drop from the overhead compartment"; at that statement for some reason the man next to me and I simultaneously glanced at the panel above our head and laughed.  I think we both doubted the presence of actual oxygen equipment in that tiny compartment, or whether it would actually function if it was.  Also puzzling was why the announcement was in English, with a plane full of Haitians. Another surprise  was actually seeing the runway out the front window, an unknown sight on the large jets I'm accustomed to travel in.  However, I must say it was an easy flight and despite my anticipation of being nervous,I was not anxious at all. Within 30 minutes we were descending into Port au Prince.  I could feel the heat as we dropped, missing already the coolness of the north.

As we waited for our single bag at the airport in Haiti, the usual cluster of men offering to sell us paintings or give us taxi rides surrounded us.   Sienna felt a man tap her arm repeatedly and snarled, "Pa manyen mwen" which means "Dont touch me!". Suddenly we recognized with much chagrin, that it was our hired driver!  She apologized over and over, and he just laughed and thought it was great that she could speak Kreyol!

We met new friends at the guest house tonight and shared our stories and photos of the fantastic places we've seen.  Only two more days then home to Memphis.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

VOYAGE Day # 5

Sans Souci Palace and the Citadelle

I cannot believe I am sitting on a gorgeous beach in Okap(northern district of Haiti) drinking a pina colada and watching Haitians and American tourists play in the surf.  Sienna is out cold on the bed in our beachfront hotel room, under a fan with the breeze blowing through.  My chair is in the shaded protection of a large almond tree as I try to recount the marvelous things we saw and did today.
Leaving the lovely and restful Hotel Roi Christophe reluctantly, we climbed in a van with Moise, our driver, who arrived on time and smiling.  First stop the village of Milot, to pick up our informative and friendly guide Maurice.  We asked him to speak only Kreyol with us, after explaining my daughter's studies and my attempts to learn.  He happily obliged, so the rest of the day we heard the history of the Haitian revolution and all about Henri Christophe, Jean Jacques Dessalines, and Touissant Loverture in his native language.  It was quite compelling to be standing within the palace built  after Haitian independence was declared Jan 1, 1804, and hear this man proudly tell of his people defeating the strongest army in the world, the French.  How Napoleon sold Louisiana to Thomas Jefferson so he could return to reclaim Haiti (that didnt work, obviously).  How Christophe and Dessalines fought in the American Revolution in Savannah Georgia, recruited with many Haitian soldiers by General Lafayette (I'll have to check his facts on that one) The sad tale of Prince Noel (younger brother of Christophe's wife and queen, Marie Louise) who died in an accident with gunpowder.  Marie Louise was Italian, born in Haiti to Italian immigrants.  When Christophe killed himself (more on that later) she returned to Italy with her two daughters. (neither had children-we asked, thinking there might be royal Haitian family still living somewhere in Italy)
Christophe wanted to build a palace to rival Versailles, complete with gardens. His magnificent creation was damaged in the earthquake of 1842 and abandoned.  What we saw today was a palace of brick and stone, with lovely arched doorways and windows and fine views of the mountains all around. They had a hospital and printing press and a place to greet international visitors.  Christophe corresponded with heads of state including the Czar of Russia.  We went in the morning and the air was cool. There were half a dozen young Haitians studying their homework; one girl working on chemistry problems of all things. No other humans invaded the grand space and we wandered from room to room, mouths hanging open and cell phone cameras flashing. If you are friends with my daughter Sienna on Facebook you can see more photos than I've included here.

Leaving the palace, whose name Sans Souci means "no worries", we climbed back into the van for another "off road adventure" Haitian style.  Picture driving up a stoned road with switchbacks for 20 minutes, then arriving at a "way-station" where you meet your horse and guide for the last push up the mountain to the Citadelle.  Being warned by Tim and Mimi Baker, who have done this before, I was prepared for this!  The guides instructed us to lean forward on the ascent and backward on the descent. Right.  And dont fall off when the horse shifts his weight to stop for bodily necessities!   We climbed for 25 minutes, up and up and up.  The road was well maintained, restored during Jean Claude Duvaliers administration, we were told.  We saw several people working on it today.  Ispan is the government ministry responsible for maintaining the historical monuments of Haiti, and as far as I can tell they are doing a good job.

Sienna is reading the Game of Thrones, and as we walked and climbed through the Citadelle today she remarked how it seemed similar to the old french castles she saw in Europe last year.  Rows of cannons looking out through windows called "murder windows" (I dont remember the french name!). A grand aqueduct system built by the Haitians that still functions today to collect water and bring it down the mountain. At one time 6000 people lived at the Citadelle, and we saw the giant bread ovens used to prepare food for so many.

After Haitian independence, Jean Jacques Dessalines was the ruler of Haiti, similar to our George Washington, the guide told us.  Sadly, Dessalines was assassinated by Haitians.  Christophe and Alexandre Petion both wanted to rule Haiti after that. Christophe ruled in the north and Petion in the south.  We now have Petionville, a city  near Port au Prince.  Christophe apparently suffered a stroke,leaving him  partly paralyzed on the left side.  When Petion heard that he sent troops to conquer the north and Sans Souci.  Apparently this is the reason Christophe shot himself at Sans Souci, to avoid the disgrace.  We stood in the room where this happened, as Maurice described for us the sad tale.  Looking up at the majestic structure, I felt the loss of the dream of this man and thought about the structures man builds to show off his strength and power, which all come to naught in the end.

After climbing through more chambers, batteries, and vast empty rooms we rested at the top where we could see the mountains all around us and the drawbridge below.  Maurice was patient with our many questions and was happy, I think, to be giving his tour in Kreyol.  Very few people, even Haitians, ask for the tour in Kreyol. "They all want to speak in French", he told us. We talked about Kreyol being an oral language only until about 30 years ago.  Now the Haitian children learn Kreyol AND French and English in school, which we all agreed is wonderful.  There is a great need for more schoolbooks in Kreyol. Pas Ti Pas, the Haitian expression for "little by little"

We also agreed that Haiti's greatest asset is her young people.  He described Sienna as a "citizen of the world" which is a great compliment.

Descending down the mountain on horseback was mildly alarming, especially when the horse wanted to catch up with his "lady friend in front", the guide told me.  He put me and my horse in front after that, so no more funny business.

Tipping is always confusing in Haiti, as I never know how much is fair.  Fortunately I have learned to ask other Haitians this important question, so Maurice had prepared me and I gave each of our horse guides $5. There were three of them.  The first man quietly said to me, "you can give me $10, if you want, I wont tell the others."

Back into the van again, and it was only 12:30 PM, and still blessedly cool.  Maurice took us to Lakay Lakou, which he is creating as a "cultural center" in his village of Milot.  Arriving there, on the rooftop we were greeted by his wife with a bowl of fresh water and a bar of soap to wash our hands.  Se magnifik!  Lunch prepared graciously by Madame Innocent (a fine name) included carrots, potatoes, some type of green beans, onions, and tomatoes, all directly from her garden.  Chicken, killed that day she told us.  Picliz, Very Hot!  Brown rice.  For dessert, mango and cashew, the fruit of the same tree that gives us cashew nuts.  It tastes like bread pudding, absolutely delicious.  Again from their garden.  And finally, coffee, ground from their own beans from their own tree.  Hows that for Haitian immersion?

Sad to leave this welcoming couple and their obvious love for Haiti, we climbed again into the van   at about 3:00, to head for our hotel, Cormier Plage.  Again a mountain road, this one narrow, unpaved, through back country not obviously inhabited by anyone, much less a resort hotel?  Just sit back and enjoy the process, I have learned to tell myself.  What comes next will be even more wonderful than what you just left behind you.  Of course, what happens to a fifty something year old woman after a fine lunch with two cups of coffee when she rides on a bouncy road for thirty minutes?  You know what Im talking about.  I was about to ask for an old fashioned stop alongside the road when we arrived at our hotel.  Another botanical paradise, rivaling anything I saw in Hawaii.  Our room is beachside, and we have all evening and tomorrow morning until noon to enjoy it.
Truly I must pinch myself, or at least write all this down to preserve these memories.

Sienna and I promised each other we will someday return to magical Cap Haitian and its treasures.

Susan Nelson

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Today we traveled to Cap Haitien via the Sans Souci bus.  Speaking Kreyol is a huge help with understanding "check your bag over there" and "here is the waiting room" and "the bus leaves in 30 minutes". We did NOT realize we had assigned seats, however, as there were no visible signs or numbered seat designations, only Haitians asking us to please move out of their seat!  A helpful woman showed us where to sit, and off we went, pulling out of the station promptly at 9:05 am.  The bus, to our pleased surprise, was a large comfortable AIR-CONDITIONED affair like any tour bus in the US.  Complete with TV screen, playing a Haitian soap opera, but  minus the bathroom.  We stopped along the road at one point, in the countryside, and a woman took her small daughter off the bus briefly.  I realized that was a bathroom stop and hoped it would not be the only option, as it is a six hour bus ride to Cap Haitian! (Okap).

Reflecting on our progress north through Haiti, I asked myself which type of road do I prefer? A paved road that curves and twists up the mountain?  Or a straight UNPAVED road?  Once we got about 50 miles out of Port au Prince, those were the two choices.  I figured the pavement ran out in St Marc and they hadn't gotten around to repaving the northern part of the highway yet. We did see a few road crews at work, with heavy machinery in evidence, so perhaps the road to Okap will be better next time.  The unpaved road is gravel and filled with holes, some of them 12 inches deep and 3 feet across.  The driver is obviously experienced and moves from one  side of the road to the other in order to avoid the deepest ones.  Like Mark Twain navigating the Mississippi, I thought.  Careful drinking from your water bottle because you might chip a tooth on the next bounce. I think I have bruises on my back from banging into the seat over and over, despite the cushions. The driver blared his horn at every blind curve to warn oncomers "Nou La!". We're here!  This meant loud horn blasts every 30 seconds or so, for the better part of 3 HOURS! May I observe that "personal space" as defined by Haitian bus and truck drivers, has a different meaning than we Americans are used to.  Our travel agent had advised us to "sit on the left side of the bus, you'll see better.". The better to see the oncoming Mack trucks!
Mercifully there was a 30 minute stop halfway, for bathroom break and lunch break, in a roadside station built just for that purpose.

Back on the road, we see miles and miles of hilly countryside, most of it looks farmed.  Who owns all that land, I wonder?  The sun is so bright I need my sunglasses, even through tinted windows.  There are rare signs of human dwellings or buildings, other than the omnipresent BANK-LOTO buildings one sees everywhere in Haiti.  Concrete buildings the size of a Texas outhouse, with Pere Eternel (Eternal Father) often painted brightly on the side.  No houses or buildings to speak of for miles, then there is a BANK LOTO building.  Apparently every community in Haiti has one?  Then there are the groups of school children in their uniforms, usually 10 at once, walking along the highway by the dozens and dozens.  There must be schools somewhere hidden in the plaintain groves down the hillside.  Occasionally I see a half finished concrete dwelling, empty now, with arched doorways and windows and a 12x12 pile of cement rubble in the dirt yard.  There are hundreds of these in Haiti as well, and they all look the same.
Other Haitian mysteries include: how can a woman carry what looks like 50 pounds on her head without holding on to it?  The Haitians lay their clean laundry out to dry on the roadside, on what looks to me like bare dirt.  How do they keep their clothes clean?

Arriving at the bus station in Okap, we were quickly greeted by our taxi driver and drove through the "City of Independence" to our Hotel Roi Christophe.

Henri Christophe was one of the leaders of the Haitian revolt against the French, and built himself a fortress called the Citadel. He declared himself king and built a palace called Sans Souci ("without worries"). We visit both places tomorrow.  I noted the city of Cap Haitien seems to have a slightly more permanent feel to it than the crumbling chaos that is Port au Prince.  There are actual storefronts here, with doors instead of huge locked metal gates.  The hotel entrance is open to the street, and a cool breeze has been our company since we arrived.  Gorgeous mahogany furniture fills the rooms and hallways, and there is the usual profusion of colorful botanic life.  Sienna and I enjoyed passion fruit ice cream (intense flavor, like nothing I've ever tasted before)

 and then our feet in the swimming pool before retiring to our room.  Truly a luxury vacation.