Friday, June 24, 2011

my boys... Zaryen...

The other day I stopped in at Bernard Mevs (well, the u-joint went out on the truck and that's where we stopped...) and got a chance to hang out with a few of my boys. That's right, MY boys - I might have mentioned that I am the proud "mama" of 34 Haitian amputees... Macena was eager to show me how he makes a prosthetic leg, and to show off his fancy new "sporty" prosthetic leg (metal, curved like a "C".) He told me "With this I can run faster than you." I smiled and told him he could run faster than me without it - I've had my ass handed to me by him and the rest of Zaryen on the field. He gave me that sheepish child-like grin, and told me he remembered me from the hospital, back before I was "mama", when he was sick and I took care of him. I remember a lot of these boys from the tent hospital; even without "Zaryen", they were my boys.

Macena was a welder before the quake. After work on January 12, he ducked behind a wall with a bucket of water, to rinse off the sweat and dirt from the day before going home to his wife. That's when the earthquake happened - and he couldn't get out of the way of the wall fast enough, and it fell on him. As he put it, he couldn't run fast enough. The really tragic part - his was a tib/fib break (tibia/fibia - lower leg, below the knee), but he sat at a hospital with no antibiotics - no treatment for a week - and then came to us. The infection was bad, and he had to have an above the knee amputation. I have to admit, I didn't know that much about amputations, until I came to Haiti. Having your own knee joint makes SUCH a difference. Now he works at the hospital, making "fwapees" (prosthetic legs), and is one of the starting players for the Zaryen amputee team. Now, he runs like the wind.

I hung out with Macena and Cedieu for a few hours while they worked (and while the mechanic fixed the truck), talking about the team's upcoming trip to the United States. I haven't been out to see Zaryen practice as much as I'd like - it's a hard to get a ride down to the soccer field in Cite Soliel at 6am, and public transport isn't safe in that area so early (for a blanc girl.) So tomorrow morning, at the crack of dawn, Macena is going to drive his new (new to him) car over to pick me up and bring me to practice. It seems so simple, but was so touching - Macena lives in a tent with his wife and toddler, and gas is over $5 a gallon here. It will likely cost him more than a days pay to come get me, and he beamed with pride when he told me he would take care of it for me.

One of the other guys in the fwapee lab noticed I wasn't eating with them, and offered to split his lunch with me - not a big deal in the states, but a huge deal here. For many of the employees at Bernard Mevs, the meal they get at work is the only meal they eat all day. I smiled and patted my stomach - told him I had a little extra stored up, and that he needed the food more than I did.

When the truck was road-ready, Cedieu walked me out and said something that brought tears to my eyes - he said that even though Zaryen now has better gear and sponsors, I am still their godmother, because I was the first one to believe in them. He said I bought them their first uniforms, and that made them feel like a real team - made them believe in themselves. (They had had people promise to send gear and uniforms, but no one had come through, and I got pissed off and bought them myself.)

The next morning, we drove by the field on the way to work out at the orphanage in Titayin. We stopped by so everyone could see my boys play. And even though they've got real jerseys, most of them were still wearing the shirts I got them so many months ago. I had to smile when I looked at how faded they've become - I pointed out to one of the goalies that his shirt is almost pink instead of red. I think the meaning was lost in translation - like maybe he was washing it wrong - so I quickly explained that the faded color meant that he has loved and cherished it, which is exactly what I wanted to see.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

some "light reading" with my rambling commentary...

We have both city power AND internet! Whoo hoo!

So, I've been catching up on articles online, and wanted to pass along a few...


Just to be clear, I'm not going to Joplin (yet...), and while some of
the information on this webpage is specific to Joplin, and to the
group that the author volunteered with, I think a lot of the
information shared is good for anyone considering volunteering in a
disaster area.

For example, ALWAYS take a roll of duct tape, sharpies, and a knife or
good scissors. I would add a few things - like a headlamp - to the
list of absolute musts...


Volunteering after a disaster is not without its risks. There are
reports of 9 cases of zygomycosis in the Joplin area. Zygomycosis
(mucormycosis) infections are caused by fungi found in soil and
decaying vegetation. Lots of people are exposed to these fungi on a
regular basis, but having it enter your body (ie. through a puncture
wound from a nail from a flying building, or disaster area clean up,
that has fungus residue on it) is what causes the deadly infection. Of
course, extra caution has to be taken by diabetics and people with
compromised immune systems (for obvious reasons... their immune system
is compromised.) It's not uncommon to see zygomycosis showing up after
natural disasters...

I'm in the middle of an interesting conversation on facebook with a
few people about zygomycosis precautions. My personal recommendations
to avoid zygomycosis are:

(1) don't be in a natural disaster (ha ha ha)

(2) if you are immune compromised, perhaps on-the-ground disaster
relief is not the best line of work for you to go into. There are many
ways to help relief efforts that will not put you in harms way, like
logistics, fundraising, coordination of donations and supplies, etc.
After the quake in Haiti, there were people who were not prepared to
do disaster relief that came to Haiti to "help", and ended up being
more of a burden than a blessing. If you end up sick, you can't help
people, and may end up taking away resources from the people who you
are trying to help.

(2) if you are doing search and rescue, ruble removal, etc, wear GOOD
gloves. Ones that nails and glass won't easily penetrate.

(3) IF YOU ARE CUT/PUNCTURED (either because you were caught in a
natural disaster, or while helping with the relief efforts in the

flush the wound well - clean water, or bust open an IV bag of NS (0.9%
Sodium Chloride) and use that...

clean the wound thoroughly - alcohol, betadine, hydrogen peroxide all
kill "bugs"...

cover the wound - Your skin is an amazing barrier to infection, but
when there's a hole in the barrier, stuff can get through. Bandage it
up to keep all the nastiness out. If you don't have bandaids, even
putting some TP over it and duct tape on top of that is better than
leaving a hole in your skin open to all sorts of germs and bacteria.

even if it's "just a scratch", you should still flush the scratch,
clean it, and cover it.

seek medical attention - have it looked at, and for the love of God,
get a freaking tetanus shot, unless you've had one in the past 5
years. And if you're going as a volunteer, and haven't had one in the
past 5 years, GET ONE! I've watched 5 people die of active tetanus in
Haiti. It is a horrible, miserable, painful way to die.

(4) even if you did seek medical attention, pay attention to anything
out of the ordinary in your health during the disaster/relief efforts
and afterwards. For example, if the wound becomes red and hot to the
touch, you might have an infection. If that's accompanied by a fever,
headache, severe sinus pain, and swelling, it might be zygomycosis. I
REALLY WANT TO MAKE THIS POINT CLEAR: if a provider checked out your
wound the day it happened, and said it looked fine, this does not mean
that you are not going to develop an infection in the days that

(5) whether you have a wound or not, take care of yourself. A few tips:

Be sure you drink enough CLEAN water. Also, Gatorade/ORS is a great
way to replenish all the electrolytes you're sweating out.

Eat. We used to joke about "the Haiti diet", because so many people
lost weight when they came down here to volunteer. While you may not
be hungry in the midst of the chaos, you need your strength so you can
keep helping those in need. And make sure you're eating good food, as
in NOT ROTTEN food. We saw quite a few cases of people who got sick
from eating meats or dairy that hadn't been stored properly.
Examine/smell things before eating them. And, when in doubt, throw it

Stretch. Especially if you're going to be doing any sort of strenuous
manual labor.

Sleep. Not all the time, and not in the middle of a disaster actually
happening, but you need to rest and recuperate so you can continue to
help those in need. Also, we tend to make bad decisions when we're
sleep deprived... and when we're drunk... so don't booze it up WHILE
doing relief work. If you are going to drink, wait until you're off
shift, and don't go overboard. Nothing like being hung over AND
carrying people who are vomiting and have uncontrollable diarrhea...
Just sayin...

Be conscious of your health. Bowel movements are often affected by
stress, but they're also affected by e. coli, salmonella, etc.. Make
sure you have a good supply of all your personal medications, and
include enough for a week longer than you expect to stay in the
disaster area (travel plans get changed, airports shut down, etc.) Oh,
and if you're uuber white (like me), make sure you have sun block.

Be conscious of those around you, give them some grace, and don't
snap. Disaster work is hard - physically and mentally - and you never
know how you're going to react until you're in the situation.
Especially when it comes to death. There is often a lot of death
associated with a disaster. Even people who "have seen dead bodies
and been ok with it" can have a rough time with being surrounded by
piles of dead bodies, or seeing mangled children.

And above all, go in with your eyes and heart wide open. While a
natural disaster is tragic, the experience of helping your fellow man
is one you will never forget. And it takes a special type of person
to give of themselves and volunteer in such tragedy.


But wait, there's more... more cholera in Haiti...


I believe Father's Day (in the US) is coming up soon... I read this
and was laughing so hard, I nearly peed my pants. And we can all use
a good laugh down here in Haiti...


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

But wait, there's more... More cholera...


A good webpage to read if you're considering volunteering in a disaster zone

Just to be clear, I'm not going to Joplin (yet...), and while some of the information on this webpage is specific to Joplin, and to the group that the author volunteered with, I think a lot of the information shared is good information for anyone considering volunteering in a disaster area.

For example, ALWAYS take a roll of duct tape, sharpies, and a knife or good scissors. I would add a few things like a headlamp to the list of absolute musts...


Friday, June 10, 2011

There are about 60 kids at the orphanage we work with in Titayin. Before we showed up, they were sharing about 10 toothbrushes that got "rinsed" in the dirty bath water tub.

Sharon and I team-taught a lesson on dental hygiene; why teeth are important, how to take care of them, and what it means to "brush your teeth". Thanks to generous donations from previous volunteers and AmeriCares (, we were able to give each child their own toothbrush.

After the lesson we spent a few hours coloring. Most orphans in Haiti never get the chance to do "arts and crafts". The kids were very excited, and wanted their photos with their drawings.

I'm having trouble loading photos from the slow internet connection here in Haiti. To see more photos, visit the photo gallery on my facebook page.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

check out MMRC's page about last night/this morning


The morning after (or, rather, the afternoon after)


Took two women (late teens/early 20s) to the hospital with injuries sustained from the landslide - one with a 5-7" laceration approx. 1" deep on her leg and the other was hit pretty badly in the back of the head by falling debris. No survivors pulled out of the slide itself thus far.

I could hear the boys pulling in, and had hot water waiting. A pot full of boiling water into a 5 gallon bucket of tepid water makes for the closest thing you'll find to a hot shower in Haiti. Just what the doctor ordered.

As Paul and Billy rotated through hot bucket showers, Nate and I sat on the porch talking. Last night / this morning he saw his first cadaver. You never know how someone's going to react to coming face to face with death. It can be pretty emotional - especially when it's a mangled mother, clutching her child. The second child was found nearby, also deceased. Last night, he and Paul recovered the bodies of a mother and her two young children from the bottom of the slide.

The kids were old enough to have survived the quake, only to be taken by a mudslide a year and a half later.

The adrenaline started to wear off, and one by one the boys fell asleep. Time for a nap, then we'll reassess.

9 AM

It's cloudy, but the rain has stopped for now.

Last night, the ground was super saturated by rain, rushing water pushing at the foundation of a house at the top of a ravine until it collapsed, taking out 5 or more houses as it slid downwards. The people who live all around the slide were very uneasy - they know it could have just as easily been their house, and their family lost in the slide. Sad thing is, it still could be.

The area we were at was very unstable - a freaking death trap. Areas of mud covered concrete, you take a step, then you're knee deep in quick-sand-mud. The guys had to use climbing gear and repel down the mudslide to dig and recover bodies.

President Martelly made a statement last night: "The president with all of his emergency teams are working all night to come to the aid of the victims of the heavy rains tonight"

The Haitian police showed up where our boys were working, but without training and gear, there wasn't much they could do. I know a lot of search and rescue gear was left here after the quake, but who knows what became of it. The police did do something amazingly helpful - they brought a gigantic spotlight.

Our boys were at a slide in Peguyville - between Petionville and Rue Frere - but there was more than one slide last night.


At this point everyone I've talked to is in body-recovery mode, so I'm letting the boys sleep in... No survivors found, nor sounds from the slides to indicate there might be someone buried alive.

I've been getting emails all morning - people offering to be here in a day or two to help search for survivors. While the help is much appreciated, the reality is that there likely won't be survivors to pull out in a day or two. With all the water, the weight of the concrete, etc, anyone who actually survived the slide likely suffocated.

Of course, we will keep looking - there is always hope (lespwa fwa vive)

1 PM

Walking up to buy some bongu, it's clear that even people in our neighborhood (which didn't have mudslides) were rattled by the storm. I didn't get the normal chorus of "BLAAH" (blanc), instead, everyone asked the same question: "Savat?"

"Savat" I answer back with a sleepy smile. In kreyole, the word "savat" is both a question and answer, depending on the inflection. It means both "are you OK?" and "I'm OK".

I broke into the Starbucks packets for this "morning" and made a big pot of strong coffee, and toasted some bread on a cookie sheet. Billy, who slept in the recliner, was the first one up. "Bonjou Mom" he said to me and poured a cold glass of Coca Cola.

Stephanie - one of the girls who lives in the neighborhood - stopped by to say hello. She told Billy that last night the water was knee high. Inside her house.

Billy's girl called a little later - 2 more bodies found this morning. That puts the total to 6 for just that slide. (The boys found a male cadaver last night as well.)