Sunday, August 10, 2014

The End and the Beginning

Well friends, it is hard to believe that I have been back in America for almost a month now! And what a crazy month it has been! 

Backing up to right before I left Haiti, here are some pictures from the going away festivities:

This is Pere Michelin, the director of the hospital, and I as he presents me with a plaque for service to Sainte Croix

My going away party included great food, dancing, lovely words, and some fantastic gifts! It was very hard to say goodbye to many good friends, but as they all told me, it was not goodbye but rather “see you soon.”

I returned home into the squealing embrace of my parents and spent the next week getting really excited about things like lines moving quickly and the miracle that is the American grocery store (seriously. They are AMAZING. Take a minute to appreciate it. They are full of EVERYTHING you could ever imagine. None of it is expired. The prices are clearly marked and you can play games with sale items. Bless my mother for putting up with the 10 minutes I would take inspecting the 40 different choices of nuts before selecting the kind I wanted.)

I spoke in 2 churches and gave some variation on the talk recorded here, in case you have missed my dulcet tones. 

 I also had the pleasure of presenting a poster on my and Kyle Evan's work in Haiti at the celebration of 40 years of women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church. What an incredible event!

It was such a pleasure catching up with friends and family and I managed to squeeze in a mini-college friends reunion and a Burd family “staycation,” here featuring the Philadelphia Zoo. 

2.5 weeks after returning home, I moved up to Pisacataway, NJ to start medical school. So yes, it did feel like I spent 3 weeks packing and unpacking and I am very happy to be settling into my new house! Here are Devon and I on our porch the first day of school--- Devon being the roommate that I found via Facebook while still in Haiti. Thank God for technology and very trusting new friends!
No, I couldn't open my eyes for either of the pictures we took

After a few days of orientation, we started up classes and then on Friday had the day I have been looking forward to for a long time: The White Coat Ceremony. It was an incredible day and it was such a joy to look at my classmates faces as we donned our white coats for the first time: we each had this ridiculous grin that indicated pride, excitement, joy, and the sense that we have arrived in our vocations. 

I miss Haiti. I miss my friends. I miss my students. I miss speaking Creole and the way you never had to look at the weather forecast and the funny looks I got as I walked down the street and the fish we ate on Fridays. Haiti is and will always be a part of me and I will be forever thankful for this experience. 

Thank you to everyone who helped and supported me this year, financially, emotionally, spiritually, or however else: if I realized one thing while in Haiti it is that dependence on others is not a weakness, but rather opening yourself up to grace, a vulnerable but beautiful place to be.

So this blog now closes but another adventure begins. 

"You'll need coffee shops and sunsets and roadtrips. Airplanes and passports and new songs and old songs, but people more than anything else. You will need other people and you will need to be that other person to someone else, a living, breathing, screaming invitation to believe in better things." 
-Jamie Tworkowski

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Give Us This Day Our Daily Rice and Beans...

When people ask me what I will miss most about Haiti, the first thing that jumps to my mind is the food! It is so fantastic. Let me give you a little taste. 

Sunday lunch: rice, bean sauce, and some kind of fried meat. This week it was chicken, but often it is Grilot, which is fried pork. 

My favorite day of the week is Saturday because Madame Dominique, our wonderful cook/mom, makes me Fritay---an amazing spread of fried deliciousness. In the front, on the right, are fried plantains that you eat with Pickleys, a kind of spicy coleslaw. On the left is acra, which is made by grating a root vegetable, adding a bunch of spices and some dried fish, and frying it until it tastes like a gift from the gods. In the back are french fries! Don't worry, I was sharing with friends :) 

Mme Dominique, frying away! 

Breakfast and dinner aren't much to write home about--lunch is our big meal-- but I'll write home anyway. We have 2 of those rolls for each meal with margarine. At breakfast they'll throw in a banana, at dinner a bowl of porridge. 

Rice and beans with beef. It has an awesome, spicy sauce, so you cut up that sweet potato in the lower left corner (yes, a purple sweet potato) and eat it together---so good! 

This is one of my favorite dishes --- Mais with sauce pwa et legume. The yellow stuff is corn meal grits, which you load down with bean sauce. The stuff on top, though not the most visually pleasing, is a mixture of vegetables and meat with the most pleasing spice combination. It is super good.

Other foods we eat each week include Friday fish, Sunday Pumpkin soup, and Saturday dumpling soup! As far as fruits, we see bananas, tangerines, and mango on a regular basis. We also occasionally get a treat of sugar cane, which you chew to suck out the juice and then spit out the fibrous parts (shhhh don't tell my dentist!) Dessert is not a big thing here --- I've only seen it a handful of times, and usually it is cake with a delicious meringue icing or this boiled potato cake. 

I am certainly going to miss this cuisine--- if anyone knows of a Haitian restaurant in Central NJ, let's go!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy 4th of July!

I will admit something to you, my loyal blog readers: my patriotism is at an all time high. This has something to do with whoever changed the name of the US Secretary of Defense on Wikipedia to Tim Howard after his stellar performance as goalie on Tuesday (thanks for the terrible present the week of our birthday, Belgium.) But it also has a lot to do with everything I have experienced this year.  

We take many, many things for granted in America. Anyone who has ever traveled to any 3rd world country will be quick to tell you that. But despite the occasional pork barrel project or Christmas tree bill, let’s go over some things that we (or at least I) take for granted that our government does for us.

1) Roads. In the USA, I can get to point A to point B on a paved road. If there is a pothole, I complain about it because it is an abnormality. In Port-au-Prince, there is a car-sized pothole on one road. Most roads aren’t paved. And those that are are not maintained.
2) Not only can I read, but almost everyone around me in the USA can. There are a few tragic exceptions to this in America, but I never quite realized how much I took for granted that everyone I associated with could read the words in front of them. This has provided difficulties for me in my work. Moreover, someone once posed me the question, can a true democracy exist if citizens cannot read? It is a question worth thinking about in a country where 53% of people are illiterate.  
3) Emergency services. Fire departments don’t exist in most of Haiti: if you have a fire, you better hope you have some good friends with some big buckets. The only functional ambulance I’ve seen in Leogane is owned by the mortuary, which seems like a definite conflict of interest to me. My personal favorite is a song from Karnaval that reminds us all that if you go to report a crime to the police, they will take care of it, as long as you give them “gas money.”
4) Social Safety Net. Say what you will about Obamacare or Welfare or Food Stamps or any other creation of the nanny state: it is terrifying to live in a country without a safety net. If you arrive at a hospital and are unconscious and alone, you might not be treated because they don’t know if you can pay. It is terrible to see severely malnourished children. It is trying to watch parents give their children up as orphans because they cannot feed them.
5) Effective courts. I have a friend here who is on his third try at trying to build a house because he has had two different contractors run away with over a thousand dollars each. And he has no way to prosecute them. 6) Staying out of electricity. I guess this one goes moreso to private industry for not letting the government handle it. But the State Electricity Company of Haiti can make electricity for about half of its paying customers at a time.

All in all, I am thankful to be an American, thankful to all of the people who helped us to establish and protect our freedom, and praying for everyone to someday know all of these freedoms.

I’ll see you in 10 days, America. Until then, there is quite a bit of adventure left to be had! 

Thursday, July 3, 2014


I was asked to spend a few days out in Darbonne at a Women’s and Children’s health clinic that is a satellite of Sainte Croix. To get there, it is a 20-minute drive down a road that looks like this. Thank goodness for good trucks and strong vertebrae.

The clinic is really phenomenal and serves around 125 people every day with two physicians and a handful of nurses. These pictures are from the afternoon, because in the morning there is no space for picture taking! 
They have a maternity building for women who are giving birth. Women are allowed to stay for twelve hours after their babies are born but many choose to leave sooner, either so that they can fulfill household responsibilities or engage in traditional post-birth practices. One of these involves sitting over a bucket full of some hot water and some herbs to return everything to its rightful way.

There is also a clinic that sees sick kids and adults.

 And finally they offer family planning services.

I was there to check out how they do their inventory and give it a little modern twist. The staff was fabulous, welcoming, and hard working and it was an exciting couple of days. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bassin Bleu

I have been gunning to visit Bassin Bleu in Jacmel since I got to Haiti last summer and, after having worked with a youth group from Minnesota who was staying at the school for a week, they invited me to join them on their great adventure.

You hike out a little ways, over beautiful trails occupied by washers

See gorgeous, blue pools.
Approach an edge where you are told to take off your shoes and hold on tight.

You reach this ledge where you have to jump in, and you think it is beautiful already

When you emerge from your dive, you see this.

It was an incredible, incredible day in this beautiful country that I live in.

Oh, and in case you need a laugh, here is Rigan, an FSIL grad who came with us, bedecked in Packers gear and playing with my ukulele over some stunning vistas. Rigan runs a clinic in a very rural part of Haiti relatively near Leogane and is the sole healthcare provider for thousands of people. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fete Gastronomique

Sunday was the festival of Books and Food at FSIL. Students and staff are all asked to purchase a book to help the school to build its library. The day of the event, the books are available to be read and people do passage readings. As this is going on, students sell various Haitian delicacies, and particularly regional specialties.

Selling their wares 
Orpha with the collection of books 
I tried the specialty from Jeremie, called Tonm-Tonm. It was made by these hardworking ladies, who were beating up the root that makes the yellow stuff in the picture below.

This is the dish.

 My instructions were thus: “Cut off a bit of the yellow stuff, put some sauce on it, and swallow. DO NOT CHEW.”

First attempt at “just swallow”

After I got the hang of it, it was actually pretty delicious: the root that they ground has almost the texture of bread dough. Just another day of exploration. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Perhaps, Someday, We Will Look Back Upon These Things with Joy"

Last April, I got an e-mail that led my roommate Victoria to recite a rousing rendition of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh The Places You’ll Go:” I was accepted to YASC and was headed to Haiti in a few months. We were sitting with other good friends in Fordham’s Rose Garden, one of the most beautiful places in the world, in my humble opinion. The central feature of the garden is a fountain surrounded by a quote by Virgil: “Perhaps, someday, we will look back upon these things with joy.”
The family and me in front of the fountain on my graduation day. 

The fountain was installed while I was abroad in France to much uproar: students thought the quote was inaccurate. “This is college. It is fun now.” The quote always spoke to me, however. Late nights studying for genetics exams weren't always the most fun, but I joyfully remember my roommates dancing into the room with headlamps on to disrupt my studying. I remember 2 am pizza runs during finals or that feeling of achievement when I finally understood what Plato was saying.

Living in Haiti, I often remember that quote. When the person I want to meet with is 45 minutes late. When I am sweating profusely as I try to eat my lunch (Who serves soup when it is 95 degrees out? The answer is Haitians). When I think I cannot handle another white carbohydrate. When I am having one of those off days where my French suddenly makes me sound like an illiterate five year old or when I really wish that I got the joke at lunch. When it takes four hours to drive me the 26 miles from Port au Prince to Leogane. A thousand little daily inconveniences that make my life so deliciously different. A thousand little daily differences that make life a joy here.

In a little over a month, I will dive into a crazy, incredible, all consuming adventure as a medical student at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, which will certainly be full of its fair share of late nights and will hopefully include some roommates who will dance with headlamps. But in these final few weeks, I find myself becoming nostalgic for the day to day things that yes, have made my life more difficult, but also less ordinary. That have put things into perspective for me. That have challenged me to think differently and act differently, walk differently and speak differently, to think differently and perceive differently.

No, it has not all been rainbows and butterflies. But in those storm clouds and baby tarantulas, there is a beautiful, well lived life that I am thrilled to have experienced.