Sunday, March 12, 2017

Night Opera

OUR CLINIC: for the people, by the people     photo by Patricia Borns
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Haitian spirits in the darkness

March 2nd, 2017 Marjofre, Commune de Grand Gosier, SE Haiti:
For years now I have had a box seat at the night opera every time I sleep over in Marjofre. Well, honestly to be more comfortable I retreat a row back into the dress circle, to my mosquito-netted bed just inside the open balcony door which overlooks the wout prensipal, or main drag of rock and dirt. The evening starts with a punishing mix of burnt out speakers blasting kompa or reggaeton backed up by the high pitched squeal of the generator that powers them. This is usually coming from directly under my bed, where sits the courtyard of the "Love People Bar Resto." The racket is often punctuated with black-outs due to the blessed malfunction of the power source. By 9:30 the gasoline has run out and all that remains is the trilling laughter of a few drunk tenors as they inch their way off stage. I can hear silence for the first time in hours. Footfalls on the road below, sometimes just two - scrape, scrape on its surface, other times a shuffling lilt of hooves, a 3 against 4 rhythm, donkey or horse. More silence. I hear a truck coming from way in the distance and above the baritone of the engine a choir of voices sings as they ride atop the load - hymns in brilliant harmony rising from peaks of charcoal and plantains. It reaches its climax as they approach my balcony and then fades rapidly, before I can get out of bed to see what passed. More silence, maybe I fall asleep. Dogs begin to take the stage, one at a time, then in duets, trios, full chorus. Howling glissando, yappy staccoto. Their pauses give way to some distant drumming - I check the time, its after midnight, and the houngan, the clergyman of the Vodou psyche, has begun to sing in the breath of the gods somewhere near here. Drums' deep voices. Soft call and response crescendoing and decrescendoing, carried capriciously to me by the wind. This goes on for hours as I deliciously drift in and out of consciousness. The cock's aria is always the first to waken me - one shrill joker decides to disturb the peace with his hoarse solo that is then answered by a resounding chorus of atonal wannabes. The pigs' snorts, the donkeys' toothy gasps, the choking gurgle of a motorcycle trying to start, bring this fine performance to a close as dawn arrives.

Admin Asst Mr Bulgué on clinic roof
Little tyke with raging fever and marasmus
I found the Centre de Sante Communautaire Mare-Joffrey, (CSCM) now the official name of our community-shared clinic in Marjofre, in fine shape when I arrived on February 22nd. Better than fine in fact, when I saw everyone's phones plugged into the sockets and realized that WE HAVE ELECTRICITY!!A beautiful solar system has been installed and is fully functional as of a few weeks ago, thanks to the generosity of our donors.  As there is no electricity in town, this is a big deal for us.  This month marks one year of full-time operation of the clinic, and since the beginning of 2017 our providers have seen over 450 people.  This visit was an affirmation of the work we are doing; 5 days a week clinic consults, mobile clinics to more distant communities, cervical cancer screening and training, partnering with other regional non-profits to improve the health of the local population - the list goes on. Shocking and heartbreaking are the challenges we have in front of us; a 3 year old child in heart failure due to end stage sickle cell anemia who died as I sent her to the hospital by motorcycle; the malnourished 18 month old pictured here who arrived on our doorstep with raging ear infections and abscesses, a 2 year old blind in one eye from vitamin A deficiency.  Our staff is working hard to partner with the Ministry of Health to help address the chronic diseases of poverty, as we can not and should not do this alone.  But we have done much to provide the community of over 25,000 folks living in extreme poverty an oasis of hope.  We have you to thank.....

Anatomy refresher at HHP training

With funding assistance provided by Women International Leaders of Greater Philadelphia, HHP organized 3 days of training at the clinic in the procedure of VIA/cryo; a method of screening for and treating cervical changes that can lead to cancer.  Haiti has the highest rate of cervical cancer in the world, according to some sources.  We trained 12 doctors and nurses in the procedure, all from Ministry of Health clinics that we have equipped with training and tools over the past 3 years.  Some have already been trained by me in the past and needed a refresher course, others were new to the technique.   We screened 131 women and treated a few for positive findings; it was stimulating to share so much collective knowledge with so many experienced providers in the house. This is our first training held at the CSCM, which will become a regional center for cervical cancer screening.  I thank my fellow NP Erin Quinn and Dr. Marc Debay who helped me enormously.

Patricia filming surgeon and HHP Medical Director Roberto Peigne, outside his OR at the large Port-au-Prince public hospital "La Paix," which has been shuttered by a strike for almost a year now. 

Another exciting endeavor this time around is the making of a short documentary about the impact of HHP by brilliant filmmaker, Patricia Borns.  Patricia has worked in Haiti before and has a few documentaries out on Haiti - Madam Sara, Women of the Mountains, Women of the Border, which you can find here:
Nurse Musac and health agent Jean Robert, crucial to the project's success

We are honored to have Patricia's donated time and talent and anticipate a beautiful piece that helps describe the work we are doing and the land where we do it.   Travels with Patricia also brought us back to Pak Kado,  a community of cardboard shacks constructed by deported Haitians, booted across the border by 
their Dominican neighbors.  We squeezed into this tiny house, generously donated by its owner to do cervical screenings - we have done close to 200 there already since the camp opened in 2015.
photo by Patricia Borns
I leave you with a few tidbits - first, a photo of me and my beloved travel companion HHP treasurer, Peter Halle, here at the "Hotel Snobisme" in Port-au-Prince.  I thank him from the bottom of my heart for his patience and dedication to the cause, and for his love of Haiti, despite its "idiosycrasies."

We were in the thick of carnival celebrations this time around, and I filmed a little bit of rara or Haitian carnival music and dance that happened right outside our clinic gate.  I felt like I was back in West Africa...


  1. Back at ya, Louise. Chapeau! You have made a difference in Haiti. A lasting difference.

  2. Fantastic - I love the description of the opera, as well as the work you are doing! (I think this is signing me in as NECC but it's Jenny writing...) xoxox

  3. Surely, it's challenging, but, you are making a greater difference in the face of the world. May the good Lord who motivated you start this very important project bless you and protect you throughout this Nobel course. And for me, as usual and ever, thank you! Thank you mama! No one is like you.