Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It’s my last day in Haiti, so it’ll be my last blog post here!  I’ve been thinking about all the things I normally do or see in Haiti that’ll just be weird to adjust to back in the states (or thankful to have back):
  1. Not sitting on a porch 24/7 on a laptop or reading and finishing a book within 2 days.
  2. Not seeing chickens and goats everywhere I go.  That includes not having chickens lay eggs in our room (the total most recent count is at 3).
  3.  Not having people stare at me, some people who laugh and others, namely children, shouting “blanc.” I’ll probably also never have children play with me like I’m a little doll, not the way the children here poke and prod me.  I’m like an Asian female version of Justin Bieber here to Haitians, where children are so enamored by my strangeness.  I used to like children so much in the beginning but sad to say, with all the harassing and name calling, my adoration for them has significantly declined.
  4. Not having children follow me everywhere I go, or just in general not seeing naked children… because half the children here run around naked.
  5.  Resuming back to having traffic rules which will be a blessing, because cars here definitely don’t follow them if they even exist.  Swerving to avoid speed bumps is common.
  6. Following #5, not fearing for my life every time I walk on the side that I’ll get hit by some sort of motor vehicle.
  7. Not having a tap-tap as my main mode of public transportation.  Plus, not having a booming bass vibrate underneath me as I lose all sense of hearing from being inside a car.
  8. On the note of #6, paying more than $1 for a 30 minute ride on public transportation.
  9. Having room in a car – whenever we’re in the hospital cars, we’re squished to no end with no wiggle room.
  10. Not having to Purell my hands right after I wash them with soap.  Clean tap water is going to be such a blessing.
  11. Being able to use tap water right out of the faucet and not having to use chlorinated drinking water to brush my teeth.
  12. Not fearing I may get some diarrheal or tropical illness any second.
  13. Waking up refreshed and with no bug bites, although I got used to the bug bites here and having little bugs crawl anywhere and everywhere.
  14. Sleeping in an open bed with no mosquito net draping over me that I somehow become wrapped up in when I wake up.
  15. Having a ceiling again – not sure if I said this already, but where I’m staying, the mission house, there is no ceiling, just a roof so all the rooms are essentially connected, and you can hear conversations everywhere since they just travel over the nonexistent ceilings.  I die.
  16. Having my own room again with real privacy, as well as having a ceiling again.
  17. Paying more than $0.15- $0.20 for a mango or any fruit for that matter.
  18. Not having the ability to haggle anything I buy.
  19. Not being surrounded by the same people 24/7.
  20. Realizing all this time that I probably didn’t get very tan, but rather it was just a “dirt tan,” and after a real shower, I’m actually still pasty.
  21. Not feeling dirty 24/7 and appreciating the feeling of cleanliness.
  22. Wearing normal clothes again – I’m already excited to return to my Anthropologie and DVF wardrobe!  I think Marc Jacobs is calling back to me.
  23. Not downing a 1 L bottle of water within 2 hours.
  24. Having regular internet, that although has been pretty amazing here, will actually be high-speed and no limit to bandwidth.
  25. TV AGAIN!!!!!  That means watching the Food Network as background.
  26. Getting a solid night of sleep without being woken up my roosters at intervals of 3 hours, including at 3 AM.  Do roosters EVER sleep??
  27. Being able to chat on the phone and text to my heart’s content.
  28. Seeing white people everywhere I go.  We noted how whenever we see other white people around, we slightly panic because it’s such an anomaly.
  29. Speaking English on the streets and having people understand me.
  30. Carrying on a conversation with someone random beyond 2 sentences.
  31. People not offering me their babies, albeit they’re very cute.
  32. Not seeing machetes which is pretty normal here.
  33.  I realized I do a lot of just staring off into space on the porch which is entirely normal… and now people will think I’m a freak if I’m just staring off into space.

I think this could go on forever.  I think it’ll be a culture shock for a full 5 minutes, and then I’ll be glad I’m back in the US.

My suitcase right now is so much emptier than what I started out with.  I’m barely bringing back any toiletries, leaving behind most of my clothes except what I’m wearing back so I’m not naked in the airport.  We just sat in a circle and did the full photo exchange.  It was actually endearing to finish our trip reminiscing on all our times here, and laughing about all the stupid ones.  Plus, it meant I got all the photos I didn’t have to take while I was here.

For the final week, we’ve been pointing out all our final things here.  Particularly for me, last Wednesday, it was my last fried plantain, yucca, and sweet potato dinner which is undoubtedly my favorite meal here, and probably the only meal here where I eat beyond what I should normally eat.  But, I allowed myself to be the most disgusting person at the table because I’ll never have this meal again.  Monday was the last French toast for breakfast which is my favorite breakfast served here.  Life is full of (food) heartbreaks.

Friday we had our last class for the community health agents.  They got certificates for taking and “passing” all the quizzes.  They seemed to really enjoy the class and were so fun to work with.

Julian had a deal since the beginning of the trip, where he had to catch a chicken.  I forget how it all started, but my PI for my project who was also here the first couple of weeks, Dr. Hyde, was part of this as well.  Anyway, the same chicken that laid an egg in our room – actually it laid a total of 3 eggs, wandered into our room so he used that as an opportunity to trap the chicken.   We closed all the doors and had the chicken trapped in the courtyard and my god, this was possibly THE funniest thing I had seen this entire trip although I did feel bad for the chicken which seemed really scared.  I recorded the incident, although half the time I was dying laughing or screaming when the chicken came near me and thought it would peck me.

Now there’s evidence that Julian fulfilled his promise.

Island life has continued since Friday.  Sunday was the last beach day to Cormier.  We were there for 8 hours, and guess what I did for 8 hours?  Sleep and read.  It was GLORIOUS.  I fell asleep for most of the day, reading Perks of Being a Wallflower in between.  Thankfully it was short so I finished it at the beach.  I had the most delicious pina colada made with actual pineapple that was blended in front of me, not some crappy mix.  The day was finished with a cheeseburger and fries, then a mixture of papaya, pineapple, and melon sorbet.  Greatest day ever.  This picture Elaine took pretty much summarizes what I do at every beach trip.

The "magnificent 7" as the electricians called us.  I did kind of love us.

For the past couple of days as well, I’ve just been relaxing, walking around Milot and enjoying the scenery one last time.  It’s my last 24 hours sitting on the porch, so I want to make the most of it.  Basically this is what I looked like for all my afternoons.  I'm only wearing a jacket because it was raining and the rare occasion I was actually a bit cold.

I'm finally saying goodbye to the CRUDEM compound and Hopital Sacre-Coeur... can't believe I'm spending my last hours right now.

This is it for me, so thank you all so much for reading my blog!  I hope everyone enjoyed reading all about my adventures in Haiti.  It’s been a life-changing 7 weeks for me and something I will never forget, from the clinical experience and visits to the village, to the culture shock and adaptations I’ve had to make.  I’ve learned so much, and it’s been incredibly humbling.

Love and can’t wait to see everyone back in the US!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I'm officially in the middle of the single digits countdown, exactly one week left!!  I checked the weather in Wayne, NJ, and I got so excited inside to finally see that I will be home for the last days in the 10 day forecast.  Yahoooo. 

Last Saturday I had my first cheeseburger and fries since I’ve been here, plus my Diet Coke (obviously), and it wasn’t too bad.  It was at the hotel, and no food poisoning resulted thankfully.  It was no Shake Shack though, but the burger hit the spot exactly.  The fries were too mushy (I miss crispy fries, especially the rosemary fries from Clover), but the group was happy to clear them off.   I finished off Little Bee on Saturday and Sunday, not bad for a 260 page book.  I recommend it to everyone highly.  It’s a great book and a quick read, in that you keep wanting to read it.  I also read Water for Elephants a while ago which was fantastic, so I recommend that as well.

To get to Cap-Haitien, we rode on a tap-tap which was blasting music right underneath my butt.  Logan and Julian purposely chose to hang off the back, which I thought about, then realized: 1) my parents would die if they knew I was hanging off the back of a van driving at 60 mph.  2) I think I’m too short to actually reach the bars to hold onto while the car is moving… the difficulties of being 5 ‘2”.  Julian is enjoying the ride hanging off the back though.

I ended up buying a snack-size pack of Pringles and Oreos which I was going to save but the food cravings set in, and I just devoured them both yesterday.  Woopsies.

I don’t think I’ve posted pictures of what Cap-Haitien really looks like.  This is the river that runs through the city, heavily polluted and trashed.  It’s sad to see a place that has such beautiful greenery as Haiti this dirty just a few miles away.

The ride back to Milot on the tap-tap: It’s just so much more calming and cleaner, greener than Cap-Haitien.

Monday, I was in the ED with Lisa which was empty the entire morning which I guess is a good thing, means that no one needs urgent medical care right?  Instead, we decided to go to the wound cleaning clinic which was nauseating.  It’s about $1 US to have the wound cleaned and redressed.  Again, one case included a diabetic foot which smelled terrible, especially in the hot room.  I had to step outside to clear my head because I thought I was going to pass out from the heat and the smell at any second.  I will never get used to the smell, and if anything I think I get more nauseated by it.  Some of the hydrogen peroxide that was being squirted out of the syringe landed on me, but at least that’s sterile.  Seriously, this is a huge incentive never to get diabetes like I mentioned before.  I also saw what looked like 2 hydroceles, though I wasn’t sure.  It pretty much looked like something no guy would ever want – a giant, swollen scrotum filled with fluid.  It’s supposed to be harmless, and I think both were drained – a hydrocelectomy (I think that’s what it’s called), since there was an incision and sutures placed, but they still looked unusually large… glad to say that I worked in the wound clinic once, but I don’t want to do it again, nor will I have to.

On my last day in Carrefour des Peres, I was so impressed with one of the women that I interviewed for my survey.  She’s actually a community health agent, so I expected her to be knowledgeable but they don’t have any formal training like a healthcare professional in the US would, nor are they meant to be healthcare professionals.  They’re community members who are liaisons to educate people on general health and recognizing when someone should go to the hospital.  Their level of highest education varies a lot.  She actually tested the chlorine levels in all her drinking water to make sure that it had the right amount of chlorine (too much and it tastes bad, while if there’s too little, it’s not enough to kill all the bacteria).  She’s a great example to the community, and I’m so glad she’s a community health agent so that she can set a good example of what people should be doing with their water.

One of the homes had a pineapple plant!  I hadn’t seen one of these yet, so I was baffled haha.  I felt like such a loser that I was so amazed by the plant.  I had no idea pineapples grew like that.  I really am a loser.

Tuesday night, Amelia was freaking out because she noticed that a chicken had laid an egg on the bookshelf next to her bed.  It was disgusting, and for some reason bloody.  Then we were wondering if chicken eggs were bloody after they hatched… which only confused us more.

Alec picked it up and started chasing us around… then he proceeded to smell it and made the most disgusted face possible.  I almost choked from laughing and also from how gross it was.  Then, he tried to put it in front of Amelia’s face which only nauseated her more.   Good thing we only have 1 more week left right? 

I had my last day in the clinic today.  I thought about not doing anything, but it's my last chance to do something, so I hauled my lazy butt off to the hospital.  Last Monday, I didn't get out until at least 2:00.  Today, we were so quick with patients, and we were out by 11:30!  Sweeeeeeet.  None of the cases were that exciting, but at least I feel productive, even if it was just for 2 1/2 hours at the hospital.

Now it's time for me to be lazy for the next 7 days!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

It’s raining right now, and actually very cool and pleasant.  I just saw online that it’s in the 90s in Wayne, and supposed to get to 100 again in a couple of days.  Yikes, I never thought that it would be hotter in the northeast than Haiti.  It’s probably in the low 80s right now.  Only in Haiti would I think low 80s is pleasant and cool.

Hope everyone had a happy 4th of July!  July 4th was a personal day for me from an exhausting Monday (detailed below), and also I wasn’t feeling too good since the morning when I woke up.  I was so sad to miss the fireworks and BBQ back home, but I at least tried to be as patriotic as possible.  The last few 4th of July’s were in Boston and DC, both of which had spectacular fireworks… can’t believe I missed them.  Instead we BBQ-ed chicken, and fresh chicken, which I guess is nice and healthy but also kind of a bleh,  meeting its demise 10 meters away from me.  We also had cake which was all I needed, and like the disgusting person that I am I started scooping the frosting from the cake plate.  Kevin mentioned that I talk about food a lot nowadays hahahaha which is not surprising.  I've already told him the places we need to go to in the 4 weeks I have back in NJ and NYC.  The list definitely includes Laduree, Eataly, and Shake Shack.  It’s all I think about I guess.

This is my dinner on a Styrofoam plate.  We also got fried sweet potato, yucca, and plantains which is my favorite dinner meal here.  BBQ chicken and fried delicious things?  Sign me up any day.  On the right is cake being cut up.  I already want another piece sighhhh.  If I'm craving cake here, I'm just thinking about the number of Paris Baguette trips I'll want to make.  I hope my parents are ready for all the pastries I'll be craving!

Group picture minus Alec.  This dress was the most patriotic item of clothing I had which surprisingly worked out pretty well, sans the little pink strawberries on the dress.  Actually, then we just added Nadia to replace Alec, and Jackie as well (he’s a Haitian who works around our compound and was amazing enough to set up all this).

We enjoyed some dancing in the gazebo to American music, including but not limited to Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and obviously some Party in the USA.  The guys all almost killed themselves from Miley but the girls thoroughly enjoyed it.  Dancing involved some sprinkler, car waxing, and the duck.

Since we didn’t have fireworks, we settled for a fire on which we put some work in.  Put the 2 together, it’s kind of like fireworks right?  Amelia, Logan, and Julian earlier had gathered some sticks, and we managed to pull it off.

This past Sunday, as a celebration of reaching July 1, we had our “airing of grievances” after dinner.  We headed to the soccer field nearby, and I had an absolute blast with the group.  We brought Oreos, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and beer, sat in the middle of the field (where I’m pretty sure we also encountered some ants in our pants, oh well), and went around in a circle as we each would air a grievance.  We surprisingly shared fairly similar ones, some of which included the foods we missed although we definitely praised the food we do get here, because it’s actually good and much more than I ever expected.  Other than that I’ll keep the rest of the airing to within the group.  We did end on praises, many of which reminisced on some of the best mentors that we’ve had.  Mine was the tightness of our group.  The mix works perfectly, and we all add something different to the group.  Some Cinnamon Toast Crunch remained, but the Oreos were all killed.  I’ve eaten all the cereal by now, not surprisingly.  I may need to make another trip to the American store and get more to sustain me for the remaining 13 days.

Monday was possibly the most exhausting morning I’ve had since I’ve been here.   I was in the adult outpatient clinic with one of our mentors Selin, who is an ER physician at a hospital affiliated with Tufts.  Normally, we get 6 patients to see, 7 at most.  We received a stack of papers for 17 people.  To see 17 people in 3 hours is ridiculous, and each patient’s interview and exam takes double the time it normally takes, since we need to use a translator.  We didn’t finish until 2:00 , no breaks at all between.  Some patients had, no joke, 6 chief complaints, and because we had so many patients, we had to ask what the absolute most important problem was, because we just did not have the time to address every concern.  We also had a good feeling that most of these people were overall exaggerating their problems and actually didn’t have all these issues.  I can't even really remember what cases I saw.  The only one I remember is the one about cervical arthritis.  Otherwise, I think I was trying not to pass out from heat and not eating.

The afternoon was fairly cool (relatively aka in the 80s), so we decided to hike to the ridge.  It only took an hour round-trip but it was straight up hill, and there was no real path.  I’ve got scratches, the battle wounds to prove it.

The struggles of the uphill hike: 

We made it to the top!  We're in shock I think.

Look at how far up we are!  You can see the soccer field in the back, and our compound is right next to it.
This is my pretend smile where I look happy, but internally I was trying not to die as my heart is feverishly pounding against my chest.  Surprisingly, the way up was better than the way down.  Well, there was a trade-off.  On the way up, my heart was pounding against my chest as I tried not to pass out, but at least I never slipped.  On the way down, I slipped and nearly fell at least 10 times.  But, I felt very accomplished.  Whoever expected me to be this hiker now?  Oh who am I kidding, I went hiking maybe 5 times here just to force myself to be active.


The survivors of the hike!

Not to worry my parents, but you know how I just mentioned that I wasn’t feeling too good since yesterday morning?  Well, guess who woke up with her first case of diarrhea since being here.  Me.  I’m surprised I’ve gone 5 weeks without getting sick so really, this isn’t too bad.  I’ve avoided most foods today aside from some French toast and pineapple in the morning, and Nature Valley bars for lunch.  If I don’t eat, there’s less to come out right? 

Unfortunately, though I was feeling pretty nauseous all day, I forced myself to go out to Thibeau.  It was our last village visit to Thibeau, so I needed to get more surveys done today.  Now, we only have 2 more days in the village.

One of the homes was amazing.  The daughter’s father has a nursery, where they sell tree seedlings that have started to grow.  They had mango, cashew, orange, and a ton of other types.  I wish I could bring one back to the US.  We bought 2 for $1 to plant at the compound.

As we started walking, a mass of children started following me, Lele who is our translator, and Donna, one of the ER physicians here.  I kid you not, I was legitimately molested by children today haha.  As we interviewed another household, 10-15 children walked into the yard as well.  While I’m standing and taking notes, they started pulling and touching my hair, also stroking my arms and legs.  A lot of them were commenting on how soft my hair and skin is.  At one point, they started poking my butt and I had to jerk away and say no no.  They then started to touch my face and ears.  I had to constantly move around so they wouldn’t touch my mouth.  It was a fairly violating experience haha (not really, well, yeah I guess so actually).   Lele tried to yell at them to stop, and they would for an entire 5 seconds.  Then they resumed touching any exposed skin surface.  When we left the home, they followed us and grabbed my wrists.  Then, they started to argue who would get to hold my hand and try to push each other away.  I’ve never experienced this until now, this absolute fascination with me.  Donna was spared the attack for the most part.  They actually chose not to stroke her, but really only attacked me.  I asked Lele why they were so fascinated by me, and he said though they’ve seen “white people,” they’ve never been so close to one, so they were touching my hair and skin to see if I was real.  To them, I was a doll to play with.

When I asked for a picture, all of them clamored to be in it, and I’m pretty sure even during the picture they were still trying to touch me.

As we walked to another household to interview, they asked me what color my blood was.  I said it was red, just like yours, that all of us have red blood.  What they said next made me absolutely heartbroken.  The children said that my blood was better than theirs because of my skin color.  I had never heard that in Haiti until now, and to hear children saying it was really upsetting.  I hope that this isn’t a widespread mindset.

Less than 2 weeks left in Haiti!  Crazy...