It’s the beginning of my fourth week in Haiti. In some ways, it feels as if I’ve been here longer but, in others ways, I’m still very much a newcomer. My week began with my trusty technician friend, Bertrand, coming to the house to fix my shower…again. I’m “cautiously optimistic” that this will be fixed on my return home tonight.
And speaking of “cautiously optimistic”, I seem to be thinking and writing this so much lately that I have coined a new term “cautiously Haiti”. The meaning of this term covers the entire range of emotion from extreme optimism (never) to extreme pessimism (usually but I don’t dare admit it). So, cautiously Haiti is how I have come to describe a stubborn sense of personal optimism tempered by the even more stubborn realities of Haiti where “yes” doesn’t usually mean that and “let’s meet at 10.00” doesn’t at all mean that.
When I rang the hospital director this morning (at 10.00) to ask where he was since he was not in his office at the time of the meeting he had organised, he informed me that he was “on his way” from Port-au-Prince. Now this can mean he is still in Port-au-Prince and hasn’t even thought about leaving yet or he is on the road but will be another two hours or he is five minutes away. No details are given and, when I naively ask why he didn’t call me to tell me he would be late, his response was that he had called his hierarchical superior to tell him but that he wasn’t there either. I remain cautiously Haiti that a meeting will take place, maybe even today.
A Baby, A Mouse and a Madame
The ins and outs of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier have, for the moment, disappeared from the news since the latest development is that the ruling party candidate, Jude Celestin, has been removed from the party list as a presidential candidate (although he himself has not removed himself from the election list). Back in November, when the “results” of the first round of Haitian elections was announced, the inclusion of Jude Celestin as garnering more votes than the former compas musician Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly resulted in rioting in Haiti’s main cities among charges of widespread corruption in the counting of votes. The removal of Jude Celestin as a candidate now means that a run-off election will take place between Michel Martelly and the wife of a former President, Mirlande Manigat (simply referred to as Madame Manigat). Elections are set for 30 March 2010. I remain cautiously Haiti about this.
Health in Haiti
Health statistics for Haiti’s population of 10 million people are dramatic: for every 1,000 people, there are only 0.2 doctors (the U.S. has 2.4 doctors and Norway has 3.7 doctors per 1,000 people). Of the over 200,000 people who died from the January earthquake, 73 were medical personnel (doctors, nurses, etc.). About 300 new doctors graduate annually from one of the three medical schools in Haiti but many of them leave Haiti for higher salaries elsewhere. There are even fewer graduates for 2011, since medical studies were severely hampered by the earthquake and students were not able to graduate on time.
While the Ministry of Public Health and Population is officially responsible for health services in the country, they are desperately short on resources, both human and financial and, despite the promise of billions of dollars of international aid to Haiti after the earthquake, not much seems to have been released to the government (probably due to a history of corruption and mismanagement of funds) and now governments in the West are awaiting the results of the election to see with whom they will be dealing.
Spare Time and Time to Spare
Things are busy in Petit Goâve and we try to take full advantage of our one free day a week, Sunday. So far, we have been to the beach in nearby Grand Goâve (twice) and to a southern coastal town Jacmel.
The beach at Grand Goâve has two main attractions: the beach and Villa Taina, a lovely restaurant owned and run by Christian and Solange, a French couple who came to Haiti 25 years ago for a visit and never left. They also ran a bed and breakfast but the building was destroyed in the earthquake. They will probably rebuild but it will take some time. While we wait, it is a real treat to spend the afternoon at their restaurant (must reserve the day before), sitting on the lawn outside, about 20 metres from a sandy beach with water a bright turquoise I’ve only seen on postcards. Their menu is comprised of whatever they manage to catch that day: swordfish brochettes on my first visit and lobster on yesterday’s visit. The prices are western (i.e., expensive) but the wine is good and cold, the company is fine (all the expats in Petit and Grand Goâve hang out there) and the food is as wonderful as it gets. The fact that I asked for a Ricard (instead of the generic “pastis”) on my first visit has endeared me forever to Christian…what a way to make friends!
Jacmel is a small coastal town, a 2-hour drive from Petit Goâve up and down through meandering mountains and exquisite landscape.
Jacmel’s buildings are historic and the town has been nominated as a World Heritage site. Its architecture was the inspiration for New Orleans homes and a walk through Jacmel did remind me of photos I’ve seen or Bourbon Street and its many balconies purchased from France. The town was heavily destroyed by the earthquake but its remaining buildings are beautiful. This, and its small but thriving artist community make it an ideal spot for tourism.
As with most tourist places around the world, there is no shortage of people selling things and, as we ate our lunch, we were treated to an almost constant parade of items for which we had little or no use. There was, however, one seller who touched our hearts…