Report from Haiti – February 2011
By Sally Tamplin
I have just spent another week in Haiti with Homeopaths without Borders. Another interesting week helping and teaching those in need and establishing the foundation for future plans in this troubled isle. The streets are still a mess, no real change in the rubbish. This time I noticed many more pigs, and the sows have given birth, so there are lots of baby piglets – new life amongst the scars of devastation. I felt even more of an affinity to those Indiana Jones movies where a jeep disappears into the sunset in a cloud of dust. We spent more time navigating almost impossible roads, clouds of dust clogged the lungs and more pitiful images of Haitians selling their wares alongside contaminated gutters that flowed with rubbish. I noticed the piles of charcoal, very evident on the streets and used for cooking. In homeopathy we are always aware of the things that might heal us and I certainly ask my clients what’s growing profusely in their garden, the charcoal and our homeopathic remedy Carbo Veg, reminded me that in Haiti this is the time of cholera.
We spent our first day at St Vincent’s School for the handicapped, most of the students are deaf or blind or both. The School always welcomes us with open arms and it was such a joy to find a newly built clinic sponsored by the Japanese. There is a brand new workshop for the construction of prosthetic limbs, a room for physiotherapy, a room labeled, “club foot”, a reminder of how common this affliction is in Haiti and the medical room. We set up clinic in the medical room which boasted the luxury of a proper desk, examination tables, chairs and a fan. There was even a proper bathroom facility!
Lisette Narragon and I worked together taking cases and Michele, the nurse, acted as our translator. It was very satisfying to see a number of follow up cases from our previous visit in November and to note the improvement. We had a number of patients, ranging from the school students, to various members of the staff, cooks and laundry workers. We had a pair of twins who always come, they tell us that they are 21 but they look much older, so who really knows! One twin was quite well but was trying to convince us that he was very sick, he made up a number of complaints and then burst out laughing, he was so jolly, he just likes the attention, the effect was refreshing, we all felt much more light hearted after the seriousness of the previous patients and their ailments. His brother, both are inseparable and hold hands as they move around the premises, was clearly ill. He announced that he had “La Grippe” (the flu) and promptly fell asleep. His vital force was speaking loud and clear and without hesitation this twin got Gelsemium!
On the second and third days we visited the University of Notre Dame’s Nursing School. The old Haitian mansion, its main teaching facility, is badly damaged and only the verandas can be used as classrooms. Most of the nurses are accommodated in large tents in the grounds. I had felt that it might be a good idea to show power point presentations on this visit, having pictures of the remedies can help to keep people more focused, especially when there is a major language barrier. I carried my power point projector ,lap top and a power strip with me on this trip and just kept my fingers crossed that there would actually be some power outlets to plug them all in! We were in luck, despite the fact that we were in a tent on the first day there was a power supply and we were able to set everything up.Lisette and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The second day of teaching at Notre Dame was done on the old veranda where we squeezed ourselves in with approx. 125 first year student nurses. We had spent many hours rewriting our presentation and focused on first aid remedies and specific complaints such as trauma, sprains, fractures, burns, sun stroke etc. Lisette did a fantastic job of explaining the philosophy and history of homeopathy in French and I did my best to amuse the nurses with some graphic acting out of some of the remedy states. Between us we managed to keep the very large group focused, having fun and learning a lot at the same time. We came up with the idea that to maintain interest we should reward those who offered answers to our questions with a gift, we gave away many of the Boiron tubes of Arnica, Belladonna etc. kindly donated by the homeopathic pharmacies. This proved to be an excellent strategy!
We often see remedy states playing out and defining our lives, we came to Aconite and I was just explaining about the suddenness of the remedy state and how it can be used for sunstroke when the Nursing School Administrator ran in and was clearly in a state of panic. She whispered in our ears that there was violence in the streets, the election results were due soon and that everyone had to leave for home right now! She made the announcement to the students and promptly left.
It reminded me of some fashionable poster art that I have noticed over the past year or so in some of the stores in the USA and the UK, “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON!” We thanked the students for their attention and expected them to disperse quickly. Much to our surprise no one left. Eventually one of the students approached me and asked if I would pray with them before we all left. This was a dilemma since my school girl French isn’t that good, however, I quickly spotted a student who was a nun and asked if she would lead the prayers. The prayers were sung in French Creole and were breath takingly beautiful. As I looked around the large gathering of young people one could, in a moment, perceive all the grief, the sadness, the shattered dreams, terror and violence of this beautiful, yet scarred island and its people. It was in these angelic voices that one could feel the presence of God – a precious moment that will always remain close to my heart; these people have not been abandoned.
The crowd quickly dispersed, we gathered up our equipment and dashed off to find Joseph our driver. He was visibly on edge and fussed around closing all the windows of the SUV and locking the doors. As we left the premises there was an air of uncertainty as to exactly what was happening on the streets, and how safe would we be? I didn’t know if it had been the beautiful music, the prayers, or the hand of God but deep inside my soul I just knew that we would be fine, that, “all would be well “and so it was. The journey back to our guarded bastion, The Hotel Le Plaza, was uneventful.
Lisette and I had planned to visit the nursing school at Leogane the following day. Leogane was the town at the epicenter of the earthquake and we were hoping to meet the school director with a view to establishing a program there. We knew that Joseph’s vehicle would not be suitable, the road is very bad. As luck would have it, we had befriended an American businessman at the hotel who had come to Haiti to audit the banks, he had his own trucks, interpreters and drivers and he very graciously offered to take us with him as he was going to audit a bank in Leogane. It was touch and go whether we could actually leave the next day because of the election announcement but in the end the call was made to go and we managed to get there and back without any trouble.
There is much destruction in the town and many NGO’s operate here, we saw a lot of people with brooms, pick axes and masks hard at work. The nursing school is in beautiful premises – I called it, “The Hilton of Haiti !” .The compound is heavily guarded and the buildings are arranged in a courtyard style, there are four classrooms, one for each nursing year, a lovely library, computer lab, refectory and dormitory. The school is mainly funded by the Presbyterian Church in the USA and there is a link with the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Madame Hilda Alcindor spent a long time with us discussing the merits of homeopathy and how we could introduce it to Haiti, she had many questions and kept us on our toes, we had to prove our case and convince her that our medicine would be right for her people.
It was a successful day and we left with many new ideas as to how we can begin to make a difference with our remedies. The most important insight was the notion that an acute care certificate and a box of remedies for each nurse would not be enough. Madame Alcindor assured us that both would be tucked in a drawer at graduation and forgotten. If we were going to teach at her school we would need to go out into the surrounding villages, make contact with the local priests or schools, establish mobile clinics in the mornings and take her nurses with us. The nurses would learn on the job and then we could do some classroom teaching in the afternoons.
On the last day Lisette left very early for the airport so it remained for me to make the final trip of this visit to St Vincent’s School alone. Joseph dropped me off and I set up clinic in the medical room, a line of patients were eagerly awaiting my attention. My translator was Jean-Robert Joseph the School Supervisor, french and mathematics teacher. We had an interesting morning and I gave him the opportunity to learn some homeopathy. He was intrigued by the large copy of, “Synthesis” that sat on the table and into which I would often delve. I began to show him rubrics and point out certain remedies that were appearing .Most of the patients said very little, they came with a chief presenting complaint and that was it, no one was very eager to volunteer further information and people in Haiti seem unaccustomed to speaking about their emotions. Jean- Robert could see how carefully I observed the patients, looking for sweaty palms, dry skin, white spots on nails, hang nails, toe nail fungus, warts, signs of scoliosis, restless hands and legs etc. all the symptoms that help in the choice of a remedy, leading to better health, when there is clearly an absence of good verbal information.
One little boy especially comes to mind, he looked so sad and extremely withdrawn. I asked Jean- Robert about his personality and he told me that he takes the food from other children at break time; he hits them and starts a lot of fights. Careful questioning uncovered the fact that his parents do the same thing and they do this because they are poor and desperately hungry, their son is just following the example he sees at home. Sometimes the real remedy may simply be a bag of food. The case clearly shows the reality of everyday living in Haiti for many people. It’s a matter of survival, taking care of the most basic of needs, a meal on the table and somewhere to sleep. I gave the boy a dose of Nat Mur and opened my suitcase, I had several bags of trail mix left over from the trip and I handed them to him, by the expression on his face it could have been a bag of jewels, and to this hungry child that’s what it was.
As we continued to take cases Jean- Robert spoke of his own dilemma, he has four children and can no longer pay for all of their education, the kindly couple who lived in the USA and who supported his family financially recently passed away in a car crash. His children’s school keep summoning him and asking for the school fees. For a moment he looked perplexed and then announced with great confidence that God would provide the answer. I perceive that taking cases in Haiti is much the same as taking a case anywhere else, everyone has a story to tell, it’s just that right here the pain is more palpable.
I wrapped up the day with a visit by Jo Jo. He is a wonderful gentleman in his early fifties; he has lived at the school for most of his life and is the receptionist. He sits in a wheelchair, he has stumps for arms and legs, yet he is full of spirit, his face positively glows. I did not realize that he paints; the young boy who pushes his wheelchair was summoned to bring his bag of paintings and I was astonished, they were beautiful. He showed me how he paints with his mouth and talked of how he has travelled around the USA talking about his work. I promised to return again with money to buy one of his paintings. So ended this second visit to a remarkable island, a place with a checkered past, a troubled present, a precarious future, yet, “it is a place in the sun” and it has captured my heart.