Typhoid is typical and everyone is an electrician

As I write this I’m laying on my bed and flailing my legs above me as I let the fan bring some air to my body and liberated nether regions. I take in this very full, and very social day in Haiti. My feet are heavy with the heat and humidity.  It’s summer in the Caribbean and we are somewhere between 35 degrees Celsius and open fire.

In the early morning today I head to the border city of Ouanaminthe to visit a medical clinic. After an informal consultation over iMessage with my sister last night, we arrived at the not-so-startling conclusion that I should get a formal consultation with a doctor and some blood work done. I’d been experiencing several weeks of wonky digestion, the main symptom of which has been near constant bloating, and I’m grateful for the reminder that digestive issues are no small bug around here, the tropics. Now that I have a picture parade of parasites, bacteria and other very small, living things strolling through my imagination, I call friends in the area to get an idea of which clinic to go to. My first instinct is to head directly to the neighbouring Dominican Republic, but, hold on, there is no need to cross international borders; the Cuban doctors in the Universe clinic in Ouanaminthe will see me. Excellent.

I am there at 8:30 smiling calmly at the Director of the establishment.  Since I know no one here I call upon a member of the local Chamber of Commerce (who knows everyone here) to come to my rescue.  He steps in, introduces me as the Chamber’s Executive Director, and thus, adorned with my fancy, albeit correct, title and readily available caucasian ‘passport’ (as I like to call the preferential treatment given to white people in Haiti) I am led around the three-floor clinic like a prize pup.  Glancing at the two dozen or so Haitians waiting in line to be served, I realize that this kind of a line-budging behaviour used to make me feel guilty. Now, I simply see it as my ticket to be in and out of here in under two hours, and a factor to the list of ‘pros’ that makes my being here in Haiti somewhat livable in the first place. Up and down the stairs we trot, from the first sign-in, through the blood pressure sleeve, the consultation with the doctor, my blood test and right to the top surgeon boss-doctor who scribbles down my prescription and informs me of my diagnosis. “A mild anemia”, adding in an aside that my results do not indicate an anemia as per Haitian standards but a mild one as by Western standards. Seems to me like we really can’t get fussed about too much hemoglobin in the third world. And, he pauses, here comes the tropical twist: “typhoid”. I have what, I stutter. Yes, Typhoid. And it’s the season for it too, he adds.  Of mango season I had heard of, but not of this. Then he gets into some details about different stages of the malady which seem more like fractions to my non-medical ear “1/60” and then it can get worse “1/250” (you would think a smaller fractions would be better…) finally saying that there’s nothing to worry about. Either way I don’t really understand what fraction of the gastric bug I have in me. No matter. He’s from Guinea and has been working in Haiti for the past 5 years, “Malaria, typhoid, cholera…they are all very standard and normal nowadays!”, he tells me cheerfully, giving me his hand to shake.  I feel like I’ve won some kind of award. I glance around his crammed office hoping to spot a certificate to mark the occasion: my first tropical malady.

Feeling resigned, with medications in hand, I accept the clinic director’s offer of a free ride to my 10:00am appointment, a PNUD (United Nations) meeting about local agencies for development. A cosy room, a small crowd (some participants supposedly held up in Fort-Liberté because of a protest) conducted both in Spanish and Creole; our presenters are smiley and Dominican. Unfortunately, at this point, my attention starts slipping away from me, as temperatures rise and noon oozes in.  I also realize I have not eaten a thing since yesterday afternoon. Thankfully, I’m saved from making any intelligent remarks on behalf of my work with the ready made excuse that we will be discussing all of the details at a larger meeting in two weeks time anyways.  In a heat daze, I excuse myself from the room and direct my steps to a visit at a friend’s house, which will, thankfully, include lunch.

Once there I enjoy one of the beautiful pleasures of life as a female – a girly gab session. I meet my friend’s sister, visiting her for a few days from Port-au-Prince, and together with her, my friend and her 15 year old daughter we chat away about everything from what Haiti’s real problems are (with exclamation of “It’s all a mentality issue!”) to new boyfriends and wisdoms learned with the passings of time. I am warm (too warm, hardy har), fed and happy and am sent home around 3pm with a new French novel to peruse and promises of a splendid time in the capital, for next time when I visit. Winding our way through Ouanaminthe on the taxi-moto I take a moment to evaluate my situation.  My heart is beating strong and is full to the brim with that delicious flavour of quality time spent with women. I’m satisfied! I check in with my belly to realize it is well fed now but still bloated – I still haven’t started my regimen of newly acquired antibiotics. I’m pensive. That cliché image of an impoverished, African child with a big, bloated belly flickers before my eyes. Bacteria indeed. I call my housekeeper while on the motorcycle… come by the house please and let’s chat about cleanliness. I vow to personally oversee the washing of the drinking water containers.

Wave after wave of heat pushes up from the asphalt as we fly down the highway, now on our way back to Fort-Liberté. With my meds tucked away safely in my purse and sweat trickling slowly down my back I fully absorb my reality of what living here, in the tropics really entails. I wonder if I’ll have time for a short siesta before approaching the evening’s activities.

About an hour later, back in my bedroom, I register a strange CRAACCKKK sound outside and look to see a big water truck barrel down the narrow street next to my house. I think nothing of it as they often come by…until I hear my neighbour loudly bad-mouthing the driver of the truck.  I can hear from her rant that the truck has brought down a power pole and left the ensuing mess to lay in the dust. I come outside to see the two strings that used to provide my house with electricity hanging like sad threads from the roof, attached to nothingness. My neighbour is in the same predicament. Quickly a group of young Haitians from the area come together to work on fixing it. They dig a new hole for the pole, and hoist it up proudly. With smiles, they realize they first need to attach the lines to it, it’s too tall to do it any other way. Back down goes the pole and the lines get attached. I remark that perhaps it would be best to do this in the morning when the power lines have no electricity going through them. My comments are received but not heeded, it’s perfectly safe, so they say. I wonder when the last reported case of electrocution happened in these parts.

It turns out it is safe, and it does get repaired, and it’s also a great opportunity to hang out in the street and chat with my neighbours. The whole point of speaking Creole is the luxury of being able to converse with everyone here, not just those who have had access to many years of education and who speak French. My neighbours curiously question me. Do I have children? Am I married? How many children would I like to have? I explain that we come from different cultures and that few couples in Canada or the United States consider having more than 2 or 3 children.  Nor is it so typical to have children while we’re young.  In Haiti, you make babies early, and you average more in the range of 7 or 10 little ones in your lifetime.  “It is what makes us poor, so many children!”, a neighbour comments. In part I have to agree, especially considering that people here have few hobbies beyond getting cosy with their wives under the sheets in the evening… which, when paired with a national dislike for condoms, is a ready made recipe for a big family. We continue chatting, I’m sitting on a low stone wall with one foot in the dust and the other perched up next to my body, my chin on my knee. Several ants chase each other around my toes.

Coming back inside, I grab delicious, golden pieces of pineapple from the table, washed and cut by that wonderful housekeeper of mine. It’s time to shower (for the third time today) and check in on some meetings tomorrow. I have a biking adventure planned for the morning with a local high-school teacher and friend and an evening intro session to Awakening Coaching with another friend, a Mexican national working here for the UN. I lay my clean and already sweaty self to bed, legs in aforementioned vertical position, and start typing away on this recollection of a not-so-typical and yet seemingly normal day in Haiti. An annoying fly keeps landing on my right leg as I wave it away. The electric fan slides lazily back and forth across the room.

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