Noise in Haiti is its own adventure. Usually there are no less than a dozen noises coming at you at any one time. Most of them are an ordinary array of yelping puppies, fowl, or spewing Creole (men yelling at a cock fight or the bedlam of a pick-up soccer game being played on a dirt and stone field with a taped-up rock as a makeshift “soccer ball”).
But night noises are an altogether different matter. The entire set changes. Right now, for example, I can count exactly 9 different animals or insects (mostly the latter though Kim would not like to discuss that). The sounds create a cacophony that is strangely mesmerizing. Some are long and building in character while others are short bursts of high pitched jolts. The one that really has my attention, though, is this bug that just won’t stop. He makes his cry over and over, with an extremely strange tapping noise that starts short and then gets longer and longer till it sounds like a wooden spoon scraping on an old worn and dented steel pot. It says, “look how proud and dominant I can become…don’t doubt my ability…I have developed this talent through grit and purpose to dress the night air and I will do this without tiring as long as my body will allow.”.
This reminds me of my Haitian friend Dr. Astride Jule and her 99 year old grandmother, Evianie Lapierre. Evianie was born on November 18th, which is an historical day for Haiti: “The battle of Vertieres” during the independence war. Astride says this is probably the reason why she was a fighter who survived 100 years in this mountainous terrain. When I saw her last, her small body was indeed tired of making the tapping noises, and other than a palpable pleural friction rub and a swooshing heart murmur, I never heard a peep or whimper from her. It is pleasant to know she watches and listens to the noises now from a place where no element of discomfort will ever be felt again.
And what of yesterday and today here on our dental program and vaccination trip? We have run so many children through our registration and stations of shots, drops, pills, brushes, and stickers (in that order) that i see an endless line in my mind of the beauty – fuller’s white teeth and eyes followed by prematurely rotted and nub-filled mouths and intrepid gazes. Most are quiet like Astride’s grandmother and prouf to allow the pain of a needle to wash over them, but others bring bounty of color into the “classroom now makeshift clinic.” These kids don’t know the harm that will be prevented via shortly endured pain (our familiar human plight, right? The easily missed or forgotten lesson of the long-standing benefit of transient suffering.)
As I lay awake, though, it is not the stalwart fighter, whose drop of blood on the deltoid is received without a flinch, that I worry about. It is the one who got away. Those devious few who snuck to the back of the line and managed to escape without his or her card being filled out. Who escaped the clutches of Taylor, Brooke, Blair, or James running them down and dragging them back to complete the public health mission of this crew from Tennessee. Those few are still subject to die the miserable, frozen, arched, and frothing death of tetanus that became exposed as all too common here in the aftermath of the now-famous earthquake. Or the painful, pasty, and blood-caked swallow of unbridled diphtheria. Despite our diligence and even the hawk-eyed glance of “Dr. Kim,” some of them got away and won’t be treated. Today, when the sun comes up, that will play out again… and tomorrow night I’m going to add to my “worry list” those unknowing souls and their journey into illness.
The balance of emotions will be achieved by other memories of this fabulous country. That of our arrival at one school yesterday and the 200 kids ranging from 6 to 16 watching our every move in their crisply ironed, checkered uniforms. Girls with bows and boys with scabs, called to the front to sing to us the songs prepared especially for our visit. My mental recording of the English teacher struggling through a written-out yet broken letter, more beautiful and powerful than anything penned in the Queen’s English. James getting up to tell them in French how thankful we are for their willingness to meet us and allow us into their lives. And then the presents brought to Kim and the kids through the loving hands of Father Guy, whose oversight of every child in this rural community of villages and its astonishing 62 schools, seems to have no bounds. The gifts are wrapped in beautiful paper and include a Haitian-made globe, various tediously grown produce (farmed on mountainsides in fields with more rock than soil), and robust eggs that are easier to come by yet no less valued.
And then there are three other memories that will stick with me alongside my worry list. The first occurred when we had finished at the Sisters’ school. After packing our wares into the jeep for the next school, the bell for recess rang and the girls we’d just vaccinated came flowing out onto the cement playground by the hundreds. They descended on our daughters like playful kittens. As if on cue, the black and white kids meshed and were one. The girls played with Brooke’s, Blair’s, and Taylor’s hair tirelessly. Amazed by their long pony tails and the previously unfelt silkiness, they girls fought to even touch the treasure. They braided, unbraided, and rebraided B, B, and T’s hair. Laughter as you have never heard. And then later the soccer game that Blair joined at the Broyher’s school, bringing her Coach Rico (from the D1 Brentwood Premier team) along with her. And lastly, I will never forget Brother Damien taking us to his self-brewed cellar of bier and then pouring us a golden chilled glass to round out the steamy day.
This is the stuff of life, regardless of the setting. God’s talents are on display right next ro you now. Look and see. Our view must be that of God’s example to us. Mine is in Jesus. His love and endurance, tangible beyond words and for the taking. Yesterday I thought of Him as my impatience brewed when a girl urinated all over us in irrational fear, and how patient He is with my daily foibles. Then I remembered the words of Mother Teresa when asked how she picked up the people of gutters. “I say to myself, this is Jesus Christ.” And I watched as miraculously the scene drifted into smiles at the absurdity of the scene. And I thought of His forgiveness as Kim was relentlessly patient with my shortness at times. I pondered the importance of the need to be forgiven and the solace it paradoxically brings to the forgiver (or the shackles to those unwilling to forgive). These lessons are catholic, that is, universal, and must be embraced at whatever spot we are along our journey.
Time to stop now. There is much to do today. From this ledge, I can see the sun rising over the next mountaintop. There are children to laugh with and to cry for. Sweat to be had. And the bug, the one with the building tap and stalwart message, he is now fading as the sound of distant crowing increases.