Day One: December 31, 2011
We arrived safely in Santo Domingo landing at Las Américas International Airport. The flight left over an hour late due to lots of luggage being loaded in the plan and on board as carry on. One of our suitcases didn’t make it on the flight. The rest of the team traveled down on December 27th so it was very exciting to finally meet everyone. The ride from the airport was pretty long; in fact it was about two and half hours or more with two quick stops. Our final destination being Palmar De Ocoa. Along the way we dropped off Donna (one of the team members) and her husband at a hotel in Santo Domingo where they would spend some additional down time before heading home. We then picked up Jessica from the hospital in Bani. When we arrived at Pastor Veronica’s villa it was beautiful. Upon driving through the gate the driveway led us straight to the front door with the sea just yards ahead. You could hear the waves lapping at the shore.
Being that it was New Year’s Eve day we simply settled down getting to know our surroundings. This involved changing into swimsuits and heading into the water. The rest of the team was already on its way to the hospital. They wanted to be sure they got in and out and missed the craziness of traffic because it was New Year’s Eve. Traveling to Ocoa was really different. The land in this southern region is desert so we also passed a multitude of cactus tress. Most of the road was well paved, but some areas were extremely rocky. The drive through the capital and even on the local roads was harrowing with motor bikes everywhere. Sometimes there were up to three people on a bike and goods of all types. What I later learned was that many of these bikes were taxis. My top three motor bike sights: a man, woman and baby (about six months old) with the baby being held in one arm by the woman; a passenger sitting backwards on the motor bike while holding his own motorbike; and two bikes traveling together with the driver on the rights left foot on the other bike while he carried some large household objects.
New Years Eve dinner consisted of an outdoor barbecue. It was delicious and ended with watching fireworks. Each person shared something they were looking forward to receiving in the New Year. What a way to end a year and begin a new one. I don’t recall if or when I last rang in the New Year so far away from home. Let me tell you a little about the team: Jessica is a nurse from New Orleans. She enjoys traveling and is returning to Haiti on January 3rd permanently, to provide clinical care along with a friend. Her enthusiasm and joy at this opportunity was obvious. Lynne and Al, a couple from Canada are on their first mission trip together. They have a blog called adventures with Al and Lynn. Lisa is the group leader and the owner of the school Midwife To Be in South Carolina. She has been leading groups to the DR since 2008 and working overseas since 2004. Pastor Veronica owns the Villa where we are staying and Pastors in the Haitian Village and Azua. Yeremi is a 16 local teen from the church home where Veronica pastors. The entire trip you heard Veronica calling…YEREMI!
Day two: January 1, 2012 – Feliz Ano Nuevo
Today’s weather was just as beautiful as yesterday. The New Year’s Eve music in the village didn’t stop playing until somewhere around mid-morning. The Villa is about a 10 – 15 minute leisurely walk from the village so you can imagine how loud it was. After lunch and some quiet time the team headed to the Haitian Village. During my quiet time I sat at the beach just taking in the scenery and meditating. Along came Estella, a local woman who was taking a walk and looking for pretty stones. No she didn’t speak English, but with the little I knew we shared names and ended up walking the beach together. She found some sea glass for me (using my gestures I was able to ask if she had seen any) and she gave me one of her finds. A pretty purple piece that seemed like it might have been a piece of pottery or something smoothed out by the sea. The Haitian Village is a section of a village where Haitian families live. The homes are what we would classify as shacks. Made of wood with sheet metal roofs numerous family members share a very small space, maybe one or two rooms. Veronica told us about how an area had been bulldozed by the local government because it was endangering some indigenous trees or plants. Apparently they had been warned for some time, but where were they to go. The families that lost their homes ended up taking the remains from the homes and the church and rebuilt. We took some pictures with the children and look forward to being able to share copies with them. Pastor Veronica also began a feeding program for the kids with Vitamin Rice. From what I understand the children are to get this special supplemented rice a few times per week and then the Pastor will report on their growth and development after some time. Only the children are supposed to eat the rice, not the parents or other adults in the household. Shoes were also discreetly given to children observed not wearing any. They might have shoes they use for going out and special occasions, but we wanted to be sure they had the option of having shoes all the time. People in general like “free” and especially when they are disadvantaged so when things are being given out in the village it must be done with discretion. No hospital visit scheduled for today.
Day Three: January 2, 2012
So here’s the crazy thing. We didn’t go to the hospital yesterday and eight babies were born. That is proof positive that birth is unpredictable. Today we caught the 9am bus to Bani to work at Hospital Nuestra Sra De Recla. I laughed to myself during the ride because the driver was playing the radio rather loudly. That’s something that would never happen at home. The ride was about 45 -50 minutes then we walked several blocks. The hustle and bustle of early morning reminded me of Washington Heights, a large Dominican community. The sound of Spanish being spoken, lots of traffic, shoppers browsing the items for sale on the tables outside of stores and clothes for sale hanging overhead on display. I had already begun to see how the customs and culture have been transferred over to the states, New York in particular. It’s like that with every culture, but it’s great to see it firsthand. At the hospital the team pretty much dropped their bags and quickly dispersed. In the time it took me to use the restroom I found myself standing alone among the staff, not knowing if anyone spoke English, or what to do with myself. I roamed for about 10 minutes, tried to speak to a pregnant mom and her mother, and then resumed looking for everyone. After being reunited with them I was able to get a brief tour from Lynn and I went back to the laboring room and tried some of my Spanish on two moms who were in early labor. Me llamo Tamara. Yo Soy Doula. Not sure if they knew what a doula was but my next sentence explained that I was there to help them with their labor. I found it was easier when communicating with the staff to say that I was a midwifery student, partera, because I didn’t have enough of a command of the language to explain I was there as a doula. At one point I did explain to one staff person by demonstrating that I rub backs, hold hands and say breathe – respirar. We ended up leaving to catch the bus early because the two moms were about 3 – 4 cms. Before leaving we gave out gifts of flower pens to various hospital staff on the floor. Lisa made the pens and also redecorated the bulletin board in the staff room in labor and delivery. Back at the villa we had a delicious dinner, hung out and I prepared for the next day.