Rara, and how the whole evening made me feel so valued! How unexpected, for this particular event!

I am sure you are wondering how the rara evening turned out!

It was last Sunday, just HAPPENED  to be Easter Sunday. Actually, it is always a big rara weekend on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  The FSRL students and I were invited to join FSIL nursing students on a reviewing stand right at the beginning of the parade route, where the bands started off on their musical march.  We were there at dusk, but the parades were destined to go all night and into the morning light.

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FSIL nursing students (and a couple of Rehab students too) peering over the rail of the reviewing stand, at the rara parades below.

One of the Americans staying in the Guest House during Holy Week said that having all the families outside in the streets, and flags, and glow sticks, made her feel just like on the Fourth of July back home, and that is a good way to express the mood!

Here is a photo of the staging area in the street as night fell:rara 16 - twilight to night crowd

As you can see in the earlier photo, the prime viewing spots at the rail were taken!  I climbed on a chair behind this row and could see a lot.  But after an hour or so, I was invited (by gestures, since the sound was overwhelming and conversation was nil) to squeeze right into the middle and get the best-ever view.  Here’s a short video clip (1 seconds) of the announcement for a band, and the start up of the bluesy rhythm.  I have been told that Haitian music is a prominent part of the background for New Orleans music, and it certainly did have that sound.

 

But still, after four hours of this (by 10:30 or 11 pm), I was flagging and started wondering how on earth to get across town in all the crush of humanity.  There was a van available, and there was  a driver (a wonderful nursing student, Jephté, who also drives ambulances), but it was just going to be impossible to move that van even an inch in the crowd.

So, as I was thinking this and wishing for a helicopter, one of the nursing faculty spoke to one of the guys, and almost immediately four young men, three of them our rehab students, came up to me and (over the music and crowd noise) told me they would walk me home.

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Selfie with three gallant guys, Rehab students at rara!

I was to stay in the middle, and the four guys on the four corners, and we would just go right through the crowd all the way back to campus, about one mile away.

It was great! With two in front and two behind, striding purposefully, hands on shoulders when needed so not to be separated, we struck out through the crowd.  As we were SO close (inches away) to all the other partiers, I did get some surprised double-takes – but by the time someone could wonder why an American was there in the crowd, we were already gone.  When the crowd began to open up a little, we hit a good walking stride and covered the distance back to campus in good time.  It was cool.  It was like being a Jet, in West Side Story.  Me and the guys, cool and confident, walking fast, safe and sound, all the way home.   They were talking and joking and making sure I didn’t fall into any potholes in the dark – all good.

I hope you can feel that too, that sense of being valued and protected.  In spite of any ambiguities about how our two countries get along, the people with whom we share this audacious project to bring rehabilitation professional education to Haiti are on our side!  We have allies, from the patients to the students to the faculty  to the university administrators to the Episcopal clergy in the Diocese.  It is good to see, concretely, that this is working!  We DO have a team!

Happy Easter (all seven weeks of Easter) to you all!

 

A PROVOKING message, from a Maundy Thursday and Good Friday point of view

Last evening, at 5:45 pm, I participated in the lovely, simple, powerful service of Maundy Thursday.  Only 14 people were there, including clergy.  We sat in an oval arrangement, with the holy table right there at one end.  Père Sonley talked about the significance of the intimacy between Jesus and his closest friends, and that that is the same soul-friendship that Jesus offers each of us with himself.  In the same way he encourages deep friendship, at the deepest level of our souls, between all of us here and now.  Come let us deepen our lives together!

Today at mid-day I will go to Église Ste. Croix for the Liturgy of Good Friday.

Here is a lovely passage from the letter to the Hebrews, from the readings designated for Good Friday.   (I am reading them in English this morning, with the intention of understanding the Kreyol reading better, when I go today.)

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.      Hebrews 10: 23-24

I am by this inspired to write a message that is “provoking”!    But, as the author of Hebrews says, “Let us consider how!”

What is the situation right now today in our lives?

Each of us has something heavy on our hearts, I am sure, this Good Friday.  And each of us is in some way looking for the Kingdom of Heaven, where the severe limits of this life don’t apply.  In the Kingdom, there is Enough for All.  (It might be, Enough health and wellbeing.  It might be, Enough love and forgiveness.  It might be, Enough financial resources.  It might be, Enough peace between warring factions.  It is a longing for there to be Enough – for there to be more than Enough – for there to be ABUNDANCE of all kinds!)

The plight and the promise at FSRL: the Faculté des Sciences de Réhabilitation de Léogâne: two academic programs: one in Occupational Therapy and the other in Physical Therapy

I am moved to tell you, as readers of this letter, that we have had too little income to meet our expenses at FSRL for two or three months by now.  We have had some income, allowing us to  pay our staff, which is the priority.  However, we have had to postpone payment of our other big bills, for example for rent for our classroom and office space, and for lodging for our volunteers.  We owe payments to the Episcopal University of Haiti (UNEPH) and to the Episcopal Diocese.  And, this month for the first time, we don’t have enough money to pay a full month’s salary to all our staff members.

HOW do we think about this?

Considering HOW to engage and provoke support is complicated!  That is because there are so many kinds of ears listening at the same time.

  1. Some people might honestly be dismayed that an American OT and her husband have launched a whole team of Americans and Canadians into this project without having first established the financial basis of it. There is some truth to that criticism.  But I can say that there is a psalm that addresses that, and it’s in today’s lectionary too :  “Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord of Hosts.” (Psalm 69, verse 7)

Once Mother Theresa had a burden on her heart for some children who lived in destitution and hunger immediately outside the gate of a rich man, a Muslim.  She went to the man, held out her hand, and asked him to do something for them.  He spat into her hand.  She wiped off the spit, then said, “That was for me.  And now for the children,” and held out her hand again.  He was so moved that he immediately gave what she asked for them.

Mother Theresa – always surprising, because she lived by different rules than the rest of us!

I am often, possibly always, aware of at least one part of the equation:  that I personally am in over my head with this project.  But that does not change in any way the Area of Moral Clarity, providing appropriate Haitian rehabilitation for Haitian people in desperate need.  The need and the promise are real.

  1. Some people have already given to a sacrificial point. People have turned over their inheritances, opened their retirement savings, committed to a monthly gift, gone out on a limb to support these academic programs before we even had students.  You know who you are.  I hope that you will see this “provoking appeal” as an opportunity to engage more fellow travelers!
  2. Most of us have many many claims already on our finances. We all need to pay rent or mortgage, buy food for the family, pay for school, pay for healthcare, and on top of that we  have other charities we support.  I respect that a lot.  The Kingdom, in its abundance, relies on thousands of different perspectives on where to give!  Maybe your gifts are already doing good work, and if so then God bless that work too!
  3. Some of us have NO income that is not already allocated to sustain life. That is the truth.  And we all have to trust that in that case God’s generosity will come around to help us too, to give us groceries and pay for heat!!

 

But if after considering ALL this you have room to help, please help.

 

The Haitian students are the key.  By now, the third-year students (7 PT and 3 OT), have mastered many aspects of the specific needs and the path forward for Haitians with disabling conditions.

Michaud's perfect score on test

Jean Laurent with a perfect paper, PLUS a bonus point for Functional Neurology! 101/100

The third-year students are pushing us to let them start providing care NOW.  They are asking for more clinical experiences, right away this week, without waiting to graduate. Some have come to ask permission to go as a group to a health education or health fair event at their churches.  Some are planning a collaboration with the Association of the Handicapped of Léogâne (where the earthquake was strongest, right here, leaving many amputees and persons with traumatic brain injury).

There are patients who are more than ready too: people coming to our gates, carrying children, or helping a family member to limp along, asking, “Don’t you have therapy here?  Can we come in?”

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Third-year student Amendocia on fieldwork in January at Healing Hands for Haiti.

 

What can we do?  What can you do?  I think the starting place is to know what the needs are, and what is the promise for people who are hurting, if those needs are met.

Blessings on your Good Friday, and for all of us, blessings on Easter too!

 

Janet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A surprise, a TREAT!

Ha ha!  I am still chuckling about a nice surprise that I will get to participate in on Easter Sunday.   I think it will start at about 6 pm on Sunday evening.

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rara in the daytime

 

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rara in the night-time

I was just explaining in this blog the phenomenon of rara music, which sounds like tuba bands or brass bands, New Orleans-style.  Yesterday, for the first time, I found out I’ll have an opportunity to be in the middle of a day of rara, without any danger at all.

The nursing students here at FSIL offered a first-aid stand right downtown last year, near the bleachers built for the audience for the biggest rara parade of all, on Easter Sunday.      The FSRL students and I have been invited to participate, offering our therapy know-how to wrap a twisted ankle, for instance.  I hope we can find a source for ice and Baggies!

Most of the students have already gone home for the holidays, so some of them are quite far away – Port a Piment to the west, and Croix de Bouquets to the east- and will not be able to participate.  The two who live in Léogâne will probably come though.

So the reason I’m chuckling is that at lunch with the staff today, there was a lot of eyebrow-raising and laughing about the day we will have together out at the rara parades.  It reminded me of the kind of giggling you might hear when you and your nurse friends are going out to do first aid for a Harley-Davidson rally.  These guys putting on the rara are kind of “bad boys”, but the nurses are prepared to provide first aid no matter what. They predict that people drinking clairin, un-aged rum, for hours in the heat could cause some emergency needs .  That, and swollen lips from hours of playing the horn. (I realize that that the drinking part is way DIFFERENT from the Harley-Davidson rally, where in fact the motorcycle drivers are responsible about drinking!  But some of them do lean too much on the horn.)

I am glad to be able to see and hear these parades.  I may not be able to take photos, but here already are two photos from the internet so you can get an idea.  And you can find YouTube videos of rara, to be able to hear the sound!

The beauty and complexity of Palm Sunday in Léogâne

palm Sunday in chapel-HSC

Small chapel at Hopital Ste Croix, where palms rest quietly before the procession.

A QUIET MOMENT

Today at 7:30 am all was still in the chapel of Hopital Ste Croix.  The palms were resting on the altar, ready for the acolytes to distribute for the procession, out of the hospital gates and around the corner to the main church, Église Ste. Croix.

RARA IN THE STREET!

But the quiet did not last too long.  Outside, in the street, there was competition!  Léogâne is one of only a handful of towns in Haiti known for Rara music.  Rara is REALLY interesting.  Musically, it consists of brass bands (think of New Orleans) that practice all year and come out during Lent, Holy Week, culminating on Easter day.  But they do NOT play in honor of the Christian observances: they play in opposition!

I have had trouble believing that that is the point of the timing of it, but that message is the only explanation I have received, from students, cooking staff, and Episcopal clergy, for a couple of years now.  Here’s how it works.  On Friday and Saturay nights in Lent, starting at perhaps 10 pm and continuing until 8 or 8:30 the next morning, the sound of brass bands comes and goes all night long. The sound travels because the bands travel, walking through the streets, sometimes quite close.  Our students in the new apartment that serves as dorm are RIGHT next to the road, and they are coming to to class bleary-eyed on Mondays.

The reason for the opposition seems to be that Rara exists as a nationalistic and religious statement of support for vaudoun, or voodoo, practice.  Again, I personally want to downplay this statement.  The idea that voodoo is a form of national disgrace is common in some religious circles.  But voodoo is a nationally recognized religion here, a cultural treasure of Haiti. Apparently the season of Lent is one time when voodoo is out on display, loudly!

I have heard of the bands that used to march in northern Ireland in the spring: another form of musical aggression!  In this case, thanks be to God, it is not a precursor to violence.  Just a Battle of the Bands with an ideological twist!

SIDEBAR ABOUT VOODOO :  It is the form of religion that came with the African slaves when they were captured and brought to Haiti in the 1600’s and 1700’s.  It includes an element of honoring the ancestors.  Historically, it is associated with the rallying of the slaves at the beginning of the revolutionary war which drove out the slave-owners, the French, and brought freedom: the only such successful re-taking of liberty in the whole sad history of slavery.  The rejection of Christianity at that juncture of history had everything to do with the extreme cruelty of the French owners, who were Christian.  Systematic and brutal murder was all that the slaves had experienced of Christianity, and they had no interest in it.  

BACK TO THE SOUNDS OF PALM SUNDAY

By now, the positive aspects of Christian life in Haiti are powerful.  For instance, the  Haitian Episcopal church is the fastest-growing Episcopal diocese in the US and islands.   The Catholic churches are full, and Evangelical churches are crammed, too.  And all of those churches are meeting on Sunday mornings, full of singing and many instruments.  What happens when the Rara bands pass by outside, only 20 feet away, playing at full volume?  Well, this morning, it happened during the sermon.   Père Sonley just turned up the volume on his microphone, and talked right over it without missing a beat!  And when they came by again, during a prayer and praise song, the whole congregation stayed on beat, cranking up the voices to keep on singing.

Père Sonley, Palm Sunday 2017

Triumphal entry into Église Ste Croix on Palm Sunday, Pére Sonley in red chasuble, drums supporting a lively entrance hymn!

 

 

 

A change of scene!

Something wonderful is going on in Léogâne, and a Different something wonderful is ongoing back home in Kalispell, Montana!

Donnel and I just had a great week of visiting together in the snowy north, for Donnel’s birthday.   You can see the Mission range of mountains behind us in the first photo, taken by Donnel’s cousin Kent, a little ways out of town in Bigfork.  A marvelous friend from Christ Church Episcopal, Kalispell, named Jeannie Fischer gave us matching buffalo plaid pullovers so we wouldn’t freeze!

The church in Kalispell is active in outreach in many ways:  advocating for the homeless, helping to shelter teens at risk of homelessness while still in high school, welcoming people at a soup kitchen, and helping with summer camp programs such as the one for children whose parents are incarcerated.  Those are just the first projects that come to mind.  The Flathead valley is truly beautiful, but it has a lot of folks who live on the margins financially.

The people of Christ Church enjoy each other’s company too, a LOT!  It’s another image of the Kingdom – good things pouring out, multiplying, in places even beyond Haiti!

I am on my way back to FSRL now, between flights, and I promise more good news and pictures later this week!

 

Reflection on the Day of Reflection, altered by the U.S. President’s insulting words

 

 

The Day of Reflection in Haiti is a day to remember those who died in the earthquake, the 12th of January, 2010.  At least 300,000 Haitians died instantly. It’s a national holiday.

At FSRL, each year that we’ve been here the students and faculty have gathered in the auditorium for prayers, songs, and telling the stories of their experiences.

This year, after two hours or so of the normal program, the agenda was derailed by the vulgar comment of our President, dismissing the whole nation of Haiti as a “ s**t-hole”.   Here’s how it happened. The Dean of Nursing (who has both a Haitian passport and an American one) interrupted the program. She came up onto the stage in great anger and gave a long and loud and angry talk of resistance to this insult, to all the school, and to an American nursing team that was visiting.  She was so insulted that she couldn’t help retelling the many ways in which the Americans have taken resources out of Haiti.  She talked about racism that she had experienced in the US.  And she talked about the Haitian-born medical doctors, nurses, lawyers, military, and professors who live and work and contribute at a high level to the US society.  She was eloquent.   She finished up the talk by reassuring the visiting Americans that they were not the problem:  that she knew that they, as nurses, were good people and she was grateful for their visit.

Even so, as she talked, and the US insult and US rejection of Haitian contributions sank in, I watched the body language of the students.  They looked down; their shoulders drooped; some put their hands over their eyes.    How, I wondered, would they feel about working with Americans after this day?  It matters, because if any of them thought that I,  their American Dean of Rehab secretly disrespected them, how could we go on?

After the Dean of Nursing left, a young woman nursing student led them in a strong song about relying on God’s help.  And I thought of an approach I could take to make sure we would still have a bridge for working together.

I went up the steps and asked for the microphone, just for two minutes.  Here is (more or less) my little speech.

“ You may find many emotions as you think about this vulgarity from President Trump.  You might be sad, or angry, or anything else.  But one thing you may NOT feel is shame.  You may not.  And here is why I’m saying that.  There is a story in the Bible where the Pharisees come to Jesus’ disciples and ask why they eat food without first washing their hands.  Jesus says, “Not washing your hands does not make you a bad person.  Nothing coming from outside, like any certain kind of food, can change the quality of a person.  What CAN change you is what comes out from your heart into your words.  What you say, that comes from your heart, can make you bad.”  So, think about what Trump has said.  He has made words that are shameful.  As far as I am concerned, the BEST emotion I can have for Trump is pity.  That he would have a mind so small, a heart so hard, and an experience of the world so limited, that he would say that.  So, you yourselves, you realize that relationships between Americans and Haitians are complicated. You may have all kinds of feelings.  But you must not feel any shame.  No.  You may not.  “

After that the program was over.  Some students went out quietly, some talking, and some came over to give me big hugs.  Quite a few.  And today again some students came to me and said, “Thank you.  I feel better.”

 

 

Orchestra - Day of Reflection 2017

Jan.12 2017-Haiti’s philharmonic orchestra at the national ceremony for the Day of Reflection, to remember those lost in the earthquake

GIFTS! All KINDS of gifts!

I have some good news to share!  Due to the great generosity of FSRL supporters, the students will be supported and the bills paid all the way to the end of 2017.  Hallelujah!

Now I am up late again, but not because I am worrying.  Instead, happily,  I am writing thank you notes!  WOW!

Some gifts from sources completely unexpected have come in, and some kind souls have dug deep and given again.  And some gifts have been promised and on the way.

I have been in tears, and in smiles too, over this generosity.

And I would like to share a small vignette from today that may make you also have tears and smiles….

Five of the juniors have just completed an intense two-week course, supported by the Medi for Help charitable wing of Medishare, on the topic of wound care.  Wound care refers not to emergencies that you might see in the ER, but to the phenomenon of long-term chronic deep wounds that remain open for months or years.  It’s an area of overlap between nursing and OT and PT.  For example, therapists can get involved with wound care because people with neuropathy of the feet due to diabetes can get non-healing wounds on the feet, and that interferes with walking.  Or people with spinal cord injuries can get pressure wounds on the buttocks and sacrum from sitting too long in a wheelchair without shifting position.

The first week was in-class at FSRL, on all the factors involved in evaluation of the situation and providing appropriate care.  The second week was in Bernard Mevs hospital.  The instructors, Bryan Groleau, Christopher Miles, and Judy Coster, emphasized to the students that they must prepare, before going in to see a patient, to relax their face so that they would not show disgust no matter what.  The wounds can be disfiguring, and they can smell bad.  The students were apprehensive, but wanted to make it work.

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Juniors in scrubs, in the waiting room at Bernard Mevs hospital, just before starting the Wound Care clinical experience.

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Asking them, “Are you ready for this?”

They returned yesterday afternoon, and today gave a presentation to the sophomore students, concerning the anatomy of wound healing. Some of the pictures produced disgust from the sophomores, and so I asked the juniors how they had dealt with it so well.  Each of them said that they had discovered they could manage their response, and that they found they loved the opportunity to provide so much help, to be of so much use, to the patients.

One of the young men in junior year followed me back to the office just to tell me, with a glowing face, how much the experience had confirmed his vocation to rehabilitation.  He said that he discovered that he must have been born a therapist:  that the meaningfulness of this felt inborn, as if he must have always known it.  He said, “People here suffer SO much.   They have so many needs.  This is something I can do.  When I see how badly someone is hurt, then I think of how I would feel if that happened to me, and I don’t want to turn away.  I can help them. I love this. I want to learn more, always.”

This is the kind of revelation that is made possible by the team members back home.  I am as always amazed: amazed by the need, amazed by the depth of the human spirit in reaching out to touch that need, amazed by the generosity and vision of supporters that makes this possible. This is going to be a very Merry Christmas!