by Josh Roby
It has been amazing at how many times God has changed our plans since we have been here in Haiti. Pastor Pierre came to us with a heavy heart yesterday. He got an urgent message from the town of Bouzie (Boo-say) stating that there has been a cholera outbreak with four people dead already. After a brief meeting, we decided that we would try and help this rural town. No one from NVM had been to this village except one worker that had grown up there. He was to be the navigator for the trip. This mission would be for teachers, five to be exact, only because of the high risk of contracting cholera. The plan was to take 30 Jerry cans (five gallon water containers) and one purifier to the village early in the morning.
As I go through the series of events of today’s trip, I will try to paint a picture of the vast change in plant and animal life that we encountered since I am a Biology teacher! We packed up two range rovers and a 4 wheel drive truck with all the supplies that we could possibly think of. Besides our five teachers, an ICU nurse from a visiting South Carolina group came along to assist with any villagers that might need help, as well as helping us stay safe. The village is located only 10 miles from our camp, but it takes a good 45 minutes to make the trip. You may wonder why a 10 mile trip would take that long. Well, the village is located high in the mountains with winding roads (if you want to call them roads).
Let me give you a little background of Haiti. Haiti used to supply Europe with 80% of their coffee, sugar, and cotton. Haiti was a lush rainforest teaming with wildlife until one of their dictators decided to cut down all the trees to make money. This devastated the environment. The best way that I can describe the plant life here in today’s world is that of the desert southwest in the USA. There are a lot of cactus and shrub trees with very few “real” trees. We don’t see many wild animals or birds, but there are roaming farm animals and a few birds.
We left the campus for our trip at about 8:15. We started making our way up the mountain roads. The roads started off with a bunch of loose small boulders (3-5”) along with many dips and turns. We came to a fork in the road early on and took a wrong turn. Luckily in my vehicle, there was the navigator that grew up in Bouzie. We had to race up to catch Pastor and turn the whole caravan around. As we progressed up higher, the roads were now cut unevenly into the bedrock. The roads were sometimes not as wide as the vehicle with shear drop offs on one or both sides. It was a white knuckle ride the entire time. I now know what popcorn feels like in a microwave. After we made it past the first summit, we noticed that people had broken a lot of ground on the steep cliffs to start growing crops. There were even a few grass huts along the steep mountain sides. As we would round the bends, our driver would honk his horn to warn walkers that we were coming. It was amazing at how fast people would get themselves and their burrows over. The vegetation continued as I mentioned before until we came over the second mountain pass. On the other side of this pass, we ran into an incredible sight. My words will not do this justice. We came into a lush rainforest, preserved from time and man. There were large mango trees, sugar cane, bamboo, banana trees, and many other tropical plants. We were getting close to Bouzie. Each little dwelling had a garden of corn, beans, and squash. As we approached the first spring outside Bouzie, we passed by a falling tree that had a larger diameter than the length of our cars!
Our first stop was at the spring outside of Bouzie. We found out that this spring was not contaminated yet! We climbed up to see if a water purifier could be set-up here. The spring was located in a mountain side underneath huge trees. The temperature was so pleasant to what we had been used to down in camp and the noise of the jungle was almost deafening from all of the birds. The spring had been capped with concrete and a pipe for village access. There would be no way for us to be able to tap into this to hook up the purifier. So, we got back in and headed up to Bouzie. When we arrived in the town of 1,500 mountain villagers, it was like a scene out of a movie. There was an open market on both sides of our cars. They had maize, bananas of all kinds, sweet potatoes, beans, and mangos. They even had some candy and cola! The sights and smells made me think that we had left 2011 and traveled back to the 1800’s.
We parked at the end of the road. I really mean the end of the road!
When we got out, Pastor informed us that this village didn’t get many visitors (white people). I believe Mr. Baer said that he expected a T-Rex to jump out and chase us. We were taken down a footpath to the cholera clinic (a tent). They had one Haitian nurse and a few volunteers. To get a sick person to the camp, family members would put the sick on two long boards nailed side by side. They would then hoist the boards up along with the person and carry them on their heads for whatever distance they needed to transverse up and down the steep trails. Once at the camp, the family members would then have to take buckets and hike to the village spring (about 15 minutes one way) to get water that would be needed to treat the patient. With water in hand, the workers would have to treat the contaminated water with chlorine tablets. The patient, depending on how dehydrated, might need to have an IV first and then drink the chlorinated water. If we had a patient like this in America, 3 z-packs and they would be good to go.
When we arrived at the clinic, we got to see some amazing things. The first group of people we were able to see were a family that had made it through the treatment and were about to be released. What an incredible healing to see in this crude medical environment. We then got to see a patient in the tent. The nurse and helpers had given up on a man that had been brought to the clinic. They were unable to locate a vein for the IV because he was so dehydrated. He was going to be left to die. Our nurse, Courtney, decided that she would try and get the IV started. She was able to get a vein up, but there was no translator there to tell them to give her the IV. So, Pastor Pierre had to step in and bridge the communication gap. Some of group took pictures or video of this process while the rest of us waited anxiously outside the tent. Courtney was able to get it on the first try, but the man was so delirious from dehydration that he jerked hard enough that it didn’t stay. She tried again, but the vein collapsed. She was physically and emotionally exhausted as she left the tent. Even though she was unable to get the IV in, she gave hope to the Haitian nurse who had given up. The Haitian nurse was able to set the IV and possibly save this man’s life as we stood there.
Before we left the clinic, we had to have our shoes sprayed with a strong bleach solution to help and try to prevent the spread of the bacteria. An interesting event had taken place while we were there. A woman had organized a team of men, women, and children to start clearing a path to make the footpath big enough for our trucks to bring help. They were tearing out trees, boulders, and even their gardens. There is such a sense of community!
Pastor feared that when the family members went to the spring to get water, they would contaminate other people or might even contaminate the first spring we had looked at in search of water. This would quickly turn into an epidemic. We hiked up another trail to see the contaminated spring. We hiked up a steep rock trail. We passed many kids carrying five gallons of water on their heads. The spring was a trickle of water coming from rock located underneath a tree. The water here flowed much slower than the first spring. It would take about 20 minutes to fill a five gallon bucket. The water here was clear which makes the Haitians think that it is clean; which is not the case. The water flow was so slow that a purifier here would be worthless.
We had a meeting to decide what we wanted to do in Bouzie. After a little discussion, we decided to leave the Jerry cans and a filtration system at the clinic. So, we started unloading the items that were to be left. JD and I were going to carry the 150 gallon tank, but a villager insisted to carry it for us.
So, we headed back to the clinic. We took some pictures and videos of handing out the water containers. Pastor wanted to make sure that the Jerry cans would not be sold and would be there for the families to use. The team looked around the clinic area. There was a dwelling next to the treatment tent that we decided would be a good place for the tank and purifier. However, we could not set-up the purifier at that time because we would need to build a base for the tank to sit-up on for gravity purposes. So, we got an idea off what size of stand would need to be made back at camp. Pastor needed to head back at this time to attend to other matters. We decide that a limited size team would head back on Thursday to set-up the water purifier and train the villagers of how to use the system. Pastor honked his horn to signal our bumpy return trip. We returned back to camp around 11:30, but before we could leave we had to decontaminate. We had to wash our hands and arms in a bleach solution and then we had to wash the bottom of our shoes off. Pastor was worried about bringing the bacteria back with us! I hope our safety measures are good enough.
What an incredible day and it is not even noon! When you spend time with Pastor Pierre, you can see his love for his people and the Lord. If you have ever been in the presence of a great person, then you know how contagious (no pun intended) they can make you feel about their cause. Pastor is a great man for letting God use him for His purpose! The people of this area are truly blessed.
A quick side note: we saw a 4” scorpion and a monster tarantula today!!