The last few weeks on Île à Vache have flown by.
This week, we had our first rain storm and witnessed the impact this has on the mud roads and motos of the island. The orphanage had a visit from Papa Noel (I’m not convinced about his Creole!); we took a long walk along the coast from Madame Bernard to Port Morgan and we had pride of place at Île à Vache‘s very own X-Factor competition……oh, and we did a little work along the way too!
Last Monday, I went over to Point Est with Calise (one of the local contractors) and a few of the other guys whose names I’m not willing to try and spell. Each of the guys here seem to work in multiple jobs. There is definitely a jack of all trades approach, which is evident when the local school teachers are joining you to look at houses to repair on a Monday and Tuesday morning. I’m not 100% sure when school runs on Île à Vache, but there definitely seems to be some overlapping of jobs going on here!!
Point Est itself is quite tricky to get to. As it’s right on the tip of the island, and surrounded by mangroves and swamp land, you have two options – get a boat from Madame Bernard, or get a moto out to the airport site and walk the last mile over rough ground. A common theme I’ve noted whilst on Île à Vache is that the Haitians don’t seem to have a great love of walking.
On Monday we took the motos and visited the first 60 houses which are down for repair. As always, there were a lot of fundamental problems and common themes. The majority of houses have rusted roof sheets which were in differing states of repair, ranging from the first gingering signs to being able to look straight up into the sky from inside the house. Another fairly common problem seems to be cracking of the plastering (and walls behind), which is evident around the timber support frames and, no doubt, caused by movement of the not so straight (or dry) timber over time. The soil around Point Est also seems to be a little more problematic than elsewhere on the island. It is very sandy, and with little or no foundations below ground, you can see examples of differential movement, again causing the houses to crack. We spent Monday morning scoping out the repair work for the first 60 houses, taking down all the locations and work that we could do within the $600 dollar budget. Luckily, it seems we’re in the position to at least provide materials for all the homeowners who want it.
The plan for Tuesday was to return and complete the second half of the area. The weather, however, had other plans. On Monday night, we tried to sleep as the rain pelted down on the steel roof sheets. It was actually quite welcome, and provides a slight rest from the usual constant sweating. This continued for the majority of Tuesday, and all the nice dry dirt roads on the island turned to clay. The effect can only be described as similar to a snow day in the UK or Ireland. Everybody wanting to travel becomes limited to donkey or foot, and the only person really making money is the bar man at Kay Resilom’s.
Needless to say, the house visits were postponed until Thursday; this time we took the boat!! Over the course of the week we visited over 120 houses, which should keep the Haven contractors busy well into the New Year. The condition of the roads does pose a bit of a question with all the new airport developments, however, and whether the island will have sufficient infrastructure to sustain the plans.
Katy has a couple of regular visits that she’s making in the communities of La Hatte and Madame Bernard now, and has been enjoying providing wound care and health information as she goes walk about. Even these had to be put on hold after the rains though, as passage out of Madame Bernard was near impossible. By the end of the week, and the end of our first month on Île à Vache, she had several patients booked in to see the visiting team of Canadian Doctors coming on the Monday. They run a clinic in the market, the church and Sister Flora’s orphanage, to fully optimise the number of people they can see.
Problems range from congenital birth defects, to mental health problems and chronic diseases, complaints that I’m not so used to managing as an intensive care nurse in the UK. But there are definitely some elements of nursing that transcend the language and cultural barriers, and even when I meet someone that has a complaint that I’m very limited as to the help I can provide, they seem to be happy that someone is taking an interest and the time to sit down and listen. With all the scary tropical diseases and new challenges, it’s easy to forget that some issues, like carer’s fatigue and stress, affect people the same everywhere.
With the arrival of visitors mid-week came the unexpected joy of pizza night and cake at Kay Ailish and Damien’s, our local restaurant/internet café/supply shop. After 3 weeks of cooking rice and vegetables on our gas hob with a wind up light (because it never occurred to us to change the light bulb!), words can’t describe how exciting this was! Whilst our Creole is slowly improving, we haven’t quite got to the point yet of being able to search out and barter for the specialties at the market, so these little luxuries were very much appreciated! As was the shower gel and deodorant delivery, by everybody. Thanks John!
Our first visit to Île à Vache finished with the arrival of Santa for the orphanage Christmas party on Friday afternoon. The previous day, we had spent the afternoon on secondment at Soul of Haiti, helping Ailish to wrap over 50 Christmas presents for the children, and prepare gifts for the orphanage staff. We also managed to bake a Christmas cake – well, a chocolate cake, which somehow turned out ok despite the 1.5hr cooking time. It was great to see the children’s reaction to Santa Claus, and it was surprising just how well behaved they remained throughout the day. I doubt this would be the same back at home.
It is also a little surreal to see so many children wearing Gaelic football kits. The island is definitely becoming Irish-influenced, to such an extent that I feel the need to find an English flag to fight for a place in the local!! Later that evening, Santa returned and took the boat over with us to watch the qualifying round of the Île à Vache Christmas song contest. One of the highlights for me was seeing Damien disappear into a room in Kay Resilom, only to re-emerge as Papa Noel himself. The look on the local kids’ faces, who were gathered outside as usual, was priceless. We didn’t really expect it so you can only imagine what a surprise it was for them!
The song contest was another eye opener and a great night. A stage was put up in Kai Coq, where 15 or so hopeful contestants belted out their Christmas tunes. Living with Calise, we were very much tied to one song and contestant: our current neighbour, Olo. Despite being subjected to the same song day, noon and night for the last 3 weeks, we still think he is definitely in with a shout come the final next weekend, and you can soon purchase it as the Soul of Haiti Christmas single. The night ended with a mildly terrifying boat ride home with another 40 people or so, an experience that made you glad to be a little tipsy and less aware of the surroundings!!! All in all it was a great finale to our first period on Île à Vache, and we can’t wait to return in the New Year!