The Floating Doctors have been in Panama now for nearly nine months and during that time period we have been asked to help in a lot of different situations: sick babies, communities in need of medical attention, patient transports, even the removal of bot flies on a remote finca or two but last week left us in the middle of a situation that none of us ever anticipated or imagined.
It was late in the afternoon and I was wrapping my day up with a cold soda in the Cantina at the Bocas Marina when several water taxis pulled up. I paid little attention as the taxis come and go from the marina at all hours of the day and I assumed that this was nothing different—but I did watch as one of the drivers made their way towards the cantina while the other two waited in the Panga. Odd but nothing very note worthy. The driver made his way into the Cantina and started speaking to several of the cruisers that had taken up their usual spots around the communal table but was having trouble breaking the English/Spanish barrier with them. Being that, at the time, I was the best Spanish speaker in the group I was asked to come in and help interpret for the driver but quickly found myself confused at what he was saying.
He looked at me square in the eyes and said “my friend has precious tigers for sale in my boat”. Excuse me? I asked him to repeat himself several times as, although I was interpreting what he was saying in my head, it made no sense to me. I asked if we could walk over to the panga so I could see what he was selling—I honestly thought that he was going to show me a launcha filled with Lion Fish and that I was just not getting the local slang for the fish—but as I neared the boat I could hear a very strange but oddly familiar kitten like cry. To my utter horror and shock as we got to the end of the dock, there they were, two less than one month old Mountain Lion kittens shoved into a small card board box covered in their own filth and obviously scared.
Now I recognize that these animals are very cute when young and obviously bring with them a large pay day for those that get their hands on them but at that moment I was sickened. Here below me were two wild animals- young, scared, and fighting for their lives. I asked first where they had gotten them and why they had them and was told that they were “found” in the mountains outside of Changuinola. Right….
I started to explain to the 3 men that not only was it very bad that they had taken them but that if they were sold to someone for the house that they will die as they need a very different kind of care than a normal house cat. They then told me that for $500 a piece I could have them. We started a back and forth – them speaking only of the cash they wanted and me making a futile attempt to explain to them the ramifications of what they had done- that wild animals should never be taken and caged. Finally I looked at the water taxi drivers, both of whom I recognized, and said—“Hey, you know this is wrong and I know you, and I see you and I would proceed with caution if I were you”. They all immediately became nervous and started their engines. Off they went with the crying kittens.
We jumped into our own Panga and followed them into town and as the man with the cats exited the boat and the taxi took off I followed suit. I ran after him and after a few seconds was face to face with him again explaining that he wasn’t going to go anywhere with those cats. He called for a few of the taxi to help him with this crazy woman, but thank god, the months of work that we have been doing here in Bocas came to my aid when the men gave a simple reply, “ nope, she’s good”. He again began to walk away with me not leaving his side and again he tried to get assistance from some locals on the street and once again got the same reply from them… “she’s good man”. He finally stopped and faced me. At that point I told him that this could be a problem for him or it couldn’t- all he had to do was hand over the cats and come with me to the Smithsonian or he could make it a problem. He simply handed the box over turned around and was gone.
I have seen a lot of sick babies in my last three years working throughout Central America and although not a doctor could tell that these two cats were not in good shape. We rushed them to the Smithsonian Institute in Bocas who gave us pointers on how to care for them—we were hoping that we would have been able to hand them over at that point but the group needed time to assemble their resources and identify the best place for these wild animals to go. They told us how to bottle feed them with goats milk and that them staying warm was very important and set us on our way.
The next three days were spent feeding them every two hours, day and night, helping them go to the bathroom, and making sure that they were never cold. They cried incessantly when not sleeping and we tried to offer them whatever comfort that we could but there was nothing that we could do to stop the pain that happens when a baby losses its mother. To stop the fear of a surrounding that is not and should not be theirs.
We nurtured them back to health over the days and finally got connected with Elena Castejon from APPC who immediately sprung into action to get these two innocent little souls to her in Panama City. We packed up their bottles and goats milk, put them on a flight to Panama City to be met by Elena and the crew from ANAM, and they were gone. Out of our lives as quickly as they came but leaving an impression bigger than they will grow when they are large.
For me personally, although it was an amazing experience to be able to care for such animals, it was agonizing. These were not two kitties bred for human affection and love but rather two wild animals who will now be relinquished to a cage, ripped from their natural habitat, and made to become something that they are not—cared for by humans. These two will never know the joy of running unimpeded through the wild, to feel a jungle bark beneath their paws, or what flowers bloom deep in the forest after a drenching rain. They will never know what sounds howler monkeys make at night and what should alarm them in the wild. Instead they will be caged in a sanctuary that is a poor surrogate for their land.
I believe that all of us here in Bocas are in our hearts wild things that have refused to be caged by the normalcy of life. We have sacrificed the comfort of stability for the beauty of freedom. We have chosen winding jungle trails over the constrained isles of Walmart and the untamable ocean over freeways. I saw the same hopeless sense of amazement in each one of the Bocateranians that came to see these little wonders that I felt so deeply- as if seeing these caged and scared cubs was like witnessing the part of our lives that we have all railed against so vehemently.
Once again I am honored to have been a part of something that helped to stopped pain and suffering but in this instance I did not walk away feeling a complete sense of calm. D. H. Lawrence said, “ I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.” But for me, here, I felt sorry. These two will never feel sorry for themselves- they are young and they will grow up believing their caged existence is how life should have been. Three years, 6000 nautical miles, and countless wonders ago I may have said the same about my own life. It was how I thought it should be- the job, car, credit card- all a part of the foolish game I believed was so necessary for happiness. Unlike those caged cats I think we all now see otherwise….
“Life is not about seeing what you want and how to get it but rather is about seeing what you have and how to give it.” Frank Baxter
Written by: Sky LaBrot
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It has been two months since I have been able to put words to page although this is not for lack of content or consideration but rather the inability to put thoughts into meaning. In that time period we have left Haiti, seen old friends in Jamaica, and crossed the remainder of the Caribbean Sea to Panama. All amazing accomplishments that should be noted, written about, and reflected upon- yet every time I open the computer to a blank white WORD page I sit paralyzed. It’s as if all of the experiences and work bottle neck themselves in my head and leave a connection with my hands useless.
I thought this time that leaving Haiti would be easy, knowing that we would return again, to have seen the faces that I love and know that they are well, and yet in reality it was much harder than the last. To see a little boy that I love with all of my heart playing by the tree where I last left him was a joy but leaving him once again at the same tree eats at me… having him not there the next time we return will break me, and yet when I sit back and think about, having him still there may be just as bad. The never ending tail chasing ‘whats worse’ game that plays in my mind. It seems at times to me that my heart will never win when it comes to my time in Haiti—I will always be pulled back and tormented away. The sights, sounds, and deaths get no easier the second time around- they still work their way in, nuzzle themselves into my soul, and trouble my moonlit nights on the water. As we left Haiti I sat on our back deck for as long as the light would allow my eyes sight with my heart being crushed and simultaneously elated that we were pulling away from the shores not knowing if the tears I was shedding were for her, for me, or for those I was once again leaving behind.
The transit that lay ahead of me turned into 5 of the most memorable days of my life- flat calm and beautiful the seas opened themselves and the life that dwells deep within its blue waters to us. We spent the days spotting whales, dolphins, endless fish, whale sharks, and sharks with an elation that only wildlife can bring. I felt my heart being drawn into the dark blue that lay beneath our keel, the salt water starting to become part of my blood, her vastness a part of my soul, and perhaps on this transit I truly became a sailor. As I walk down the docks now I feel her calling to me- beckoning me into her wildness and away from the safety of solid land. To trade stability for freedom and schedule for adventure- to stand on our bow with salt laced air in my face and dolphins underneath my feet. To undo our lines and sail into the never ending splendor that is the open ocean.
I had dreamed of Panama from the start of my involvement in this project – it always seemed so wild and distant to me. It has not failed to disappoint either- the people, the jungles, and the islands have opened themselves and embraced our project like no place we have been before. The unending kindness of the people here leaves me speechless as it seems that there is nothing that they won’t do to make ‘us’ happen. Free Dockage from the Bocas Marina and Yacht Club, amazing Fashion Show/Fundraisers from the Calypso Cantina, Wednesday night girls night with some amazing women. The community has thrown its heart open to us and is literally making our project here possible. So much of what I have constantly had to worry about has been lifted from my shoulders allowing me to immerse myself in our clinics. I am humbled, once again, by the generosity of others.
I find myself loving my life – on the precipice of my 30th year I am thankful beyond all reason for the life I get to lead. I wake up every morning, usually no one is up yet, and I drink my coffee overlooking one of the most stunning bays in the Caribbean. I awake my crew and head off to a distant shore, often feeling like I have stepped back hundreds of years in time, and spend my days making peoples’ lives better, making their pain stop, quieting the worried minds of mothers and the crying of babies. And all too often people tell me that it’s so amazing what we do—my only reply is, nope, it’s amazing what I get to do. I am surrounded by suffering and pain and beauty and wonder. My heart is broken and lifted twisted and torn and I would change none of it. My cup runeth over. I am haunted and changed and the luckiest girl I know.
“Set good little perfect things around you, you Higher Men! Things whose golden ripeness heals the heart. Perfect things teach hope.”- Nietzsche
Yesterday was a good day. This day was spent sitting tucked away, un-showered and in dirty clothes from a lack of water on the boat, in the managers’ apartments of the Royal Caribbean Cruise ship’s dock in Labadee with a mountain of laundry to do, my Blackberry to email with, and my IPOD to distract my mind.
For the first time in many months the only noises around me were the gentle hum of the dryer and the agitation of a washing machine- the beauty of silence after the constant din of life aboard the boat. As the sights of what we have seen while here rattled around my mind and my hands were busy clicking away on my phone readying us for Panama heads started to pop into the laundry room to see what this girl and her dog were doing here with piles of dirty clothes.
The hours wore on, familiarity deepened, and the smiles I received turned into, “is there anything that you need?”
Bottled sparkling water appeared with a smile from their very busy site manager Dave. Philip sat with me in the hot room for an hour, filling me in on the time he'd spent in Panama. Conversations were interrupted with their daily to do’s, but still I was never alone for long.
The evening brought me a chilled bottle of Chardonnay with wine glasses delicately laid out on a dirty hot water heater from their chief engineer Nicola—it is curious what finds its way to you in this world. I am coming from a life where white linen end tables dressed in polished glasses and spotless silverware never crossed my mind as anything special, and yet here in a quiet cove on Haiti’s desolate North Coast a dusty water heater adorned with glassware and an open wine bottle was beautiful.
As the night deepened, Noah and Ben joined me and soon after Peter, the assistant site manager, who sat with us for hours as we spoke of Haiti, destruction, rebirth, and everything in between. From across a small bay it was as if two worlds collided, one of the bounty of a cruise ship and the other the scantiness of a new non-profit, yet, as I have found often with this project, no walls were present. In the end it was just people from all over the world coming together for a laugh, a glass of wine, bits of the philosophy of life and a shared belief that what we are doing here matters. For me it was one of those jewel covered days that I will tuck away into the treasure chest of my mind… a day where people took the time to stop and exchange a piece of themselves with a seemingly latch key girl and her dog.
Today, almost one year to the day that we left the shores of Miami headed to Haiti for the first time, I am in awe- not of what we have been able to accomplish but rather for the countless times that people have stopped and given of themselves to us.
For the people who have nothing material to give but who see the beauty and value of what Noah calls the ‘economy of the heart’- the exchange that lays not within the confines of a dollar but in the splendor of one’s self.
For the Haitian brothers that took eight of us and our equipment eleven miles up the coast to a remote village to treat the children at a desolate school for nothing but the gas to fill their engine.
For Dan at Direct Relief International whose faith in us and our project is never ending, whose kindness and support is felt in every email I open, and whose encouragement gets me through even the most challenging parts of the shipping processes.
For a nameless sailor that showed up at our boat one night with a gallon container filled with vodka/redbull and enough money to buy the much needed fire extinguishers for the boat—he stayed only long enough to hand over his wares and tell us that what we are doing is inspiring to him and his crew.
For Dennis and Jeanette, who looked at Ben and his dream and said yes. With no money to give, they gave what they had poured 27 years of love into, what they had built much with their own hands, what they had hoped to sail on once again, what so much of their dreams were wrapped into- The Southern Wind. They took their own dream and handed it willingly over to a new one.
And, especially, for those young kids around the Caribbean who still laugh and smile despite the pain and beatings that come their way, who will sit in a hot kitchen with me and care about my cooking lessons, who will clean our decks every day for no payment other than hot food and our company, who will laugh and dance and on rare occasions get us to do the same.
For all of these I am enriched and grateful.
The past year has changed me- it has tweaked and pulled on my soul and opened my eyes to the beauty and the pain of this world. The rawness of desperation and the splendor of kindness has uprooted the me of my past, forcing a growth that I am deeply grateful for.
I have been shown a kindness that only the exchange of love can bring. I have shared painful moments, the joys of mothers seeing the babies that grow within them, the desperation of parents with sick children, and the intimate moments that can only be brought by a crew on a boat deeply alone on a vast ocean.
I am changed. I am often scared, lonely, and overwhelmed, but I am grateful, and I am humbled to lead this beautiful life of service.
To all of those who have shared our dream with us, who have worked hard to make it happen, who have believed in us even when we barely did ourselves, thank you. Everyone, from volunteer to fellow sailor, who has given us your time,support or kind words, you share a piece of this project, and for that I am forever grateful and feel an enormous sense of responsibility to pay your kindness forward.
In the end it has been a million small acts of kindness, dedication, and love that has brought us through to serve so many.
And to Dolores- whom I have thought about on so many moments when I felt like it would be impossible to move forward- who mailed a $10 dollar check and hand written note that read- "I wish it could be more, but I pray that it adds a little wind to your sails" It did. Your note is kept tucked away in my cabin, brought out every so often to remind me that from all over the world, with no expectation of returns, people have stopped and given of themselves to a brother and sister team, an old boat, and a dream to stand up and make a difference.
Sent from my BlackBerry® device from Digicel
The night was moonless and the oceans were violent—that last stretch of ocean fighting our arrival not wanting to give up the shores of this place that holds so much of my love and fears. I slept a restless, perturbed sleep. This was day 35 for us, for my heart to wait, for the boat to traverse and I wasn’t sure if dawn would really come, and I would see the sun rise once again over the shores of this tree stripped island. Yet as light infiltrated the darkness, there she was…. Haiti. A word that has aroused such emotions in me since we pulled away 11 months ago- joy, sadness, longing, fear, and wonder- was suddenly a tangible solid landmass in front of me.
No more dreaming, no more voices from across the sea jolting me awake, like a lover whose spell you will never break. Haiti has haunted me. I had dreamt of this moment so many times, wondering if it would ever happen even while on our way. And yet, there I was—alone on the bow with the sun and an island knocked down by the earth and by man. The flat blue seas lying ahead of me were bringing me closer and closer to those that I have missed, dreamt of, and longed for. With a gleaming sun overhead and a glass sea beyond, we made our way down Haiti’s Southern Tip.
Eight o’clock brought us creeping into the darkened bay of Petit Goave- poking our bow into waters as familiar as the streets of my childhood. As we laid our anchor down, Ben, Noah, and I strained to identify which lights were what on shore—the UN Dock, the bright lights of the welding shop across from our corner store, the neighborhood of bigger houses where all of the big NGO groups live, our mental landscapes melding with the physical. We had to wait until day light to break to make our way to shore and clear in, but I couldn’t sleep. I found myself once again perched in the captains chair watching the lights over the bay, smelling the slightly sweaty odors and smoky food smells wafting to the boat, listening to the fisherman sing their way through the darkness to the deep water fish traps. I was enveloped in the warmth of knowing that only 200 yards from me were Bichara, Evenson, Meyomen, and my little man Cheeks.
The morning was a fury of Ben and me readying our paper work and records, getting the skiff back into the water after the transit, and preparing our new crew for what they should expect. The first group going in though was Ben, Noah, and I. It felt like the skiff couldn’t move fast enough. Immigration was a breeze, and then we were through the gates of the UN dock and back on the streets, our streets, of Petit Goave. We were shocked at how much work had been done- the streets were cleared of rubble, no tents were left, and a lot of building had happened. What had been blocks that were nothing but tents were now hundreds of one bedroom plywood homes. It was amazing. The town square had been cleared of tents and shanty homes and was clean and full of students and people sitting under the shading trees. We worked our way past the market (not a Ralphs but wonderfully familiar) and up towards Madame Feave and her bakery. 11 months after I was last there everyone recognized us—the workers in the back greeted me with a “hi, Sky’, like I had seen them the day before. Not overly emotional by any means but brought a lump to my throat.
Next we jumped onto motor Taxi’s and whipped across town to the clinic—I was so nervous. I prayed Cheeks would still be there—I had heard from almost everyone in Petit Goave since we left and knew that all of them were ok, but nothing about him. The pink pants orphan that stole my heart on my first day. Above all, it is him that wanders around my dreams. We pulled up to the clinic gates and to the huge smile from the woman who runs the small food stand in the front. We were bombarded with hugs from her and the clinic staff. Ben whisked right into the clinic checking on the supply rooms to take an inventory of what they needed and to say hello to the rest of the staff. I on the other hand made my way to the school. Cheeks’ sister spotted me first—the girl in the ripped turquoise dress—this time in a school uniform. She yelled my name and made a break for me—followed then by all 30 or so kids that I had spent so many hours with. I was surrounded, waist high, with little hands and Como Yas (how are you in Creole) but no Cheeks. After a lot of hugs I asked here Golobo was—Cheek’s nickname at the clinic—everyone pointed down the path and to the tree that he and I had played peek-a-boo around so many times. With 10 kids in tow I made my way down the dirt path. And then, just like that, there he was—he turned and saw me, stopped, and then ran into my arms. If he only knew what this moment meant to me, if only I could explain to this 4 year old little boy that for 11 months and from hundreds of miles of open ocean I had longed for this exact second, that my mind would be quieted, that it was like hugging a piece of my own heart that I left here willingly. He scrunched his nose at me and I scrunched mine back. He put his head on my shoulder and all of those fears quieted. Here he was – still orphaned, still dirty, but here alive.
The road I think that I will journey down is rarely mirrored by reality. This “crossing turned journey” brought me to the brink of what I believe I can handle and cemented my understanding that control is merely a delusion.
I could write about a million pages about the twenty-one days since we left Roatan, but I will only start on Day One after leaving Guanaja and its nine days of gale force winds, unsafe anchorages, anchor draggings, and impossible customs agents… some stories should be left untold.
Day One: We pulled away from the North Side of Guanaja to what was supposed to be four days of amazing weather; enough to get us to Port Antonio, Jamaica and our first resting point. A huge system had worked its way over the Caribbean Sea for the previous week and a half and the lull was obvious on all weather sites. The seas were flatter and bluer than I had ever seen them and everyone was very excited to be making the “8 Day” trek to Petit Goave, Haiti. I on the other hand am always suspicious and anxiety ridden once we leave land. I have seen what an angry ocean can be like, and I never trust a weather report. But the day was beautiful and the fishing was amazing. It seemed as if we could get no more than an hour between the mad rush that is “FISH ON”! Larson and Ben were ecstatic, and Noah’s new addition of the fighting platform on our stern was getting put to use- a sight I never thought I would see aboard S/V Southern Wind. All was tranquil expect for my growing suspicion that this was way too good to be true.
Day Two: We arrived at the first land we’d seen in about 30 hours, the famous fishing haven Swan Island. This is a small slice of land 137 nautical miles from Roatan whose waters are crystal clear and full of fish and sharks—Ben and Larson were in total bliss. We spent the morning exploring the reefs around the island catching fish and admiring the birds. For me it was very nice to be near the solidity of land knowing that once we pulled away from its shores we had 367 miles of ocean to cross. At about 10 am, I pulled the latest weather report seeing that our weather window was not as long as had been the day before…the weather gods were closing in on us.
Day Three: I felt the first buck at about 3:45 am near the middle of my watch. The stern of the boat kicked for a minute, a momentary lurch but definite. I slid out of the navigators chair and walked onto the back deck, straining to see the sea state through the moonless night. The seas looked dark to me, for I believe I knew what was waiting. Eight AM brought fun house hell to us. It’s hard to explain what a 5 – 7 foot confused sea state is like… imagine your house on a pivot point being tossed in every direction possible. It’s like a roller coaster that doesn’t stop with noises never ending. Up and down, side to side, forward and port, sideways and starboard, far away from land and a total loss of control of the ride you are on.
I was lying on the floor of the main salon doing all that I could to baby my back, which, for those of you who don’t know me well, has been a huge source of problems for me while on this voyage, when I thought I heard the engines accelerating and then decreasing RPM’s. Now I am always the one to worry on the boat and am always asking questions about if something ‘seems right’ or not, so I decided that I was going to say nothing and that it was just in my mind and all would be ok. Right. Over the next 30 or so minutes the noises and RPM difference became very noticeable until… sputter sputter sputter and the horrifying silence of no engines. The situation suddenly went from uncomfortable and nerve wracking to the reality of true danger.
Everyone sprung into action… Ben, Larson, and Ed ran to the engine room. What was the problem? What are we going to do? How long until we roll? The boat in a matter of minutes was turning so that our broad side or “beam” was face to face with the oncoming huge swells. The likelihood of us rolling over grew with every second we were in that position, but we were left adrift. The engine room was like something out of a nightmare, up top the rolling waves were taking their toll quickly on the boat and on the crew. The vomiting started soon after. Pretty much everyone was growing greener and greener by the passing seconds. While Ed and Larson were feverishly trying to figure out what was wrong with the engines, Ben and Noah were tying line to our deck chairs to use them as sea anchors with the hope of pulling the bow into the wind, but the help that they were providing was minimal. I was on the VHF radio hailing the US Coast Guard or anyone that was out there. Randy and Holly and Noah at that point decided that it was time to deploy our main sail. In the midst of my radio hailing my stomach reached its breaking point and the little that I had in me decided to come up for a visit. After my bout of sickness, now covered in my own throw up, I was back on the radio. It was then that Ben ran upstairs and got sick himself… at this point I knew it was bad. In my 29 years of being on the sea with my brother and through some ugly weather, I have never seen him sick before–from this point on I was entering into uncharted waters.
Ed, Larson, and Ben came to the realization that the problem was bad fuel, and that our tanks had been filled with very dirty and watered down diesel. Worst nightmare, as there is no immediate fix for this. I had finally gotten connected with a navigator from a passing cargo ship who was hailing the US Coast Guard for us—the voice over the radio was surprisingly comforting—someone, over the vast expanse of angry blue, was there.
Noah, Randy and Holly got the main sail up, and, although the wind was not blowing in the direction that we wanted it to, our bow was being pulled into it, and the ship was starting to steady a bit. But now what? Jamaica was still 36 hours away. We opted for the nearest land, Grand Cayman, 68 nautical miles to the North.
First, only by sail, and, then, a bit later when the fuel filters had been changed with the engines, we started our transit through the stormy night towards land. We trudged through the growing swells getting tossed and beaten for the next 12 hours praying that the engines would hold. I have never prayed so hard in my life, nor have I ever actually truly been that full of fear. I had no control, not even the illusion of it. I had spoken to the US Coast Guard, the Jamaican Coast Guard, and the Cayman Coast Guard, all of which were on the ready for us, but, other than that, there was nothing that I could actually do to help the situation. I held fast, praying to get to the faint glimmer of light on the horizon that would bring safety. Never once did our crew stop working toward a solution.
At 4:30 am we limped into George Town harbor and tied to a mooring buoy. I have never been so happy to see land in my entire life. At 8:30 when we pulled onto the customs dock I nearly kissed the solid ground… the crew and the ship had made it.
Or so we thought. What was coming to us on our next transit to Jamaica was double the fear… but at least for two nights we slept above the blue waters of the Caymans.
My next entry will tell the tale of what happens in rough seas, bad fuel, dangerous reefs, and one compete engine failure.
“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding,
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.”
All Stanzas from The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes
Alone out in the middle of the ocean this stanza repeated itself over and over in my mind. I was scared for this crossing—what I was leaving behind was not just the town of Petit Goave, but the me of before. The me before I was witness to a country brought to its knees, before I had to leave a boy that I knew was being abused by his care takers, before I gave my heart to an orphan I called ‘Cheeks’, before 3 teenagers worked their way onto our boat and forever into our souls, and before we had to leave them sitting in their small canoe watching as our boat grew smaller and smaller in the distance. I felt alone in the ocean- the vast expanse of open water echoed the void that all of those I left had filled. The last thing that I said in Haiti was “ Moi Matrin es Tris”—meaning, my heart is sad.
How I will reconcile all of these experiences is still unknown to me. I find my heart and head wandering around the streets of Petit Goave late at night now restless in the unknown. I miss Haiti terribly.
Our time in Honduras has already been so productive- we are spread out between three clinics on the Island while also working as the doctor and medics on Aeromedical a helicopter that flies emergency victims to the main land. I have already found my little boy love- his name is Oscar and he is a gorgeous 3 year old that suffers from Down Syndrome. He is the most incredible and rambunctious little soul- unable to speak but communicates in a way that speaks directly to the heart. It’s hard for me at times, I
feel his little body in my arms and can feel the same warmth and heart beat that was once my Cheeks. And I know that one day I will be holding another little one and think of my time spent with Oscar– each of them holding onto a piece of my heart long after they forget the details of our time spent together.
“Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come for thee by moonlight,t hough hell should bar the way”
I wish that I could take each of them by moonlight- take them to a place where no pain or stigma exists- I wish that the my love would ease any burden- but I am honored to be the one that holds these little wonders, still so happy and full of joy no matter of the obstacles that lay in their way. My heart, I hope in some ways, will always beat in time with theirs.
There are no safety nets in what we are doing- not for us, for our minds, and most of all for our hearts. Each of the crew will carry the joys and scars of our experiences, we will carry those that are left behind with us until our hearts stop and our bodies are freed from the confines of this life. I am lucky to have heard the laughter of children playing in the rubble piles of Haiti, to have felt the hands of a Honduran boy unable to speak grasp my fingers while fighting his way up a flight of stairs, to have seen the ocean glow green on a moonless night in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, and to have done all of it with the finest group of people I have ever know.
Here in the darkened back room she sits like a stone- hands shoved under her small thighs, eyes fixed on the worn floor. The muffled noise of the other children playing drifts in like waves through the slatted window– but in this room everything is still. I sit with my hand on her back reminding myself that I am the adult and strong one here– it is not my turn to cry. I watch as the tears run down her nose making perfect circles of darkness on her dirty pants. “I just don’t like it when they look at me while I’m in the shower, but it only happened once”…”It mostly happens to the other girls”. I hear this from all 6 of them….”The boys here hit us”….”we are worked from morning until night and I’m tired”….The room spins as I hold back the choking sobs that are clawing their way up my throat. A knock at the door and a bidding from the house mother and she’s gone– off to the kitchen to prepare lunch for the 23 other orphans. I watch as she pulls herself together, she is 9, she should not know how to hide pain like this. All 6 girls have claimed abuse over the past two hours and here we are left – 2 shells left shocked into silence. I can not show emotion, I can not allow the owners of this hell to see that I know what kinds of evil the night brings here.
Our allotted time is up and we are escorted out under a the watchful eyes of those in charge searching our faces for any sort of recognition “do we know?” “How much did they tell”. The girls pull at my arms as we leave… am I coming back, when, when, when? “Bye Sky, Bye Sky, when are you coming back”? I can see the pleading behind their words… don’t leave me here, please don’t leave me here. I promise them I will do everything that I can.
We get into the car unable to speak , unable to file away what we just saw and heard, left stricken by what people are capible of. They will not allow me access to the girls, I asked to take them once a week– for the first time on this trip there is suddenly “proper procedures” that take months that have to be followed before I can spend any time with these forgotten no named little girls. There is no one for us to turn to. A barrier put in between that has been so far impossible to traverse around– they are money makers who have been taught to shut their mouths for if they speak they are given up to the streets and the ugliness of the sex trade. I have fought to see them, fought to come back… they have my phone number and they call still pleading asking for my return. At night I think of them laying stone faced in their pathetically pink painted bunk beds scared of any noise in the night and what it will bring.
This is the ugliness of humanity- I see it as I toss and turn in my own bed- their hushed tones narrating the visions of their experiences haunting me into wakefulness………..
Being in charge of all of the cooking on board can sometimes be a daunting task. It is important to me that the food I serve is both nutritious as well as tasty and being far from home with ingredients that are foreign to me and the crew can be a work in progress. Over my months at sea I have learned a lot from the locals that I have become close to and I have ended up adopting a lot of their recipes into my every day culinary repertoire.
Below is a recipe for a dish called Pickeleze that I learned while I was in Haiti. It is a delicious side salad, sandwich topper, meat garnish, and goes with just about everything! My favorite is to put it onto top of bbq fish tacos! This is a great way to add crunch, spice, and flavor to a dish without adding almost any fat. Cabbage is a great source for fiber, mangnesium, iron, and omega-3’s as well as sodium, zinc and copper. Carrots are not only sweet and delicious in this dish but they add a good dose of Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and folate. Being that this dish is only “cooked” in the acids of the salad a lot of the nutritional content stays with the veggies. I hope that you enjoy this as much as I do!
1 Head Cabbage
2 Scotch Bonnet Peppers (Closest to Habanero)
1 Large Carrot
2 Tbsp White Vinegar
1 Cube Boullion (Optional)
1 tsp Salt
In a salad bowl mix the Vinegar, Juice of 3 limes, Salt, and Boullion together.
(Boullion is packed full of sodium and can easily be omitted. It adds a depth of flavor to the salad but can be replaced with ½ teaspoon of Poultry Seasoning)
Shave peppers into thin slices and drop into the marinade mixture.
(This dish can vary from very hot to mild depending on the type and quantities of peppers you use. Jalapeño peppers can be used as a substitute. The spice of the dish is really mellowed out by the vinegar so don’t be afraid to try to use the peppers!)
Using a Cheese Grater shred the carrot and mix into marinade.
Quarter the cabbage head, remove the heart, and shave into thin slices.
(The thinner the slice the easier the cabbage will “cook” in the acid marinade. This can be time consuming and the cabbage can always be grated on the cheese grater for the same effect!)
Mix the cabbage into the marinade and carrot mixture and let stand for 20 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes getting the liquid mixed in with the cabbage, serve, and ENJOY!)
Some times I want to plunge into the total bliss that can be melancholy- to let it wrap itself around my ankles, make endless circles of my mind, and then nestle softly deep in my heart. To let the ghosts of past lives, past loves, past joys take hold and deliver me to the beauty of the not here and now. A siren call from the shore of a life that seems so long ago beckons me to memories that are now warped with time and distance but seem like soft comforts of familiarity that I can slip on, if only for a moment. Today I am lonely. The ocean seems vast and cold- a caldron of salty tears that takes me farther and farther away from any semblance of my old self. It’s her I really miss at times, the me of my memories.
A trip like this shapes and changes you in ways that are far out of your control and at times I want to set it down. To lay the burden of knowing down- offer it to the world of the unknown and unseen- to undo some of these memories and let go of the haunt that leaves me so disconnected with those I have always held so close.
I find myself muted lately- lost in the tumbling roads that are my thoughts while I replay fixated memories like loops over and over again. While the world plays around me my mind is drifting through the streets of my life revisiting moments long ago passed. The present constantly being taunted away, seduced into the black and white film reel of my mind.
There are moments when I want to break the surface and breathe in that deep breath new air that my body so desperately aches for- to be able to combine my lives- present and future, to be freed of the burden of myself.
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