Dr.George’s Observations 3

Medical Volunteer Opportunities Abroad

That first day in Petit Goave, Haiti, was relatively cool, though compared to Southern California it FELT quite hot because of the high humidity. Someone from St. Louis or New Orleans would have found it to be a remarkably comfortable summer day.

After finishing the clinic work and touring the tent city which had grown up on the clinic grounds, we headed for the boat. It’s about a 3/4 mile walk to the beach called “The Club.” This refers to a beach club which at one time had been at that beach.

The walk followed Route 2 for about 150 yards. We made a left turn down a side street of mud, gravel, and mud puddles. About half the time in Haiti I wore heavy hiking boots; the rest of the time I wore sandals.

The hiking boots were very hot, but the problem with sandals is the potential for contact with fresh water or even mud. The water always has some small potential for carrying schistosomiasis (blood flukes) and the fresh water and even mud can result in Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can burrow through skin or mucous membranes and is spread by rodent urine.

The road led down to a frontage road that ran along the ocean. Both roads were lined with small houses, many of which had suffered damage in the quake. Many along these roads still live in tents.

Behind the dwellings were fields of sugar cane, corn, sorghum, squash, and banana, plantain, and coconut trees. The neighborhood has an outdoor culture–like the “stoop” culture of our Eastern cities in the pre-air conditioning years–so it was a constant “bon jou,” and “sa va?,” and “comen sa va?” all the way along the route to the “Club.” (In Haitian Creole they have discarded as obsolete that pesky French “R” sound and dumped all the silent letters that clutter up standard French.) 🙂

As we neared the Club, Ben messaged their boat, the Southern Wind, and the skiff came quickly to pick us up. It was about a 5 minute ride out to the boat which is anchored about 3/4 of a mile offshore. It’s a great little skiff powered by a Johnson out board engine. One could water ski behind it– it is that fast even carrying 8 passengers.

Petit Goave is a beautiful little bay. The mouth of the bay is the point at which the water drops off into deep ocean. The refuse of this land doesn’t significantly pollute the bay, as each tide washes the bad water out to sea and dilutes it in the huge volume of the deep water.

An outgoing tide can be a little dirty. When the tide comes in, the water is clean. As we had an incoming tide at that time, we all changed into swimming trunks and jumped in. The water was such a treat after the long trip into the humid tropics.

A word about sharks. There was very little risk compared to most tropical locations because of a most unfortunate circumstance–there are practically no fish for sharks to eat. This extremely mountainous country has been brutally deforested. Haiti is the most densely populated country in the Western Hemisphere. The deforestation has resulted in a tragic loss of top soil. The resulting erosion has silted the many rivers in this very rainy country.

The silt has buried and killed the coral. The decay of the organic material in the silt uses up all the oxygen in the water, preventing the exuberant life one should expect in such tropical waters.

We knew that there were pelagic (deep ocean) sharks patrolling outside the bay, but the Tigers and Bull sharks that could have been such a problem in a place like this didn’t frequent such an unproductive spot.

Boarding the Southern Wind is an experience. I suspect that, if one cannot do at least one pullup, one cannot get onto the boat. From the deck railing hangs a rope ladder. As the boarder steps onto the ladder, the portion of the ladder upon which he has his feet swings away from him until coming in contact with the hull of the boat.

All the way up to the deck one climbs a ladder which, instead of being vertical, is at an angle. Imagine leaning a ladder against a house and then climbing up the underside of it instead of the side one normally climbs. This gives you a fair idea of what it is like to board the Southern Wind. No wonder everyone on board is so muscular.

I felt myself growing stronger on a daily basis just from the physicality of living on a boat. There are constant adjustments for the rocking motions and lots of climbing up and down ladders between various decks.

Fwa a ale. Plu pluta. (Fois a aller. Plus plus tard) or in English, Time to go. More later.