A ‘happy birthday’ while providing care

Having a happy birthday in Haiti.

By Crista Irwin

Today, my translator, Nellio taught me how to say “jodia se anivesem” (today is my birthday)! This marvelous day began as they all do, with a scrumptious breakfast. Today’s menu: pumpkin, vegetable soup and sweet, strong Haitian coffee. The bus drove us to the Pastor’s church enveloped by blue sky, panoramic mountains and neat rows of sugarcane. Our clinic would be in an open air, picturesque, covered building, with tables organized into stations allowing for an easy flow of patients and clear communication among staff members. While smiling young faces peeked around corners and played futbol with exam glove balloons, we met each patient with a “Bonjour” and “kisa ki fe ou mal?” (what is wrong). With my translator, Ero (my hero), by my side and my teammates, men and women with an array of talents and buckets of expertise, saw every man, woman, and child who came for help, well over 200 souls altogether. Men anpil chay pa lou (many hands make the load lighter).

On the bus ride back to home base, Ben, one of the leaders of FFP (Foundation for Peace), passed around the tough stalks of sugar cane he harvested from the field and demonstrated how to use our back teeth to bite and with a swift yank, separate the skin to reveal the sweet and creamy sweetness underneath. My friends sang Happy Birthday to me as I took a bite of the stalk! “Don’t swallow,” Lauren said as they passed me the basket to discard the cud. After a long, breezy day and a seemingly endless flow of people, song and laughter billowed from the bus!

A happy surprise came following another fabulous meal of fried plantains, sweet potatoes, goat, and pikliz. Our hosts presented a moist, layered, birthday cake with glossy white icing, like my Nana used to make, and all sang the English and Haitian versions of the birthday song! I asked Ben, how Haitians spend their birthday. They spend all day cooking and preparing for the party, friends gather, dance, drink, and fellowship. At last they eat the meal, sometimes at 12 a.m. or later and then everyone leaves. They celebrate first and wait all day to eat, because the meal ends the party. With us the meals bring us together, and we continue to play and laugh until it is time to sleep.

I wish I could more eloquently convey to my new friends how much this day, this week, this experience lifts my spirits. Sometimes I find myself consumed in the negativity that surrounds us at home, stifled by hurry and “to do” lists. Today was simply marvelous! Not because we solved world peace or any problem at all, but we did what we could to help, with love and joy and gratitude with the gifts that are ours to give.

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