In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Darkness and Light

'My cousin is lost.'

Her eyes were flat with grief and exhaustion. We were sitting in a nursery that now has just two children, one of them being her son. That leaves twelve empty beds. Twelve children in that room who have left GLA in the wake of the magnitude 7 earthquake. Many of my Haitian colleagues have lost 10-12 family members in the earthquake. As her gaze swept the room, she barely shook her head.

'You mean they didn't find him yet?' I enquired.

'I think they probably took his body away.' she replied. There was no expression on her face. Her shoulders sagged. 'Maybe they burned it... and I can't cry anymore. There are no tears left in Haiti.'

Yet five minutes later, as she recounted the story of another cousin, who, was found dead under the rubble of a collapsed house, her voice trembled. The family had wanted to bury the lady in her wedding dress, but her corpse was too bloated for that. They laid the dress on top of her, as her middle-aged mother ranted that her daughter had been cursed.'

This was not witch craft we agreed. Nor was it a judgement from God. And then, tears began to spill from eyes that are not quite dry yet.


'We will not call her that!'

Madame Bernard was very firm with the parents of our new premature baby. They could not name their little girl 'Casablanca', because that meant, 'White House' in Spanish. That just is not an 'appropriate' name for a Haitian baby.

'She is a pretty little girl,' Madame Bernard chided, 'So find a pretty name for her!'

My Haitian colleagues could not contain their laughter. There was mirth dancing in my eyes, I am sure, and a giggle under the surface, but I did manage to keep a straight face as our NICU nanny, Ginette, helped the parents find an 'appropriate' name.

'What are your names? What about your surnames? ...... And the names of the grandparents.' There are, of course, lots of things to consider when naming a baby. Our Haitian staff were sure to to impress the gravity of the decision on the parents of the child, who, after all, would have to live with the name they chose for the rest of her life.

The Father's name, it transpired, was Jude. Ginette thought for a second. 'Then why not call her Judeline' she suggested, the idea coming forth from her mouth as it was formed in her mind. Her thought processes in putting this name together are so Haitian. I love that!

'Judeline?' The mother repeated. 'Zhood-leen...' She glanced at the baby's father, who signalled his approval with a nonchalant shrug.

'Yes' the Mother, said, 'Let's call her Judeline.

Are you sure? Ginette asked. The decission was not one to be taken lightly.

'Susan,' Mme Bernard announced, 'This baby is called Judeline.' I had heard the entire conversation. I was right there, feeding the baby.'

'It's decided then?' I asked

'Yes Mme Bernard declared, in a tone of that said, the choice was entirely theirs, as it should be, 'Yes, the parents have decided.'

On one side there is so much darkness; death, the morbid and macabre, loss, hunger, grief, homelessness and vulnerability. On the other, a reason to laugh, babies born, choices made, enterprising vendors, selling dried plantain chips and souvenirs to journalists and aid workers in Port-au-Prince. Life in Haiti, in a very fundamental way, continues as it always has.

There is a source of light, springing forth from some deeply rooted and primitive part of our humanity. Today we embraced that light, despite the encroaching darkness.

1 comment:


Judeline welcome to you dear one...and thank you for the smiles that you have brought to these wonderful enormous hearted carers o the littlest angels. So happy to see you back here online Susan. I fretted a bit wondering if you would be able to go back to Haiti. Things will settle and you are much needed there Im sure the home will be filled to over flowing again. take care. smiles Michelle