Saturday, March 16, 2013

Haitian Hygiene

Oh Haiti, why am I thinking about you so much lately?

I never wrote much about what happened there.

I intended to. I kept a notebook while I was there, and tried to keep track of what was happening.  I must have been half out of my mind though, because it all sounds like gobbeldy gook to me now.

I think that being out of your mind in a place like Haiti is normal.  Life there is just.....crazy.

 Actually, the first word that comes to mind when I think about Haiti is exhaustion.  I was in a state of complete exhaustion, in every way.  Physical. Mental. Emotional. Spiritual.

 Everything- even the simplest things- are hard there.  Washing your hands is hard.  You almost have to take a buddy with you to wash your hands properly, because of all the steps involved.  First you have to go dig out all your hand washing supplies. Anytime you do anything in Haiti, you have to go dig through your stuff to find what it is you need.  You can't leave stuff sitting around.  It will get dirty.  Or wet. Or stolen. One of the three. So.  Going to the bathroom?  Gotta go find your toilet paper.  Need a drink? Go find your water bottle.  Want to go visit the next door neighbors? Get your hat, backpack, snacks and water bottle, because it's a two mile hike over the mountain.

Back to the art of handwashing though.  Poke  around in your bag until you find your soap and towel.  Then hike up the path to where the barrel is that holds the rain water, which is the cleanest water available for washing in.
The "sink"

 You wouldn't want to drink it though. Find a clean spot in the dirt to set your stuff down while you get the bucket out of the rain barrel and pour some water over your hands.  Get your soap and lather up your hands.  Set soap back down. Retrieve the bucket and pour some more water over your hands.  Get your towel and dry off. Hike back to camp.  Put your soap and towel away.  Take a step forward and touch something and  BOOM your hands are dirty again.  You just can't imagine how dirty every thing there is.

  Now imagine showering.

First off, it's not a shower. It's a dribble.  It's a hollow cement block with a camel back hooked up at the top.
The shower. I mean dribble.

You open the spout on the camel back and let a little water run over your hair and body.  You shampoo as much grime off as you can and attempt a rinse.  When you get out, you are as hot and sticky and sweaty as when you started.   A couple of times we hiked up to the river to take a bath.  That was a work out too.  The river has a gorgeous pool with a water fall that is an idyllic bathing spot.  But its about a mile and a half hike to get there. And when I say hike, that is an understatement.  It is more like a climb. Carrying a towel, soap, shampoo, clean clothes, and a flashlight because it will be dark by the time you are done because you have seen patients since about seven that morning, and now at sunset are finally getting away from the clinic.  The actual time spent  in the river is like paradise.   You don't want to get out. The water is so warm there- not at all like the melted snow you find in rivers in Utah.  The water is deep enough that you can soak in it and dip your hair in it and get it really clean.  Don't put your face in the water though!  As a sheltered American who does not have immunity to whatever is living in that water, you cannot risk getting it in your eyes or mouth. But it's worth it, because for about 10 minutes after you get out you actually feel clean.  Then you try to dry off as much as you can, and you start the trek back to the clinic.  On the way back down, you notice some giant white crab-looking things floating in the river.  You wonder about what might have been sharing your bath with you...
Our bathtub.  Not a great picture because it was always dark by the time we got up there.

By the time you get back to the clinic,   you are dripping in sweat once again.  But at least you got clean for minute.  Much better than the dribble from the camel back in the cement block.

Now, if you can just find the energy to brush your teeth.  First off though,  put your shower stuff away, hike up the hill to hang up your towel and pray that it will get dry by morning.   It wont, be, but with any luck, it won't get stolen.   Then go get your toothbrush, your flashlight , your water bottle, and your toothbrushing buddy, and go stand at the edge of the path where there is a little cliff.  All the toothpaste spit goes over the edge of the cliff where nobody will step in it. Except that sometimes there are Haitians down there, so be careful. After you brush your teeth, you get your handwashing supplies back out and hike back up the path to use the bathroom and wash your hands one more time before going to bed.
the most disgusting

Even with all this work, I still smelled horrific the entire week.   I think if I hadn't showered or brushed anything at all, anywhere on my body, I would not have smelled any worse than I did.

I'm pretty sure the Haitians thought we were nuts, with all our soap and hand sanitizer and deodorant. And the really weird part?  They never seemed dirty. I couldn't seem to walk across the courtyard of the clinic without sweating up a storm and getting dirt on my butt and smudges of dust on my face.  These people would show up in the clinic in spotless white shirts and pressed slacks, having hiked for literally hours over treacherous paths, most of them with 3 or 4 shiny little kids in tow. Some of them looked like they were going to church, and in truth, many of them would wear their very best clothes to come to the clinic, because to them, it was a HAPPENING to get to see a doctor, a real honor.  But how in the heck did they get there and be so clean?

One of the many mysteries of life.

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