The Second Trip

by | Nov 19, 2010 | News

On our second trip to Haiti, in September 2010, we (five lady herbalists and one man) found Haiti somewhat cleaned up, with the worst of rubble having been removed from the streets and some businesses having started up again, but the general situation is still far from what it was before the earthquake. Our host Bernard told us, “While it looks like things are back to normal on the surface, if you don’t really look, underneath nothing is back to normal.”

What is back to normal are big banks and international corporations, but little else. Foreign aid money has not been received, since the foreign governments smartly insist to control themselves how to distribute the money in a corruption-ridden country, while the Haitian government selfishly insists that those huge sums must be given to, and distributed by, the Haitian government itself (so they can disappear in the private pockets of whoever handles the money). Fancy billboards have been erected which describe the national police as a courteous and reliable force; the mere fact that they have to advertise this tells you it is far from the truth.

We found a heartbroken, devastated, displaced and demoralized peoples inflicted by poverty, starvation, epidemic disease, unemployment and homelessness. It is hard not to feel happy about whatever little help you can offer in such a situation, even knowing that what you have to offer falls so short of what is really needed.

We were offering a mobile naturopathic clinic that set up shop in the poorest, most devastated areas in and around Port-au-Prince and Leogane, a small town almost entirely flattened by the earthquake. This time we faced a bad flu wave, yellow fever, malaria, diarrhea from dirty food and water, and a vastly damaging tornado. In Leogane, where practically the entire town collapsed, we met a host of amputees and people with trauma from having gotten trapped in or under the rubble of their house. Almost everyone still lives in tents or under tarps, and in the tent cities set up for those whose houses collapsed, the walls of one tent touches that of the other, while inside people sleep crowded like sardines. Most tent “cities” have inadequate sewerage (if any at all) and no potable water – a situation rife for what we found: every kind of imaginable skin and eye infection, diarrhea, coughs, colds, flu, and any other kind of epidemic disease, plus diseases such as tertiary and congenital syphilis.

Returning to the same tent city for a second time after March, we found that now, most children were severely malnourished – hundreds of children with reddish-blond crispy hair that should normally be black, from the lack of food. In Carrefour Cote Plage, the area closest to the epicenter, almost everyone coming to the clinic had “severe stomach pain, worst in the morning and before eating” in children and adults so thin you can see the bones through the skin. It was devastating to know we had no medicine against hunger.

We considered offering meals but realized that to hand out food in Haiti one needs armed soldiers around to prevent a stampede, so we had to let go of that idea and instead suggested drinking a cup of the dirty water to allay the pain… It feels horrible to eat your lunch after working in a place like that.

Another side effect of the tent city ghettos (in which no one is working and everyone is just hanging around apathetically waiting for the water truck or the rice and bean allotment) is the “no future” attitude of ghetto dwellers. While this is not true of the older people, the younger generation–especially the teenage mothers–seemed to have lost any incentive to change their lives for the better.

For instance, one of them sent her one-month-old baby who seemed to be on the verge of dying with yellow fever over with another teenage friend. I asked for them to bring the baby back to check that the fever was down later in the afternoon, but she still was not the person to bring the baby in. When I finally summoned her, she seemed indifferent to the fate of her child and unwilling to do anything for his well-being herself, such as a sponge bath – too much trouble. Other young mothers with means to buy food would ask us for vitamins for their children, and when we explained that fruits and vegetables were the best source of vitamins, they would say, “But I don’t have time to cook them.” We’d ask, “What is your work?” They would reply, “Nothing, I’m jobless, it just takes so much time to chop them.” So with the earthquake, not just buildings caved in, but it undermined an active, resourceful society.

With a little less of an acute epidemic situation than in March, the general population is still shocked, depressed, and profoundly disturbed from the earthquake. Given that the earthquake hit in the daytime, most children were in school and died in the collapsing school buildings. In this way, the country lost an entire generation. I was surprised just how many times the key question in the intake interview, “Since when do you have those symptoms?” was immediately answered by “since the earthquake”. Chronic headaches, breathing troubles, heart aches, pains, and disturbances, sleeplessness, stomach aches, dizziness and faintness were among the most common of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, followed by a host of injuries from falling debris that no one complains of but have to be dug up by questioning. “I have pain in my chest when I breathe.” Since when?” “Since the earthquake.” “What happened to you in the earthquake?” “Nothing.” “Did you get hit or did you fall?” “Yes, I got hit by debris in my ribs.” We were ever so grateful to have a qualified bone setter on the team for all of those cases of crushed feet, head traumas, banged-out-of-place ribs etc.

Another physical effect of the earthquake is the scores of people with trouble breathing and a constricted feeling in the lungs. In 99% of the cases, these people would say that they breathed in a lot of dust when the buildings around them where caving in when asked. In any of those cases, the secret to the cure lay very much in the fanciness of the wrapping – the more “from a rich country” the packaging, the greater the enthusiasm with which the remedy was received. The best were the flower essence misting bottles donated by FES. There was, however, a clear generation gap – the old people, still very much used to herbal home remedies, were very receptive to brown paper bags with dried herbs as a promising cure, while the teenagers and young twenties seemed to be incredulous we could consider anything other than industrially-manufactured tablets.

How much the earthquake is not yet healed over is clear from the testimony of all of those children and adults who were buried under the rubble for days, all of whom are now suffering from nightmares, visions of the earth opening up and swallowing them up, houses collapsing over them again, being chased by the devils or bad spirits. People reported that they and their children were healed from the nightmares by the flower essences we gave them.

Return patients

We heard that the clinic had left quite a reputation behind, and that people would pass repeatedly in the places where we had been to ask when we would return. This time, people traveled as much as 3 hours to attend the clinic, because “we have never in our lives seen skin rashes, joint pain and vaginal infections clear up overnight”. Others would get on a taxi-bus to go more than halfway across town, for two hours one-way, to fetch family members to have them visit the clinic. This is not because medical care is unavailable, but rather because they do not offer the kind of medical care we did. One lady traveled for two days (one day walking and one day by bus) because somebody else said something that made her take that journey. A mother of nine, she was suffering from depression and menstrual abnormalities. We hope we were able to help her.

We were very pleased to have a good number of return patients, so we could monitor their further healing. This included a little boy who had been hit so hard in the head by a piece of rock that he could no longer see or open his mouth to eat or speak, and who wanted to die. We found him bouncy, happy and well, still complaining of the vision trouble and memory lapses so common after a heavy head trauma. Back in school now, we again provided him with a series of treatments which included setting the bones of his head and neck, and homeopathics. It was heartbreaking how many children came to sit in front of us saying “Please give me medicine for my memory – I cannot follow in school any more”. “Were you hit in the head during the earthquake?” “Yes, a cinder block fell on my head.”

Head traumas are so devastating, and this is certainly true of little mentally handicapped girl who had fallen head first out of the third floor in the earthquake. She seemed limp and drugged when she came in, and was entirely changed after the bones in her head and neck were set – suddenly alive, she was making eye contact and started to interact.

Lots of people returned, asking for a refill “What you gave me last time worked like a miracle – please give me more!” Jinpa observes: “I had a lot of clients return – a lot of them had come with diarrhea, skin infections, fever, headache and whatever. All of them where cured, but it returned in some cases a few weeks after the remedies were used up. So they were back to ask me for more. But none of the shock symptoms returned such as heart palpitations, insomnia and fear. This is due to the power of the flower essences we have been giving.”

The Clinic’s Reception

As last time, we were literally overrun by suffering crowds and would sometimes have to get people out of fist fights over their place in line. Handing out numbers greatly helped, but then suffering makes one impatient to spend hours waiting. While we heard from other medical relief workers that they felt that the Haitian had not been grateful for what they did, we were regularly showered with praise – and one day in one of the worst areas a father of five who had just been seen with all of his children wrote this note and asked the crowd to hand it to me:

Praise for our work was far and wide, yet that did not translate into the crowd not shoving and screaming. People would leave the clinic and bring back relatives from hours away for the next time because they were so satisfied with the results. We are grateful for this, since we did not have more than 5 to 10 minutes on average to spend per person, so it seems that our “tried and true” receipts really worked.

A lot of people commented that they preferred our cures over what they were given at the hospital “Because there are no side effects!” One woman came to Jinpa’s father asking “Is that black magic they use in their medicines?” He responded, “No, it’s healing plants.” “I put the ointment on my baby’s skin rash and went away to cook. When I finished and came back, the rash was already gone – as if by magic!” “Well, that’s the power of natural healing.”

The Ongoing Clinic

While we were gone, Oliama saw an ongoing stream of clients, return clients for follow-up treatments, as well as new people who regained confidence in their own local healing system. While the poor received free treatment, those who could afford it paid half. In his poor neighborhood in Petionville, he also delivers babies for 20 to 30 women evey month and is the doctor for 50 presumed orphans assembled at a shelter since the earthquake. He treats all of those people either as an herbalist, midwife, or bonesetter, depending on what is needed. We are continuing to support his work with $300 USD a month.

Oliama’s comment on our homeopathic injury treatments was, “I was never ever experienced this before in my life that my adjustments hold up so well and for so long!” So our goal of synergistic co-treatment was thankfully fulfilled. Oliama also observed that it gave the clients better mobility.

A Nation with a Collective Trauma

One benefit in our return visit was that we saw fewer patients with acute diseases, so we had the luxury to treat more of the emotional trauma left in the wake of this devastating event. Once easygoing and smiley, most Haitians are now serious, and many children look depressed and have deep black rings under their eyes. The monstrosity of the trauma and the chaos and problems it left in its wake seem to inhibit people from grieving – how to get the next bit of food or other living essentials is what is on the agenda, and not grieving and processing.

Very few people will walk into the clinic and say “I got emotionally traumatized in the earthquake, this is why I have my symptoms, please treat them.” We usually have to dig up that truth with repeated, meticulous questioning. “What happened to you in the earthquake?” “Nothing.” “Where you in a building that fell in?” “Yes.” “Did you get hit?” “No.” “Where you under the rubble?” “Yes, but only up to midnight.” This minimization of one’s trauma in the face of the horror of what happened is commonplace. And – how can you not have gotten hit by the rubble if you where under it for half a day? Well – I did not get hit as bad as those who died. Even adult men who did not get injured nor had any loss now report “Since the earthquake [which reportedly was so bad that the building were literally lying on the side and came back up like in a gigantic wave] I sometimes suddenly feel like I am losing footing, like my legs will give in and I will fall [like in the earthquake]”. In people’s souls, the big quake of January 12 is still omnipresent.

Like most cultures, Haitians do not consider the importance of early childhood trauma, and they assume that children who were not directly injured had nothing happen to them. In fact, all of these children seem profoundly disturbed by their entire universe spinning out of control so suddenly and violently. While their parents would often insist that nothing had happened to them and that they were fine, when asked directly, they admitted to being scared and disturbed. Our simple test was to give them a mix of flower essences for trauma, and in almost all cases the child would immediately break into its first smile after receiving the dose. We therefore beg to differ about this “Nothing happened to our children” business. The guardians at schools and orphanages still observe that all children appear depressed.

A new phenomenon we saw this time was the newborn babies who were just conceived or in-utero during the earthquake. While again all mothers insist that nothing happened to the baby, they seem unhappy, depressed, lifeless, or disturbed. Surprisingly often, these infants have shaking or trembling limbs or their legs shake uncontrollably when they try to push themselves up. These infants in particular responded to the FES “Fear” spray by opening their eyes, becoming present, focusing their eyes, smiling – in other words: being there for a change. While intra-uterine collective trauma, as I might dub it, might not play out in precise nightmares or symptoms, it definitely makes for absent infants that seem disengaged from life. Many women pregnant at that time reported having fallen onto their bellies or being hit hard into the belly, in all stages of pregnancy.

The pastor at a local orphanage we visited remarked, “By treating all of these children you are treating a whole part of Haiti for a long time into the future!” This was one of our goals – getting the lives of those traumatized children, a whole generation of them, unstuck so they can move on into a bright future and rebuild a better Haiti.

This time, we also had brought medicinal and vegetable seeds, as well as Moringa tree seeds (thanks to the donation of Moringa Farms) to help people grow their own anti-malaria herbs and nutritionally valuable greens.

The Clients

I saw a little girl in the clinic who complained of chronic pain in her foot. It transpired that it had been crushed by debris in the earthquake. I gave her some Arnica 200 C and sent her to be seen by Oliama. Marguy took her over, and on the way down the steps she said to Marguy “Oh, my pain is already entirely gone! I don’t have to go see the gentleman any more!”

An old gentleman who had been severely shocked by the earthquake had subsequently lost his ability to make eye contact, speak or understand French, or even maintain a conversation much beyond one sentence in Creole. We had left him with a post trauma flower essence mix, and were surprised to find him greeting us with a smile and in fluent French, maintaining long and complex conversations. He now clearly showed a hearing loss from the shock, for which we treated him.

A man who seemed to be about to lose consciousness was brought in by his wife, who had found him knocked out on the pavement. Oliama adjusted his foramen ovale with certainty and we sent him home to rest (with some homeopathic Arnica), where he quickly recovered from the concussion.

We were asked to attend to a young woman who had been given up to die. She had had an abscess on her neck grow so bad that by now it had been open for two months. She was bedridden from the oozing wound, was reduced to a mere skeleton, and the doctors did not know what was wrong with her. She was sure to die some time soon. We gave her some herbal powders to poultice the wound, along with essential oils for antiseptic wound care, homeopathic Silica, and flower essences to hep her regain spirits. The abscess started to heal almost immediately and was 30% smaller within a week. Most importantly, the young woman had regained her spirits and started to feel some appetite and interest in food.

One man in the waiting crowd kept starting fights, and he came back each time he had been kicked out and would not stop and stay quiet, frightening everyone around him with his aggressive behaviour. Julia looked up from her client and shouted at Jinpa, “That’s tertiary syphilis [slowly developing insanity], test Syphilinum on him!” Jinpa took the man to the side and pulse tested the remedy. The man shouted “I do not want to get treated, what are you doing, are you going to kill me?” Since the remedy brought his agitated pulse back to normal, Jinpa gave him a dose. This turned the man mellow on the spot, where he broke out in tears, stopped acting insane and, without prompting, poured out his own story: “During the earthquake, my house collapsed, and two of my children where killed. I also lost my job, and I feel that I am going insane. I cannot feed my children, nor send them to school, so I am drinking instead because I feel like I am going insane. And I know I am destroying myself by drinking! I swear that I will stop drinking from now on! Thank you very much.” We had a similar scene the next day in a different location.

“One woman in her sixties arrived, looking deranged. Eyes looking side to side and squinting, holding her abdomen with one hand, head with the other. She was unable to make eye contact. My translator and the man sitting behind her had to yell in order for her to hear my intake questions. She had lost her hearing, had terrible digestive problems, and felt sick all the time. I asked her if this was since the earthquake and she said yes, the word ‘earthquake’ triggered rapid heaving like she was going to vomit. I shouted for a purge bowl, and grabbed the homeopathic Nux Vomica. I gave her a dose, and rubbed Benediction oil on her stomach. She instinctually ripped open her shirt buttons so I could also apply it to her heart center. The heaving/belching got dramatically worse for one minute, then ceased. She sat up straight, looked me right in the eyes, and said “Bless you child. God Bless you.” Her ears unblocked, she could hear again and she was smiling.” (Told by Sandra)

I was treating a girl who had chest pain. Her description was pain, but none of the herbs tested right on her pulse. This seemed to be a rare case where the pulse testing technique did not seem to be working. So while I went off to consult the other herbalists just to give her something to do, I asked her to rub some Benediction oil onto her heart. When I returned, she looked straight into my eyes and said almost shocked: “The pain is entirely gone!” (Told by Jinpa)

One retired gentleman had traveled all the way to the US to seek treatment for his disease. He came back to tell us that he was shocked to find that he had spent all of the money on the plane ticket in vain, only to find the cure at our back yard clinic…

The Therapists

Sandra Lory:

Sandra, an herbalist from Vermont arrived with 200lbs of luggage filled with organic medicinal herb and vegetable seeds, dried and tinctured herbs, essential oils, and other natural medicines.

“Working in the clinic has been a very heart opening experience. The moment I announced to my community I was going to work in the clinic, an abundant and generous response of support came forth. People sincerely care about helping out and embraced the opportunity to make a direct impact. We Americans can feel so isolated from international affairs because mainstream media disconnects us from our global family, and our culture enforces isolation and individualism rather than a village mentality of mutual aid. ‘It takes a village’ rang true in this case, as friends and strangers tapped into their networks and stepped forward with money, supplies, fundraising ideas, and took the cause into their own hands to make sure the effort had what it needed. It was like preparing for a gigantic potluck feast, many hands and hearts coming together, tending the gardens and farm fields, harvesting the plants, processing them with love and healing intentions for our brothers and sisters in Haiti. A mountain of love was built.

“In Haiti, household members (many ‘re-made’ families of neighborhood survivors) came in groups to the clinic, as well as women with newly adopted kids who had lost their home and families. Children brought other children in for treatment. I am astounded by the grief and trauma that a generation of young people experienced. Many of them crushed under their school building walls. That they still can run and play in the tent cities even though they have horrendous infections and fevers, regular nightmares about the next quake, have suffered unimaginable losses, swallowed toxic dust and fumes of rotting bodies, and have little or no access to basic needs is heart breaking. These kids are so courageous.

“Traveling into and out of Haiti, people on the plane, in the flight boarding area and even in the customs line shared stories of loss, or guilt for being a survivor. “Thanks be to God I have a roof but I look out the window at people who are worse off and feel terrible. I cook food to share but we need more help.” I put to use the lavender oil I brought with me on board, along with a few flower essences. Everyone is traumatized. The physical conditions and emotional pains are completely intertwined which as a practitioner I witnessed on a whole new level of intensity.

“As many of us know, many large-scale relief efforts are not honest or accountable in their allocation of resources. The distributions are intercepted or corrupted, and approached with a top-down, colonial mentality. In contrast, the transparency of our clinic is a direct transmission of love and hope. Everything that was donated was used for its intended purpose, and carried with integrity. It is a testament to the power of the people when we organize ourselves, connect, and work together with a common vision.

“Our team is multilingual and a combination of Haitians and non-Haitians. It is a grassroots project embedded in the community. Each of the practitioners is rooted in the knowledge and guidance of the plants and nature, our universal language. The clinic heeds and honors the local traditions, culture and healing ways. The remedies we used – a combination of homeopathics, essential oils, flower essences, herbal preparations, and a few supplemental powders – worked beautifully and brought tremendous relief to patients. Yet, it is difficult to conceive of how many people are not receiving care, and are living in a perpetual lack of infrastructure – clean water, food, and safe shelter, which will only exacerbate epidemics and create new health problems as more time passes. I pray for the people of Haiti every day.”

[ See Sandra’s Haiti photo album ]

Cynthia Thomas:

Cynthia is an herbalist, massage therapist and doula in Minneapolis, MN

Marguy Gerton:

Marguy is a Florida-based Haitian-American physiotherapist and homeopath.

“I enjoyed the experience of working at the clinic very much. I have never seen such an interweaving of alternative methods before, such as using homeopathy with herbs, flower essences, essential oils and body work. It seemed to me that we were treating body, mind and soul all in one, sending them away with something for everything. I said, “We are giving people a complete body makeover here.” I also really enjoyed when people returned to the clinic and reported how the remedies helped heal them.”

Gabrielle Simon:

Gabrielle is an herbalist and body worker in Queens, NY

“My experience working in the clinic has been transformational on many levels. During the initial phases of fundraising, the outpouring of generous donations, both monetary and herbal, was truly heartwarming and overwhelming. It seemed that so many people were deeply moved by the suffering of the Haitian population and sincerely wanted to help. I think I carried that support and compassion with me to Haiti and was able to transfer it to the patients in clinic.

“The desperation of the poor in Haiti is unimaginable for most Americans. Many patients were suffering tremendously, and yet they waited in line for hours and were extremely grateful for the care they received. The resilience, strength and self-sufficiency of the children was amazing. I was so honored to have the opportunity to help the children because they carry a heavy emotional burden from the earthquake. It seemed that most lost between 5 and 10 family members in the disaster and yet they described themselves as “the lucky ones” just to be alive. Even those who didn’t see death during the earthquake itself were exposed to dead bodies and the smell of decay for many weeks after and were deeply impacted emotionally.

“Treating the acute symptoms of flu epidemic, chronic malaria, staph infections and worms was of course important, but being able to offer the people treatment for post-traumatic stress through the flower essences and homeopathic remedies was transformational. It doesn’t seem as if any other organizations are offering this support and it was clear that so many of the physical ailments, from migraines to heart palpitations, were due to emotional trauma. I remember taking the pulses of a few children who were trembling all over and said they had been since the earthquake. After just placing the correct flower essence in their hand, the trembling stopped altogether. We all saw these profound effects and cures with the herbs on a daily basis in the clinic.

“We were able to provide so much relief to the patients, but on many occasions it was clear that herbs and supplements would not be enough to cure those still suffering from extreme malnutrition and lack of clean water. A month after the clinic I find myself thinking daily of the impoverished children whose basic needs are not being met and hoping they are able to maintain their strength, hope and grace. My deepest wish is that these fundamental problems are addressed as Haiti continues to recuperate.”

Thupten Jinpa:

Jinpa is a Haitian-American herbalist, homeopath and body worker.

“It was a wonderful experience. Healing one child is like healing one or two generations into the future in Haiti. So I am very happy that this time I was able to treat so many children. And I still enjoy how the medicines change the children’s mood in one instance from grouchy and closed down to happy and open. They may be fuzzy and even refuse to let me touch them to take the pulse, but once I find the right remedy, they let me touch them, hold on to the remedy and do not want to let it go. I still love that part, and to see how that shift lasts, because it is still there in all the return client children after seven months of my absence.”

Julia Graves:

“I came back to Haiti remembering those destitute children. Whenever I spend the day treating a huge number of miserably sick people, I feel that my life has been worth living. There is nothing more rewarding than saving the life of a baby.”

Read about our other trips to Haiti:

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