Reaching the Ravine
By Kara Sassine
Less than a week after her first day as Project Medishare for Haiti’s new Communications Coordinator, Kara Sassine traveled to Jeremie to capture the stories of Hurricane Matthew survivors. Here, she shares a firsthand story of a young boy she met at the field clinic where PM helped treat more than 4,000 patients.
It was during his second visit to the field clinic in Jeremie that I started to get to know Maxo. During the hurricane, a piece of steel roofing blew into him, leaving a deep, gaping wound in his calf. The wound became infected in the week between the storm and his visits to the clinic. Dr. Joanne Paul of Hospital Bernard Mevs, scrapped, cleaned and stitched up Maxo’s calf while he lay face down on an exam table, his faced scrunched up in agony. He looked far younger than his fourteen years.
Hurry Up and Wait
For the next few hours as work in the clinic moved steadily along, I couldn’t help but notice Maxo standing outside. I wondered if maybe he was waiting for someone else he knew at the clinic, or for someone to pick him up. When I finally asked why he was still at the clinic, he simply looked at me and said he was waiting for his medicine from the pharmacy. This surprised me because he was standing far away from where the line to the pharmacy began. After telling him so, Maxo replied that his leg hurt and he didn’t want to wait in line. He was alone, so no one could stand in the long line for him.
I explained to Maxo that, even though he was in pain, standing in line for the pharmacy would allow him to get the medicine he needed to feel better and heal faster. In case he was worried about paying, I also reminded him that the medication was free. After practically pleading with him for several minutes, Maxo finally agreed to stand in line and wait his turn with the pharmacist.
About an hour later, I was surprised to again see Maxo and his bright blue shirt among those in the crowded courtyard of the clinic. This time when I asked why he was still there, he looked at me and shrugged. I asked if he lived nearby, to which he replied that he did, and that it was just a quick ride by moto-taxi. I asked if that’s how he was returning home. He replied with a slight frown that he couldn’t afford the 50 Haitian gourdes (less than $1USD) it would cost to get home.
“That’s why I’m still here,” he finally admitted. “My leg hurts, but I have to walk home. The medicine is making me feel a little better, but I’m tired.”
We stood around for a few minutes longer before Maxo announced that he was going to start his walk home. I asked if I could join him. He smiled and said, “No problem. It’s only three minutes by moto but I don’t know how long it takes by foot. Maybe ten minutes.” I would soon find out that Maxo’s time estimate was off by 20 minutes.
The Long Walk Home
I walked slowly alongside Maxo, chatting about various topics as we made our way out of the compound and onto the street. When I asked if he liked soccer, he enthusiastically replied: “Of course. Everybody likes soccer!” And when I asked about school: “Yeah I like it okay. I get good grades so it’s not awful.” When the subject turned to his family, however, Maxo suddenly became shy. The reason: His mother died many years ago, and his father was not a part of his life.
An awkward silence washed over us and our conversation stalled. I turned my attention to our surroundings. As we walked farther and farther into Jeremie, it became obvious that not one street was left untouched by Hurricane Matthew. Homes and buildings had their roofs torn off. Clothes and personal belongings were strewn about everywhere. Fallen trees and branches littered sidewalks and streets. It was impossible not to compare the area to “after” pictures of warzones and wildfires. This once lush region – one of the few remaining in Haiti – was left without a single tree standing.
We continued walking until wide paved roads turned into smaller, bumpy streets, and then into narrow, dirt-packed corridors. The path became rockier and our footing more unsure as the trail slopped downward.
Finally, I could tell we were getting closer to Maxo’s home. Neighbors started to recognize him and ask how his leg was. By this point, it was clear that he was in real pain, but he tried his best to not let it show.
Reaching the Ravine
We approached a large ravine with a dried up riverbed at the bottom, and houses all along the sides. It was clear that these homes – homes that were never that safe to begin with – had only been made worse by the hurricane. Entire families were living in one small room with dirt floors, flimsy wooden walls and now-missing tin roofs. The ravine walls had been subjected to landslides, as many homes were now donning destroyed walls and massive rock piles. Maxo’s home was no exception.
When we reached his home, Maxo’s grandmother was washing clothes. She explained that they lost everything in the storm. Knowing that Maxo was able to receive free medical care lifted one of her many burdens.
“These clothes I’m washing are the only things we have left,” she said. “The wind took part of our roof. The rain ruined the few things we had, and the rocks took half our walls. We have nothing. You are the first [visitor] to reach this ravine.”
As I continued talking with Maxo’s grandmother, several young children ran up to him and welcomed him home with hugs. His grandmother asked if he was thirsty or hungry, and made sure she knew when he needed to take his medicine. After seeing Maxo alone for most of the day, it was nice (and a relief) to see him surrounded by people who so clearly cared about him.
I left Maxo with reminders to return to the clinic for his scheduled follow-ups and prescription refills, and to treat all water before drinking it. As I made my way back up and out of the ravine, answering the neighbors’ questions about the field clinic along the way, I felt proud to work for an organization that is providing much-needed medical care to people who’ve lost so much. But at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling like there was so much more work to be done.