Monday, February 12, 2007

The Sun Always Rises

Britt is taking a college composition course. She says she "hates" the course. We think she is bluffing. She is allowing me to post her paper under pressure.

She wants me to place a disclaimer that this paper was to have a dramatic flair and not a conversational tone - that she would not speak to you this way if you were standing here talking to her. I have assured her that pretty much everybody knows that to get a good grade in a writing class, you need to be unnaturally flowery. It had to be autobiographical, which made it about Haiti and in turn made it blog material. :)

Autobiographical Essay Assignment


The Sun Always Rises

I am an established heavy sleeper. Roosters, that normally crow in the morning at the rise of the sun, crow incessantly throughout the day and night in Haiti. No, the confused roosters do not trouble me in the night nor force me out of my deep-slumber in the morning. Nor am I disturbed by the sound of the school children scurrying into the yard to sing the national anthem and raise the sun-faded and torn Haitian flag. Not even the sounds of the cooks’ gossiping and laughing, or the clanging of huge iron pots, in preparation for the day’s lunch of ever-monotonous rice and beans, awaken me. These are all sounds that I hear once I have actually gotten up, but they cannot take credit for coercing my actual waking. It is the sun, insistently bright and forever too soon, that gets me out of bed each morning. The sun and all the things that arrive with it have authority over my distinctively comatose sleep. The unknowns compel me to get up but also oblige me to put a pillow over my head and escape the nagging sun. It is the uncertainties of the day ahead that paralyze me.

Eventually this tug-of-war is ended; the sun has once-again defeated me. I set my feet on the surprisingly cold tile floor with my desire to feel carpet beneath my feet once again dashed. I mull over locating and purchasing one of those square samples of carpet, just to possess this one glorious moment first thing each morning. However the tile will suffice for now; perhaps if I get behind on the sweeping, the dog’s hair will eventually become carpet-like. I laugh at myself; am I guilty of romanticizing, of all things, carpet?

I am pleased in realizing that the smells of the morning no longer affect me. The painful dust and generally filthy and rotting smell that Haiti often possesses are familiar friends, no longer strangers to these nostrils. I feel that I have won this battle. Some mornings strong whiffs of frying bacon drift up from the feeding program’s open-air kitchen that employs the above mentioned lively cooks. This scent pleasantly alarms my senses, but only in dismay as I realize that bacon is a rarity in this foreign land. Unfortunately, the aroma is only a misconception – a cruel impostor.

My breakfast consists of iron-enriched cereal with powdered milk (which is always poured in a resistant conflicting manner, while I lament the necessity of this less-than-appetizing milk.) I brush my teeth and chew my vitamin, praying that these preventative measures will strengthen my body to fight off the anemia and keep it malaria free. Luckily it is the dry season and the mosquitoes have not been given the opportunity to redevelop and re-afflict. The lizard on my ceiling is troublesome; his camouflaging capabilities have failed him.

My appearance is also changing; it is less Minnesotan. I no longer worry about what I wear and its dependence on how the weather will behave that day. It is hot and humid nearly every day of the entire year, a characteristic that I love and hate. I look forward to the lesser predictability of the rainy season, with its nightly tumultuous downpours raging out of control. I yearn for the sound of the rainfall, the beauty of the storm played like an intricate piece of music, with our tin roof as the leading instrument.

The mornings commence without much variation, as if I am a habitually programmed robot from the time I awaken until the unexpected occurs. These unforeseen parts of my day vary; today it might be a pleading mother searching for an answer for her month-old baby’s unexplainable case of jaundice. This diagnosis is an easy one because the baby has not been fed much more than flour water since her birth. Although the diagnosis may be easily determined, the problem still remains.

In a land of so much need, I have to be smart – aware and well-informed, always analyzing. I must pick and choose. Is this baby going to die without formula? Can this mom afford to buy the formula herself? Or should I hold onto the formula donation for a more-needy baby? Is there really such a thing as a more-needy baby? Aren’t all sick babies in need? And this is how it goes, time and time again. For this sweet baby girl, yellowed with the excess of a chemical called bilirubin, because of the lack of iron in her body, I have chosen to make use of the donated formula. The needs of the future are overshadowed by the chance to heal her tiny frail body.

Not all medical needs are as dramatic as hers, but without the formula and the prescribed twenty-minutes of daily exposure to the sun, her five pound body would have succumbed. The same early morning sun with which I battled will now save this infant girl’s life. I frown at my previous pretense. Has the sun overcome me twice in one day?

There are no expectations here. It is stupid to have them. I flip-flop between waking up and expecting the unexpected or expecting nothing at all. In a culture when survival really is first priority and will be found at any possibly cost, lying is not a sin and time is not imminent. Nothing seems predictable, yet many things are. One learns to be prepared for the expected daily unknowns but not to anticipate them or their reliability. I may spend the afternoon stitching up the victim of an inexperienced motorcycle driver or I might focus on conquering electron-dot structures for atoms and ions. I can plan to spend the day relaxing at the beach, my favorite place on earth, when in reality I never make it there because of a new and more important problem. But I have not a bitter ounce within me, for the next day that I plan to go to the beach, the sun will still be shining, hot and imperiously as ever.

There is a thrill-factor in having no expectations. It’s a God-given thrill because He is the operator of this impossible-to-forecast thing called the future. I remember the thrill I felt when I first realized that I was getting good at suturing. In a clinic in the mountains, I was taught by a nurse friend of mine how to properly close up a wound. It had been several months since I had gone to visit her and returned with my new skill. I had practiced on ten or so cuts, ranging from a six-inch gash as a result of a machete to a small and precise knick on an ear from a playful and uncoordinated toddler. All of a sudden, it just clicked. I was growing accustomed to stitching in all sorts of situations, with the sweat dripping from my brow, threatening to desterilize the previously sterilized area. My hands no longer shook. I was more certain of my capabilities, and I was delighted with awesome results.

But one late-afternoon, my new confidence was challenged. Our gate man raced up the drive-way. He rapped on the gate of our house. I answered and greeted him. “Bonswa. Komo ou ye? Hello. How are you?” But I could tell that he hadn’t come up to chit-chat, so I asked “Sak pase la? What’s going on here?” He responded, “Gen un nouvo moun la ki te blese. Li se sou figi li epi blese la se tre grav. There’s a new person here who got cut. It’s on his face and the cut is very severe.” I went down to examine the new patient and his wound, which was indeed severely awful. The patient, a middle-aged man, had gotten into an argument with his wife’s cousin in which blows were exchanged. A jagged-edged cut was staring at me from above his right eyebrow. I explained to him that it needed stitches and that it would probably take some time since it was located in such a sensitive area. After thoroughly cleaning the wound, I was unsure of where to start. Should I pull the corners together and make it into several straight-lined segments? Or could I attack it from left-to-right? My perfectionism overtook me and I did what I thought would leave the smallest scar, disregarding the fact that it was more difficult on my part and required more shots of lidocaine (a general anesthetic) and pain for him. The needles used to suture are curved and can be bent and broken, especially if the skin is thick or if you are trying to grab a big chunk and pull it together. I pierced through the numb skin when suddenly the needle broke in two. This is how it went throughout the procedure; the suturing curve-balls were hitting me left and right. My patient started crying out of sadness, remembering the conflict with his family member. The sun was setting and the bugs were rising but I was determined to finish the job that I had started. After an hour and a half, I removed my gloves to reveal sweat-drenched hands.

The man’s cut ended up healing with minimal scarring. The hours I spent contemplating how I could have stitched it more proficiently were futile because my inexperienced hands had surprisingly produced a satisfying finished product. The successful healing of this wound was uncertain but healing ensued. I cannot rely on future success; uncertainty plagues each case I encounter. I am stretched by uncertainties. But one thing is certain in my day: the sun always rises.