February 28, 2010

halfway there...

I'm now *officially* on my way home... in the airport in Santo Domingo, past security, thru customs, and headed home.

Last night we all had dinner with the SODOPRECA gang on the malecone - it was Dominican Carnaval, so we were surprised with a firework show after dinner. I was more excited about the hot shower I had at the hotel post-airport, but feel like my soul washed down the drain with the Haitian dirt. I didn't watch TV or listen to radio in Haiti (just MP's greatest hits of the 80's over and over and over again) so I was out of the loop on current events. I didn't know about Chile. I couldn't (still can't) believe it. The planet is trying to shake us off like fleas. I sent an email to some Ecuador and Argentina friends - the news said the 8.8 mag earthquake was felt all the way across the continent in Buenos Aires. I hope everyone is OK, so far it seems like Chile got the worst of it.

Coming off the plane in DR, we were all coming from Haiti - it was strange, no one talked, no one smiled, no one moved. We just sort of slumped down in the plane seats and breathed a collective sigh of relief. Our passports weren't stamped going into or coming out of Haiti, so according to my passport, I was officially M.I.A. from February 21 till February 27th. There was also no talking, no smiling in the airport. The guy who stamped my passport smiled at me and said "Gracias por su servicio" (Thank you for your service) - that was nice and made me smile :)

Today most of our group left in the morning - JG and I hung out at EF's family's house, ate lunch, chilled out, and killed time before the airport. There was a dog at the hair salon/house down the block that had a skin issue of sorts. JG and I gave the dog an ivermectin injection and some vitamin B, then the ladies "repaid" us with a little beauty salon treatment - eyebrows and hair styles. Note the before and after pictures:

There is a delay of some sort at the airport (something about snow in NYC?? Jezus, seriously??) and there are about 7 screaming children in the waiting area for our flight. I just want to get home. This is one vacation I need a vacation from.

February 27, 2010

Adios Haiti

I left my tent and water bottle and a few other bits and pieces for Geraldo Luis in Port au Prince. He told me early this week how much he liked my tent, but it's technically not mine, it's my dad's. As soon as I said that to him I regretted it, and knew in the back of my head that I would leave the tent with him when the trip was over. He didn't even flat out ask me for the tent, but I could tell by the way he admired it he really liked it. He lost his whole family and earthly belongings in a 30 second window during the earthquake, and I suddenly felt like a horrible person to NOT give him the tent. At least I still have a father who can yell at me for "donating" his camping stuff. I wouldn't trade that for the world. Also, my luggage is substantially lighter on the way back, which is always a good thing. I will be back in DR in less than an hour, and very, very happy to leave.

God Bless Bolivia

I was beyond tired last night. BEYOND. I'm beyond tired now, but at least am sitting in the shade on international (UN) soil.

We spent most of the day yesterday at Camp Charlie - the Bolivians offered us lunch, then we chased down a "sick" dog (though I've never seen a "sick" dog run so fast!) the soldiers said needed treatment. Long story short (as you can tell, the blogging is wearing on me... as is the heat... and the stress...) the dog died, and the team has (in my mind at least) officially hit the breaking point. Maybe it's just me. Or not. Whatever.

After lunch and epic surgery fail, I was trying to find the solider who got me the awesome, first class in the escort truck yesterday; I couldn't remember his name - MP said it was "Loredo" or "Loreda" so I walked all over the base looking for him. I recognized a guy from the mess hall and asked him for help - he took me to the 2nd Colonel's office. Not who I was looking for, but was the same guy who brought us the orphanage cat the second day and a very nice man.

I was too tired to make an attempt at explaining "You are not the guy I was looking for, sorry to bother you and waste your time, Sir" so I sat down and he politely asked me "What's up?" The heat and exhaustion and truck bitchiness got to me, and I started to cry. I told him (in ever so poor Spanglish) that the dog we tried to treat died, and now we were 0 for 2 in treating Bolivian army animals. I was embarrassed that we (essentially) killed all the animals they asked us to treat in spite of their kindness, hospitality and and free food. But let's talk about how awesome Bolivia is (well... at least the little part of it in Haiti) - 2nd Col. Suarez told me the orphanage found another cat (a kitten actually) and he wanted to bring it to us to treat. Really? Really. He was going to bring it by SONAPI later on for an exam, antiparasitics, etc. I was still crying and am sure I looked a hot mess - covered in dirt, days away from a decent shower and bags under my eyes that could hold water. But he was really, truly grateful for all of us and our help. That's why I love these trips. Despite the weather, accommodations, food, water (or lack thereof), and stress, I meet the most awesome people in the most obscure corners of the world. Then, realized that maybe we were doing something good after all.

Still on the hunt for the unknown solider, 2nd Col. Suarez had one of his assistants walk me over to an office building (where I assume I will find this Solider Lorenda?) but instead, I find myself in the office of THE Colonel, Henry Loredo. Again with the embarrassment... "Lo siento. Pero usted no es el hombre que estoy buscando...." I sat down, 1/2 laughing 1/2 crying, and all of a sudden a 1/2 dozen Bolivian soldiers are running around with coffee, juice, snacks, the works. I had absolutely NO idea what to say to this man, other than gracias and how awesome the Bolivian people are, especially to the animals. I've never been to Bolivia, but if the Bolivian people are 1/2 as nice as the soldiers, I think I will find it quite lovely.

We got back to camp late, had dinner, and I passed out. I thought everyone would wake me up when the Bolivians came by with the new orphan kitten, but I slept straight through it. Also slept through another round of PTSD and a make-shift kegger with the Brazilian soldiers. I'm sad I missed the late night kitten exam and Bolivian/Brazilian UN party, but at this point, I'm at the airport, ready to get the f up outta here. I collected emails and phone numbers and I'll stay in touch with everyone some how.

Getting cranky....

February 26, 2010

Como se dice "F You" en Creole?

Everyone is cranky. There is obvious tension running through the camp. I keep telling myself it's not my fault, responsibility or problem, but it sucks that my friends (old and new) are cranky, angry and bickering. I've tried to just stay out of the way. They seem to be having fun in their own little clic, so I've just left them be. Besides, I'm too pale to sit in the back of the truck without 1,000 SPF sunscreen, and someone has to keep an eye on MP - not like I could control him if needed. I can't even drive stick (*note to self* learn how to do that)

Adding to the stress and stuff we don't talk about is MP girlfriend and her midnight screams. I swear it is like someone is dragging fingernails down my spine when I hear that - it is an inhuman sound, and is apparently the soundtrack to the Haiti disaster 2010.

The b*tch from the World Food Programme said to go back Friday morning to check on flights back to DR, so we went there first thing today - even though they said the lists wouldn't be ready until noon - everyone wanted to go, so I just shut my mouth and got in the truck. And there was no list at the airport - they said come back at noon. There was a party of some sort at the UN headquarters (I think the president of Brazil is there?) and there was a ridiculous, American showing of buffet food. MC found some Dr. Peppers while I was looking for soda at the army grocery. He said he saved one for me, but when I got back, they were all gone. I think Geraldo Luis took mine - he's probably never had one in his whole life, so I hope he enjoyed it.

I'm just generally tired and cranky, and am trying to keep my mouth shut at everyone's comments and suggestions.
No - we can't drive any faster. The roads are f-ed up and that's how we have to drive.
Yes - we have to wait until they fix the truck. I don't know why but if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Unless you have a mechanic degree we don't know about, sit down with the rest of us and wait.
No - I don't know what's happening with MP. I'm just trying to survive the rest of the week.
No - I don't know what's over there.
No - I don't care what the Canadians are doing.
No - there are no flights on Sunday. I don't know why, but we have to deal.
Like CK said, I can do anything for a week.

We went back to Lilavois 23 this morning and treated a bunch of animals - dogs, cats, sheep, chickens and even a horse (or mule. Or donkey. I don't remember). This has been an eye ball themed trip - we saw 2 dogs with eye injuries (Jackie and a healed over eye wound on a dog yesterday) and now a chicken with one eye(supposedly from a "fight" - accidental?). There was an absolutely adorable dog named Emma that followed us around and helped MC "examine" the animals.) RB finally had to restrain her to keep her from licking the cats and chickens. There were a lot of children today, and it's crazy to see them running around the rubble with no shoes, ripped clothes, and not a care in the world. I hope they can overcome the current situation and perhaps be the solution their country needs. It's crazy how the Haitian people seem to just get over it. They aren't screaming or wailing or even complaining - life just goes on.

After that, went back to the airport and checked the flight manifest. Everyone was on the first flight, and of course, I was on the second. I really don't care - I pretended to care and asked if I could be moved onto the first flight, but wasn't surprised when they said no. It will be nice to have Haiti all to myself for a few hours without the tension.

We're headed over to Camp Charlie to try and catch the dog one more time. MP will not be allowed to touch the rabies pole this time.

to tent... or not to tent...

The Bolivians seem way more upset about the earthquake than the Haitian people I've met. The only one who shows even the slightest bit of trauma is MP girlfriend, but even she acts as if in the daytime - I don't think she's aware or conscious of her late night PTSD issues. The people just put up tents and construct shelters anywhere and everywhere - sometimes right up against the ruins of their collapsed home.

The tent city people come from 2 groups - those who lost their homes, and those who are afraid to. Many people elected to live in tents for fear that another earthquake (or aftershock) might hit and kill them too. And from the looks of it, you know people are still buried under all the destruction. They are long dead and may never be discovered. Especially since there isn't a huge effort now to dig or move rocks. Everyone has food and water, so life goes on. Right on top of the disaster.


"Terremoto" = Spanish for "earthquake"

While riding home with the Bolivian troops last night, I learned a few things about the earthquake.

The United Nations has been stationed in Haiti for several years, and most of the Bolivian troops I met had been in Haiti since summer 2009. The earthquake hit at about 5pm local time on Tuesday January 12th. The Bolivian troops play soccer every evening on the camp fields. The dogs that play soccer with them started running in all directions and howling. And all of a sudden, the ground started rocking back and forth, and the a "ripple-effect" ran through the mountains, like someone was shaking out a tablecloth.

There was no sound or rumbling, just movement.

And about 25 seconds later, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake had passed.

Within those seconds, over 1 million people were left homeless, 300,000 were injured and 230,000 were killed.

Since the earthquake occurred in the evening, most people were leaving work or headed home, which (according to the Bolivians) probably cut the death toll in half. Had the earthquake occurred during the day or in the middle of the night, hundreds of thousands MORE would have been hurt or killed.

With no warning and no sound, the people of Haiti didn't even have a chance to run. Within 25 seconds, people like our translator Geraldo Luis lost everything and everyone they loved. The entire country had been picked up and shaken like an Etch-a-Sketch.

The soldiers (most of whom had been away from home for almost a year) immediately turned their efforts to disaster relief - pulling bodies from the rubble and tending to the injured and dying. They weren't able to reach their families in Bolivia until several days later, when the phone and internet service returned. The soldiers said none of the Camp Charlie soldiers were hurt or killed. Even in the dark of the UN truck, you could tell by the look on their faces that they didn't want to talk about it.

One of the soldiers emailed me some photos he took during the first few days after the earthquake (*disclaimer*... this is some f-ed up sh*t):

February 25, 2010

Lilavois 23

This afternoon we went to a barrio called Lilavois 23 - probably one of the worst hit areas I've seen so far. Most streets here have tons of destruction and then one or 2 buildings totally fine then more destruction and so on. Lilavois was almost total destruction. There was probably 1 building standing for every 10 that fell. Lots of piles of rocks and concrete and a thin coat of dust over everything. One of our translators, A, lives in a tent city near Lilavois. He was the one who told us about the animals in Lilavois 23.

We pulled up to a farm and a man opened the gate so we could drive up onto the yard in the middle of the rubble ruins of his former home. A herd of gringos in a pickup truck seems to draw attention, so after about 10 minutes, there was a small crowd gathering on the road. And about 5 minutes after THAT, the crowd came back with their animals in tow. The man who opened the gate for us had several animals running around his yard, including pigs and goats. Goats are pretty resilient, hardy creatures, very loud, and very difficult to catch. Once they caught on to the whole Catch-Deworm-Release idea, they were doing acrobatics around the rock walls to avoid MC, the farmer, and the small group of children chasing them.

We sort of broke into 2 groups - MC and helpers and JE and helpers. RB stayed in the back of the truck (probably a good idea since she was the smallest and cutest and therefore, probably the least likely to survive a Haitian guy attack. Although she's training for a marathon... she could definitely out run them!!) She distributed supplies as we called for them - 5cc of Pyrantal here... 1cc of Ivermectin there. JG and MP were animal wranglers (god bless them, cos I can't fight with some of these huge ass goats) and I got my share of cats in rice sacks. On a side note, I love feral/wild/crazy barrio cats, and I don't know why everyone else is so opposed to them! They are way easier to treat than a huge ass angry dog, and I get extra excited to see them, since they are nearly impossible to catch, so when someone can actually get them into a rice sack for treatment, KUDOS!! A woman and her daughter (probably 7 or 8 years old) came with a very cute kitten named "Mimi". I really wish I spoke/understood more French/Creole so I could communicate with the people. I thought my Spanish was limited, but when put in a foreign situation, "Gracias" and "por favor" seem to roll off my tongue like spit. My head is going in about 20 different directions... every situation requires me to think in English, translate to Spanish, speak in Spanish to the translator, wait for them to ask a question in French/Creole, interpret, translate to Spanish, speak to me in Spanish, and then my brain translate to English... no wonder I've been asleep by 9pm every night!

There was a hysterically funny guy in Lilavois 23 who spoke English and was a VERY enthusiastic interpreter! We had to get to Camp Charlie by sunset, but told him we would return tomorrow to visit more animals. I was dying of thirst, and there was a woman on the side of the road selling sodas and candies. MC was brave and got a banana flavored soda :-x but I got a Coke. Yes, it was in the refillable glass bottle with no cap, but Coke is like battery acid and I'm sure kills off any cholera or giardia prior to ingestion.

There was a guy from Lilavois (a friend of Andre I think??) who lived a few hundred yards from the farm. He invited us to his house/tent for coconuts. As delicious as they were, I fear THAT would be the one thing to give me cholera! And apparently, you can't or shouldn't whack your machete on the ground, since that dulls the blade. Good to know.

We treated 2 pigs, 12 dogs, 3 cats, 22 goats and 1 chicken at Lilavois, and are going back tomorrow morning to treat some more. All of these numbers are approximates, since no one is really keeping track. A goat here, a dog there... pretty close.

We had to be at Camp Charlie by sunset, as the soldiers told us that's when the dogs come out to the soccer field and are easier to catch. We got there just as the sun set below the mountain, and were armed with tranquilizer guns to catch these dogs. There were a few soldiers playing soccer on the field with about a 1/2 dozen dogs. Apparently most of the dogs were already sterilized (by whom?) and were very friendly. It took a few minutes to get everyone organized and ready to shoot the dogs. There was a black and white male that was reportedly sick, so they wanted him to get caught first. Of course, he was the most difficult to catch. MC got a dart into him then MP chased him like a crazy man with the rabies pole. The dog started running through the fences around the camp, and MC soon found out the fence separated the Bolivian army base from the Brazilian. Apparently a large gringo with a tranq gun in the shadows of the Brazilian UN tanks gets attention, and he soon found himself surrounded by Brazilians with automatic weapons, trying to explain in Portu-Span-Glish that he was a vet.

After that, the dog was TOTALLY gone, and our best bet was to calm down and regroup. MP got us an invite for dinner at the Bolivian mess hall - spaghetti and hot dog with red juice and bread. Yum.
I swear I was more excited than I look :)

We never did catch the dog, but I made friends with one of the soldiers and got a ride back to camp in the UN truck (I was hoping for the tank, but oh well :) with the armed guards. It was suggested that we not drive in the dark without an escort, so the Bolivians were happy to provide. Although between you, me and the wall, they were too busy asking me questions about New York that a late night ambush would have slipped right by. Sorry guys... ;)

That voodoo that you do

"Jackie" the one-eye wonder dog from Tuesday did really well yesterday and is going home to her family this morning. We're also going to a barrio (borough/city/area) of Port-au-Prince that supposedly has a lot of animals that survived the earthquake. We seem to find out about these things on the underground veterinary Haitian railroad - it seems like someone shows up in the middle of the night with a note that says "We need help here" so then we go.

Speaking of the middle of the night... Ugh.

So I slept thruugh a 4.5 magnitude earthquake the other night which is a pretty impressive narcoleptic feat - but last night we were blessed/cursed with blood curdling screams at 1, 3 and 5am. MP has a Haitian girlfriend (apparently it's is 2nd or 3rd since he's been here?) who stayed with him in camp last night. The poor girl probably lost everything in the earthquake, now she washes MP's nasty clothes during the day and waits around for him to come back from our adventures so she can sleep in his tent at night. He claims she's 18 but I seriously doubt the validity of that statement.

I'm so tired and sore I couldn't care less. But - she started screaming in the middle of the night and it sounded like someone was skinning a live cat. Actually, more like a rabbit. I've heard rabbits scream before (not from being skinned) and it is a horrible, crazy, bowels of hell sound of sound. That what she sounded like.

There were murmuring about voodoo and other psycho stuff, but I think the poor girl has some wicked post-traumatic stress disorder night terror thing going on. Sleeping with MP probably isn't helping. I don't know where she went this morning, but she wasn't there when I woke up. Everyone is pretty cranky and tired. The voodoo screams in the middle of the night didn't help. I think the screams in the middle of the night have been the most horrifying experience to date. It's like the soundtrack to the Haitian disaster... loco

February 24, 2010

Don't Be a Menace to Port-au-Prince While Drinking Your Dr. Pepper in the Hood

Today was an interesting, interesting day. We drove almost 3 hours across Haiti from Port au Prince to Jacumel. Jacumel is on the southern coast of the island, and according to the United Nations charts, was 80-90% destroyed by the earthquake.

The mechanics came in the morning, and after a few hours of god-knows-what, the truck was "ready" and we were off. Some of the areas outside the city were unbelievably destroyed by the earthquake. Here are some photos of the road about 20 minutes outside of Port au Prince: Apparently everyone had a grand ol' time in the back of the pick up truck. Trying to avoid the scorching Haitian midday sun, I sat shotgun in the cab, MP drove, and JE and A sat in the back seat. As such, we were left out of the "loop" of the fun and games of the truck bed. Oh well.

MP stopped about 1/2 way there at a little roadside stand in a town/village called Fondwa. He went to get some sort of Haitian roadside food, and we treated 4 dogs and 1 cat while waiting for his food to cook. Here is a photo of me, JE and RB treating a cat in Fondwa:
We arrived at the Department of Agriculture offices in Jacumel after an exhausting 2 hour drive through the mountains in the truck which was actually WORSE after the mechanics messed with it this morning. There were literally goats walking on the side of the highway faster than we were driving. UGH. After about 20 minutes of English to Spanish to French to Creole and back to French then Spanish then English translation, it was discovered that the Department of Agriculture was so excited to have veterinary support, they planned an entire day of meetings, organizing, collaborating and such, and were then prepared for another whole day of treatments, clinics, and what not. They were crestfallen to know that we were actually there for only one day (today) and only for 3 hours.

I finally threw up my hands and just said "f it" to the whole situation - the only people who could intelligently argue this conversation (JG and MP), didn't say much, and every mono-lingual person had something to say about the mess of the situation.

Yes - this should have been determined ahead of time.
Yes - someone should have arranged the meetings/times/etc on the phone before we drove across Haiti.
No - there is nothing we can do about it now.
No - arguing won't get any animals treated.
Yes - we should go NOW and treat as many animals as possible NOW, and argue later.

We would have an entire 2+ hour ride home to b*tch about the piss-poor planning.
Done? Done.
Good? Good.
Todo bien? Sure, why not.

We followed the agriculture department officers to a house where there was reportedly a very sick dog - I was hot and aggravated at that point, and just assumed stay in the truck rather than pile into the 10' x 10' backyard/patio with 4 other gringos, MP, 2 translators, a 5 person Haitian family, their 3 pets, and all the neighbors that came by to see what was all the commotion. I poked my head in for just a second to hand JE some ivermectin, then wound up catheterizing and anesthetizing a dog with a huge, gaping, maggoty neck wound from a too-tight collar.
In the meantime, JE and JG treated the maggot dog's puppy and the family cat for parasites. We left the man (who spoke English) with all sorts of antibiotics and disinfectant for the dog post-op, but I didn't agree with it - even though it was under the best of intentions. It is hard enough to get pet owners in Greenwich, CT to be compliant with medications and after care - it is damn near impossible to expect an earthquake-ravaged Haitian family with no running water to flush the dog's neck wounds. But one can always hope, right?

When we got back to the truck, there were 2 dogs waiting for us with the typical crowd of intrigued people. It seems wherever we go, there are at least 10 people surrounding us (and the terrified animal(s) we're treating...) in a shrinking, oppressing circle. Several young Haitian men brought a gangly, limping Rottweiler to the truck, and told MC and JE she started limping after another (Haitian??) vet gave her a vitamin injection. Hmmm.... The vets discovered a ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear in the affected leg, which could be due to any number of injuries, but probably not from a vitamin injection. As such, we didn't give the dog any injections of ivermectin, and instead opted to give her oral medication, then explain to the owners that she had a "footballista" injury (as ACL tears are common with athletes). They seems to understand, so hopefully it was good.... here is the Rotti with the voodoo doctor vitamin injury:

We stopped a few blocks away and treated another 6 dogs in the street. Then the agriculture department took us to a chicken/turkey/pig farm on the outskirts of town where the vets gave antibiotics and parasite treatments to 2 guard dogs. Then we had a 2+ hour ride back. MP was racing the sunset - trying to make it over the winding, narrow mountain roads before dark. We literally coasted off the mountain road just as the light disappeared. It was MC's birthday, so MP and I wanted to try and find beer to bring back to camp. MP stopped along the side of the road just outside of Port au Prince at a "drive up" bar, where he ordered 4 shots for the guys as a birthday toast. According to MC, it was pretty nasty. But it's the thought that counts, right???
Bottoms up, boys!!!!

MC's mother deserves a huge shout-out here for collaborating with CK to get a birthday card to MC in Haiti, which was smuggled in my checked bags with 3 bottles of Dr. Pepper and a box of Snickerdoodles.

This morning, we had P put the Dr. Peppers in the refrigerator in the bank next to the campsite (don't ask...) along with JG's 3 bottles of Presidente Light (Dominican beer). JE brought a box of chocolate cake mix and sprinkles, so while we went off to find Ramon and hopefully an oven, P brought out the beer and Dr. Peppers. My elaborate plan to embarrass MC en mass was foiled, and he was already 1/2 way through a bottle of Dr. Pepper when we got back to camp. I gave him his mom's birthday card and the box of Snickerdoodles, but he was a bit buzzed from the Haitian moonshine so it took a minute to click :)

JE and RB managed to "bake" the cake in some sort of camp-devised fire oven with the cake mix and a bottle of Coke (no Dr. Pepper... that is like liquid gold!) Ramon came over with a birthday tray of dinner and plantains (!!!!) and we had quite a lovely celebration considering how long and exhausting the day was.
Ramon's birthday dinner and Josh's magic cake
Don't be a Menace to Port-au-Prince While Drinking Your Dr. Pepper in the Hood

Car problems??

We seem to have an unending supply of car difficulties... the rental car/pickup truck from the D.R. seems to have "issues" that can only be remedied by an elite handful of Haitian mechanics between the hours of 8am and 8pm. After several minutes of stupid questions and subsequent translations, it seems that the pump jockey put gasoline in the diesel engine, and thus, we have had issues for the last few days. I'm not very car savvy but I didn't see any completely obvious problems - but would think that an issue we SHOULD have would be a tire flat/blowout/etc. Regardless, we are riding MP to get the thing fixed early, since we have a day trip to Jacumel tomorrow - a city on the south coast of Haiti that was almost 80% destroyed by the earthquake. So let's hope the automotive fairy leaves an oil filter under our pillow tonight....

February 23, 2010

*Graphic Disclaimer* Eyeball Surgery

Tonight was the first night here that I stayed up past 9pm. We stopped by the hit-by-car dog's house to pick her up in our (now empty) crate. Arrived at camp just as the sun dipped below the horizon, and we were presented with the challenge of performing surgery in the dark. And without clippers. Or a proper surgery table. And it's why I love working over seas :)

The cast iron breakfast/lunch/dinner table became a surgical suite, a construction lamp and truck headlights provided illumination, a tree branch became an IV pole. MC is beyond adaptable, and managed to do surgery while sitting down in a half-broken chair at the tilted table. The dog, who was named Jackie (as in "One-Eyed-Jack") was unbelievably cooperative, and hardly flinched when we started slowly cleaning the film of dust and dirt off her humongous proptosed eye ball. MC enucleated the eye in all of 3 minutes, and then subsequently discovered several broken teeth on Jackie's right side. Graphic photos below:

Pre-Surgical Exam (on home-made exam table)
JG & P prep lights and supplies

Getting supplies from the supply suitcases

JE has total control of the IV fluid situation
It takes a group to prep for surgery

The End

When all was said and done, Jackie was resting comfortably in her recovery crate with lots of pain meds to keep her happy overnight. She was positioned between JG and my tent and MP's tent, so we would certainly hear if there was a problem overnight. Late night eye ball surgery can get you mighty hungry. That's why we're grateful for Ramon and the Dominican mobile kitchens... pasta on demand, 24/7!

REAL men love orphan cats

Right after posting my last entry, MP came to the internet "cafe" (aka... a conference room above a factory) with 2 soldiers and a colonel from the Bolivian army. They were following up on the cat they had dropped off early this morning - it was SO awesome to see 3 grown men in full body armor looking at pictures of the poor cat's butt on MP's laptop. They were very concerned and thanked us again and again (even though we didn't do anything yet). They also apparently have several dogs there who's owners died in the earthquake and were rescued from the streets by the Bolivian troops, and we were asked to visit the army base to examine a few of the sick-looking dogs.

After MC, JE and RB arrived, the translator told us there was a dog nearby that was in very bad shape and hadn't eaten for 4 or 5 days. Organization is not a strong quality in the SODOPRECA camp, but we managed to get everyone to Sonapi, unpacked, and get MC to examine the cat. After quite a bit of translation and discussion, we took the cat with us to the Bolivian camp to get permission for surgery.

On the way to Camp Charlie, we went to see the sick dog and found she had been hit in the face by something (again, French/Creole/Spanish/English translation) like a dog or car or rock, and had an unbelievable proptosed eyeball that was covered with a dusty crust of fur and blood. The owners lived in a small tent/rubble city at the top of a narrow, steep dirt road, which could not be driven on safely with the truck. Aside from the massive, horrific head wounds, the dog was in pretty decent Haitian street-dog condition. Since the cat was already in the crate, we told the owners we would return later to pick her up and take her back to Sonapi for surgery.

Driving anywhere in Haiti is like a video game/NASCAR feat: there are UN trucks, tanks, and soldiers everywhere, cars and motorbikes all over the place, guay-guays (Haitian buses) clunking along with about a dozen people hanging out the back, people wandering in and out of traffic selling any and everything, children just standing on the side of the road... the chaos is unreal. There are no Haitian police (as there is no Haitian government) so you can drive anyway you want, anywhere you want, and there are no consequences. As such, people run through lights, drive on the wrong side of the road, drive off road, and go as fast as they want.

After what seemed like a million years in the truck, we arrived at Camp Charlie. The Bolivian army was very excited to see us, and even MORE excited to see the cat! The army (human) doctor invited us to visit and use his clinic (and it's air conditioning and bathrooms!!!!). MC and JE discussed the cat's condition with 2nd Colonel Suarez, and told him that they would see what could be done for the cat, but couldn't make any promises. He was grateful for our help and took lots of pictures to show the orphanage what we were doing to help the cat. While RB and I prepped the cat for surgery, we had about a 1/2 dozen Bolivian army doctors and nurses file into the clinic. By the time MC got down to surgery, there were over a dozen people in the small clinic!

Unfortunately for the cat, it was no bueno :( The infection had spread up into his pelvis/abdomen via a COLONY of maggots - not one, not 10, but THOUSANDS of maggots. So many maggots, they couldn't move they were packed into the wound so tightly. Yea. Gross. I'm not usually a squeamish maggot person, but something about that situation just made me gag. There was no hope for the cat, and he was euthanized. He was then buried by the Bolivian army in a garden on camp.

How awesome is that? Not the euthanasia, but the Bolivian-feline love. In the midst of the hell that is Haiti, here was group of men from a continent known for its machismo attitude, burying an orphanage cat in their camp garden. I have never been to Bolivia, but I think I might like it there... if the country is as animal-friendly as their troops in Haiti, I think I might like it just fine.

what after shock??

Last night I slept through a 4.5 earthquake after shock. Yup. Slept straight through it. I also woke up to find a cat had been dropped off at our camp early that morning (before 7am? Seriously?) by some officers from the Bolivian UN camp. Apparently I was considered "in charge" and handed the responsibility of treating it. I didn't even have my glasses on yet, but stumbled out of the tent to see what was what.

According to translation, the cat belonged to an orphanage nearby, and had either been bit by a dog or hit by a car - either of which ripped his tail clean off his body. Well, not really "clean", since he had a few bony, crusty vertebrae sticking out of a huge hole in his bum. Somehow, the Bolivian army found out and brought the cat to Sonapi to have us look at it.

The cat was shocky and beyond pale, so without the vets there to treat him, I did the next best thing - subcutaneous fluids, vitamins, and parasite treatments with a large heaping dose of hope. We're off to the airport (again, 3 miles but probably an hour drive) to pick up MC, JE and RB - hopefully one of the 2 vets will be able to put him back together again.

February 22, 2010

One More

So we arrived in Haiti. Flying in to the Port au Prince airport we could see the masses of people in the streets and tent cities. After a bit of confusion and a 10 minute flip out at the World Food Programme airport office, we met with the SODOPRECA team and were off to our "camp". We saw only a brief bit of Haiti on the way to camp - and it was indescribable at best. Our camp was located about 3 miles from the airport, but about 30 minutes by car due to the utter chaos in the streets.

Our camp is called Sonapi - a free zone that was/is home to several factories and manufacturing plants. Our tents were in an area protected by Brazil UN soldiers along with the DR mobile kitchens and Pakistani humane aid.

JG and I dropped off our stuff and went on a tour of Haiti in the truck with MP, the SODOPRECA team coordinator and A, our translator. The destruction was almost complete and the ruins were unreal. Mobs of people just walked in the street, probably afraid to go back indoors lest their homes fall again. There were massive tent cities all around Port au Prince - some in huge open areas, others just alongside the road, built into the rubble.

We went to a tent city located at a former (now destroyed) church/monastery under protection by the UN troops from Mexico. There were literally thousands upon thousands of people living in various tents - homemade, US Army supplied, donated camp supplies from EMS. We pulled into a clearing and after some Spanish/French/Creole discussions, animals started coming at us from all directions. Haitian children of all ages formed a circle around MP, JG and I. We heard shrieks and squeals as the circle parted and a child came running in with an animal in tow. Most of the dogs were on homemade leashes and cats came in their owners' arms or tied to shoestrings. Several goats were carried in, and one small boy fought with a pig (which was about as big as he was) on a leash. We were missing half of the World Vet donations (which arrive tomorrow with RB), so with albon and some anti parasitic spray, we treated as many animals as possible - 32 at the Mexican Camp (20 Dog, 3 Cat, 8 Goat, 1 Pig). The people kept asking when we would come back - my head was still spinning from the whole experience - I didn't know. As we drove away, a herd of children ran after the truck with a small dog, so we got out and treated one more.

Back at Sonapi, it took 4 people 20 minutes to figure out how to assemble our tent. Then the SODOPREcA people laughed at our sad little tent which was going to hold 2 people. I thought about bringing the Taj Mahal of tents we have at home, but it was too heavy and not worth it for just 1 week. After the 20kg and no more drama in DR, I just assume not deal with it. It's 7:30 but feels like midnight. Time for bug spray and sleep.

Off to Haiti...Discuss.

So let's talk about the animal situation in Haiti - the Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti (ARCH) is neither for the animals, providing relief, nor a coalition for Haiti. Discuss.

ARCH was formed by the bigwigs in the animal welfare world in response to the earthquake - WSPA, IFAW and other groups came together to provide aid to the Haitian animals. SODOPRECA became the middleman - arranging and providing logistical support to groups going to Haiti. They pooled resources and provided money, donations, supplies, medicine, man power etc etc etc.

As of last week ARCH canceled their contract with SODOPRECA and no one knows why. They pulled out their support, camps and supplies. That's another interesting topic. We were told (but figured as such anyways) that accommodations would be minimal at best. We're loaded down with camping supplies - tents, sleeping bags, pads, etc. Come to find out (from SODOPRECA) that the ARCH teams were staying at the house of some up & up in the Haitian government.

As I've mentioned before its totally embarrassing to be an American overseas. Everyone here is grateful to have our help, but is totally drained of funds and still waiting for ARCH to cut them a check for the last few weeks of supplies. In the meantime, the bills are on EF's credit card (remember EF? The full time volunteer/law student? Yeah - she's the one). While it may have been poor judgment on her part, she's currently funding and planning the SODOPRECA response in Haiti.
Really, Americans?

EF coordinated free air tickets to/from Haiti with a UN group called World Food Programme (probably from Norway or Holland or Sweden - they all look like Swiss Family Robinson) but originally it was going to cost $250 to get to Haiti by plane. Driving is a sketchy option, as the border is only open twice a day, so foreigners hanging out in their cars are easy targets for looting.

ARCH took back their trucks and fuel (the literally version of "I'm gonna take my little red wagon and go home") so SODOPRECA scrambled to keep sh*t together for the 5 of us. We are supposedly camping in a free zone with people from Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil. Which is totally embarrassing since we're Americans? JG and I donated our intended $250 for airfare to pay on the rental truck tab and fuel. Why that's even an issue when ASPCA alone has raised over $100,000 for Haiti, I don't know.

So it sounds like a typical case of Whistle-Clipboard Syndrome - give someone some power and stand the f*ck back. Apparently it doesn't matter where in the world that is.

So now SODOPRECA is essentially begging for support. They know we are independent volunteers, but they know we have connections, and are trying to get help for the future. They don't give a sh*t who helps, just so long as they help. Unfortunately, since no one seems to know why ARCH is pissed off at SODOPRECA, anyone not part of ARCH is hesitant to get in the middle for fear of an NGO bitch fight.
Remind me again why we're hear?
The animals?

As such, I'm on a slight scouting mission to find out the 411 on ARCH - who's in charge and why they're calling these shots. People in the states are lined up to help, but no one from ARCH wants them. Just the money. But if the money isn't going to SODOPRECA (who, according to the WSPA website is the logistic coordinator in DR for Haitian animal aid) where is it going? Are the gringos doing an embarrassing "living large" in an earthquake ravaged 3rd world country?

The best/worst story I've heard yet is from a SODOPRECA gringo volunteer who was in Haiti a week or so back. A Haitian husband/wife couple approached him on the street - the husband offered to let the volunteer have sex with his wife in exchange for some food. And people are fighting over who gets to wear the ARCH badge and call the shots?

Our plane will be landing in about 10 minutes - full of international volunteers. I can't wait to see what sort of chaos is waiting for us - natural AND man-made.

February 21, 2010

Another one in a million

Today we arrived in DR and were met by EF from SODOPRECA (Sociedad Dominicana para la Prevencion de Crueldad a los Animales) and her pink SODOPRECA car :) We went to the hotel to drop off our stuff then to EF's house, where her family made us lunch - empanadas!!!

EF is one of those rare people - the likes of whom I have only met once or twice. She is a 30 year old full time law student and full time volunteer for SODOPRECA (therefore, full time broke).

Most people wonder how or why a person could or would forgo a real job to volunteer full time. I suppose the notion of salary and pay day is inherently American? She lives with her extended in a nice house in the burbs of Santo Domingo. She has a dog, Bosco, a cat, Chiquita (who just gave birth to a huge ass kitten in the closet) and a turtle that lives in the garden. None of her pets are sterilized, however she hardly has resources to feed them let alone do extensive vet work. Her dog was hit by a car and broke his jaw - she had him x-rayed and his tooth removed - now the family makes fun of his tooth-less smile. The turtle is on a leash - apparently they can squeeze out the gate and get hit by cars on the road, so he has a rope attached to his shell.

After lunch, JG and I passed out in the hotel - JG by the pool and me in the room. I was utterly exhausted - after 3 hours of sleep and a crazy morning flight from JFK, I was drained. We went out on the town tonight with EF and her sisters. We walked the malecone (Spanish for boardwalk) and saw kids flying kites in the grass. Dinner was at a restaurant named Adrian Tropical (hehee) it was nice to hang out with the locals and do local stuff. Probably the best part of traveling is meeting new people and making new friends - kind of impossible if you are holed up somewhere in a resort. Out in the real world are the real people... the ones who make you realize how awesome and crazy this world is - turtle ropes and all.

freakin sweet!!

So I haven't flown JetBlue in a million years, but let me tell you how much I love them already. After slipping past the huge ass line to get my boarding pass (thanks to the guy at the "special counter") I found the most awesome, New Englander friendly coffee place. Here's a shot of my breakfast: an absolutely to die for chocolate cupcake and a Naked smoothie. Yes, it was like a million dollars, but freakin delicsh.

I got about 3 hours of sleep but I'm still psyched about the trip. Will be in DR in a few hours, and after a nap and some food, I will try to write more later.

February 4, 2010

Haiti or Bust - Please support!!

Ok... NOW I'm officially going to Haiti. I will be rendezvousing in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic with SODOPRECA (La Sociedad Dominicana para la PrevenciĆ³n de Crueldad a los Animales/Dominican Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and traveling to Haiti to provide emergency veterinary aid to the ARCH organization (Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti). I leave NYC on February 21 and return on Feb 28.

I'm extra excited/relieved that I will be traveling with fellow Animal Balance voluntaria (and fluent Spanish speaker, although that will only be useful in DR) JG. She was my roomie in Cabrera this past winter, and it looks like we'll be tent-mates in Haiti.

Thank you in advance for your support, and stay tuned for updates and eventual photos/blogs about the next adventure to Haiti....

February 2, 2010

Wait... don't unpack just yet...

So there has been talk of veterinary assistance to Haiti in response to the recent earthquake. I wasn't holding my breath before, since there were thousands of people dead/dying in Haiti, and in those cases, the animals sometimes have to wait. The media reports (I usually avoid CNN at all costs) show there is a significant amount of civil unrest in addition to structural, social and health issues.
The animal groups will go eventually, so when that happens, I'll be off on my next adventure....