April 13, 2008
An alarming number of folks in Haiti lead their lives on one leg, one stump, and crutches.
For me, as many of you know, it’s a bit of a tradition to break some bone in my body roughly once a year. Now I can add Haiti to the list of places where I have been busted-up and on crutches!
I either break/sprain my body parts in a fit of athletic glory, or on a sidewalk/curb. Prior to last night, my athletic : sidewalk ratio for injuries was 8:1. Sadly, it is now 8:2. I just didn’t see a small step outdoors at a friend’s apartment last night!!! So as a result, I have a bad purple sprain and a grapefruit-sized ankle.
But in Haiti, life is never as simple. Yesterday afternoon, a UN policeman was pulled from his car and shot execution-style in the back of the neck. It happened by the market in front of the national cathedral, a 15-minute walk from my house. The random-ness of it rattles me. This comes after a week of violent riots in Haiti, which resulted in yesterday’s ouster of the Prime Minister. By yesterday, many of us were beginning to think that the worse had passed. My confidence in that idea is shaken now.
On a personal level, I’m normally over-confident in my ability to protect myself in the streets, being tall, generally athletic, and in decent shape. Now, I’m a little scared. Nothing says target like white girl on crutches. I’m in Haiti for 11 more days now, and this weekend’s events are compounding my already jumbled emotions about leaving this place I’ve grown fond of, and these amazing people, with whom I’ve created powerful memories.
As I sit and write in the dark, I vaguely wish for a little electricity. There’s not much gas left in the country after the riots, so our generator silently waits unused in a corner. I’d love a bag of frozen peas or a few ice cubes to throw on my grapefruit ankle, but that won’t happen tonight. I feel insanely lucky even, that a friend of mine who works at the US Embassy drove across town this morning to pick me up a pair of crutches from the Embassy medical unit. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I heard the crutches were going to come through. If this happened to your average Haitian, you better believe they wouldn’t have such resources at their disposal, or the other generous friends who even drove me out for brunch this morning. I was able to happily carry on with my normal plans, just turning a couple heads as I one-legged-hopped through the restaurant. (This was before I received the crutches!) When a Haitian is on crutches, it is because they are missing a leg. Amputations abound here, relative to what I’ve seen in the US. Crutches are battered and wooden, stumpy, like the amputated extremity. What are they going to think of some white girl with two full legs, still on crutches?! An average Haitian would suck it up, hop on a taptap anyway, and get to market to sell their wares, get into their fields to work, or not be able to feed their family that night. I realize that treating my injury in Haiti, although atypically difficult for me, is a walk in the park compared to the alternatives of the Haitian peasant.
With my looming departure hanging over my head, and my shiny metal crutches in hand, I’m feeling more American than ever. And I’m feeling grateful.