Our entire purpose on this trip was to visit the town we adopted as a church. Belladere sits near the border with the Dominican Republic, according to the doctor traveling with us, the town was quite fabulous in the 1950’s. Not so much any more. The town population is approximately 150,000 people, most of them make their living working the border market. The main trade seems to be used clothing from Port au Prince, I imagine that most of their items started out as donations. This surprises me at first, I always pictured someone wearing the clothes I donate, but making a living off of them is probably even more important.
The hospital in Belladere hasn’t yet been renovated by PIH. I feel like I’ve stepped back in time when I enter. The doctors provide the best care they can in this setting, but it’s obvious why they’ve asked us to champion this location, it’s clearly an underdog. The trip to Belladere from Port au Prince tales 3 hours, the last hour and a half on punishingly unpaved roads. Imagining a pregnant woman en route in the back of a tap tap (a pickup that is used as a taxi) makes my heart ache.
The latest addition to the hospital is a tented cholera clinic. Since it’s not in the news anymore I’m somehow surprised to see tents full of sick people. The good new is that of the 3,000 cases they’ve treated since the outbreak only 19 have died. The bad news is that cholera kills so quickly that most never make it to the hospital (I refer you back to the road from hell). To enter the clinic we have to have our shoes sprayed with a mixture of bleach and water, same with our hands. We’re told that cholera is here to stay in Haiti given the lack of education regarding prevention and the scarcity of clean water in many areas.
After our tour of the hospital we cross the border in to the Dominican Republic. I’ve never entered a country where I didn’t get my passport stamped, even when I asked it was somehow “not possible”.
The border between the countries is the only one that is man made that can be seen from space due to the deforestation on the Haitian side. They cut down the trees to make charcoal. They either sell it for money or use it to cook. This is how they survive and the tragic effect has been the destruction of the environment. The stark contrast between the countries is breathtaking, not because the DR side is so beautiful, but because it is so average. What I used to think of as 3rd world suddenly looks like Shangri La. People live in real houses, they’re not nice but they have doors AND roofs. The roads are paved, the markets are full of food. children are playing baseball. It’s a tired and poor town, but it’s buzzing with activity and smiling people. We visit the hospital there, it’s huge and empty. I wonder if everyone is just so healthy that the hospital is rarely used. Actually, the doctors all quit at noon. It’s their contract with the state, so be advised to get sick in the morning hours. Also, because the population is better educated, they don’t suffer from the same diseases of poverty. In Haiti the hospitals are small and people are spilling out the doors, and here is an enormous empty hospital. Yet another stark contrast.
Crossing back in to Haiti makes me sad. It’s as if we’ve just been in it’s mirror image, the country it could be with a stable government and education. The long ride back on the unpaved backbreaking roadside makes me realize that even asphalt is a luxury this poor country can’t afford.