Monday, November 22, 2010

The baby died...

Word today from Catherine, an update from Haiti. Fritznel's wife is out of the hospital and doing much better, but sadly, her baby died.

She was full term. The baby was a sweet little boy. Probably cholera victim Number 1,251.

Each day, the death toll from cholera mounts in Haiti.

Have a good Thanksgiving, everyone who lives in the States. and all you ex-pats abroad. Give thanks for your blessings, large and small.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Haiti during the time of cholera

"Momma, momma, I want my momma." The plaintive cry from the little girl lying in the quarantined tent soon gave way to soft snuffles. Then she dozed again, her thin arm hooked up to an IV dripping lifesaving fluids into her dehydrated body.

Suddenly she began coughing, leaned over the side of her cot and threw up on her pair of sandals.

Haiti, during the time of cholera.

My visit this week was my first trip back to Haiti since February. The images of rubble and destruction have faded, replaced by the white tents tucked away in the back of hospitals. The misery is worse.

We met these two children, in the photo, at a hospital our organization has helped extensively over the years. To get inside the quarantined area, you step on a dirty sponge soaked in bleach. The tent is behind the hospital building, away from prying eyes and other patients. You wash your hands in a bleach solution, don a disposable gown to gain access.

The father of the two children was coaxing his son to drink the serum that rehydrates. The father's name is Fritznel. His pregnant wife, due any moment, also contracted the disease and was in another clinic across town. Fritznel's house was destroyed during the earthquake and he lives in a tent city. Two older children were at home, watched by neighbors.

Fritznel has no job. No home and no money. He was extremely worried about his wife, who was very ill. When I asked him what he was going to do, what he would eat tonight and feed his healthy children, he began to weep.

In all my 16 years of traveling to Haiti and talking with dozens of poor people, I have never seen a Haitian man cry.

Later in the week, Fritznel took us to visit his tent. The tent city, near the half million dollar flagpole Artistide had erected in Cite Soleil, but never added a flag, is called Aviation Field Number 3. The thousands of residents here came after their homes were destroyed because it was the closest open field they could find.

The original tent where he lived is abandoned. He sleeps at a neighbor's tent because he worries the original home is contaminated with cholera. Behind this tent is a deep gully filled with trash and excrement. There are few latrines in Aviation Field Number 3. There are gullies and an overpowering stench.

It doesn't take much to see how quickly cholera can spread among the people.

We then visited Fritznel's wife in another cholera clinic. The same procedures of washing your hands, having your shoes disinfected. Patients lie on cots listlessly. Some had IV's attached to their arms. Fritznel tenderly helped his wife sit up, got her cot out of the sun. His worry was a living thing, eating at his face with deep lines much like a freshly plowed field.

His wife complained her belly hurt. The doctor told us she could go into labor any day. There had been a fetal heartbeat, but it was faint. There was some question about if the baby would live, since the mother had been dehydrated and on an IV for more than 3 days.

At night, I'd lie on my hard mattress at the small but clean motel and think about Haiti since the days of the earthquake, and Haiti now during the time of cholera. Much of the rubble has been cleared, but you still see buildings tilted crazily on their sides like lurching drunks. Our motel is next to one building. It still tilts at a dangerous angle, as if it would come crashing down with a hard shove. In the morning, I'd get up and nod at the Russian aid worker sharing a room with his colleague, both with the World Food Programme. He'd sit on a lavender chair, shirtless, and chain smoke.

The heartland of the outbreak is the Artibonite Valley. As we visited villages in Grande Saline, which is fed by the now-famous river filled with Vibrio cholerae, we drove alongside a canal the color of milk chocolate. Vibrio cholerae is probably present in this c
anal as well, as it's fed by the river.

It's the only water the villagers have to drink, which is why our organization installed a water purification unit.

Mounds of rocky brown dirt cover the graves of a few cholera victims buried in the local graveyard. The simple mounds, covered with memorials of plastic flowers, are a sharp contrast to the surrounding stone mausoleums. Children following us to the cemetery recited the names of those buried. "Madeline. Titi."

The small government hospital in Grande Saline had only 5 patients when we arrived. "Four," the medical assistant corrected. "One died this morning."

The man had been brought into the hospital on a bed. He lived only an hour away, but they had to find a boat to cross the river. By the time they reached the hospital, he was dead.

This is why there are so many dead bodies in Gonaives. Doctors told me people live so far away that by the time they get to the city, they drop dead in the street. Cholera can kill in 4 hours if not treated.

In the morning, the city dump trucks come by and pick up the dead bodies and burn them, salt them with lime so they decay faster.

The hospital is small and usually quiet. It wasn't when the cholera first arrived. The assistant said she knew the exact date when the sickness started. "October 20," she recalled. "Hundreds of patients began arriving. We had people all over, in beds, on the floor. I've never seen anything like it in 14 years."

On the first day, only a few died, but then the death toll started multiplying. Five a day. Fourteen a day.

On our way back to the city, we passed by the black smudges of burnt tires. There had been protests and blockades. Most of the violence was centered downtown by the still-crumbled presidential palace.

All over the city, the country, were posters of the 19 presidential candidates. One of them, with a white gleaming smile, sharp as a shark's tooth, is wealthy. Very wealthy, I was informed. He has 80 million dollars for his campaign.

Eighty million dollars.

The thought circled in my head like a buzzard. Eighty million dollars, while the streets of the city are potholes, the cholera clinics are filled with the sick, and the tent cities are filled with potential victims. If he gets elected, will he effect change?

Doubtful. The only certainty these days in Haiti is that cholera is here to stay, it's getting worse and spreading fast, and the death toll continues to rise.

As I write this, cholera is now in the largest prison and it's infested Cap Haitien, the port city where we have a large operation. They are putting patients in a gym because there is no more room.

This is Haiti, during the time of cholera.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Excerpt from my December BITE

Courage of the Wolf, copyright 2010 by Bonnie Vanak

Just another day in a tropical paradise filled with demons. Right. If only it was just a typical day and not the very one he’d been dreading..

Ambling backwards on the roadside, Michael Anderson scanned Florida’s Alligator Alley for a silver Lexus. As always, Sabrina Kelly was late. The Draicon werewolf would be late for her own funeral.

The thought sobered him.

Minutes later, Michael pushed a hand through his long, ragged hair as Sabrina’s car pulled off the road. He breathed in her scent of fresh lavender as the Draicon werewolf hurried toward him.

Dressed in a pink sweater set and a floral skirt, she looked like spring. Cut razor straight, her black hair swung just below her jawline. Wide, sea-green eyes shone with intelligence.

When she threw herself into his arms, he hugged back, feeling a lump rise in his throat. The vision came to him again. Blood. Death. Sorrow.

Michael set her back down on her feet. As much as he wanted to use his powers as an Immortal Justice Guardian to direct destiny, he could not. Punishment would be severe if he broke Guardian laws. He’d already broken a big one to buy Sabrina time.

Years ago, when he was still a Draicon werewolf, he’d made a promise to keep her safe. The burning need to protect her had never stopped. It wasn’t love, but a fierce admiration of her strong spirit and honoring the deep friendship they’d shared in the past.

“Why did you want me to pick you up on this road? Forget how to dematerialize?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I like walking. And I thought it would be nice to ride with you in the Lexus to your grandparents’ anniversary party.”

“You knew I was taking the Lexus and not the Expedition? Oh, of course, you know everything.” She shook her head. “Even what type of underwear I have on.”

“I don’t know everything.”

When she turned, he flicked his fingers. A microburst of air sent the fabric swirling upward.

“White lace,” he noted with a grin. “Very nice.”

“Michael!” she scolded him with a smile.

A faint blush raced across her cheeks. It was like watching the sun chase away the night. Enchanted, he watched her moisten her pink lips. What would her petal-soft mouth feel like beneath his as he took her, hard and fast?

He swallowed hard at the startling, sexual thought. Sabrina was off-limits.

He was a Phoenix, an Immortal Justice Guardian who’d died and been reborn to his powers. Michael patrolled the earth, doling out justice and destroying predators of paranormal creatures.

He’d succeeded at his job until a year ago, when the Hellfire demon Ambrosis slaughtered Sabrina’s parents and five siblings as Sabrina tried to save them. Her family had been heading to visit her grandparents when the demon attacked them as they took a brief respite from driving.

If he could, he’d die to keep her safe. But he couldn’t die again. Sabrina had to face her own demon. Guardian laws demanded he must not interfere.

“Let’s go,” he muttered.

The sun sinking toward the horizon warned they were running out of time.

Inside the car, his senses drank in her scent as if he were still a Draicon werewolf. Trees, palms and scrub brush passed in a blur as the car sped toward Florida’s west coast.

“Michael, you’re the only friend who still bothers with me. Thank you,” Sabrina told him.

“I’m not just your friend, Brie. I’ve watched over you since I became a Justice Guardian. You’ve shut yourself off from the world.”

She blinked hard. “If not for you, I’d never have done this. I can’t bear the memories.”

White showed on her knuckles as her fingers tightened on the steering wheel. “All I can recall is fighting. Pain, and then nothing. Nothing except waking up to see my family was dead.”

“You still don’t remember what happened to you?”

“It’s a blur, except I have the scar to remind me. I have nightmares about Ambrosis, and this voice keeps telling me I must have the courage to face him again. But ever since I lost my family, I’m terrified of something else happening.”

Michael looked away. “You should pay attention to your dreams. Often, they contain messages.”

She inhaled deeply. “Dreams are just dreams. Let’s not talk about it. It’s hard enough for me to drive on this road again. I haven’t been this way since Ambrosis killed my family.”

A fist of guilt slammed into his guts. He stared out the passenger’s side window.

I’m sorry, Brie, but I must do this. It’s my duty as a Justice Guardian.

Familiar landmarks appeared on the roadside. Sabrina’s hands shook. “This is the place. If I’d never insisted on Dad stopping so we could hunt in the swamp, they’d still be alive. I’m going to speed up .…”

“Pull over,” he told her.



Blood drained from her face, but she steered the Lexus onto the narrow shoulder.

“Stay here,” he ordered, hating her fear, smelling it like burnt wood.

He got out. Clouds the color of lead hung low in the gathering dusk. He breathed in the fertile scent of dank earth. The task before him lay on his wide shoulders like twin weights. A haunting loneliness gripped him.

He hated this part of the job.

In the canal paralleling the Alley, an alligator swam by in silence, its eyes peeking through the dark brown water in cool indifference.

Michael vaulted over the chain link fence, and walked a path through cypress and pine trees until he reached a tree island surrounded by shallow swamp water. At the northwest side, he touched the earth where a great battle had raged. Sorrow squeezed his insides.

From his backpack, he withdrew a single white gardenia, the blossom fresh and preserved by magick. He laid it on the ground where the blood of Sabrina’s family had been spilled.

A mocking crow cackled overhead. Michael fisted his hands as he walked to a small pool. No animals ever drank from this vile water — the home of Ambrosis. Michael had imprisoned him here after the battle that claimed Sabrina’s family.

Hellfire demons were attracted to paranormal beings possessing enormous integrity, strength and courage. They siphoned off those qualities for energy then killed the victim.

Beneath his palm, the dark water rippled. His immortal senses “saw” Ambrosis. With his index finger, Michael traced a sacred pattern in the muck below the shallow water. The ground vibrated.

An eerie, haunting scream rent the air. Disturbed by the sound, a great blue heron resting in a nearby cypress tree flew off.

The face of Sabrina’s nightmares appeared in the pool. Nasty laughter echoed through the swamp. The demon vanished below the water.

It was done, consequences be as they may. His duty as a Guardian was fulfilled.

“Forgive me, Brie,” Michael whispered.

He stood, dusting off his hands on his jeans. Shouldering his pack, he headed toward Sabrina’s car, but not before the earth gave a mighty shudder and the demon’s triumphant roar echoed through the silent clearing.