The plane erupted into applause the moment the wheels touched down in the Dominican Republic. If you’ve ever travelled to a Caribbean country, you know of the enthusiasm that penetrates every fibre of this culture. From the colourful architecture to the bright smiles and wild dancing, warm breezes and warm hearts welcome you.
After escaping the polar vortex of Toronto and a week’s worth of studies at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), myself along with 11 other students were ready, excited and hopeful for our 10-day clinical internship near Cap Haitien, Haiti.
Hauling 50lbs each of donated supplements and clinical supplies, we made our way to our hotel to spend the night before catching the afternoon bus to Haiti. As our luxury tour bus weaved it’s way along the highways and side roads, nervous excitement for what lay ahead filled us.
Six hours later, we had crossed the border and arrived in Cap Haitien. Dr. Sean and one of our Haitian translators, Lommie, met us with local transportation called a “Tap Tap” – a form of mass transit affectionately named for the strong blow you apply to the roof of the vehicle when you’re ready to get off.
We made it to the Naturopaths Without Borders (NWB) homestead just outside the city in time to get our mosquito nets set up before dark and enjoy our first meal of beans and rice lovingly prepared by Haitain chef-du-cuisine, Dieula. When the lights suddenly went out in the cement-walled house, we knew we had truly arrived. Electricity isn’t cheap, and it’s not easy to come by. NWB has solar panels but is in need of a battery upgrade to improve the longevity of their electricity once the sun has gone down. We conducted our clinic orientation by flashlight and briefly reviewed the history of Haiti to prepare, if only a little, for our patient population.
Early the next morning I woke to the roosters crowing instead of my usual iPhone alarm clock. I slid on my runners, and met Alex, a CCNM student and NWB-Haiti veteran, just outside the house. We did a quick warm-up, said “Bonjou” to the guard and slipped out of the gate for a pre-breakfast jog as the sun snuck up.
Making our way up a steep hill, we passed houses made from aluminum siding, concrete buildings with the walls crumbling to the ground, goats grazing in empty lots and the odd stray dog barking to help us keep up our pace. As we crested the hill we came upon a gathering of people dressed in their Sunday best, sharing a communal meal in an outdoor marketplace. Beyond the group of people you could see straight out to the Caribbean Sea. We had gained enough elevation that the concrete roofs and palm trees lit up below us as the sun began it’s climb to build the heat of the day.
“Blan! Blan! BLAN!” I heard over and over again as small children noticed our very white, sweaty selves turning the corner to head to the main road. As we rounded the bend I was hit by the strong smell of burning garbage and sewage. Dodging Tap Taps and other traffic we made our way home after our brief taste of poverty and lack of infrastructure mixed with stunning vistas and beautiful people.
A bowl of oats and a piece of Chadique (Haitian grapefruit) were nearly ready for us when we returned so I drew well water for my morning shower quickly. Grateful for the short distance from the pump to the outdoor bamboo shower-stall after seeing young children carrying 5 gallon pails, I undressed quickly, poured the cool water over my head and prepared myself for my first day of clinic.
More to come from Bri's adventures down south – stay tuned.
NWB was founded in 2004 to empower communities in need through Naturopathic Medicine. When not saving lives, cooking in a solar oven or conquering malnutrition through aquaponics, you'll find us training Community Health Workers and the next generation of global health heroes. Our student chapters stretch along North America as we spread the lessons of natural medicine around the world.