Friday, March 20, 2009

Interview with Heurese

March 15, 2009

The following is an interview I did with Heurese.

The interview was conducted in Creole and translated into English. The words in English are not direct translations of her words in Creole, but are very close. Her narrative’s meaning is the same in both languages.

I left out my interview questions and wrote this in the first person. It is in chronological order as Heurese's life has played out.

I was born in Bainet, Haiti in 1978. Like the rest of my brothers and sisters, I was born at home. I have four brothers and four sisters. My mom is living in Bainet now. My parents were never married.

Bainet is on Haiti’s southern peninsula and is a seacoast village. I don't know how many people live in Bainet. We lived up on a mountain side and we could see all that was happening in Bainet. We could also see the ocean to the south.

My father is dead. His name was Vicaisse. He died in February, 1991 at age 41 years. I was about 13 years old when he died.

My father was a fisherman and he use to drop lines into the ocean from a cliff perched above the water. He and a friend left home about 6 PM and sometimes they did not get back until morning.

One night my father and his friend made a fire and sat down on the cliff. His friend was sitting about twenty feet away from my father. At some point his friend hollered out to my father but my father did not answer. His friend walked over to the place where my father was fishing and my father had disappeared.

My father’s friend looked down and saw my father in the ocean below. My father yelled back up that he did not know how he ended up in the ocean. My father said that he did not jump.

My father’s friend threw some rope over the edge of the cliff, but my father could not get to it. So my father’s friend descended the cliff and by the time he got to the water, my father was gone.

My father’s friend came back up the road to our house sobbing.

They searched for my father’s body for two days without success.

My mother went “fou” (crazy) after my father’s death. She talked and screamed a lot. She had to be tied to a chair.

Before my father died, my life was pretty good. I went with him in the morning when he worked in the field. When I stayed at home with my mom she spanked me a lot. But my father disagreed with this and he did not spank me. My father knew that there was something wrong with me. Even when I was four years old my legs were swelling.

Since my father died, my life hasn’t been good. Mwen pa viv bien.

After my father died, my mom made us get up very early and herd the goats and pigs into the woods. My mother still works very hard. Her name is Dieuta. She is about 62 years old now. She doesn’t sit down much.

I love my mother because she carried me in her abdomen for 9 months. She spent a lot of money on me over the years when I was sick. But she didn’t speak nicely to us when we were growing up and spanked me a lot.

(I have spoken to her since surgery in December, 2008 and she is happy that I survived. It was a nice conversation. But she doesn’t really understand.)

My mother goes to a market on a donkey. The market is a long ways away. It is near Mirogoane. She buys beans, bananas, yam, peanuts, and several types of fruit. She sells them from our house which sits right along the road above Bainet.

My mother does not go to church.

My mother does vote. But she does not say who she is voting for. In Haiti that can be dangerous. My brothers go to a church that forbids them talking about politics.

I went to grade school in Bainet. But I was sick a lot. I went to the local Baptist church. I was in the choir and I went on “missions”. I was baptized when I was 12 years old. Now I don’t go to church but I still believe in God.

As the years went by, I moved into Port-au-Prince and went to school in Petionville. When I did not have my lessons done correctly, my teacher would beat the palms of my hands in class with a whip. I would cry and become quite short of breath. Finally, I got so sick that I needed to go back to Bainet.

The years passed in Bainet, and by the time I was 18 years old, I was very sick.

My mother and I went to the houngan's home in Bainet and we both lived with him for two months. My mother paid him a lot of money to care for me.

The houngan believed I had five zombies inside of me. He would beat me to try and drive the zombies out. Also, he made a potion of leaves mixed with water and spread it all over my body including my face. It smelled terrible. Also, this concoction got into my eyes and I could not see.

An elder in the village convinced my mother to take me to our local hospital in Bainet. The houngan asked my mom for $5000 Haitian in order for me to come back to him. After I left the hospital, I could see better and my mom never took me back to the houngan and did not pay him any more money.

I went back home all swollen and was at home in Bainet for about 6 months with no medication. I laid in bed in my mother’s house. I had no medication. Fluid was leaking out of my legs. Many people from Bainet came and visited me and I could hear many of them say that I was going to die.

My mother said I was going to die too. She went out and bought me a mahogany casket for $1,000 Haitian dollars. She put it up off the floor hanging from the boards above. I stared at the casket but I did not think that I would end up in it. My mother thought that someone in Port had sent a zombie to me. I tried to assure her that no one was upset with me in Port and I didn’t believe in zombies. I didn’t think I was going to die.

The doctors in Bainet eventually told my mom that I had tuberculosis and started treating me with injections for tuberculosis.

My mother took me to the General Hospital in Port but most of the hospital was on strike. I went to another hospital in the capital and they told me that I did not have tuberculosis. They told me that I had heart disease. The doctors also told me that I was going to die. However, the doctors at this hospital wrote a note to the doctors not on strike at the General Hospital.

I went back to the General Hospital Emergency Department and they admitted me to a part of the hospital that was still working. They started treating my heart disease and I felt better. I could breathe better. I was in the General Hospital for 15 days. My mothers and sister Vita took care of me there.

The doctors at the General Hospital told my mother that I needed to go to Milot for heart surgery. Milot is a northern city near Cap Haitian. A group of foreign doctors come in once a year and do heart surgery for a couple of weeks.

I was released from the General Hospital and lived in Port with a relative. I returned to the General Hospital every month where I received a shot of penicillin and got more heart medications.

During this period of time I started to feel better. My mother and Vita were working in Bainet and Port, saving their money, and making plans to send me to Milot for heart surgery.

During the days before I was to leave for Milot, I was staying in my aunt’s home in Port. The night before I was to leave Port for Milot, I had a dream. In the dream someone came to me and told me not to go to Milot. After the dream, I woke up early, got up, and snuck to a friend’s house. The driver that had come to take me to Milot could not find me.

I remained in my friend's house for three days.

When I returned to my aunt’s house, my mother and Vita were really mad. They said they were finished with me and refused to pay for any more medication for me or to take me back to the General Hospital.

So I went back to Bainet and stayed a few months in my mother’s home. I felt better but needed more medication. Eventually my mother gave in and paid for more medication. I had been without medication for three months.

In 2002 I decided to go back into the Port to make peace with my sister Vita. Vita was working at a home for disabled children. The home is called Notre Maison.

When I arrived Vita told me that her boss, the director of Notre Maison, had met Dr. John and told him about my medical problems.

I immediately went to see Dr. John. He examined me and told me that he would bring me to the U.S. for heart surgery. I went back to Bainet and told my mother this. She said that Dr. John would never take me.

Dr. John took me to the U.S. for heart surgery in 2002. I did very well and felt good after surgery.

I have no jealousy towards the people of the United States with all that they have. I believe the people in the U.S. deserve what they have because they work hard.

When I came back from Haiti after my surgery in October 2002, I traveled alone on a bus from Port to Bainet. I was dropped off in Bainet with my one suitcase and met my sister Jenny at her school in Bainet. Jenny was happy to see me.

Jenny and I walked up the mountain for 45 minutes and arrived at my mom’s house. Jenny helped me carry the suitcase.

When I got to my house in Bainet, the doors and windows were closed. I knocked on the door and no one answered. Eventually Jenny put her finger on her lips like to say “shhh”.

My mom finally came to the door and asked me why I came back from the States. She asked my why I didn’t stay there and work. She was very mad at me for returning to Haiti. A passerby on the street heard my mother shouting at me and intervened and tried to be a peacemaker. After some talking, my mother calmed down and let me in the house and things were better.

In July 2003, I moved back to Petionville and took a part time job with a missionary from Canada. I worked in her school in Delmas.

I also met a young man who I liked very much. He was from Bainet.

I became pregnant with his child. However, his family were devout Baptists that thought a man and a woman should be married when having children. However, they were very much against their son marrying me because they described me “pa youn moun anke”. What this means is that I was not a whole person, I was just a "piece of a person" because I had heart surgery in the United States.

One day in 2003 I was eating with my boyfriend at his place in Bainet and was given a plate of rice and beans. He was given the same meal on a different plate.

After the meal, my boyfriend went to Jacmel to collect his check from Teleco. He supplied me with money.

But in Jacmel he became quite ill. The next day he found someone with a motor scooter to give him a ride back to Bainet. My boyfriend was so weak that he had to be tied with a rope to the driver so he would not fall off the motor scooter.

When my boyfriend arrived in Bainet he was very sick and was vomiting blood. His last words to me were that his family had tried to poison me, but they got the plates of food mixed up, and in fact had accidentally poisoned him.

He died 10 days later after that meal of rice and beans. I did not go to his funeral. His family was mad at me and said that my mother was the person that poisoned their son.

Two months later I delivered our baby girl.

I went back to Carefour. Carefour is a zone in Port.

The years went by and I met another young man and had a baby boy with him in 2004. He stayed with me for two years but then left us for another woman.

In March, 2008 I became quite ill again. I was too sick to go to Mirogoane to the market to buy used clothes to sell in the market in Carefour. I sold fruit in the market in Carefour when I felt good enough. However, I had no constant source of food to give to my children and my health was deteriorating. None of us were eating regularly. I thought I was going to die.

I gave my children to my family members in Bainet and went back to Carefour to live in our one room shack with my 19 year old brother, Saint Louis.

In addition to all of this, Haiti’s food prices are very high and we had food riots last year. Four hurricanes hit Haiti last year and many people starved to death all over Haiti.

And the kidnappings continued in 2008.

However, one day my brother Saint Louis, was in a cyber cafe in Carefour. A young man entered the cyber cafe and asked my brother if he could type a quick e mail on my brother's computer because he had no money. My brother agreed.

My brother noted that this young man, who he did not know, was sending an e mail to Dr. John. Saint-Louis asked the young man how he knew Dr. John. The young man, whose name is Frandy, replied that he had a heart problem too and was taken to the United States also by Haitian Hearts. Saint Louis then told Frandy that I was very sick, and that I had heart surgery in the United States in 2002, and needed to see Dr. John as soon as possible.

A few weeks after that Frandy came to visit me and asked me questions about Dr. John and his family to see if I really knew him or not. I answered the questions correctly and Frandy believed me.

Frandy contacted Dr. John and told him that I was very sick and needed help. Frandy helped me a lot.

When I found out that OSF in Peoria would not accept me back for repeat heart surgery, I thought it was because I had done something to hurt my heart after they fixed it and that the hospital was mad at me. Dr. John assured me that that was not the case.

In December, 2008 I returned to the U.S. for heart surgery at a different hospital. I am gaining weight again and feel good. When I go back to Haiti, I hope to move to a cleaner and safer area of Port. I live near the gang members in Carefour. I hear in the mornings how they asked people for their money or cell phone as the people are heading to Carefour market. If people do not give them something, they will be killed by the gang. But the gang in Carefour is not as bad as the gangs in Soleil.

I think the UN provides good security for Haiti. However, Haitian girls sell themselves to UN soldiers all of the time for money. This is how Haitian girls can feed their families. This is Haiti’s biggest problem.



debbie welter said...

John--thanks for asking Heurese to share her story with us. I've sent this to everyone and anyone who has shown an interest in Haiti. I think it helps them understand a little more when we talk about the people we meet there and how different their lives are from ours. Heurese is a great example of strength and courage and we all pray for her recovery and for her family in Haiti.

We will be returning to the Sisters on 31 Delmas in May. If there is any thing we can do to help your people there, please let me know. (We will have 3 separate groups coming in a 4 week period if that helps.)

Bondye beni ou.

debbie welter

John A. Carroll, M.D. said...

Thank you, Debbie.


Dejean Frandy said...

Life is correctly comes back for Hereuse, she looks very nice in this short picture.I enjoy reading this interview.Thank you so much Dr Carroll.May God bless you.