The House of Life: Chapter 9

As I come to Haiti this May, I come with a little different perspective. My daughter is pregnant, so I am expecting my first grandchild in September. One of the women I saw today at the clinic is also pregnant and due this September. It made me think of the trials of having children in Haiti. As a provider, I see a number of babies brought in by aunts because the mom died in childbirth. I also see some kids that are starving because mothers have to decide which child to feed. My granddaughter will be born in a hospital having had prenatal care. She will be seen by a pediatrician who will monitor her growth and development. We take so much for granted for medical care in the United States. As I care for the patients this trip, I am thankful I can give whatever assistance I can to make these families a little healthier because the clinic is here.

-Steve, MD

May 2015

 

*

 

The Friends of the Children of Haiti clinic opened in January of 2001. There were no doors in some of the doorways inside, and the stair railing had not been installed, but the construction was complete enough to host the medical volunteers. Dick knew he could take care of most of the finishing touches himself, so he didn’t worry too much about the last details. He couldn’t wait to have the first team ever work in the new clinic, and he was anxious to find out what a difference it was going to make for everyone.  

For the first time, the medical team had a place to store medications all year long, which meant they had less to pack when preparing to travel to Haiti. And now that the team had a permanent home, future shipments of some of the medications could go straight to Port-au-Prince to be picked up and taken to the clinic. Packing up at the end of the workweek would be much easier as well. The medical volunteers no longer had to take equipment and supplies back to the United States. The clinic also had multiple exam rooms where the team could examine patients in private.

The volunteers had actual beds, and hot showers, and linens and towels that could be stored at the clinic permanently. A washing machine was available, so the volunteers didn’t need to bring as much clothing as they had before. The clinic also had a fully functioning kitchen with plenty of storage, meaning the team did not have to worry about packing cooking supplies, and dry foods could remain in Haiti for the next group.

The changes didn’t stop with the accommodations. Changes in how the clinic operated were immense, and immediate. Because the living situation for the volunteers improved drastically, and the new clinic offered amenities that weren’t available before, the number of volunteers that signed up increased. More medical professionals were willing to go to Haiti than ever, meaning the teams were able to see more patients. Whereas before the team could treat roughly 150 patients a day with limited resources, now they could handle seeing 250 or more patients in a day.

Managing the flow of the patients became more efficient as well. At the new clinic, the crowd waited outside the property, making it easier for the Haitian staff to bring patients in to see the medical team in an organized manner. A proper shelter had been built so patients could sit on benches in the shade while they waited. For the first time, too, the medical team was able to offer an educational program, something Dick and Barb had wanted for years. Instead of relying solely on interpreters to explain important instructions, now every patient watched an educational video on how to take their medications properly and how to wash their hands. Women received instructions on how to breastfeed. Patients with diabetes received printed material, in Creole, with pictures to show what foods were appropriate to eat to maintain a healthy diet.

Belony was a part of the educational program from the start, working in the new pharmacy. Although Dick was happy to have Belony work with the medical team, now that construction of the clinic was completed, he didn’t need Belony’s assistance outside of working as an interpreter. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate all that Belony had done over the years, but Belony wasn’t great at listening, something that had caused problems from time to time—the worst of which came up during the assembly of the construction crew. Belony had hired his brother-in-law, who didn’t do a good job at all. Dick asked Belony to fire him. Belony did, but then he turned around and re-hired him the very next day. After this happened a few times, Dick became fed up, even though he couldn’t really blame Belony for his behavior. Belony was out for himself, and Dick knew that was how he needed to be sometimes to get by in Haiti. But the incident strained their relationship. Besides, Dick had already been relying on Jean Michel for most everything he needed help with—running errands, ordering supplies in Jacmel, interpreting, going to the bank—and he had handled all of those roles professionally. Belony hadn’t been nearly as involved as he had in years before, so Jean Michel’s dedication to his job had really shone through to Dick. He trusted Jean Michel with everything.

 

Dick told Belony he was always welcome to work at the clinic, but he wouldn’t need his help with day-to-day tasks. Belony took it well, although Dick thought he was more hurt than he let on. Belony continued to work in the pharmacy for many years as a translator, explaining to the Haitian patients how to take their medications properly.

 

*

 

            One of the first patients to visit the new clinic was a man named Jean Mark. Jean Mark had a cast on his leg. He had gone to the hospital a few weeks prior because his leg had been hurting. A cast was put on it, but the pain continued to worsen. When the medical team examined his leg, they saw blood seeping through the cast. They removed it and discovered a serious infection in Jean Mark’s calf bone. They feared Jean Mark was either going to lose his leg, or never walk again. The only treatment the team could offer was antibiotics, and they were not sure it would work, given the severity of the infection. On top of that, Jean Mark would be responsible for keeping the infection clean until the next clinic, which was going to be difficult. The team worried about whether he had clean water at home or if he was even well enough to care for his leg properly.

 Jean Mark left the clinic after the team cleaned and bandaged his leg. They gave him enough gauze to last for a few weeks and showed him how to care for the infection, as well as provided instructions on taking his antibiotics. Jean Mark went home and did everything he was told. He took care of the infection so well that his leg actually began to improve. Eventually, he was able to walk again, with crutches, and then a cane. Over time, his leg healed enough to where Jean Mark could walk with no assistance at all. It had taken a great deal of determination on his part, and, because of the new clinic, the team was able to keep a record on him so they could properly follow up with him each time he returned. He became one of the first patients to receive continuous care.

Today, Jean Mark still visits the clinic. No longer for his leg, but for regular checkups.

 

 

 

*

 

During each of the clinics at the new facility, Dick hired between thirty and forty Haitian staff members, a great many more than he had needed before, and each had a particular and important role. Most were local men and women who Jean Michel recruited to work as interpreters. Others were hired to work in the kitchen or to clean inside and outside the clinic. Dick also hired pill counters and a Haitian pharmacy technician. A Haitian worker provided fluoride treatment for children. Dick hired a few Haitians to organize the crowd of patients, and others to purchase soda, water jugs, and cases of beer and transport them to the clinic. Today, the Haitian staff are so in sync with the daily routine of patients coming in to be treated that even the newest volunteers can quickly learn the flow of the clinic by observing the staff as they work.

While all the Haitian staff members are extremely valuable, one of the most significant people that Dick and Barb have ever had come into their lives is a man named Boyer. Apart from Dick and Barb, Andre Gilles Boyer is the person who best knows the inner workings of the clinic. Currently, Boyer serves as the Haitian director of FOTCOH. He is responsible for maintaining the building, organizing repair work, handling the banking, and helping prepare for the medical team’s arrival. Boyer also organizes transportation for the teams and picks up medications shipped to Haiti. Over the years, he has been an exceptional resource for Dick and Barb thanks to his connections within the community. Basically, Boyer knows everyone in town, and he knows how to get things done.

 

Boyer was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, in the Pétionville area. Both his parents were from Jacmel, and his extended family still lived in the area, so as a boy, he traveled there frequently. When he finished high school, Boyer moved to Jacmel to look for a job and to study accounting, learning to speak nearly flawless English during his studies.

Boyer first came to the clinic in 2002 because Dick was looking for a driver. In his late twenties at the time, he was a handsome man with boyish good looks. He had a seriousness about him, a sternness to his face, which made him seem almost unapproachable at first. But after meeting him, it was easy to see that he was actually quite social and talkative, as well as charming. He had a flair for style—the first time Dick saw him, he was dressed like he had just stepped out of a men’s fashion magazine. Dick would later learn that the Haitians nicknamed him “Catalog,” a moniker of which he was incredibly boastful.

Dick recognized Boyer that first time meeting him, although the two had never formally been introduced. Dick knew Boyer’s grandmother—she had lived close to the Hotel Cyvadier. Dick remembered seeing her almost daily, because she always sat on her front porch—unless she was sleeping on the porch, which she did frequently as well. When they met to discuss the job, Boyer showed interest in the position, but wasn’t set on working at the clinic. At the time, he was attending the police academy to become an officer. He was, however, intrigued by what Dick was doing. Endlessly passionate about his country and his people, Boyer knew that even though the clinic had only been operating for a little more than a year, it was helping the Haitians in Jacmel immensely. Dick was more immediately interested in working with Boyer—he seemed smart, and capable of doing the job. He also sensed Boyer’s intrigue by the detailed questions he asked, and Dick was more inclined to hire someone who he felt was passionate about the clinic’s mission.

Boyer told Dick about his police training. Dick asked him how much the police force was willing to pay him. He told Dick what a police officer’s salary would be in Jacmel. Dick considered the amount, and asked Boyer to give him some time to think about whether he could make a comparable offer. After a week, he came back to Boyer. He told him he couldn’t pay him as much as he would make with the police force, but that he thought Boyer should seriously consider his offer nevertheless. Working at the clinic would guarantee that he would be in Jacmel every day, something that police work could not do for him. If he was needed somewhere else, it would be likely he would be sent away from home. And working for Dick would be monumentally less hazardous—police killings, although sporadic, did happen in Haiti.

Boyer listened to Dick’s advice and weighed his options. He kept thinking about how highly he regarded Dick’s work—he could tell that Dick was earnest about growing the clinic. After a few weeks of deliberation, Boyer knew he wanted to be a part of the plan. He returned to Dick with his answer.

“You are a good guy, Dick. You are doing a good thing for my country, and I know I can also help if I work with you,” he told him.

Dick and Boyer had mutual good feelings about working with one another. Dick could tell that Boyer was well educated, and it wasn’t long before he realized he was capable of much more than being a driver. Boyer was enthusiastic about being a part of the clinic because he saw its potential, and he wanted to be involved in expanding the clinic’s programs in any way he could.

Over the years, Dick asked very little of Boyer that Boyer didn’t at least try to do. He did his best to find ways to solve problems, and he usually came up with a solution regardless of the issue at hand. Whether it was finding someone to repair a broken generator, or locating a mechanic to fix the truck, or picking up a shipment from a distributor in Port-au-Prince while Dick and Barb were out of the country, Boyer was always good at managing on his own, and Dick and Barb appreciated all his efforts.

Boyer’s devotion to his job hasn’t stopped there. Since he began working at the clinic, Boyer has always taken every opportunity to talk to people in the community about what the clinic has to offer—medicine, dental care, eyeglasses, shoes, nutritional support for malnourished children, toothbrushes, soap. He tells people it is a place to receive treatment and advice regardless of whether they have money. He is the first to tell anyone that the clinic is more than just a medical facility. There is a reason, he reminds them, that the Haitians call it the House of Life.

*

 

Barb retired in June 2001, when she was sixty-five years old. Shortly after, she started spending most of her time in Haiti, right alongside Dick. She was delighted to finally be at the clinic. Although she loved teaching, Barb had felt left out for so many years. Whenever she and Dick would host parties at home for the volunteers, she never felt like she actually fit in because she had never been on a medical mission trip before. She had only ever had a chance to visit Haiti once during the entire construction of the clinic. But all of that was about to change. Having never seen the completed clinic, now it was time for her to move into her second home.

Even before Barb finished up her teaching career, she and Dick decided what her roles would be in Haiti—the most important being the job of keeping patient records. Barb would be taking care of the new filing system for dossiers, making sure that each team could easily find a returning patient’s information. Before Barb started organizing the records, they were kept without much technique, and it made it hard to locate certain ones sometimes. It was a big task, and an invaluable one.

Barb found herself to be naturally good at record keeping, and from the beginning she considered the project her baby. Something that others would have found mundane, she found gratifying. She developed a system that was simple and efficient—she organized bins of records into alphabetical order, with patients who were seen frequently separated from records for patients who did not require continuous care. Like finishing a puzzle, Barb loved getting to the end of each clinic knowing the records were in order for the next team. It wasn’t an easy undertaking. The dossiers were handwritten, and Barb had to learn thousands of Haitian names she had never heard before, and how to spell them properly. If patients had similar names, she had to figure out who was who based on other clues—where they lived, or height and weight, or the date they were last at the clinic. But it was a rare occasion that Barb could not find a record that the team was sure was missing.

 

Along with records, Barb was in charge of shopping for groceries and cooking for the volunteers. At first, she didn’t know a thing about Haitian dishes or what to purchase from the market, but she plunged right into the kitchen anyway, learning as fast as she could about what foods were available in Jacmel and what had to be brought from home. She had no idea what to expect from her first shopping trip, and it was a little unnerving for her. The markets were extremely busy, and confusing. To make it easier, Barb brought Boyer along to do the bargaining for her. He could get a better deal as a local than she could, and he could tell her the names of regional vegetables and the dishes they were used in.

In the beginning, Barb had just enough recipes to make the exact number of meals for the number of days the volunteers would be at the clinic, and nothing more. But as she familiarized herself with the markets, she was able to create an extensive shopping list—potatoes, onions, eggs, tomatoes, green peppers, pumpkin, mandarin, pineapple, bananas, spinach, carrots, beets, grapefruit, and fish. She learned to make rice and beans with lobster sauce (pwa ak diri ak sos oma), beet salad with pulled pork (betrav sos salad ak vyann kochon), fried plantains (bannann fri), and polenta. Eventually, her small recipe list grew, and Barb became comfortable enough shopping in Haiti that she didn’t feel like she needed help in the store, except maybe to get something off a shelf that was too tall for her to reach. And Barb shopping on her own worked out for the best in the end—she recalled a time when she asked Jean Michel and Boyer to stop by the market and pick up a can of peas while running errands in Port-au-Prince. They came back to the clinic later that day empty-handed. Neither of them could find “canopies” anywhere.

Barb settled into her life in Haiti with ease, even though she hadn’t spent nearly as much time there as Dick had. But they made their home at the clinic just as they had back in Bartonville, and they fell into their routine quite effortlessly. They were so glad to finally be together. After spending so much time apart, they were now able to work side by side to continue to grow the clinics.

Over the years, Barb got to know the Haitians just as well as Dick did, and they began to regard Barb in the same way they regarded him—as someone who was there to help, who truly cared for them. Barb loved getting to know the Haitians that worked at the clinic, and everyone that she met in town. She tried her best to learn Creole words so she could communicate niceties and carry on simple conversations when she and Dick were running errands or having dinner at the Hotel Cyvadier. She and Dick went to church with the Haitians on Sundays and participated in their celebrations. She became close with the women who worked in the kitchen and with Boyer, Jean Michel, and all the other Haitian staff, and they all cherished Barb just as much as she cherished them. Now that Dick and Barb both lived in Haiti, the Haitians affectionately started calling them “Mom” and “Dad.”

 

 

*

 

Dick and Barb only scheduled one medical team to be in Haiti the first year the clinic was open. But by the second year, they were ready to add another team to the schedule. And this pattern continued until six teams were traveling to Haiti each calendar year. Not only were there more teams coming to Haiti each year, but the amount of time each team was in Haiti grew as well. Instead of treating patients for one week at a time, the volunteers were now scheduled to be at the clinic for two weeks. With teams visiting roughly every two months, with sixty-five to seventy days between each clinic, chronically ill patients could be given enough mediation to last them until the next clinic. Just as Dick and Barb had wanted, the medical teams were finally able to provide patients with continuous care.

The hike in the number of teams had everything to do with the added volunteers who had been signing up now that the clinic could offer better accommodations than Dick could previously. And since the team functioned more efficiently in the new clinic as well, the volunteers now had more free time, and their overall experience improved. They no longer had to cook their own meals or pack up supplies at the end of the day. Now the team had a few hours each afternoon before dinner was served to walk to the Hotel Cyvadier to swim, or order rum punch or Prestige, a Haitian lager, at the hotel bar. On the way back to the clinic, the team usually stopped at Son Son’s for snacks or soda, or more rum. On the weekend, the team finished seeing patients early on Saturdays, leaving the rest of the day to visit artisan shops and galleries in Jacmel. On Sundays, the one full day off from the clinic, after a late breakfast, the team had the option of visiting Bassin Bleu—a famous, and absolutely stunning, waterfall located in the Sud-Est department—or Ti Mioullage Beach. Each weekend night, the team would go to dinner, perhaps at the Hotel Cyvadier or another local hotel, Cap Lamandou Hotel, giving everyone a chance to try the local fare—conch or lobster, grilled fish or goat.

            Many of the volunteers never realize the places they visit and the paths they walk are the same places Dick and Barb visited so many times before—Ti Mioullage Beach, where Dick snuck out to avoid a bill, or the walk between the Hotel Cyvadier and the clinic past Linda’s house. They pass the old government building that Dick used for one of the first clinics. The trips to Son Son’s, where Dick would sit with Paul and drink beer, soaking in the Haitian life. The road they walk down is the same that Father LaBourne drove Dick and Barb down on the way from Jacmel to Marigot while they visited churches so many years before. They walk by the Sea of Love, not knowing the empty building, and so many other places around them, have been a part of Dick and Barb’s long journey in Haiti.

           

*

 

            Jean Michel and Boyer continued to work closely with the medical teams in the early days of the clinic. They would both accompany the team to the beach or to restaurants, and take them to and from the airport in Jacmel. Back then, before it was updated, the Jacmel airport was nothing more than a small building with a short, gravel runway. Between planes taking off and landing, the runway was always overrun by chickens and goats. In those days, it had been Jean Michel’s assignment to wait for the air traffic controller to give word that the plane was ready to depart. He would then go out onto the runway to chase off the animals.

Jean Michel and Boyer also traveled quite a bit with Dick and Barb. Sometimes it was because they needed their assistance with things that they could not do on their own, like navigating around the country, purchasing expensive equipment, or translating. Other times, they traveled together because Dick and Barb enjoyed the pair’s company and had come to think of them both as dear friends.

On one occasion, their travels took them to the Dominican Republic. The trip would become impressed on each of their memories for the stark difference between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. After purchasing a new FOTCOH truck, Dick and Barb made plans to cross the border to buy a bumper with a guard. Since they could get the bumper cheaper in the Dominican Republic than they could in Haiti, they figured it was worth the trip. Jean Michel and Boyer came along because they both knew Haitians in the Dominican Republic who could help with the purchase.

To travel from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, a permit is required before leaving Haiti. Then, it takes two to three hours to drive to the border. At the border, an entry fee is due, and, as Barb would recall years later, if you don’t have change, you won’t get any money back. After entering the Dominican Republic, the truck was stopped at seven checkpoints, each with a police presence. And every time, Boyer and Jean Michel had to explain where they were going and what they were doing. It made the trip much longer, and much more exhausting for them all. In the end, Barb decided they would never drive across the border again—it would have been much easier to have flown.

Even though Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island, neither Jean Michel nor Boyer had ever crossed the border. Dick and Barb remembered how difficult it was for them to see their neighboring country for the first time. Considering the nations share the same island, the countries are worlds apart from one another. Haiti is stripped of its natural growth, its mountains bare due to deforestation, and its roads dilapidated. The Dominican Republic is green and lush, with an expansive highway system, making traveling much quicker and safer than in Haiti.

As they drove through the pristine, cobbled streets of Santo Domingo, Jean Michel and Boyer were overwhelmed. They looked out the window of the truck, not believing what they were seeing in the capital—the streets were clean, and the historical structures were intact, the roads gleamed with a sense of newness. So many things they saw were not available in Port-au-Prince: fast food restaurants, organized traffic, sidewalks in every direction. People were in the streets with purpose—people that apparently had something to do during the day, somewhere to be, which felt different because in Haiti work wasn’t available for so many Haitians. Both Jean Michel and Boyer, usually so talkative, became quiet in the car, their faces solemn as they looked around in astonishment. How could things be so much better in a country that was so close to their own?

 

*

 

Boyer and Jean Michel also went to Port-au-Prince with Dick and Barb from time to time to pick up supplies. It was always useful to have them along, but sometimes their actions, especially Jean Michel’s, were more amusing than helpful. Still, Dick and Barb wouldn’t have traded them as travel partners for anyone else.

Occasionally, they would fly from Jacmel on a small, puddle jumper plane instead of driving to Port-au-Prince. The plane only had enough room for about a dozen passengers and the pilot, and because there were no compartments for personal belongings, the luggage stayed with them in the cabin, loosely secured behind the last row of seats. On one particular trip from Jacmel to Port-au-Prince, the weather was bad and the flight hit intense turbulence—so much so that the few people on the plane became extremely nervous about whether they were going to make it. Barb had experienced similarly terrifying flights often enough that she wasn’t concerned about crashing—she figured that she had lived long enough at that point, if she was supposed to die on the plane, then it was meant to be her time. But around her, the other passengers were visibly becoming unwound.

As the storm persisted, the plane shook and rattled uncontrollably. The passengers began to sing hymns as they gripped their knees or the backs of the chairs in front of them. Luggage started to topple out from behind the seats, and a few passengers grabbed onto loose items while trying to brace themselves to keep from falling into the aisle. The woman seated next to Boyer was holding onto his shirt collar so tightly that Barb didn’t think the collar would ever become unwrinkled. It seemed as though the turbulence would never stop, and then, out of nowhere, Jean Michel, wide-eyed, said to Dick,

“Hey Boss?”

“What, Jean Michel?” Dick shouted over the roaring of the storm, clenching the armrest of his chair. He could not understand what Jean Michel could possibly need right at that moment.

“Boss, I got a bad feeling about this,” he said, as though just having tuned into the situation.

In unison, Barb, Dick, and Boyer yelled, “SHUT UP, JEAN MICHEL!”

 

*

Sometimes Dick and Barb would stay at the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince to catch early flights home the next day. Once, Boyer and Jean Michel stayed at the hotel as well so they could give Dick and Barb a ride to the airport in the morning before returning to Jacmel. Dick had booked a room for himself and Barb and booked a separate room for Jean Michel and Boyer right next door.

After they all checked into their rooms, Jean Michel went to visit Dick and Barb, mostly to see how their room compared to his. He noticed that they had a balcony, and he walked quickly towards it, not realizing a sliding glass door was in his way—he had never seen one before. He hit the glass door hard, falling straight back onto the floor, obviously stunned. Dick tried hard to contain his laughter, knowing Jean Michel may have been embarrassed. Jean Michel stayed on the floor for a moment, trying to figure out what had happened to him.

The next morning, as Dick and Barb were packing up to check out of the hotel, Jean Michel came into their room again, this time with about a dozen rolls of toilet paper filling his arms. Dick was perturbed. He asked Jean Michel what he was doing with all the toilet paper. Jean Michel told him that since they had paid for it, he didn’t see why they would leave it behind. Dick, doing a bad job explaining to Jean Michel that it didn’t work that way, blurted out, “Jean Michel, you didn’t pay for shit! Put it back!”

And that was the end of that.

*

 

Jean Michel and Boyer also got the chance to visit Dick and Barb in the United States. Dick and Barb couldn’t wait to show them their home in Bartonville, as well as introduce them to FOTCOH supporters who had heard so much about them. They were thrilled to be able to share another part of their lives, outside of Haiti, with Jean Michel and Boyer, and they looked forward to giving others the chance to get to know them as they did.  

Jean Michel and Boyer absolutely loved every part of being in the United States. They enjoyed meeting the FOTCOH board members and seeing the volunteers they knew from the clinic. They were also excited to travel through the Midwest. They went from Peoria to Chicago to visit the Sears Tower. As they drove through Illinois, they were fascinated by the vastness of the land. The farms seemed to go on and on. They couldn’t fathom the physical size of the state, let alone the whole country. In Chicago, they wanted to visit all the department stores—all the options of the different clothes and shoes and the newness of everything around them had them both in awe. They also loved the food. Dick and Barb took them out to eat at local restaurants. They ate pizza, and fried chicken. Steak was Boyer’s favorite. While visiting, both Jean Michel and Boyer talked about Haiti to everyone they could. They talked about the country’s natural beauty and encouraged people who had never visited to see it for themselves. Jacmel especially had a lot to offer tourists, they said. They also spoke about the importance of the clinic for the Haitian people, and why they loved the work that they were doing so much.

Bingo night took place while they were in Peoria, so Jean Michel and Boyer also got a chance to attend the weekly fundraiser. They were both looking forward to the game and the crowd that would be there, so Barb took them to the bingo hall early to help set up. Since they knew they would be meeting people they had never met before, both Jean Michel and Boyer wanted to show off a little. They took pains to come across like macho guys, although neither of them was particularly tough. (Of course, they had never needed to do anything out of the ordinary to make themselves seem special—everyone already thought they were special, especially Dick and Barb.) But it became apparent to Barb that Jean Michel and Boyer wanted to feel like big men when at one point, before the game got started, Barb noticed Jean Michel wearing his sunglasses inside the bingo hall, practicing poses against a counter. He was trying out different positions, leaning on his elbows while sticking his hip out and then rotating his body to stick out his rear and rest his chin in his palm, all while keeping his glasses on and his face stern. Barb giggled to herself as she watched him, thinking about how lucky she and Dick were to have the two of them in their lives.   

 

*

 

In 2006, Jean Michel and his wife purchased some property not too far from the clinic where they planned to build a house.  Dick was happy for Jean Michel, although, privately, he was concerned that the building project might distract him from his responsibilities at work—Jean Michel had already been having some health issues that had been keeping him from working on a regular basis for the last few years.

Jean Michel had started having seizures around 2004. Dick and Barb did their best to try to help him, but he wasn’t taking his medications properly, even though the clinic was providing them for him. His health continued to worsen, until he was no longer able to keep up with his work. Over time, Dick became more and more reliant on Boyer. And Boyer stepped up to the challenge wholeheartedly—he not only drove for Dick, but he took over all the banking and payroll, and purchasing of supplies—all the jobs that Jean Michel had done previously. Jean Michel continued to work as a translator for the medical teams as best he could, but at times it was difficult for him to even do that.

Then, a few months after Jean Michel started building his house, Dick received a bill for some construction material, and he could not figure out what the bill was—the clinic was already complete, so he didn’t know why iron rods and concrete blocks were being ordered. It occurred to him that Jean Michel might be ordering material for his own home, and sending the bill to Dick. Dick hoped that was not the case, but he decided to approach Jean Michel about it.

When Jean Michel showed up for work that day, Dick asked him about the bill. Jean Michel insisted he didn’t know what the bill was, but Dick could tell he wasn’t being truthful, because Jean Michel never lied to him. Dick began to get angry. He asked Jean Michel again if he knew anything about the bill for the construction material. This time, Jean Michel admitted he had ordered the material. He said that since he didn’t have the money to pay for it upfront, he took advantage of Dick’s good graces with the supplier and purchased supplies in Dick’s name. He said he planned to pay him back, but he had forgotten about the order. Dick wasn’t sure whether or not to believe him, but it didn’t matter anyway. It was too late—Jean Michel had lied to him, and his trust had been broken.

Dick and Barb were heartbroken. Jean Michel’s actions had been a shock—they had been through so much with him and, up to that point, considered him to be one of the most honest men they had ever met. Jean Michel had always been willing to help. He would do most anything that Dick or Barb asked of him, and he had been such a dependable person. And it wasn’t just Dick and Barb that felt that way. Jean Michel had the respect of many Haitians around him as well. Dick ended up letting Jean Michel go, with severance pay. Though it was painful, they moved on without Jean Michel in their lives.

 

*

 

In 2009, Dick and Barb moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. They were now in their seventies, and it was getting harder to travel the long distance from Illinois to Haiti—the commute usually involved three or four flights, and it was wearing on both of them. From Florida, they could get a direct flight into Port-au-Prince, saving them time and money each trip.

 

Dick and Barb announced the move to their children, who were all grown and living in various places around the country. Melissa, Matthew, Martin, William, and Michelle all came home to gather their belongings from childhood, as well as divvy up furniture and kitchen items, since Dick and Barb would not be taking much with them. Their new home in Ft. Lauderdale was smaller, and they didn’t need much—they took their bedroom set, an end table or two, a coffee table, a bookcase. They kept some wall hangings and lamps as well.

 

Dick and Barb had been in their house since 1983. Barb had saved almost everything that came into their home while they lived there—the house had plenty of attic space, and it was loaded. She hadn’t realized how much they had in it until it was time to downsize. The kids absorbed most of the furniture, but Barb was still having a hard time getting rid of the things the children didn’t want, like old holiday decorations. Barb remembered overhearing Martin, thinking she was out of range, saying, “Mom’s not looking. Throw it out!” to his siblings. Barb thought it was quite funny. She knew he was right. It was time to move on, and move out.   

 

Dick and Barb put their house up for sale. The summer they moved, the medical team went to Haiti without them and carried on with the clinic as usual. It was the first time Dick had missed a clinic in twenty-five years.