Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti is so fortunate to have a steady stream of talented volunteers from all aspects of medicine and administration that visit us throughout the year to share their expertise. Recently, Sara Hammett, a Physical Therapist from Sonoma, California visited HAS and wrote about her adventures at HAS in her blog. We think that you will enjoy reading this as much as we did:
Dr. Ian Rawson, the director of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, greeted us at the entrance of his lovely home overlooking a lush hillside. Open to the outside through wide, louvered doors, the stone-floored living room offered a cool oasis in the warm Haitian morning. Near the home is a garden preserve containing specimen plants from all over Haiti. “This is what Haiti could be with irrigation and compost,” he said. He led us to an outdoor dining area set simply with small plates, tiny coffee mugs, a plate of what looked like crèpes, and a tray with small dishes of condiments: papaya conserve, blueberry yogurt, and some kind of hot green pepper. He also brought out a small omelette cut into bite-sized pieces.
Ian had prepared a meal in the manner of an Indian guest who had cooked for him. She told him that the way to eat was to have “lots of flavors in small amounts,” and that is just what the 6 of us enjoyed. The crèpes were called dosa (pronounced “dosha”), and are customarily torn into small pieces, dipped in the condiments, and eaten with the fingers. Along with a few pieces of the egg dish, this small amount of food seemed to grow like the loaves and the fishes to be a very satisfying meal.
While talking about food, Ian brought out 2 small, chalky discs, hand-formed, with the thumb impressions inviting continued rubbing as they were handled. He asked us to guess what they were. There have been many stories in the media of Haitians being “so poor that they eat mud cakes.” Well, these were those cakes, but Ian did not believe that they served as a last-ditch effort of starving people to put something in their stomachs. So he went to a vendor of these discs and started asking him questions. Do people have to eat these? No. Do they eat them often? No. Who buys these? Only women. How many do they buy? One or two. When to they buy them? About once a month. Or when they are pregnant. Any ideas, readers? Ian believes that these mud cakes serve as sources of minerals that the body craves when it needs them. What a brilliant and reassuring assessment! Ian is determined to dispel the myth of the starving people’s mud cakes, so he sent the two samples with one of the doctors at our meal to take to the US to have them assayed. If their nutrient value is confirmed, the doctors plan to write an article with the results.