Soon the stairs turn into dusty narrow trails on the steep hillside, closely packed with homes made of rusted corrugated steel patched with broken boards and perched precariously on the mountain side with sacks of dirt as their foundation. A sheet hangs in the doorway of most homes.
The trail is crumbly and sometimes parts have washed away and I have to let go of the little girls hands for fear that I will fall down the steep mountainside and drag her with me.
I am amazed at the nimbleness of the children as they run ahead to show me the way. The little girl waits for me if I fall behind, poking her pink tongue out at me.
We finally arrive at a home made of cinderblock and we enter a doorway with a hanging sheet. The home is one small room with a rocky dirt floor, most of the space being taken by a bed that is put up very high on more cinder blocks.
A small corner table holds some plates and cups neatly stacked. Behind the bed there are bags with clothes and belongings. In front of the table is the only chair in the home.
A momma is very pregnant and eager for a prenatal. She climbs up on the bed for her prenatal as children crowd in the doorway to watch.
We finish her prenatal and I ask her to show me her children. She points out two little girls amongst the children gathered in the doorway.
One is four years old and is the little girl who led me up the stairs, held my hand on the trails, the one who kept hugging me and smiling. The other one is seven years old and is somber and reserved.
I ask the mother if they all sleep as a family on the bed, thinking it must be crowded at night. She answers me no, then points to the dirt floor and says that is where the girls sleep. My eyes well up with tears and I think of the little girls on the rocky dirt floor at night with only a sheet in the doorway. I choke up even more.
I look again at the momma. I notice her gaunt face and hollowed cheek bones. I notice her thin arms. I try to imagine her every day life up on this mountainside slum. No water. No electric. No bathroom. No shower. A shabby room without a door that is perched on a steep hillside surrounded by other similar homes. How does she cook? WHAT does she cook?
I press a $20 bill into her hand. She smiles and hugs me. I hope it will buy her some food for her and her family. A bandaid for a wound.
Later this week she will come to the clinic and I will discover her hemoglobin is 5.7. How can she even walk up and down this mountain 8 months pregnant with such severe anemia?
I feel so much love for her and so much sadness for her situation and that of all the other families on this hill that I am overcome and I don’t know how to fix this problem called poverty that harms bodies, hurts spirits, damages families, and destroys dreams.
I think of what a friend from Haiti said when I asked him how he knows who to help and where to start when there is so much need?
All I know to do is to offer her and every woman on this hill free prenatal care and a clean and safe place to give birth. To recommit myself to doing more to grow MamaBaby and train midwives. To give out vitamins, and iron. To get women and babies in our nutrition program.
I will not carry all of Haiti on my back, but my back is strong, and I can carry many.
The photos for this story were taken on our way up the steps in 2017. The 12 year old in the red door story has a healthy three year old. The mom of twins has two healthy three year olds. Both needed intervention and help in their pregnancy and postpartum from Mamababy Haiti midwives to keep their babies alive.