While we were in Haiti last month, we visited our site in Pilate, which is a very remote town at what feels like the top of the world. We reached Pilate after a fairly treacherous trip up the mountain on a road that is not paved, doesn’t have guardrails and is often wide enough for just one vehicle, meaning that “Chicken” is a game frequently played. I come back with more gray hair each time we go.
Worth the drive though, Pilate is nestled on the top of a lush mountain, less seemingly unaffected by deforestation, and is simply breathtaking. Hunger is less prevalent in the area because of the abundance of mangos, avocados, almonds, pineapples, bananas and sugar cane. The fruit falls from the trees in such numbers that humans are not the only consumers who can have their fill: livestock eat plentifully as well.
Perhaps unimaginable to Americans, livestock is allowed to roam mostly free, or at least without fences. For example, a man on his way to a job in the morning will walk his bull with him and “park” it on site, so it is not uncommon to wake up in the morning to see a bull on your land from where it wandered a bit from where its human left it. Or to find a horse tethered to a tree nibbling on the grass and weeds. Or a goat in the yard, often times with a branch tied around its neck to prevent it from wandering through any natural barriers like a hedge of pineapples or a field of banana trees.
On this particular trip, the US team decided to camp on the roof of the unfinished guesthouse. There is a lack of room and board in Pilate being that it’s so remote, so we generally pitch mosquito nets and air mattresses in the guesthouse to sleep. This time, however, it was rainy season and the house smelled damp, having been closed for nearly a year. (Construction is on pause, by the way, while we raise funds to finish it.) So, rather than pitching our mosquito nets inside, we pitched our tents on the roof and slept al fresco.
Did I mention it was rainy season?
While we were pitching the tents, Mother Nature decided to treat us to a brief shower, followed by a lovely rainbow. Maybe she was rewarding us for sticking it out.
From the roof, we had a pretty darn amazing view. Sugar cane fields, rolling hills, fruit trees. And livestock. Most notably on this particular day, goats. As I was admiring the view, walking the perimeter of the roof, I noticed a small goat laying in some high grass and weeds. A ways from him were two other goats munching happily. All three had long rope tethering them to nearby trees. As I stood watching and wondering about the goat laying down, which of course seemed odd behavior for a goat and made me suspect it was dead, a young boy, maybe ten years of age, walked up to the goat and urged it gently to stand up. Apparently not dead, the goat hobbled to its feet and stood up at the boy’s bidding. The boy was soon joined by two friends and they stood there discussing the goat’s condition with concerned, though composed expressions on their faces.
Jacques (my husband and the founder of ULC) came up to me at that point and asked what I was looking at. I described what was going on and he called out to the boys in Creole to find out what was wrong with the goat. “Diarrhea,” the owner replied. Jacques asked a few more questions and found out that the goat had had diarrhea for about two weeks, that the boy had tried moving it to greener areas hoping that different plants might help it, but that the goat had gotten steadily worse. He also explained to Jacques that this goat was his first and it was meant to bring income to his family.
Throughout the day, I glanced over to check on the goat. He lost his ability to stand, and by the end of the day was at the point of simply twitching periodically. When I woke the next morning, his body was gone. I never did see that boy again as we left Pilate that afternoon.
As I journaled about observing the boy and his goat, I thought later I’d write a blog entry about it and that I’d probably note how stoic and accepting the boys were as they watched the goat die; that they were not emotional as we Americans often get about our beloved animals; that the loss of income related to the goat might devastate the family. There are many interesting “angles” I could write.
When I got back to the States and began writing, I googled “diarrhea in goats” just out of curiosity, and found out that the condition is most common when goats have worms. The surprisingly numerous websites devoted to the topic all recommend giving electrolytes and keeping a goat with diarrhea hydrated, and of course, for goats whose diarrhea doesn’t go away after a day or two, the sites offer suggested medications to de-worm and thus rid a goat of diarrhea.
As I read, I was struck by how likely it was that the little goat would have survived, had it lived in the US. Then it occurred to me that, had the boy had access to the Internet, he may have been able to hydrate and nourish the goat early in the onset of symptoms, and that doing so may have bought him time to gather enough money to purchase de-worming meds.
Really, the death of the little goat and its young owner’s helplessness are a perfect example of the value that ULC adds to the communities we serve. The story brings into focus why we are fundraising to finish the guesthouse, because without it, it is nearly impossible for us to bring our team to the remote village of Pilate for any real length of time in order to set up the computer lab, which will provide the community access to the Internet, a service which is essentially unheard of in the area.
ULC is a resource that even we, who have devoted much of our lives to fulfilling its mission, don’t fully fathom. In a remote village where electricity is scarce, there are no available utilities, and people’s only real means of contact with the outside world is cell phone service (which is largely dependent on finding a place to charge the battery and on pooling funds to load prepaid minutes), ULC, with our books and technology, stands to change the status quo.
And in the process, maybe save some goats.