Living with HIV in Wanamet, Haiti

Communications Officer Sara Fajardo is traveling in Haiti reporting on CRS programs and sharing her experiences with us.

Haiti dominoes

Friends play dominoes in Wanamet, Haiti. The person who is losing at the game must wear a beard of clothes pins as a playful punishment. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo

On Saturday evenings, Donad Gabaud, 34, plays dominoes with his friends. Under a corrugated tin awning, beside a dusty Haitian road, the group slaps the red pieces forcefully on to a fading black table. Arms extend upwards, slam down quickly, the crowd is quiet, concentration etched in furrowed brows. The men study their tiles, scan the board, sly smiles peeking through their seemingly stoic exteriors.

Up go the arms, down come the tiles, the better the play the louder the more exaggerated the thud as the domino hits the table. Games take no longer than a minute or two. The price for losing isn’t money, it’s pain, it’s teasing, it’s the cruel punishment of having to wear a beard of colorful clothespins until agony takes over.

Red, green, blue, clips pinned to necks, earlobes, chins. Donad revels in it, relishes keeping score, swiftly adds and subtracts points, writing them down in the corners of the table in light yellow chalk.

A year ago Donad could scarcely get around town. His T-cell counts were in the low 300s, he was gaunt. Illness clung to him. For Donad, health was a fading memory. It’s hard to imagine as I watch him shuffle tiles, tease friends, and live so fully his body routinely echoes laughter.

Rosalba, Farid, and I had followed him all day. He picked us up at 6 a.m. right before he took three of the five goats he’d received from CRS to pasture. We walked alongside Donad and his young son J Dieudonné, 9, as they cut down twigs for the goats to eat. J Dieudonné skipped alongside his father, arms swinging happily, his father’s strong hand draped over his shoulder. They talked of school, the goats, about the bed Donad and his carpenter brother Henry Claude would work on later that morning.

Three times a day J Dieudonné and Donad walk to the small hilltop in the middle of an empty lot and look after the goats. In the mornings they tie them to a thicket of bushes and cut ripe juicy leaves for them to eat.

At noon they bring them a huge silver bowl of water, in the evenings they untie them and walk them home.

Caring for the goats soothes Donad. ”I walk them, rub them, feed them, and I feel my stress leave me,” Donad says, “it’s like I’m handing over my stresses to the HIV, and let that stress push the HIV out of me.”

CRS has given Donad and 29 other men goats to help supplement their incomes. To avoid stigmatizing, the program recipients are a mixture of poor members in the community and HIV positive patients. For Haitians, HIV is still taboo, a reason to ostracize friends and family from inner circles.

Donad, however, embraces his role as an HIV advocate. He actively works in HIV prevention, consoling other patients, counseling men on avoiding risky behavior, using his own life experience as a model of living with HIV. With proper nutrition and the help of multi-vitamins that CRS provided through our partner the Juanista Sisters, Donad’s T-cell count now hovers in the 700s.

Donad’s days are no longer spent living with the agony of HIV, they are walks with his son, caring for his goats, transforming planks of wood into beautiful works of hand-crafted furniture, and Saturday afternoons of dominoes and clothespin beards.

– Sara Fajardo

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