Eliène and Odak live in Grandlo, a collection of homes dispersed along and above a hillside that faces the small Partners in Health clinic in Bay Tourib. Bay Tourib is a broad rural section in far western Tomond. The CLM worked with 350 families in the region from 2011 through early 2013, in close partnership with Partners in Health.
Odak was born and raised in Grandlo, but Eliène grew up with her parents in downtown Mayisad, a major commercial center in the northwest corner of the Central Plateau. When she was young, her parents kept her and her brother and sister fed by farming land they rented outside of the downtown area. They even sent her brother to school, but not their two girls.
As a teenager, Odak left home for an apprenticeship in auto mechanics in Ench, the region’s largest town. One day, his boss took him to fix a truck in Mayisad, and that’s when he saw Eliène. It was love at first sight, and she quickly went off to Bay Tourib with Odak. At first, she moved into Odak’s mother’s house. He was living there with his mother, a younger brother, and a nephew. He was the sole source of income for them all. They then moved into a two-room shack made of rocks and mud. Its roof was made of the pods that palm seeds grow in. Without any cement to solidify the walls or tin to cover the roof, it was barely shelter, but it was theirs, though her mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and nephew moved in with them.
By the time the CLM team met them in 2011, they had two children. They were managing to send their eldest, a boy, to school, but their girl was still too young. And Odak was keeping the family fed with farming and odd jobs, at least most of the time. But it was hard. As Eliène says, “We didn’t really have an income. We didn’t have the means we needed.”
The couple received two goats and a pig from the program, and they continue to keep both types of animals today. But their real progress came through small commerce. They would go down to Tomond on Thursdays to buy merchandise Eliène could sell at the market in Koray on Saturday. When they saved up enough to buy a horse, her commerce was able to grow.
She finally was able to expand it further. She began buying plantains in Tomond and selling them in Petyonvil, the suburb directly up the mountain from Pòtoprens. In Petyonvil she could buy carrots, potatoes, and leeks, all of which grow well in the tall hills southeast of the capital, and bring them back for sale at Koray. That way, she made money at both ends of her trip.
Each time she became pregnant, however, she’d have to give up her business for a while, and the couple would depend entirely on Odak. He continued to farm and also to do odd jobs: he saws trees into construction lumber with a two-person saw and sometimes another builder will hire him to help build a simple home.
But his main activity, like his wife’s, is commerce. He buys and sells fighting cocks. He can find them for all sorts of prices – 1500 to 8000 gourds – in Tomond and the other nearby markets. Then he brings them for sale to Pòtoprens. He can make quite a profit.
They have had their setbacks since graduating. In 2017, Eliène became pregnant with what would have been the couple’s fourth child. She followed her pregnancy closely. The Partners in Health clinic was just a short walk from her front home, so when she began to feel as though something was wrong, her monthly check-ups became biweekly, then weekly. As she entered her seventh and then her eighth month, her blood pressure was much too high, and her hands and feet were swollen. She was showing signs of preeclampsia. The Partners in Health team in Bay Tourib sent someone up the mountain to get a phone signal so they could call the driver who serves the clinic, and the truck rushed up to bring Eliène down to the larger clinic in downtown Tomond. From there, she was sent directly to the public hospital in Ench. Doctors were able to save Eliène, but not the baby.
Unlike a Partners in Health hospital, a public one like the one in Ench must charge for most of its services, and for a couple like Eliène and Odak, three days there amounted to a serious expense, almost 20,000 gourds. At the time, that was over $320. It might not seem like a lot for a three-day hospital stay, but it was enough to wipe out the income from very good bean harvest they had that year.
In 2018, the couple had a different type of problem. Eliène caught Odak with another woman, and left him. “I heard the rumors,” she explains, “and then he went with her to Pòtoprens. So, I left the kids with his mother and left for Pòtoprens, too.”
She eventually came back because she missed her children. “If it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t have returned.” But she doesn’t regret coming back to Odak. “The woman called, and when I answered the phone, she swore at me. So Odak took the phone and swore right back. He told her never to bother him again.” Odak is happy with the decision to give up the other woman for Eliène. He says he doesn’t want another woman again. “I thought about my wife, my children, and the children’s education.” Eliène has the last word, though: “If it happens again, “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back.”
Their latest challenge occurred late last year, when Eliène became pregnant again. She had wanted to use contraception, and Odak was supportive, but she found that none of the available options was right for her. “They made me sick. I’d lose weight. I’d get anemic.” Early in the pregnancy, it was clear that something was wrong again. Her check-ups were monthly, weekly, then even daily. Eventually, the lab technician in Bay Tourib noticed something in a urine test that showed she was developing preeclampsia again. She was only six months pregnant, but Partners in Health rushed her to the hospital in Kanj, which sent her to the University Hospital in Mibalè.
She got to Mibalè on Thursday, and doctors performed a caesarean section the following Monday. She was only six months pregnant at the time. Their boy, Dawensky, spent over a month in an incubator in the hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit, but he and his mother are both fine. He will be released to go home as soon as he weighs 1.5 kilos. While at the hospital, Eliène made sure she would have no more pregnancies.
This second visit to the hospital hasn’t been without costs. Both mother and father have had to be in Mibalè for two months, away from their children. The hospital provides Eliène with her meals, but Odak must buy his. Their commerce capital is gone. When he and Eliène can finally go home, they will probably need to sell some livestock to get their businesses started again.
But thanks to the fact that healthcare from Partners in Health is nearly free-of-charge, they will return home with assets there waiting for them that they can depend on to get themselves started again. And they are anxious to get started. They had purchase a small plot of land in downtown Ench to build a new home. They know that their children can get a better education there. They also feel that it is important to get away from the jealousies they feel hounding them in Grandlo. But it has been hard to save up the money to build the new house, and the last two months have only set them farther back than they already were.