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Kay Medishare

2000 I WAS SURPRISED TO HEAR DELVAS voice on the other end of the phone one Friday afternoon: “Dr. Fournier, can I come over to talk? I have an idea I want to speak with you about.”

“I’m really busy this afternoon, Delva. Are you staying through the weekend? I can see you first thing on Monday.”

“I’ll be there.” I could almost see him smiling on the other end of the phone. All weekend I wondered what his idea might be.

Monday morning Delva was there in his white shirt, black pants, and red tie. I knew a pitch was coming. We made small talk—a municipal election was coming up in Thomonde. Delva was probably the most popular mayor in Thomonde’s history, but there was a problem—he was not Lavalas, Titid’s party. I told him I couldn’t imagine him losing.

“We’ll see,” he answered, as his perpetual smile faded a bit.

The smile came back in full form, however, when I asked him about his idea.

“Dr. Fournier, I have this plot of land in Thomonde. Good land. I want to give it to Medishare in the name of the people of Thomonde, and I want you to build a guesthouse in Thomonde.”

“A guesthouse? That’s the idea?”



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The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti Kay Medishare 2000 I WAS SURPRISED TO HEAR DELVA’S voice on the other end of the phone one Friday afternoon: “Dr. Fournier, can I come over to talk? I have an idea I want to speak with you about.” “I’m really busy this afternoon, Delva. Are you staying through the weekend? I can see you first thing on Monday.” “I’ll be there.” I could almost see him smiling on the other end of the phone. All weekend I wondered what his idea might be. Monday morning Delva was there in his white shirt, black pants, and red tie. I knew a pitch was coming. We made small talk—a municipal election was coming up in Thomonde. Delva was probably the most popular mayor in Thomonde’s history, but there was a problem—he was not Lavalas, Titid’s party. I told him I couldn’t imagine him losing. “We’ll see,” he answered, as his perpetual smile faded a bit. The smile came back in full form, however, when I asked him about his idea. “Dr. Fournier, I have this plot of land in Thomonde. Good land. I want to give it to Medishare in the name of the people of Thomonde, and I want you to build a guesthouse in Thomonde.” “A guesthouse? That’s the idea?”

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The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti “Yes, that way you’ll always have a place to stay when you and your students come to Thomonde. I can’t promise you will always be able to stay in the mairie (the magistrate’s office). Besides, the mairie has only one bathroom and no showers. I want to build you the best guesthouse in the Plateau Central, three bathrooms and three showers.” Despite my outward skepticism, I could see there was a germ of a good idea here. Our health fair trips were growing to sometimes 20 to 30 people and myself and other faculty were also coming in between the larger trips. Medishare needed a home in Haiti. Why not Thomonde? “How much will it cost me?” “$25,000. I can have it done in six months.” I had a small discretionary fund I had accumulated by giving my opinion on malpractice cases to attorneys. It would just about cover the cost. “Where else but Haiti can you build a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house for $25,000?” I mused. “Delva, I’m not going to be able to give you an answer today. I’ve got to talk about it with the Medishare board. When are you leaving?” Delva was leaving on Wednesday, which gave me two days to poll the board. I started with Michel, whose office was just three doors down from mine. “Um, Michel. Delva was just here, up from Thomonde. He wants us to build a guesthouse in Thomonde on some land he’ll donate to us.” “What, are you crazy?” Michel’s jaw fell in disbelief. “Do you know how many poor Haitians there are concocting wild get-rich-quick schemes right now to pitch to wealthy Americans?” “Delva’s not like that, Michel, you know him. It’s all about helping Thomonde. I trust him. Besides, I made a vow a long time ago to never again doubt a Haitian. Aren’t you getting tired of sleeping on cots, washing out of buckets, and pooping in latrines?” “That’s a good point. What will it cost us and how will we pay for it?”

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The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti “$25,000. I’ve got just about that much saved up in the ‘legal account.’” “Well, if it’s your money, it’s your call. Just make sure you see the deed and title.” “Of course, I’m not totally crazy, but speaking of titles, think about it, Medishare means that much to him. He’s willing to give up part of his birthright.” The other Medishare board members pretty much followed Michel’s pattern—incredulity, skepticism, and, finally, resignation. In the final analysis it was my money. Plus it made sense. It was Delva’s way of showing not just what Medishare meant to him but also what it meant to all the citizens of Thomonde; a chance for health. And in a tangible way it would solidify the relationship between Medishare and Thomonde. Medishare and Thomonde had been dating seriously. Now, Delva was proposing marriage and putting up his land as a dowry. On Wednesday, Delva called me from a pay phone at the airport. “It’s a go, Delva. But I’ve got to see the deed and an official title transfer. What about an architect?” “Don’t worry, Dr. Fournier. I’ll send everything to you in a few weeks!” “I’ll bring half of the money when I come down in two months and the rest when it’s finished.” “I’ll see you then!” Two weeks later I received a letter from Delva with the deed, title transfer, and preliminary drawings, which I was sure Delva had drawn himself. The design was clearly multifunctional: two bedrooms in the back and a third bedroom in a separate wing for privacy—Delva had penciled in “Dr. Fournier’s suite.” The front was designed to serve as a combination living room and dispensary, with little windows that could serve as pass-throughs for medicine. A large tournelle (circular pointed roof) provided protection from the rain to a patio with a platform stage, which could serve as outdoor living space, a classroom, or for health fairs. In addition to the three bath-

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The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti rooms, the house had an indoor kitchen, complete with a range and refrigerator, essential for preserving vaccines and food. When I arrived in Thomonde two months later, the concrete frame was already up. Delva was beaming with pride as we toured the grounds. “Welcome to Kay Medishare, Dr. Fournier!” He had brought up “masters” for masonry, electricity, roofing, and plumbing from Port-au-Prince. The workers were all Thomondois. They cheered as Delva introduced me in Creole. Ever the politician, Delva made sure they knew that he and I made their jobs possible. Delva didn’t quite make his self-imposed deadline of six months. The windows were not in, the walls needed to be painted, and the floor tiles needed to be set. Still, the showers and the bathrooms worked. The roof didn’t leak, and the foliage had grown enough to cool and shade the entire property. We used the tournelle for a health fair with patients lined up on benches, slipping behind sheets hung from ropes for privacy on the stage platform, and then passing by the windows on the front of the house to pick up their medicines. We had over 30 medical students on that trip, plus several Peace Corps volunteers who helped the students with translations, registrations, and organizing the crowds. The students slept in sleeping bags under the tournelle, while the faculty got the bedrooms. Michel, who accompanied me on that trip, shook his head in amazement. “I’ve got to hand it to you, Art. I was quite skeptical, but you’ve really pulled it off!” “Give Delva the credit, Michel. It was his idea. More importantly, he turned his dream into reality and I have a suspicion he’s not done yet. Any nostalgia for the latrine?”