By Gwen Grant Mellon. The Continuum Publishing Company, NY, 1988. 372 pp.
ISBN #: 0-8264-1055-3. ($40.00, hard bound)
Reviewed by Jim G. Frisken
I've been reading Gwen Mellon's recent autobiography, My Road To Deschapelles. Mrs Mellon has obviously led the kind of life that fiction writers only dream about, the last half century of which has been dedicated (with husband Dr Mellon) to the establishment and operation of the Hopital Albert Schweitzer at Deschapelles in the Artibonite Valley of central Haiti. Much of the book deals with her early life and with hospital operation and recent threats to its continued existence, but, equally fascinating are the tidbits of historical and cultural information that only a keen observer immersed in a foreign culture for decades can relate. She's equally at home dancing to meringue music at Cabana Choucoune in Petionville with President Magloire or camping in the mountains, where in the middle of the night she was mistaken for a zombie! The changes in cultural patterns, e.g. kombit and plasaj, are discussed as are the frustrations in trying to provide opportunities for Valley residents to improve their lives; water engineering projects being stolen or lost due to lack of cooperation or maintenance, arts and crafts enterprises lost to greed and envy etc. Many subjects of interest to list members are discussed e.g.: the history of the narrow gauge railroad, built by the Porter Co of Pittsburgh, that ran from Verrettes to Leogane with roundhouse in St. Marc, fueled by sisal or sugar cane waste, never repaired after the hurricane of the late '50s and later sold to a Japanese company; the Pont Sonde Iron Bridge imported from France; the building of harbors and the Peligre Dam (and how things get lost in Haiti.....a cement village replaces one built of thatch along the rail line); the "genetic" origin of rara bands; the great pig fiasco; agricultural practices vs wildlife; cache of old coins; cotton weaving and ceramics; classic and recent Haitian art and the creation of art "factories"; and of course health problems and solutions (Mole St. Nicolas has the highest incidence of HIV). Of interest to Bob,she describes the book Le Livre de St Marie, a 2'x3' folio of the late 1700s full of lithographs and maps, descriptions of plantation life, drawings of wildlife etc, and describes the Hospital's art collection and murals,and the architecture (Beautiful). The book has lots of great b/w photos. The hospital has computerized dossiers on 350,000 patients available to researchers.
Do you have snakes in your bed, frogs in your plumbing, ants on your cake, fried chicken with yellow feet still attached, a missing cat (delicious with the proper sauce), need a special passport to travel the road at night? Gwen will tell you how to deal with such problems. There's always something going on. She tells the story of a patient's family member who was asked to donate blood. He left, but returned later with a substitute donor.........his horse! I believe that at least one list member is mentioned in the book, but, if you want to find out who, you'll have to buy the book. All proceeds go to support the hospital. Jim
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