Haiti Relief Mission Journal – Entering a New World
February 17, 2010
We landed in Ft. Lauderdale two and a half hours after leaving Dallas. Everyone pretended to sleep on the flight. Eyes were closed but how could anyone sleep? We circled over the beaches of south Florida at dawn. The apartment towers on white beaches tinted pink by the rising sun seemed out of place with the idea of where we were going.
We landed and pulled up to the private aviation terminal. I heard Bob mention to the ground crew that we were a mercy flight to Haiti and the staff told him that special accommodations and discounts were being made for us. He pointed out another group boarding a private jet and said to me, “There goes another flight of angels”
They topped us up with coffee and our plane with gas. Once in the air Bob pulled out trays of Texas biscuits, muffins and sandwiches all wrapped in decorative cellophane. It was hard to imagine what was ahead of us, in our multi million dollar jet, leather seats and eating prettily wrapped sandwiches. Bob warned us that the approach might be difficult. Air Traffic control was chaotic. In the early days after the quake it was nothing more than a couple of Air Force controllers standing on the grass in the middle of a field holding binoculars and a portable radio. It wasn’t much better now. We flew in over the mountains. Incredibly beautiful. Blue ocean. Green hills. How could there be death and destruction below?
Flying in an airplane is a strange way of getting anywhere. Its not like driving in a car or riding on a train. You don’t really get a sense of moving across the earth. The passage of time normally experienced with traveling a long distance is compressed. One minute you’re here and the next thousands of miles away. A plane is more like a teleporter than it is a means of transportation. A few hours in an aluminum tube and you’re in another country. Except in this case we were transported to another world.
Its hard to describe what it was like when that door opened on the tarmac in Port-au-Prince. I kept thinking of the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens the door to her bland black and white house with the beautiful in-colour world of Oz laying beyond. Here it was the opposite. Our leather seated air conditioned aircraft door opened to a scene of frantic chaos. Armed soldiers met us at the door. Military cargo planes taxiing back and forth. Helicopters crisis crossing overhead. Chaos.
There, in the middle of the paved taxi way, I heard someone call my name. I met Dr. Alan Larson on the tarmac of the airport at Haiti. Alan’s team from Atlanta had proceeded us in Haiti. Shouting over the noise of airplanes and helicopters he began to run through the list of patients that he would be handing over to us. We had just landed and already we had a group of patients that required surgery that day. While Alan spoke to me and Zig about the medical problems, the nursing teams shouted back and forth about nursing issues. He looked tired. I turned to deal with an inspector that wanted to review our documents. Alan went over to speak to Tammy, Sue, Lori and Leslie. I could hear him talking about the children they had operated on. When I came back to speak to them I saw that Alan had tears in his eyes. A surgeon who had probably seen it all, performed thousands of operations and here he was crying in the middle of an airfield while telling us about the children of Haiti. I never respected anyone more. We shook hands and exchanged places. Alan and his team flying home and us thrown into the cauldron of Haiti.
We were shepherded to the entrance of the terminal. Officials gave a cursory look at our cargo, stamped our passports and we stepped beyond the gates into Port-au- Prince. We entered a different world at that moment. This evening when I look at my passport it says Republic of Haiti. But we’ve come to realize it’s the republic of suffering.