Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Trip to Haiti -- Part IX

Sun rising over Leogane as we left for the airport

Day 9 -- Saturday, August 14, 2010

I woke up Saturday morning at 3 AM and absolutely could not fall back to sleep.  I finally got my iPod and played some games for a while and then dozed off.  My alarm woke me at 5.  Hillary and I were both leaving that morning, so we had arranged to share a ride to the Port-Au-Prince airport.  Fearing "Haitian Time," we told the driver that my flight was an hour earlier than it was, and then left extra time on top of that.  We were supposed to leave at 5:30.  One of the women who works at the camp came into the guest house shortly after I got up to make sure we were awake, and we quickly finished our packing and got ready to leave.

Those of you following this whole series may recall that when I came to Haiti I had donations of clothes for the kids and lots of workbooks in my luggage.  On the way back, the main compartment of my suitcase was filled with dirty laundry, and both my carry on and checked luggage were much lighter.  It also helped that anything I did not have a definitive purpose for was left with the kids.  I packed up my mosquito net and left it and my repellent for Christopher.  The two boxes of snack bars I had brought with me were long gone, given to kids who told me they hadn't had anything to eat on a given day.  My fan, flashlight and batteries were given to Daniel's family.  I had my clothes, my journal, my iPod and not much else.  We left the property at 5:30, with no opportunity for a morning goodbye to anyone other than Amelia. 

Driving back through Leogane and into Port-Au-Prince was again surreal.  The relative tranquility of the camp was replaced with more visions of rubble, collapsed buildings and tent cities. 

We had been warned not to let anyone "help" us with our luggage at the airport.  However, a porter had grabbed my suitcase long before I even got out of the car, so I let him bring me to Spirit for check-in.  I got out a dollar to tip him, and he said, "For fast check-in, price is $5."  I knew I was being had, but it wasn't a lot of money, so I dug out a $5 bill, whereupon he said, "For fast check-in, price is $20."  I told him no, and took my luggage and placed it on the first security scanner belt.  In Port-Au-Prince, you actually have to go through security to get into the airport, on top of the screenings to get on a plane.

After waiting in line for an extremely long time, I checked my bag and went upstairs to where the shops and cafeteria/bar is.  I wandered around and bought gifts for my kids.  My son collects vehicles of all sorts, so I bought him a model of a tap-tap.  My daughter collects keychains, so I got her a keychain with a tap-tap on it.  Finally, I bought a bottle of rum for the friend who was meeting me at the airport in Detroit, and went out to the counter to get something to eat.  A snack and a coke later, and it was time to go through security.  After a few minutes they called my plane, and I started down the hall to the entrance.

Before we could get on the plane, a handful of security personnel rescreened our luggage by hand.  I then picked up the rum (which of course couldn't go through security so it had been dropped at the plane door for me) and got on the plane, settling in next to a Haitian man.  He buckled himself into his seat, clutching a manila envelope for dear life.  I looked at it, and realized it was an immigrant visa to the United States.  I offered him words of welcome.  The plane took off, and I started to cry, the first of many times that day.

Customs and immigration in Fort Lauderdale were relatively speedy, and I got my bag and headed over to Delta.  I had truly not known how I was going to be feeling when I returned, and so I had made some plans before I left on this trip to deal with the real possibility that I would be a wreck -- physically, emotionally or both -- coming back.  I had cashed in some frequent flyer miles to upgrade this last leg of the trip to first class, which turned out to be wonderful.  I just needed to feel pampered, which a bottle of water (which I really needed since I had probably been mildly dehydrated all week) followed by a beer, unlimited snacks and wide seats were just what the doctor ordered.  Before I knew it, we were in Detroit.

My husband had left for the weekend to pick up my daughter at camp, but I knew that I might not feel much like driving myself home from the airport.  We had therefore arranged for a dear friend to watch my son for a few hours and pick me up.  I highly recommend being met at baggage claim by a 5-year-old who loves you and hasn't seen you in a long time for anyone whose ego needs a little boost.  As I came down the escalator, a little voice screamed "Mommy!!!" and my son came tearing down the terminal towards me.  I felt like a rock star.

My bag was the first one off the plane, and my friend, son and I headed out to her car.  We headed up the highway, chatting, and I described some of what I had seen.  As we drove along, we came to a place where an overpass had been demolished and a new one built.  The remains of the original bridge were in a pile by the side of the road.  As we drove past, I caught myself about to point out the pile as an example of the kind of destruction the earthquake caused before I realized that, of course, that wasn't earthquake damage.  I realized then that the reentry to my life at home was going to be even bumpier than expected. 

After a nice dinner, we headed home.  I enjoyed my first hot shower in more than a week, although of course I hadn't wanted hot showers in the heat of Haiti.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed being able to control the temperature.  I got out in my centrally air conditioned house, tucked myself into my nice soft bed, and went to sleep.  As I drifted off, I thought about Daniel, sleeping in his tent almost 1800 miles away, and I cried again, not sure if the tears were for him or for me.

Tomorrow -- Reentry and Reflection


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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