Thursday June 6th 4pm- Jacy and I arrive at church where Pastor Kathy hands us our traveling funds, afterwards we move very quickly to the dentist office where everyone is anxiously waiting to go! Excitement is high, some have nerves jittering away but all are ready to get this mission trip underway.
Our group developed laminated cards for placement on our luggage to more easily count and identify these 22 bags throughout the trip. These laminated cards are bright yellow and create a bit of visibility in a sea of American Touristers, making ours easily recoverable while rotating around the turnstile at baggage claims. Tags and zippers zip tied in place, money obtained, smiling faces and photographs taken in front of Kristina’s Tea Room/Dentist office, and it’s time to load up and depart. More hugs, a hands shake here and there, along with one heavenly prayer delivered from our pastor. Everyone chips in as bags are tossed into our vans and just like that hallelujah we were off!!
Heading out of town Kristina was rolling through her mental list of supplies, it was then she quickly realized some very important instruments had been forgotten. We quickly grabbed the first exit, turned back towards town and notified the lead van of our intentions. With the lead van continuing on, one of Kristina’s employees met us at the first off-ramp into town for a hand off of Olympic proportion! We now had tools in hand, anxiety squashed and were headed in the right direction!
The ride into the city was relatively uneventful until we approached the bay bridge, then all of that changed! Kristina received a phone call that Ruben (Alisa’s husband) was broken down on the side of the freeway in the lead van. We were given the exit name and luckily we were within a mile of their location. The van was located on the shoulder of an off ramp and pulling in behind them a tow truck was already present. It appeared as though the vans radiator had split, leaving no water for cooling. Alisa arranged a tow back to Dixon as the state funded tow company would only accept AAA. As I surveyed the damage many alternatives were being thrown about and you could sense frustration building as the thought of possibly missing our flight was more than anyone wanted to deal with. While examining our surroundings it dawned on me that I knew exactly where we were, and without hesitation my phone was abuzz as I reached out to someone who may have been able to help!
My sister lives only an exit away!
The phone rang only twice and with a hearty hello, my sister was on the other end of the line. I asked where she was and amazingly she was only ten minutes from our location! When I explained our need for assistance she quickly hung up the phone, gathered up her husband and his vehicle then headed our direction! Two vehicles to the rescue! While waiting, staring into the back of both vans, I started doing the math and quickly realized that even with both of her vehicles coming we wouldn’t have enough room or at the very least it would be very, very close! Before panic could set in a taxi pulled up offering assistance! We loaded it with three people and their luggage, sending Brent with some traveling cash for payment. (Brent is our international man of mystery) Perfect! After a quick recount of all baggage remaining the numbers work, the luggage will fit and we will all hopefully make it on time! Thank you God for showing us the way!
My sister and her husband arrived, hugs of thanksgiving were had, we loaded up and in a jiffy our caravan was together again at San Francisco International Airport with just enough time to spare as we would later find out while checking our baggage! Hallelujah! My sister and her husband wished us well, we all thanked them and our gratitude hopefully showed! Once they were gone we headed inside and just like that we were a mission group ready for departure! American Airlines as in years past was fantastic! I cannot say enough wonderful things about this Airline! They waived our extra baggage fees, they waived our overweight luggage and they treated us with respect. In today’s fast paced world that kind service filled with understanding and a good listening ear is hard to find. Once Jacy had finished taking care of baggage check in the American Airlines personnel wished a safe and fruitful journey.
After a quick bite to eat we gathered at the terminal gate, many were texting, Facebooking, or reading, but all were excited and ready to go.
Our flight was uneventful (thank goodness) and landing in Miami left us a little disoriented as the world there was abuzz with 5am travelers. Unfortunately we moped around still stuck in a 2am thought process. Coffee for some, a nap for others and then a few of us walked the concourse repeatedly, knowing another two hour flight was in store. Yeah the thought of sitting any longer was not a pleasant one for many of us. As we wander about the airport killing time, a strange thing begins to occur where ever we go. People seem to know Brent? Not by name mind you, but for some reason people wave at him or acknowledge his presence! It’s kind of odd (in a good way) and we all notice this little social experiment in the making. Now Bent is the father to one Nick Watney, a golfer on the PGA pro circuit. This of course is wonderful in itself but we have decided it is because he looks a little like an older more stoic James Bond! From this point forward it becomes a running gag! Do you know Brent Watney? Do you?
The flight into Port au Prince was uneventful as well (double thank goodness), touching down it felt good to be back. My heart filled with joy as we dipped over the coastline coming in for a landing. I felt as though I could pick out the small town of Leveque as we flew along. I know that’s not true but it sure felt nice thinking I could. Unloading off the plane the first thing I noticed was just how much the airport had changed. It looked new and clean, organized and almost regal, compared to last year. Inside it only got better, painted walls, light air conditioning and clean floors. Customs was a breeze and getting to our luggage was much easier!
Yes we were back! It felt right! Now if only we (Jacy, Heather and I) can help others to experience why we feel this way before the week is done.
Once at the baggage turnstile it became quickly apparent some things hadn’t changed. The usual players were present, red shirts, blue shirts all of them, leaning in trying to earn your business by grabbing your bags and “handling” them for you. After further inspection we realized there to be one more bag than claim tickets which meant we were going nowhere! That was until a fin, a fiver the old Abraham Lincoln made its presence, and then through a terse quip and a short wave of the hand from our newest “best” friend Cliff, the airport inspectors were gone. Cliff, hustled us quickly over to a final check out point where another airport employee asked me if we had “medical” supplies, to which I stated yes! Thinking this might lead us to a free pass, my hopes were squashed when she waved us into another room where all 22 of our bags were to be flopped onto a table, opened and inspected! (Sarcastic “YAY” entered here)Thankfully after staring blankly at about the sixth bag our inspector become frustrated and waved us through!
Cliff moved us like a pod of fish, yelling at any other red shirts vying for a piece of the action to stay away! About this time we found our old friend Jackson (the one arm man) just inside the exit door. Jackson is hired by the United Methodist Church to ensure the mission teams make it to their pick up point and driver with little hassle from the “red shirts”. Jackson swiftly moved our group outside where more red shirts clamored upon our belongings until Jackson yelled at them, at one point a man not happy with Jackson walked up and hit him! A little shocking, but the way of the world in a place where every dollar earned puts food upon your table. Cliff mentioned he could not leave the building and even though I wasn’t supposed to tip anyone but Jackson this man did helped us to no end. Yes I realized he was doing his job, but he blessed us for the work our group UMVIM had done in his country and went above and beyond getting us through the chaos that can become Haiti International Airport. I broke the rules and as I would find out soon enough, we would break that rule many times.
Once loaded into our vehicles (Haitian version of the Toyota mini Van) we headed out into the wild, scary, old west style, garbage filled, smelly, latrine water covered streets of Haiti! Ahhh to be back, filled with hope and optimism for the poor downtrodden people of Ha——– WHAT???????
Hold the boat! Stop the car! Slap your grandma! The, the, streets are CLEAN! (Well ok CLEANER!)Nary a piece of trash, nor mobs of people, not one child is rushing the van screaming “CHICKLET, CHICKLET MISTER” or “WATER PLEASE” or my personal favorite “MISTER YOU GOT A DOLLAR”? What the holy heck! The wrecked cars are no longer lining the streets! Instead they are gathered in a local junk yard we just passed, no one is stripping them down where they lay! Oh my goodness it looks, dare I say it? So much better! In fact we have now crossed two estuaries and I haven’t seen one man living in a van down by the river!!!!
We come to our first of many traffic lights (yes operational traffic lights) and I also notice for the most part people are obeying the traffic laws! Its pure insanity I tell you! People also seem to be traveling from one place to another with purpose! Not like a cast member from The Living Dead! Its, its,-well it’s just plain beautiful. My heart swells with joy as our group travels through province after province with nothing but wonderful signs of recovery! No country should have to endure what these people have endured and no people should have to decide on a daily basis whether to feed the dog, beat the dog or eat the dog because the dog needs food just as much as they do. (That was just a reference, they are not eating dogs here)!
The guest house looms on the horizon and pulling inside the gates (no guard present anymore) felt like being home! The group formed up, we unloaded our gear and set to introductions with the staff! Sarah met us first, she was warm and welcoming. Some met Tom for the first time while three of us just took a moment to reminisce with the leader of the guest house. A meeting was called out by the pool which was perfect for our hot and tired bodies. We swam while Sarah gave us the low down on our trip, progress made in Haiti and some of the more serious issues we may face. The island of La Gonave was our final destination! A four hour boat trip lay ahead and we would be departing at 6am with breakfast at 5am. We were to drink plenty of water and layer ourselves in sunscreen.
We settled in, chatted amongst ourselves and mentally prepared for the last leg of our journey.
Dinner time was upon us quickly and it was AMAZING!! I had waited patiently all year for this style of cooking! Oh you can recreate it in the states but it isn’t the same! The fried chicken was awesome, the black beans and rice was awesome, and the plantains were OFF THE HOOK!!!! Oh yeah some very happy bellies wandered off to bed after an extremely long day of travel. (16 hours in all)
I personally was out cold by 8pm after struggling to stay awake through a meeting with the onsite doctor. I retained most of the information but my brain could handle no more!