On the ground for third time – more perspective of reality
Mission 3 chapter 2
It’s the middle of the night and I need to get some sleep so I forgo the coffee that I thought of drinking and go back to my seat and fall asleep.
I wake up to the most spectacular sky. It’s 6:30 am and the horizon is in flames. We have been given an immediate priority to land and clearly the circling around the airport no longer exists.
We land exactly on time, and as I head to the front of the plane, I go through the steps of what we want to do. We have to unload all the stuff on the top destined for the clinic and the orphanage. We have made sure that there are trucks available to take them. My friends have organized a van and a pick up truck.
I get off the plane and see Loune and Ted of Partners In Health. Ted looks tired and I can just imagine what they are going through – keeping this huge operation going, and then taking on another 3 hospitals. I am glad to see him. He is leaving on a charter; the plane is next to ours.
The airport has changed in one week. There are tents put up with country-specific flags on the tarmac – these have seats in them and are being used to process the people going home.
I take a picture of the Maple Leaf blowing in the breeze. I can’t find the U.S. one. The USAF is at the plane almost instantaneously. I wave to one of the men below our plane and he smiles back. They are polite and respectful and are doing an impossible job. As the USAF begins the unloading, I can see they are going to go down to the holding area set up by the Air Force. I know this will take some time so I tell Loune that I will help with the new Clinic and Orphanage. And that we can go to yard so that I can show her what is hers and what belongs to others – we agree to meet back in an hour and a half.
We are unloading the top of the plane and putting it into big carts on the tarmac. Once done, we start to load up the two trucks. We realize that taking all the things we have for the Clinic and the Orphanage can’t be done in one trip so we decide to make the first trip to go see the clinic first and drop off most everything. We are concerned that if we leave everything at the makeshift camp we will create a security risk for them, so we make our way to the clinic with Alphonse.
He is the gentleman who was a medic in the Army and who is Haitian. He flew to Haiti after the earthquake to find his sister, but upon arrival, he was told she had passed away. He was in the restaurant where she had worked. Minutes after the devastating news, he is told that they had made a mistake and his sister is in the kitchen. He hasn’t left his ancestral homeland and he is busy trying to keep this small clinic 10 minutes from the airport, running. He is only one story and there are many like this – small gestures turning into massive steps for humanity.
We leave the airport in a 3 vehicle convoy, escorted by two wonderful Montreal police officers who are working with UN. With them are Alphonse and Gilles – Air Canada security and all-round ‘nice guy’. Behind us, squeezed into the van, are Duncan and his superstar wife, Mary. I am in the back and I see that the city has changed drastically in the two weeks since my first foray into the streets.
There is seemingly some return to normalcy – there is a market on the street and we all agree that the resiliency of the Haitian nation is unparalleled. That’s the good news. The bad news is that tents are everywhere and those are the fortunate ones. The sides of the streets are full of makeshift campgrounds – and most are not tents, just squares of whatever fabrics were available. I see children running. Again I am trying to cope with the sanitation and water issues.
I have seen the scenes of people trying to get food and water. I am angry and I say it in the car. I hazard a guess that the monies donated in the last 18 days since this disaster, are more than during any other disaster. I would say that we have enough funds to feed Haiti for quite some time, so I am wondering why the kids are starving and thirsty, and why food and supplies are not getting to the people. We at OneXOne chose a very specific place to help – we chose medicine, and we chose Partners in Health because frankly, we are a small organization and we needed to know that whatever we were doing, was going to be maximized and that our aid was going to be in the system within hours. Thanks to the incredible team of PIH – Ali, Loune, Kathryne, Jennie, Ted, Paul of course and Lodi and the whole team – and of course, Air Canada for giving us the space to get the goods down. We now know that PIH was able to really get the goods from the airport to the areas they needed them.
The discussion in the car revolves around the security issues now and also the next wave of problems. Infectious diseases and everything else which will come from the conditions people are living in. We all agree that hunger and thirst should not, at this stage, still be an issue. Maybe we are naïve and maybe we can’t understand the whole situation. I don’t know. All I can say is that this is making me angry.
When we get to the orphanage, we are literally in a congested traffic area where we cannot take the vehicles to the orphanage, and we park on the side as hundreds of cars pass by. The police officers are not comfortable – they do not think we should leave anything at the orphanage because they will have all of it stolen or they will be hurt. There are people slowly making their way towards the vehicles and the food and drinks in the back of the pick up are clearly visible. We may incite a run on this car, and this is not prudent. Gilles tells all of us to get back in the vehicle and we decide we are going to go to the clinic and leave all food and such there, with the understanding that they will take care of this orphanage of 50 children.
When we get there we meet the doctor and his wife who are from Greece. I greet them in their mother tongue and thank them in the few words I know – “efraristo poli” means thank you. My 5 Greek words exhausted, I quickly go back to English. Imagine people from all over the world running to this small island 90 minutes from Miami, coming with pure love in their hearts. I begin to cry, and I turn away to wipe my tears.
We form a human line, again, and start to unload. There is the cutest little boy standing helping. I give him a few of my slang Haitian greetings and he laughs at me. With him is a beautiful young man who is from Boston and he is a paramedic. He flew down right after the earthquake to help and he has been here since. ”Saving one life at a time by one person at a time, because we believe that each and every one of us has the power to make a profound difference in the life of another” – this young man is proof positive.
The clinic is running out of food so the rice and beans and all the other food is coming at them in the nick of time… so is the Children’s Tylenol. We decide that we will now go back to the streets where the orphanage is, to try to set up the tents and the sleeping bags. We put everything back into the van so there is nothing on the flatbed. We make our way back, leaving Alphonse to wait for the other shipments.
We park again where the road is, in front of the orphanage and we try to find a quick and efficient way to make our way on foot to the location. This time we are surrounded by approximately 30 people, all saying they are from the orphanage. They surround the truck with Duncan in it, and it is clear that again, we are not going to be able to even put the tents up for these kids. I can see the frustration in Duncan’s and Mary’s faces. They are so committed to helping and they were so excited with all the things we had amassed for these kids, but it looks like we may not leave them anything. Mary had bought some toys – soccer balls and such – and starts to give them out. Once given out, we must head back to the airport – there is about 2/3 of the shipment destined for the clinic and orphanage still left to unpack and we need to move. We head back to the hotel. We are a group of perfectionists – everyone on these missions from Duncan and Jude, to my friends and family and to those who I work with, know I too, am driven to perfection. Even Jay, who was in charge of loading and directing the pallet building, didn’t leave one square inch of room. Here we are leaving the kids, knowing we have not been able to leave them all we wanted to leave them. But their safety comes first – we know this but it doesn’t make it any easier.
When we get back to the plane, we pack a second shipment for the clinic and once done, I want to go to the yard down at the end of the airport to check on where we are with the shipment. I hop a ride with Loune from PIH and Doug comes along – he hasn’t been there and he wants to see what it’s all about. The USFA has set up a barbed wire low fence and we stop. We explain who we are and he lets us in and directs us to a tent where other members of his troop are. We explain who we are and are told that there is a small repair they must make and we they won’t be ready to get to the merchandise before later this afternoon. They are really polite and friendly and are trying as hard as possible to help. They clearly are walking a tight line between their need to maintain safety and their understanding of the difficulties that all the organizations are facing.
Meanwhile I look around and I can’t believe what I see. The quantity of goods strewn all over the field looks like it has tripled in one week. There are mounds and mounds of pallets with water on them, they are out in the heat. I can’t believe that with everyone dehydrated, that this is just sitting there – and there are hundreds of other pallets with all kinds of aid on them.
Why is the stuff sitting there – why?
I understand that moving things must be difficult in Haiti right now -the infrastructure was never really good to begin with. But this is unconscionable and someone has to once and for all do something about this.
An older member of the USAF tells me that in his experience he believes much of this will go bad and never get to the people. I shake my head. We would have moved all our 11 pallets in a few hours had they left us to do it, but they can’t take a chance.
We turn around and go back to the plane. Doug is happy he has seen this. He also tells me that the Air Canada mechanic that they brought down has helped fix some of the broken machinery at the airport, so this will help the next planes.
I am happy that I was at cargo because I am now able to tell Loune exactly what the composition of the pallets are – how many are 100% OneXOne medicine and such for them. I know we shared one with the embassy and one with police, and I tell her exactly what there is in those being shared. I double check with Jay and Jude, my trusted teammates, and they concur. I know Loune will be able, as she did last week, to get it all organized.
When I get back to the plane the Air Canada volunteers are lined up outside the plane to help care for the 60 adopted children who are coming home to Canada and their new families. They are mostly all under the age of 2. The medical team, headed by Dr. Guy, have set up a small area outside the plane to check every child. There are the same problems as last week – dehydration and a little fever, but Dr. Guy is an incredibly optimistic person – “everything is OK and can be handled” – I love it. No drama, no ego Just an even-keeled, dedicated, smart doctor.
I get a text – last week we took down 14 nurses and 2 doctors all organized by the Jewish General. The Canadian Embassy is not letting them on the plane because they are not on a list. Obviously, as time has gone on, the security issues are becoming more important. The nurses and doctors were on the passenger manifest, but somehow they didn’t get to the embassy.
I walk over to where everyone is and clearly they are happy to be going home. Many had originally wanted to stay longer but now it is clear that they need to go home. I speak to an embassy person who is super nice, and he explains that because they were not on the list, they cannot get on the plane. I ask him if they are all Canadian citizens and are holding passports, because truthfully, some of the nurses are Haitian. But I am not sure which passports they are carrying, and even though I know they all live in Canada, I also understand the embassy’s concern that there has to be control. He confirms they are all Canadian passport holders, and I breathe a sigh of relief. I apologize for our mistake in not having put them on the list – frankly, the last 2 weeks I haven’t faced this issue and I let the ball drop, so I ask him if he could please help me, as I am not sure when I can organize their departure and I do feel responsible. He assures me that they are going to get on, and that he just wants to make sure that they are all part of our group. I confirm and thank him for his understanding and they all board the plane. Wow, that was close.
As I leave that area, I go back and help load the 3rd trip to the clinic and I assure Duncan that the trucks will go. They don’t need any of us to go. He agrees, but we need to pick up Alphonse who is on his way back to New York via our flight. So Duncan hops on the truck and goes to pick up Alphonse and deliver the last of the goods. He is amazing.
I board the plane and go to the middle section where there are all the caregivers and the children. They are oh-so-cute and delicious, but I know this is going to be an interesting flight. Everyone is moving around taking pictures and even the Air Canada CEO has a small girl on his la – he is clearly smitten with her, and she with him.
Jude and I decide we are going to take the closest seat to middle section and make a diaper changing station, so we put blankets down and get all the variety of sizes needed to take care of the kids, as well as wipes etc. We are ready. Mary has the care of two little boys, so I become her assistant, and we are ready for take-off. We just need Duncan to come back, which he does 5 minutes later.
Haiti forever Mission 3 has almost come to an end.
We have precious cargo on board.
As precious as what we had coming down.
These 60 kids have families waiting for them and we are going to fall in love with them on the way back, and then we will shed bitter-sweet tears as we give them over to the luckiest parents around.
This is the most amazing flight ever.