An experience to remember


Chapter 4 “Haiti Forever”

When I last wrote, I was back at the plane and ready to go home.

At the plane are four K-9 rescue teams from Canada. Krista, Trish, Silvie, Mark – all four have the most beautiful dogs. They are exhausted. Silvie has worked 11 disasters, and she tells me this is the worst.

The dogs have the best names: Cramique, Piper, Wrangler, and Zac. The dogs and their partners have worked 24 straight hours. Normally they work 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off; the dogs cannot do much more. This time they worked right through. What beautiful creatures. You can almost tell in their eyes that they know exactly what they were doing.

They had success today January 15th – they found a survivor; a 50 year old man – so they are going home happy. Somehow in all this misery there was a sliver of light. The dogs are flying up top with us, I am so happy. Good On Air Canada!! They aren’t going in the cargo – they are heroes. The whole team are true Canadian heroes. I am so proud of my country today. We don’t say that enough as Canadians- and it’s time to change our tune. Silvie tells me we will never know the true death count. I can understand that. I don’t want to emotionally, but I can understand it intellectually. People will have died and no one will really ever know what happened.

I ask if we are ready to go. I am told that the Canadians we have to take back are being processed and as soon as they board we can leave. This is good. I feel anxious and I want to leave. I have seen many things including the flood damage here in 2008. We landed right after that and saw, what I imagined, would be the worst I would ever see. I was wrong. Today, the little that I witnessed was beyond words. I cannot process it and I don’t want to think about it so I go into the plane and start talking to my new friends at Air Canada. Jerome wants to see the pictures; I haven’t looked at them and I give him the camera. His face changes he asks me my thoughts. He can’t believe it himself. I walk into the plane and leave the camera there.

Captain “Sully” has brought homemade cookies, offers me one, boy are they good. He tells me he baked them but I know that’s not true and I call him on it. He knows I was off into the city but we don’t discuss it, I think Captain “Sully” gets it

I go back onto the stairs and tell everyone on the team that the Captain has cookies. Claude is there. The winds have shifted somehow and the smell I had experienced at the rescue sites comes wafting; Claude says simply “Death”.

Claude tells me that one of their friends has boarded, he can’t stay anymore. He has been here for 9 months and he was involved in an orphanage. The orphanage is in the mountains and it collapsed. They can’t get up there, the roads are gone. The officer is devastated and I’m glad there is a doctor on board who is helping him.

Air Canada has thought of everything.

The officers are talking, I am at the periphery but I am listening. The incidents of rape are escalating at an alarming rate. Everyone is sleeping outside, the woman are literally being pulled and raped. The helplessness and degradation is beyond.

The people are angry. They are tired of wealth never filtering down. The disparity between rich and poor is as wide as anywhere else in the world. They are angry at their government for its inability to take care of them. This is not the time for politics. It is the time for action – immediate and swift.

Four Pakistani peacekeepers come over, they want pictures with the K-9 rescue team. They seem shy and they are very respectful; they ask, and each take a picture.

I am talking to the Haitian gentleman who originally met our flight. He is telling me where he lives and he is managing. I ask him what he thinks and he tells me that there was a general positive feeling before the quake. The people felt that President Clinton was going to bring real change and I agree with him. I am surprised that even the person on the street was aware of the intensity of President Clinton’s work. I should be proud, but I am wondering when the positive will come back.

I go back onto the plane, we are all becoming anxious. The airport is full and there are planes in the air. We need to leave. We are waiting for the Canadian passengers.

President Sarkozy has just landed and we know Secretary. Clinton is on the ground. I ask one of my new Haitian friends – it seems that the French are upset that the US Air Force has control of the airport and they feel American planes are getting preferential treatment.

I can’t believe it. Even in this misery, the political struggle is beginning. The US Air Force is doing an amazing job under difficult circumstances. I hope President Sarkozy isn’t turning this nightmare into a territorial struggle. I hate this. Why can’t everyone learn to play in the sand box with everyone else?

Nothing will ever change in Haiti if we don’t unite. I don’t mean ‘pretend unite’ I mean learning to truly put our egos aside and working for a common goal.

A private plane has landed almost at the same time as the French president’s. They are well dressed. I presume they are European – they look like they are on the Cote d’Azur. I look at myself, and all those around me, no glamour here my friends, just good old North American’ role-up-your-sleeves and work’. I know I need a shower. I brought an extra t-shirt. I am really feeling like the very ugly duckling. (LOL)

The Canadian passengers are coming on board, thank the good lord. Darkness is coming fast and I think we cannot take off in the dark. The first passenger is an elderly man – he tells me he is 81. Air Canada, in its continued compassionate way, puts all the elderly folks in their own pods in business class. They are all wrapped in blankets and made comfortable. Mr. 81 is telling us how he owns a small hotel and he is so proud because his hotel has no damage at all. He continues to explain that he stood over the guy mixing the cement. He says that the reason the damage is so intense is because everyone cheats when they are constructing. He is so proud that he didn’t let them get away with it.

I find him charming and passionate, but he is also angry. He is 81 years old and I am sure he is wondering when he will see his country again. How long will it be before there is some form of normalcy? My heart falls to my stomach, what I saw finally has hit me. I am upset – once the media has left, once the eyes of the world close and the exposure is no longer there, what is going to happen? What will be the next steps?

How can people live like this for another week let alone …

I am walking around asking all the elderly folk if they need anything. In the front seat is a woman with a sling, her shoulder is painful. She tells me in French that she is a diabetic and she is not feeling well, she hasn’t taken her medication and she is concerned. I ask her if she has Type 1 or Type 2. I am praying for type 2 as I wonder if we have insulin on board. I go ask the Doctor to help. It is Type 2 and I am relieved. The doctor gives some orange juice and some pain medication, and she goes through the flight like a champion.

It is getting dark fast and I get a text from Frank asking if I have taken off, he is concerned because he too thinks we are not allowed up after dark. Duncan tells me this was changed 24 hours ago. I am happy. We taxi and take off a few minutes later and as I watch outside the window the darkness of Haiti strikes me. There are barely any lights, what are all those people doing? They were walking the streets aimlessly, but what are they doing in the dark?

Everyone is loaded on. We have about 100 people we just picked up plus us, the crew. Yes, I have now taken on the role of full fledged Air Canada crew member – I am a flight attendant in training. They have thought of everything – the blankets are on every seat, there are small lunch boxes for everyone and plenty of snacks, the good kind comfort food—chips and chocolate and cookies. Our Haitian friends are hungry and they have a hard time looking us in the eye. I think they are so grateful, that they feel bad that we are serving them. I am pulled off cart duty by Jude – my goodness he is bossy and he’s not even the top boss on this flight, Duncan is. Jude has worked around the clock for I don’t know how long, and today he hasn’t stopped. He helped unload the plane, he took care of every detail on the ground, he has been serving the meals and taking care of his crew. What an amazing human being. He tells me I have to help hold the babies so the moms can eat – wow, has there been a detail left out.

Duncan already has the most beautiful little baby girl, (no I did not take any pictures). In fact this is not me, my pictures are always children, only children; smiling, happy and hopeful. Today there are no pictures of kid, not even on thestreet. Any pictures I took are of buildings and destruction. Any people in them are purely by accident. Sure there are the first pictures of the arrival and the Air Canada crew, but that’s not the same thing. I have no pictures of Haitian Children. I take a beautiful little girl out of her mother’s lap. The baby is sleeping soundly and she is warm and cuddly. She has the cutest green outfit on and she smells like a baby – can there be anything more beautiful? I am in heaven, something positive and wonderful to hold on to. When she grows up, they will tell her the story of the great earth quake of 2010. She won’t be able to imagine how bad it was. I will never forget it or holding her.

Her mother has eaten and I need to help clean up. I am enjoying being part of this team. The flight attendants – well, some are flight attendants and some are taking on the role for this flight- are all wonderful people. We all agree to stay in touch and share a mass email – we haven’t even taken off and we are already planning the future. Jerome is handsome and sweet, he tells me he took this mission on, because he has a friend who is close, who they cannot find in Haiti. His eyes tear up and he believes the news is bad and he will have to tell his friends and family the bad news. I have no words, so I hug him. He tells me later he appreciated it. It makes me feel good.

The clean-up continues – all hands on deck, even Duncan is picking up the trays. Anup, who is director of in-flight services, is on the flight and is working the garbage bag. Everything is clean and the lights are dimmed. Our friends need to rest. When they land it will be late and processing them through customs will be time-consuming.

I head to a group of seats where my new police officers are hanging with their friend, who is going through a hard time. He wants to show us the pictures of the orphanage and the children he has lost. We sit with him and look at the pictures. It is sad. I don’t have the words to comfort him. He feels like he didn’t do enough, he is beating himself up and I am crying inside because I cannot say anything that makes any sense, so I shut up and look at pictures of dead children.

I go back to my seat and try to figure out what to do. I am antsy. I have brought my Kindle for the NY Times, and my Sony reader for WSJ and my mindless books. I haven’t opened them. I have some notes for work that I need to go over and need to organize my week. I have a lot of things this week. I go to the galley where we discuss the future uniforms of the Air Canada staff. I give my ideas and we have a good laugh. Anup is so nice he listens to my ideas intently but I think he doesn’t want to discuss new uniforms.

I start talking to Mario – the commandant. We talk about all the officers we spoke to on the ground, they are all in terrible pain. He tells me young Jacques will come home soon – he and his brother are there and their Mom is in Montreal and she went through hell when thequake hit, thinking she had lost two sons. They have decided that one will come home to make sure to always be there.

We just landed. I hear the dispersed clapping. I smile. Quebecers always clap when they land from a sunny vacation destination. Haiti used to be that – tourism was a large part of their GDP. There was hope around the Clinton Foundation Table, that this could be one of those areas that could be easily developed. That’s not going to happen any time soon.

The customs and immigration people are there to greet us. They process all of us (Air Canada crew—LOL) and we all part our separate ways after hugs and promises to exchange pictures.

I am asked for a quick interview with a French TV station which I give. He doesn’t seem too interested in our story. When he asks me what I saw on the ground, I become emotional. My voice cracks and his eyes become compassionate. I see the change instantly. He is listening with intensity and he is sad about what I describe.

I need to get home now.

Joey Adler