Sunday, December 9, 2012

Arriving in Haiti-2002
Our plane landed onto the one long airstrip of the National Airport in Port-au-Prince Haiti. We sat waiting for the stairs to be pushed up so that we could disembark. Taking a big breath, and thinking to myself “here we go”; I stepped off the plane with Leah and Ann at my side. Who was not at my side however, was my oldest daughter Amie. She was married with a baby and I missed her.

While struggling with our baggage, we descended to the tarmac. I gasped in response to the heat and humidity. The air was thick with the smells of body odor, urine and feces mixed with colognes and perfumes to create the very distinctive “Haitian smell”.  In addition to the stench of inadequate hygiene, the smell of wood coal used for cooking strange and foreign foods, assaulted my overactive sense of smell. Although being close to a port, there was no ocean breeze to wash away the smothering pillow of air that gave me the sensation that I couldn’t breathe. My body instantly reacted to the heat with what seemed like rivers of water. I was wet with perspiration within 30 seconds. It was such a strange sensation to feel sweat literally dripping down my back. All my worries of showing underarm sweat marks disappeared however, when I realized that everyone else was drenched as well.  

The heat was overwhelming to me. I loved the cold and snow. Coming from snow country, I wasn’t sure how I would handle the heat of Haiti.  

The airport is small in Port-au-Prince with only one airstrip and a beat up dirty airport terminal. My decision to drag my daughters to a dangerous foreign land seemed foolish as I walked down the stairs and across the tarmac. The stares of the unsmiling armed guards seemed to demand silence. They had no kindness in their eyes and no acknowledgment of our arrival. Automatic rifles held in their hands with fingers on the triggers seemed to underscore their unfriendly mood.  

During our silent walk past the guards and across the tarmac, Leah, Ann and I tried to gather strength and courage enough to meet our new challenge. Although we walked in silence, it was anything but quiet. It seemed that every person in the area commenced yelling at each other. The noise level was dramatic. In addition, a great hum of the activities of life came from the streets beyond.  

We made our way through the shimmering heat waves to a dirty, green cement room. Officials waited in booths. We got into a long mass of people that vaguely resembled a line. We were jostled along not really knowing what we were doing. Despite our fears, we kept in mind our purpose and high hopes of helping orphaned children. Lingering in all of our memories were the sweet experiences of working with orphans in Ecuador. We longed to reproduce the feelings of peace that come from serving “the poorest of the poor”. And so, here we were starting a new adventure in the small chaotic airport of Port-au-Prince Haiti.

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