For the last couple of weeks, my friend has been in Haiti. Seeing her pictures and posts brings back a lot of memories of the time I spent there two summers ago. And while there are numerous stories I could dive into, my journey to and from is the one that’s been on my mind.
We left on a Sunday afternoon and began the five hour drive to Detroit. Once in Detroit at the hotel, a friend came and picked up our vehicle so we wouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg to park it for two weeks. We ate dinner and settled in for the night, trying to get some sleep before our early morning flight. It was incredibly hard to fall asleep that night but finally, around midnight, sleep came. It felt like the moment I closed my eyes, the phone was ringing to wake us up. I took an extra-long shower, knowing it was likely the last hot shower I would get for a few weeks.
I start looking through my luggage double checking for everything. I have my money, my camera... where is my passport. I tell myself not to panic. Keep looking. You will find it!
I can’t find it.
Begrudgingly, I let my travel comapnion know. A cross between annoyed and worried washes over her face. We both tear into my luggage looking for the passport
We need to catch the shuttle so on a wing and a prayer, we leave all the while frantically calling our friend that picked up the van the night previous.
Of course there’s no answer. It’s four in the morning. We get to the airport, print off our boarding passes, talk to the front desk, and find out the latest I can board is five. The entire time we are still desperately calling our friend. It becomes a waiting game and desperate plea to God for help. All the while we plan what we will do if I don’t get the passport.
We packed our personnel belongings in a carry-on bag, which for my traveling companion is a piece of cake. But for ME to pack two weeks worth of clothing and assorted items in a carry-on is the accomplishment of a lifetime. I want it engraved on my tombstone.
But I say this to point out that each of us is allowed one checked bag. And between them we have divided the VBS (vacation Bible school) supplies for the kids.
We are both sitting, waiting impatiently. Finally my companion turns to me and says, "You have VBS supplies I might need if you don’t make it." I’m thinking "what do you mean 'if I don’t make it?'"
So there we sit in the airport, again tearing apart the luggage and reassigning items to the checked bags. She is trying to decided what she would definitely need and what she could do without.
Her phone rings. He has found my passport in the van and is bringing it to us!
He is 15 minutes out.
Where in the world is he?!
Her phone rings. I hear an exchange of stressed voices and she is saying, "We are at the airport, not the hotel!" My heart sinks into my stomach. I realized there was no way.
She tells me, "I have to go or I am going to miss the flight." And just like that she’s gone. I sat there for a minute staring after her. Honestly, a little shocked, thinking "I really missed my flight, and "Oh crap, I REALLY MISSED MY FLIGHT." After it officially sunk in, the flood gates opened.
I am a blubbering baby feeling sorry for myself.
I gain control of myself enough to call my mom. In between sobs I tell her I want to go home.
And like any great mom would do she sweetly tells me "Suck it up, buttercup." So I get off the phone, regain my composure, and head up to the desk.
From there I learn there is not an open flight to Haiti for another two days.
So, two hundred dollars later, I head out to the shuttle area and try to catch a ride back to the hotel. After two hours of me standing leaning on my luggage I am finally on my way back to the hotel.
At the front desk, they tell me check-in isn't until 11:00am. I stand there, eyes glazed, physically and emotionally spent. Desperately, I ask them " can I just have the room I stayed in last night?" and they say they can do that. Thank God.
I pass out for the next 6 hours.
For the next two days I lived in that hotel room, sustaining myself with take-out, vending machine food, and more cable television that I care to admit to.
And like deja vu, once again I am getting up at three in the morning to shower, pack, catch the shuttle, print off my boarding pass, and go through security. All the while I'm clutching my passport like it’s a loose appendage.
Then I wait. And wait. And board the plane. Not until after take-off am I able to relax. We land in Miami a couple hours later. If you have ever been to Miami airport, you would agree with me when I say it is massive. Eight miles in length, over two hundred gates, and over 50 cultures colliding. I find my gate and settle in for a six hour layover. The whole time I beg my body to sleep but find it near impossible.
An hour before I board, I double-triple-quadruple check that I am at the right gate, check for my money, passport, and ticket. Good to go. Thirty minutes until I board. I look around and see no Haitians. I’ll give it ten more minutes. Ten minutes goes by- still no Haitians. Oh! No! It dawns on me. Did they change the gate? I get up and look at the four screens and find my flight. They did! And I have less than fifteen minutes to make it across the airport. So like the scene from home alone, I sprint, dragging my carry-on behind me. Praying to God. I finally make it to the gate. I'm greeted by a sea of Haitians in bright whites and colorful hats. Relief washes over me. I call my parents one last time and board the plane. Huddling in my seat, I watching Haitians shove everything they can into the overhead bins.
We land in Haiti and I step into the hot airport. I go through two security check points, customs, and finally make it to the baggage claim where I am bombarded with Haitians offering to find my luggage. All the while I am looking for a man with a sign that has my name on it. Twenty dollars later, I find a man with a very small piece of cardboard that has my name on it and he helps me find my luggage. Walking out into the 100-something degree weather to the vehicles, I am so relieved to see Zizi. Zizi, as a child, was taken in by Connie, the lady that runs the orphanage we stay at. We load up the luggage. I ride in the front with Zizi while a few friends are in the back, and we begin the insane drive through Port Au Prince. I can’t begin to explain to you what it is like to drive in Port. At times a truck and two road bikes will share the same lane with no stop lights, no signal, and no speed limits. Just hundreds of drivers honking their horns and somehow communicating. About 4 hours later and a sketchy 2 hour nap, we finally make it to the cute village of Petit Guave. It was so… hot. I took a bucket shower and fell into a deep sleep. My last thought as I drifted off was that my life truly was in God’s hands. I had no way to contact home. Anything could happen.
The next morning I ate a Haitian breakfast feast and we jumped in the Ranger. It took us 1 ½ hours to drive up the mountain. And at last! there was the orphanage. If I ever call any place home in Haiti, it will always be the orphanage.
Well, that is the end of my story. I did have a much smoother trip home, beside the three hours it took to get through customs, and the drunk that got hauled off yelling "the whole government is one big conspiracy." I grew as a person on that trip. It amazes me how much growing you can do in a few days. And looking back I can say I honestly appreciated the experience, good and bad.