Day 1 and 2: Saying good bye to the kids is always the hardest part.
My amazing sister helped me drag all the luggage to the meeting spot for our group. This trip I am accompanied by an eclectic and amazing group of women. Two women from my daughters school, Carol and Sonya. A certified nurse-midwife named Kimberly who attends home birth in Phoenix. Fatima who is a doula and midwife student and her friend Chartrese. Loaded with 750 pounds of supplies we got our luggage all checked in and headed to our gate for our 1:20 flight to Miami.
After getting some food and waiting to board we began to notice something was not right. Our plane was there but we were not boarding. Eventually the announcement came. A bird had hit the wing and caused a dent that needed to be assessed to determine if the plane would be flight worthy. Hours began to pass. We might have had a few cocktails to survive. We attempted to redirect but the red-eyes were sold out. They tried to "steal a plane from New York. No such luck. Finally the pilot came on the PA to tell us they were going to attempt to repair the plane with epoxy and duct tape. Seriously. Duct tape. He actually said at one point "I'm not an expert but I think it will work. I flown planes with bigger dents than this one"! As if that was supposed to be reassuring. We finally boarded the plane about 5 pm. Then we sat. And sat. And sat.
The next announcement came overhead that the dent was bigger than they thought and they needed a mother layer of epoxy and more duct tape. We sat so long they had to serve us drinks and snacks in accordance with the passenger bill of rights. I kept thinking thank god I didn't have my kids with me. We finally got the all clear and took off about 8 pm.
We arrived in Miami and had to get our mountain of luggage, get on a shuttle and check into our hotel. It was 3:30am in Miami before we were in our rooms. We were supposed to be on a 9:20am flight to Port au Prince, which would have meant a 7am wake up to get back to the airport at 7:20. I called American airlines at 4am and was able to switch our flight to the 12:20 flight. It was the best 5 hours of sleep I had had in a long time.
Our group met in the lobby at 10am and we loaded all 14 huge suitcases plus our carry ons back into the shuttle and returned to the Miami airport. Miami is a very busy international hub and navigating with all our bags and security was no small feat. We were barely able to order food to go and hop on the flight.
One of my favorite parts of traveling is meeting people and hearing their stories. It is not that I don't enjoy my everyday life and visiting with the people whose paths I cross but somehow people's global perspectives always makes me feel more connected to the human race. I feel so humbled by the shear luck of being born into the life I have. I am reminded of the very real concept that I could have been born anywhere. Even Haiti. How different my life and family would be. The basic needs and health I take for granted everyday.
Sonya and I were lucky enough to sit next to a man who was born and raised in Port au Prince. He has living in Brooklyn for 35 years and was coming to visit friends. He was so warm and friendly. He invited us to meet him in Jacmel for a concert Friday night. With the power of Facebook you never know. He had two sons, one living in Haiti and one in Italy. He worked for the Fair Housing Administration in NYC. He was very appreciative of the work we were doing. He offered to have his friend who was an official get us out the back door of the airport without messing with customs but when he realized we were a group of six with 14 bags he bid us farewell.
We headed down to baggage claim and loaded up our luggage on multiple carts. Men are always trying to "help" you tom get tips. We just moved past them all and got to customs. They customs department got new scanners since I was here last. We were all tired and grumpy and then all hell broke loose. They starting going through our bags. Because we had so many supplies and in particular about 100 children's shoes for the school, they decided we were trying to sell them and they were trying to charge us a tax. About an hour later involving supervisors, midwives for Haiti Hellers and the police we were finally able to leave with all our belongings. I only had to bribe one supervisor $20.
Then out to the wild pothole filled parking lot to find Ronell our driver and the Land Cruiser. It took quite a while for the guys to load the suitcases and tie them down on the vehicle. But I didn't mind because I got to spend time visiting with Benji and her son Benjamin. Last year when we tragically had a mother die from childbirth complications this sweet baby boy had no one to care for him. The father had six other children to feed, which they were already malnourished and with his wife dead there was no breast milk to feed the baby. We cared for the baby while we were here but then Benji, one of our translators said she would adopt him. The father agreed and papers were signed. And now here we were one year later snuggling with this amazing little boy.
He is already standing and smiling with his two little teeth. He is so bonded to his forever momma Benji and clearly to his auntie who was there too. I can't describe how wonderful it was to see this little boy thrive. My heart expanded. I wish every orphaned babe could know a mother's love.
We began our 3 and a half hour drive to Hinche. Port au Prince is always busy and dirty. There have been protest on Mondays for a few weeks because the price of gas has been going crazy. The impact of gas prices for people who live on 2 dollars a day is unfathomable. We began to wind up into the mountains beyond mountains.
The drive was long and hot and dusty. We stopped once to stretch our legs and potty on the side of the road if needed. Everything looked about the same from last year. Port au Prince was crowded and dirty. Trash littered the sides of the roads. The one traffic light in the whole city was not even running. I did not see any new building or much in the way of repair but the tent cities are gone from the major roadways. The large development project from Sean Penn's project is occupied. The house are painted brightly and each unit has a rooftop cistern for water collection.
We drove through countless villages. Drove past the large hydroelectric dam and subsequent lake. The houses precariously sit on the sides of the cliffs and of simple materials. The piece that moves me every time is the children walking to and from the water wells with their heavy jugs of water. Everywhere you go it is obvious that a woman's work is never done. The rivers are filled with people bathing, washing laundry, washing vehicles and motorcycles.
We eventually arrived in Hinche at the Midwives for Haiti house. We were warmly greeted by the volunteer coordinator Camille. Camille is a young woman here for four months. Emily is still here overseeing the program and another young woman named Leona who is here for a year. These young women bring so much life and energy to the house. It is so impressive to have 21-22 year old young women out in the world, leaving all the comforts of the US to make the world a better place. It sounds cliche but it fits.
We all found our beds, had a meal and toured the house. We reviewed the schedule for the week which will keep us all busy. There are two young women from North Carolina who are L&D nurses here with us as well as a midwife named Pippa from New Zealand who is here for a month. It is fun to hear people's stories. In these setting it feels as if you bond with people more in an evening than possible in a year of your everyday "busy" life. I am grateful for the time and connections to these women.
I was able to FaceTime with the kids and give them kisses. A little Ambien and I'm off to bed.