Written on July 9, 2018
We load the bus at 5am and set off on our journey. It feels amazing outside. The absence of heat is mystic and lovely. The moon and stars are still out. There is a peace in the air despite what’s happening and my vague idea that the plan to leave today is going to fail in some way.
It feels menacing to be off campus. It’s dark out, but light enough to see burn marks on the road from tires being set on fire during the protests. We drive for about 40 minutes up this carved out mountain with no trouble. At the top, a line of stacked rocks sits in the road. They’re probably only built up a foot or so, but it’s tall enough to hinder the bus from crossing.
Our driver, Clarice, gets out of the bus to consult Pastor, who is driving in his personal truck behind us, on what we should do. They both walk over to some men near the rocks and begin negotiating with them. No one in this area is giving off a violent vibe. It’s just that the roads are blocked. The men communicate with Pastor and Clarice that they would move the rocks and let us pass (for a price), but there was a tree blocking our way up the road as well as some men who probably wouldn’t be willing to negotiate, who have been said to throw rocks at upcoming vehicles.
We turn around. None of us know what’s going on.
The sun is coming up as we drive down the mountain. The view is astonishing. The entire sky is peach colored. We’re driving through a pink and yellow haze of heat coming down from our previous elevation. We still don’t know what’s happening as we pull onto the road that leads us back to campus. No one tells us what to do. We keep our suitcases packed in the bus. A few people in our group go sit in the common area, I sit with a few on benches under trees close to the bunk houses.
Back on campus, under WiFi, we have some time to see the news articles being released about other missions teams being “stranded” in the area and an article in our own local paper about the 11 of us from Seymour being stuck down here. It’s making Haiti sound terrible, and that brings me to tears as I think back on the lives that have touched mine this week. In my frustratin with the news, I realize I haven’t opened my Bible once this week. I dig it out of my backpack, and randomly turn to Acts. Well, I say “random”, but I have the belief that God leads us to specific passages that we need to read on certain days. He definteily did that with me again today. In Acts 28, Paul and other prisoners are at sea during a storm. Their ship ends up getting destroyed, and everyone aboard the boat washes ashore this island, which totally sounds tragic. But Paul writes, “The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built us a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” That verse gave me chills. I wish the people back home could see how kind the people here are being towards us.
Despite my comfort found in the scriptures, I still want surety more than anything. I want a gameplan that we know will work.
After about an hour of lounging and reading, we hear an ambulance siren. Then we see an ambulance round the corner towards us. Pastor Pierre gets out of the passenger seat and explains our latest escape plan: there was this old ambulance broken down in the mechanic’s garage here on campus. One of the mechanics was able to get it running. In order to get past any potential protestors or barricades that are still in Port-Au-Prince, we’re all going to pile in the back of this ambulance and turn the sirens on as we drive though the city to get to the airport. Once we get to the airport, we will get the soonest available tickets back home. Even if there aren’t any tickets until tomorrow, Pastor believes it will be safest for us to stay the night at the airport versus trying to get back to campus again.
He doesn’t give us any time to think after he makes this announcement; there’s no time to even go to the bathroom. We’re unloading our suitcases from the bus and into the ambulance quickly. I’m absolutely panicking on the inside, but everyone else is acting cool. Although nearly all the protests have subsided, knowing that Pastor thinks the best way to get us through the city is by being smuggled in the back of an ambulance is just a scary thought to me.
Inside the ambulance, there’s some room to sit or the option to stand and hold a handle. Martha suggests I sit down because she can see the anxiety on my face, but I think that standing and focusing on my balance will keep my brain busy so that’s what I choose to do.
We don’t see any horrific sights or fires or baseball bats, but we do see the leftover fire pits and garbage on the road. While there weren’t any violent looking people in the places we were driving through, I could feel the darkness in the area that had been there only hours before. I think that’s why I’m in the minority of thinking we’re not ok; I can feel the things that not one else can see. A few local men from the village ride in the ambulance with us. They stand by the doors. In an unspoken way, they are guarding us, as well as keeping our faces from showing out the windows.
We get out of the ambulance at the airport and it’s like we’re watching a news report of some chaotic scene in a foreign country where things aren’t ran in a functional or effective way. Actually, that’s exactly what’s happening. Several news reporters and cameras are near us. I hear someone say that the US Marines are on their way.
There are so many people. So many nervous, determined people. We’re all smashed against each other. It’s impossible to move through this crowd, especially with our luggage. An employee at the airport leads us slowly into the building and assures us we’re in the correct line for American Airline ticket switches.
I have no thoughts standing in this mass of people which is supposedly a line. I’m hearing other groups of people report that all flights for today are completely booked. I hear that most flights for tomorrow are full, and there’s no way an entire mission team will get booked on the same flight.
During our time in the “line”, several men dressed in what looks to be an official uniform approach us and others at different times and request to see our passparts. They attempt to communicate that they can take our passports with them and somehow magically return with tickets that will allow us to leave today. Thank goodness for the Holy Spirit, or perhaps, simply wisdom (likely a mixture of both) that no one in our group fell for this trap.
For an hour, the mass of people doesn’t move. We start questioning whether or not we’re in the correct line because we can see the American Airlines desk in the opposite direction of which we’re heading. After asking some questions to the people in surrounding lines, we learn that we are, in fact, in the wrong one. So, we switch to the correct one and start moving little by little.
I’m starving. It’s 11:00am. I’ve been up since 4am with only a piece of bread in my stomach. There’s a small restaurant in the back of the airport. It’s not much more than a hot dog stand. I probably haven’t had a hot dog in two years, but it sounds like a precious delicacy right now. I order one with everything on it.
I don’t even know what time it is when we reach the ticket counter. I have our original plane ticket confirmation numbers on my phone, so that puts me at the front of our group as the spokesperson.
It might just be Haitian culture, but the workers are not in a rush or worried about any of us at all. They speak in quiet tones and continue to multitask, weighing other people’s bags at the same time we are stressing and trying to leave the country. The man handling our specific counter casually says, “Only one seat left today, only one.” He gives no other details. I’m reminded of my readings in Acts, when Paul and the other prisoners get shipwrecked. As the ship is going down, Paul advises the men to jump off the ship, squeeze onto the lifeboats, swim, float on planks, whatever they can do to reach the island. They split up, but they all end up safe.
My instinct is to shout towards our group, “One seat! One person! Plane takes off in an hour, think quickly!” One girl in our group has a baby at home, and doesn’t mind traveling alone.
After they take her baggage and despense her ticket, I ask how many can fit on the flight leaving after that. The man who was “helping” us quietly says, “Oh, no, all full. All flights full.” And continues placing luggage tags on someone else’s bag. Martha and I look at each other, completely bewildered at this encounter. It’s like he doesn’t even see the mob of people packed in this tiny area. “Ok…so…can we look at flights that depart in the morning?” I ask. “Morning, yes. Split up.” He answers. I’m totally fine with that idea. I don’t understand why he’s not moving to get those tickets more quickly.
He speaks in Creole to the woman next to him and she takes the paper I had with our confirmation numbers on it. She says, “No flights in the morning.” With no follow-up afterwards. It’s like they’re expecting us to be satisfied with not being able to get a flight out of here, ever. They aren’t looking for a solution, it’s maddening. Another girl in our group approaches the counter and says, “Spirit Airlines has 10 tickets to Ft. Lauderdale for $295 leaving in an hour and a half. We could figure out the rest of the route once we’re there.”
I’ve never been one to make a quick decision on the spot. I’m a researcher, a thinker, a true problem solver. I like that this idea gets us out of the country in an hour and a half, but I’ve flown Spirit before; they don’t check luggage. We all have luggage to check. Some of our bags could be considered carry-on size, but even those we’d have to pay a decent fee to take. That elevates our ticket price and causes us to have to trash more than ¾ of our belongings, and this plan doesn’t even get us all of the way home. I’m a feelings person, and it doesn’t feel right.
I don’t know how to convince my group that not leaving today is the good idea, so I say nothing. We leave the American Airlines desk, after waiting in their line for nearly three hours, and walk over to the open Spirit Airlines counter. The man reconfirms that we would all be able to leave at 2:30pm today, and that we would have to abandon all of our bags larger than the size of a carry-on. Apparently, no one in our group is gifted in the decision making ability department. We walk away from the desk and think slowly to ourselves.
We stand in an exhausted haze for about ten minutes, paralyzed really.
Martha pulls me down to her level and whispers in my ear, “You and me, let’s get out of here.” I don’t know what to say. I’m not trying to be materialistic, but I brought things that I need to take home with me. I don’t want to abandon so much at this airport.
In Acts, Paul and the others on the ship threw all their belonging off the boat to survive, even their food. I want to follow his faith-led example. I start going through my bags and try to decide what I really need to take home.
After I, and most of the others in our group, make a trash pile of half-used bathroom products and pajamas, I see my watch and realize we’ve wasted so much time that this plane we’re theorhetically leaving on boards in 30 minutes. The customs and security line is a mile long, maybe literally. There’s no way we will make it to our gate in time. I tell my thought to Martha and she confirms this suspicion by asking the Spirit Airlines desk attendant.
We sit defeated on the floor of the Port Au Prince airport. This is not like a comfortable American airport. We’re in a cramped corner with other delayed travelerss being stepped over by people in line for tickets due to the narrow walkways. I can hardly keep my eyes open; I can’t come up with a new plan.
Papa Rans texts me that the earliest available flights he could get from his side were for Thursday morning and afternoon. I can’t even reply to that message. How are we supposed to stay here in this scene for three nights?
Coach calls Pastor and Adam and makes them aware of our current situation. I’m sitting on the tiled ground. Martha lays her suitcase down next to me and sits on it. We’re all at our breaking points. Actually, we reached those points several days ago. I bring my knees to my chest and burry my face in them. I lean over and let my shoulders rest on Martha. She’s glazed and looking straight at the ground. She puts her head on top of mine. My mind goes blank.
I have no idea how long we all sat there before we hear Adam’s voice above us, “Hey guys, let’s go home.” I’m elated to see that we’re being rescued. It lifts my spirits to hear him refer to the mission campus as our home. It’s funny, because when he said the word “home”, I pictured my terrible little blue cot in that inhumanly hot bunkhouse.
We’re slap happy on the bus. Everything is funny. We eat peanut butter sandwiches and make jokes about the idea of never returning to Indiana.
That night, after we’ve all napped and allowed the sun to go down, our team meets on the roof. We all acknowledge that God wants us to be here. That much is abundantly clear. Our time here is not over, so we agree to continue assisting at the English camp for however much longer we are here.
I feel peaceful. My energy levels and sense of purpose have been renewed. Of course, I want to go home, but I have a surreal feeling of being chosen by God for this exciting adventure that very few people would ever get the opportunity to accept.
One of us plays some worship music on a cellphone and we take turns praying. I lay back on the roof and stare up at the sky. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars at once. I could look at them all night. I wonder if God kept me here just so I could see this picture and appreciate His glory and rest in His perfect plan. I decide to be perfectly happy if that’s the case.
Liv – Authentically