Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day Eleven in Haiti - Jacmel/MINUSTAH base/Santo Domingo/THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!! (1/15/10)

This would have been our last day at Pazapa. As horrific and devastating as this entire earthquake has been and will continue to be, I still can’t help but think of all the students that attended this school. Many had been abandoned and were living in orphanages, but were able to come learn and socialize with their peers three days a week with loving teachers. Though the school didn’t have all the resources that we take for granted in the United States (tons of books, papers, high-priced educational toys, equipment, and even cutesy wall decorations), they had an amazing program. Their teachers were dedicated to their students and were able to teach to their needs, even without sitting through hours of classes to receive training. I love the lesson I observed in the early primary grades where the teacher was working on articulation. Some of the children had difficulty creating a “p” sound, so she crumpled up a piece of paper, put it on the table, and turned it into a game by having each child try to blow the paper to the next one. The children loved doing this and it helped many of them learn how to make the proper lip form in order to produce the “p” sound. There hasn’t been any word as to whether or not the program will rebuild, but I can only hope so. They have blessed the lives of so many children and their families in the past 20-30 years and are helping to change the stigma that follows individuals with special needs here in Haiti. We’re hoping to help raise money when we get back for the school, but it all depends on whether or not they will try to rebuild.

With our recent internet connection, we went to bed much later last night than we had previously. We were so amazed at the overwhelming love and concern that people have expressed for us. We are glad that we can let them know that we are safe! Again, we can’t NOT express our thanks to God for our safety and that we are together. There were so many variables and “coincidences” that we know were taken care of by Him. How do you react to something like that? Why were we SO blessed and safe when so many have lost so much? It’s really hard to hear all of the continued updates because we once again have nothing to complain about in life. We are trying as hard as we can to do all we can to help others, but we are definitely crippled being foreigners and at the UN base.

This morning, at 6:30 AM, George (who is actually Jorge from Mexico City, but he introduced himself as George, so that’s what we’ll keep calling him!) stopped by to take us back to the runway. We actually did a pretty thorough job for working in the dark last night! There is a helicopter coming this morning with medical supplies and to pick up the Danes, so we wanted to clear even more debris so it wouldn’t get kicked up when the chopper landed. There were twelve of us – Adam and I and our Haitian “boy scouts.” We started picking up trash and soon got a lot of spectators. A young boy and girl (probably 11 and 14 or so) came pretty close, whispering and staring at us. I went over, picked up an empty trash bag, handed it to them, said “Merci!” and turned back to work. I heard some giggling, but soon they were helping pick up litter with the rest of us. Adam calls it our “Make Haiti Beautiful Again” campaign. While this country may not have a lot in its favor these days, it has a beautiful runway in Jacmel now! We also started making a large pile with all the rocks that we were finding. As I threw one, it bounced off the pile and chased after two of the boy scouts. They started laughing and I yelled out, “Sorry!” I didn’t know how to say it in Creole, so hopefully they understood. About two minutes later, Adam did the same thing to the same boys….I bet they think we are after them now! When George came to pick us up, we had to really squish in the truck, since the back was now filled with trash, not just people. Adam sat in the front seat and as I was hopping on his lap, I totally whacked George in the face. About two minutes later, we drove over some huge rocks and I conked my head pretty bad on the ceiling. George’s response? “Payback!” We laughed so hard. I continue to be amazed by the good humor and spirits of these workers who have maybe had three hours of sleep in the past three days. We asked Angus if he would sleep at all last night and he said “Not until you lot bugger off!” I love it.

Oh! Good news! We got a message from Rommel, Erick’s brother. Erick and his family were in a part of Port-au-Prince that wasn’t badly affected from the earthquake and they have since left Port-au-Prince and are in Gonaives. Thank you for your prayers! We had heard yesterday night that no one had made any contact with Erick and we immediately began calling his phone through cell phones and Skype, but had no luck. It is so good to know that there are people that are safe. Especially in Port-au-Prince.

We’ve started catching up on and it is just horrific to watch. We were just there. We have pictures of all these places that are now demolished. It is unreal. It’s all just too much. We’re here and doing alright and after seeing the news we are reminded how blessed we are. Adam wants so much to run out and fix all the problems in Haiti, but that’s not possible. There’s just so much to be done and not near enough resources to fix the problem. Before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the western hemisphere. After the earthquake, they are still the poorest in the western hemisphere and now even more discouraged and disheartened by the earthquake. Small efforts by people like Marika at Pazapa and countless other organizations across Haiti have come to a screeching halt. The slogan on the Haitian flag says “L’Union Fait La Force”, which roughly translates to “Working together makes us strong”. A popular Haitian proverb says, “Men anpil fe chay pa lou”, meaning “Many hands make the weight less heavy”. It is this slogan and proverb that gives me hope for the people of Haiti. Haitians and foreigners alike have to work together to help Haiti. There is so much work to be done and the more motivated people with resources that can help, the better. I just pray that the people organizing and distributing the relief, in whatever form, can do so speedily and with care.

The helicopter landed, bringing much needed medical supplies, as well as a (another) Danish journalist. We were so excited for our friends who would finally get to go home after losing everything they have here. We were about to call Adam’s dad on Skype when they came in and asked if we were packed. We said that we had everything all together and they told us to get our stuff ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Now, we didn’t want to get our hopes up, but we had hoped that if there were a couple extra spots they would take us with them to Santo Domingo. When the pilot came back, they told us we were leaving and NOW! We had enough time to send a quick email to our parents and off we went! As we were leaving, the Danes told us there were only three spots on the helicopter, so they wanted Adam, me, and our luggage, to take the helicopter. Keep in mind that they had been trying to arrange this helicopter since the night we got here, are paying for it with their own money (at least $7,200 USD, if not more), and have families back home that are worried about them as well! But, they insisted that we board and we had a very tearful goodbye. We love them and are so grateful for all they did for us while we were together at the MINUSTAH camp and are overwhelmed by their love, concern, and generosity in trying to help these two American kids get home. We will never forget them and just hope to be able to help others as they helped us.

SO! At 10:30 AM, we got on a helicopter and left Jacmel! It was such a surreal experience. It was bittersweet to leave, mainly because we were the first to get a chance to go home. As we were leaving, Angus (the Scottish director of security) kissed me on the cheek and told us Angus would make a great name for our baby. We cannot express how much we love all the people at that base! They have been amazing in their untiring work to help the Haitian people, as well as care about the few refugees they had around the camp.

The helicopter ride was very short, but very significant. It’s only about 30 miles from Jacmel to Port-au-Prince as the crow flies. We had to stop in Port-au-Prince first to get more fuel before heading to Santo Domingo. It was just so crazy seeing things from a bird’s eye view. As we flew into the Port-au-Prince we immediately started seeing flattened homes and other buildings all over the place. We could see entire hillside neighborhoods toppled over on top of each other and brightly colored refugee camps dotting the city. I noticed that the earthquake did as much damage to the rich as it did to the poor. Actually, from what we could see, Cite Soleil looked like it fared pretty well considering everything is on one level and made of wood or aluminum. Huge mansions as well as small homes were equally devastated by the quake. I can only imagine the thousands of people below us grieving and/or searching for their friends and family. We arrived at the airport and landed in the grass near the runway. Military planes, commercial planes, helicopters, and small planes were darting across the tarmac getting fuel, dropping off aid, journalists, passengers, and heavy machinery. It really was a sight to see. Our pilot, Felipe, landed the helicopter, arranged for more fuel, and took off without any communication with the tower. They were too busy directing the larger planes and incoming Military planes. Felipe was a very jovial character who spoke very good English and liked to joke around with us. He was very nice and refused to let Karen carry any of the bags because she was pregnant. He even tried to keep her from carrying a water bottle for fear that it was too heavy.

After leaving Port-au-Prince, we headed towards the Dominican Republic. We passed over the border and the transition was almost immediate. We started seeing well-paved roads, organized neighborhoods that looked well constructed, and small trees all over the beautiful mountains. We stopped at another small airport in Barahona, Dominican Republic to get the last bit of fuel before landing in Santo Domingo. We changed to an air-conditioned helicopter and headed across the beautiful ocean and high mountains. We never got the name of our pilot because he didn’t really talk to us, but played the radio for us instead. We landed at La Isabela International Airport and walked into the office just off the tarmac. We had no idea what to do when we got there but they directed Karen to a computer and I went with our new friend Peter to get some juice and bread for us to eat. Everywhere we were walking we saw televisions with news reports of the earthquake in Haiti and I wanted to get as much information as possible. Karen found a plane that would land in Fort Lauderdale through jetBlue, but we were at the wrong airport. We landed at a small private plane and helicopter airport and needed to get to Las Americas International airport to board our plane. Peter took us through immigration and hailed a cab for us and explained to the driver that we would need to get there as soon as possible to catch our flight. The drive through Santo Domingo was very interesting. We saw a very well developed infrastructure with well built and maintained highways, bridges, a commuter train system, and even countdown timers for the full duration of some of the traffic lights at busier intersections. I’m so happy to see so much development in the Caribbean. The sad part was, why weren’t we seeing these same things in Haiti? Haiti was established long before the Dominican Republic was and has many of the same resources, if not more. The misuse of resources and a track record of corrupt government has really crippled Haiti’s potential. Long before this earthquake, Haiti has had problems. Hopefully, with international attention on Haiti, some of the problems can start being addressed and resolved. It will probably take a few generations to reach where Santo Domingo is now, but I really think it can happen.

We made it to the airport, paid our driver ($50 USD, but who cares – we are on our way home! He also had to drive across town for 45 minutes, so it’s pretty reasonable), checked-in, went through security and immigration, and bought a real sandwich – ham and cheese. It was delicious. Even though it really was just bread, ham, and cheese, we enjoyed every bite, texture, and flavor. Being here at the airport has been a stark dose of reality. We are still incredibly nasty, dirty, smelly, and tired. Everyone around us is clean and polished. It is a strange feeling. Seven hours ago, people in the same conditions surrounded us. We had been through a common, traumatic experience. And now, we are coming home to a place where people are experiencing this earthquake in a very different, removed way. We are amazed at all the aid that has already been promised to Haiti and especially touched by the texting donations. People are genuinely good. They genuinely care. Here we are in America in the middle of our own financial crisis, but everyday people are doing what they can to help a country that most have no connection to. It is truly a miracle.

When we got on our flight, we were on the very last row in the last two seats. Once again, God is good! How else would we have been able to buy plane tickets for an international flight two hours before it took off for less than $200 each?! And with just enough room for us?! We really are amazed at how blessed we have been and continue to be. It is ridiculous (in a very good way)! Adam spoke with all the Haitians on our flight and it was good to connect with people who were going through similar situations. Our flight was about two hours and we enjoyed getting juice, nuts, and cookies! Our plane took off a lot later than expected, so we didn’t get to Ft. Lauderdale until 9 PM or so. We went through immigration and customs, got our bags, called our families, and made it to the hotel that Adam’s sister and brother-in-law arranged for us. We can’t describe what it feels like to be back home in America.

We ordered a pizza (we’d been craving it since we found out that Wednesdays are pizza nights at Guy’s Guesthouse in Jacmel, but sadly, that clearly didn’t happen) and took glorious showers. We decided not to use anything in our backpacks, so we felt like royalty with the little hotel soaps, shampoos, and conditioner. It was an amazing feel to be clean, step out of the shower, and then stay clean. We didn’t have to immediately put our socks and shoes back on, slather ourselves with sunscreen, or spray insect repellent all over our nice clean skin. While I was taking my long shower, the lights went out. My first thought was that the generator had gone out and we would just have to wait a while. I called for Adam, but he came in, waved his hand over the light switch and it came back on. Motion detectors. It will really take a while to get used to America again! Adam pointed out that when we were driving in the shuttle to the hotel, neither of us put our seatbelts on. Probably because when we were in Haiti, there were NEVER seatbelts in any of the vehicles we rode in. We’ll get there.

We tried changing our Monday flight to Kansas City to tomorrow, but we would have to pay $700 more. Umm…we can’t do that. So, instead, we will stay here at the hotel and unwind for a few days. We’ll do our laundry (in a washer and dryer! NOT a hotel sink with unclean water and then hung across the room!) and sleep. A lot. We’re hoping to go to church here at the Haitian branch where Adam served as a missionary. I think that they will be beneficial for both of us, especially after last Sunday and the subsequent week. We look forward to coming home and seeing everyone, but we are not looking forward to jumping into normal. It will take us a while to process everything we’ve been through and so far, when we’ve talked to people at the airport or the hotel, it’s just not the same. So please, talk to us about normal stuff as well as Haiti. We need normal. But continue your prayers and aid to Haiti. They will need it long after the media attention dies down.


Sarah Wilkes said...

Amazing...AMAZING!!! So glad you guys are home safe in the U.S. Bless those dear Danes. Hope they make it back soon as well, and enjoy your stay in Florida! :)

Becky Clinton said...

Karen and Adam - Thanks for this. I cant remember when I've been more affected by a story/adventure/event - call it what you will. It's amazing. We are glad you are safe AND SOUND. Bless you and Haiti.

Kristen and all the "Foxes" said...

Amazing!!!! I will have to second Becky's comment. I have not been affected more by a experience in real life than this!!!! I cannot tell you how greatful i feel for all the wonderful people to were sent most undenyably by the Lord to save you! Literally angels amoung you! When mom told me of the indescribable kindness those danes showed to you as they sent you on THEIR helicopter the flood gates opened and ever since i have had a leaky faucet!!! I am so happy! I am so greatful! I love you and can't wait to hug both of you...and that little Buhler baby! i love you!!!

Al said...

dude, what a great adventure! So glad you are safe!

Ashley said...

Clearly, the decision to keep a very detailed account of your travels to Haiti was an inspired one. My heart has been so touched to follow along with your of many, I'm sure. We're all SO relieved that you are safe and back on American soil. Thank you sososososoSOSOSO much for sharing all of this with us. You two are pretty awesome people, y'know?

PS>> Karen, you're pregnant?! Congratulations!!

Erin said...

O.K. I cried reading this post. The kindness and generosity of people in a tragic time....people who barely know one another is absolutely amazing. I am so glad that you are back in the US, getting the rest and nutrition that you need. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the people of Haiti. Enjoy your resting time.

Donita Bouton said...

It is evident that Heavenly Father had his hand in all that transpired in Haiti. You have reflected God's glory and I don't believe that your help to the Haitians is over - just your position on the globe! You will be able to help them in ways that are unique because of your experience throught the earth quake and before. God Bless you and your "growing" family.
Sister Donita Bouton

Miss Wright said...

I am so glad to hear you guys are back in the U.S. again! Karen, I was wondering if you were scheduled to take any licensure exams today? Did you get that all worked out? Do you need me to relay any messages to anyone at the School of Ed.?

Emily said...

I'll be honest, I cried throughout this whole post. No one can deny that the Lord's hand was at play this whole time. I'm blown away by the generosity of those that were around you and pray that they are able to return home soon. It's a very strange, surreal feeling to read your accounts, to know that you've been through all of this. God must have some pretty amazing things in store for the two of you. And I know he will provide you with a way to never forget what you've experience but to also find a way back to normalcy here in the States. Love you and hope to see you soon :)

Julie said...

Amazing, Karen and Adam! I was so relieved to hear that you are safe. I have friends from my hometown (Findlay Ohio) who have been involved in Haiti for years as Christian missionaries. The last name is Snyder. A few years ago Phil Snyder was kidnapped and held for ransom. Wondering if by any chance Snyders were some of the Americans you met.

disillusioned said...

WOW---is all I can say!!!

And I pray that you'll be able to get through it all with the Spirit at your side....cause you're is different being removed.

So glad you're in the U.S.!


i like whispering too said...

I started getting teary-eyed while reading this. Thanks for sharing your story, your hope, and your knowledge of the conditions in Haiti. I'm so glad you're safe.

Alisa and Jared said...

Look at the readership in your blog just SOARING (most people don't even comment!)! You should put this tracker on your blog, so you can see where your readers are coming from :

What an amazing experience that you will remember forever, and it will certainly shape your future, as well. Just the right people-in the right place-at the right time (you wouldn't call it the opposite, would you?!) Thanks for sharing it with the world!! Congrats on the pregnancy, and best of luck!! (from a Saville!)

Lieke said...

Adam and Karen - the details of your journey have surmounted to an indescribable impact on the lives of those around you. We are all thrilled beyond belief to know you have made it safely to where you are today through the chaos of these past few days.

Liz in the Mist said...

I found this blog through Alisa's blog (I went to THS), thank you for sharing your story. This is something so devastating, and I will pray for the 2 of you, as well as the many many many that have been affected.