Hello from Haiti March 2009
Wednesday March 11, 2009. After a 2 hour nap, I am awake and anxious to start blogging.
I need to start yesterday on the way to the Greater Peoria airport. Normally I drive a car out to the airport and leave it because when I return to Peoria from Haiti it is often very late at night and I hate to have anyone sit out there to bring me to my home. One of our cars chose not to cooperate with me and the inside driver’s door handle broke so it went into the shop on Monday and was not repaired by the time I needed to leave on Tuesday. My patient and loving wife, Donna, drove me to the airport. However, we had to make two stops along the way. I had a bank deposit for FOTCOH to drop off and some plastic totes from Alwan Pharmacy to return along the way. We were about to pull into the bank drive-up window when my cell phone rang. It was an automated call from American Airlines telling me that my flight from Peoria to Dallas-Forth Worth had been canceled and that I was to call the 800 number to rebook the flight. So I called American Airlines from the bank parking lot and the agent told me that the flight was still on. What a strange beginning of a Haiti trip, I thought. When we arrived at the airport we found that is under construction so I parked near the arrivals area on the lower level, and in the rain, dragged the two 50 lb bags of medications, food and supplies along with my carry-on bag and my brief case into the lower level of the terminal. Donna parked the car and helped me drag the bags to the American Airlines ticket counter. I was expecting that my flight would be cancelled and I was mentally trying to figure out how I would get to Fort Lauderdale by early Wednesday morning to make my connecting flight to Port-Au-Prince. The ticket agent assured me that the flight was still going out and that the airplane was inbound from DFW and about to land in Peoria. So, without weighing my two bags, she checked me in and handed the bags over to the TSA agent for security check. Darn, I could have maybe packed 55 lbs in stead of 50 lbs in each bag. Donna agreed to sit with me for awhile as the security checkpoint was closed. As we sat there, a large number of people passed by and all headed for the airport snack bar. Wow, I thought, that is unusual for that many people to get off a plane and head for the snack bar instead of their cars. I learned form overhearing on of the flight attendants very loud cell phone conversation that the plane had been bound for Cedar Rapids, Iowa and had to divert to Peoria due to bad weather in Cedar Rapids. Here was another strange occurrence which made me wonder what was in store for me that day. The checkpoint opened after awhile I kissed Donna goodbye and proceeded to the gate area. Our flight came in on time and we left Peoria right on time. The flight to Dallas was smooth and a tail wind got us into DFW early. We landed at the A terminal and my flight left from the C terminal. The Sky Rail system made it easy to move from place to place so I found a food court and ate a wrap sandwich for a quick supper. The plane to Fort Lauderdale left on time and I was seated in the middle of the plane. Most of the surrounding passengers were headed to Fort Lauderdale to get on a cruise ship except the lady in front of me with two small children. One of the children was a baby girl of about two and the second was another girl about 5 years old. The mother was busy with the smaller child so the older girl and I played a peek-a-boo game all the way to DFW. It made this Grandpa happy and kept the child laughing and giggling all the way there.
American Airlines had checked my two bags all the way to Haiti so when I got off the plane I headed for the courtesy phone to call the Day’s Inn where I had a reservation so that the shuttle would pick me up. I spoke with a woman named Diane who advised me to go to the lower level of Terminal 4 and wait by the second blue sign. Cool, I thought, that is a short walk outside so I walked to the place she described and waited and waited. After ½ hour I went back in and called but got no answer at the hotel. That was not a good sign so I waited 5 minutes and tried the number again. There was still no answer. After another several tries and 10 minutes later, I spoke with a man who told me that I was waiting in the wrong area and that I was to proceed back towards terminal 3 where the bus to the parking garage kept coming and going from. I arrived at that area and in about another ½ hour here came my shuttle. So, to my team mates who might also be staying at that hotel, which I had advised them had a late night-early morning shuttle, here is a bit of advice. You can call 954-463-2500 which is the hotel phone number and ask to be transferred to extension 158. That is the cell phone of the shuttle driver who will give you clear and exact directions as to how to find where she can pick you up. If you should arrive at Terminals 1 or 2, and I know some of you are coming in on Southwest Airlines which is located in those terminals, the shuttle driver will tell you where the pick up point is for those terminals. I was tired when I reached the hotel and I was given room 404. That meant that I had to drag my bags up 3 flights of stairs. No problem I thought, until I reached the last landing and realized that this stair climbing with luggage is work.
The room was okay but quite cool so I shut down the air conditioner and prepared for bed. Here is another tip for anyone using that hotel: Ask for an inside room. My room fronted Broward Avenue at I-95 and the traffic noise all night long was terrible. I hardly slept a wink all night long and had not slept well at home the night before. I got up around 5 PM, showered and read the Peoria Journal Star on-line addition to pass the time. I had hoped that the free breakfast bar would be open before I caught the 7:00 AM return shuttle to the airport but I was informed that it would not be open till 7:00 and that was the final answer. I had the same shuttle driver that brought me there last night and we had pleasant conversation back to the airport and she was kind enough to give me the telephone information that I passed along a little bit ago.
I had my boarding pass and proceeded to security. That was a joke. It was filled with Haitians and none of the TSA agents spoke Kreole. If you have never traveled with Haitians, you may not understand why that is a problem. First of all they all had carry-on’s that exceeded the requirements. Second, many of the carry-ons were metal cooking pots or store boxes that were taped together with duct tape. The man in front of me had a suitcase filled with cell phones. Try to get a Haitian to follow directions in English when all they understand is Kreole and you will quickly see what I am trying to convey. And then there was the mother with two small children. The oldest, around 4 years, kept wandering out of line. The mother could not find the boarding passes that she had shown another agent just moments before. She had problems getting the children to remove their shoes. There was, of course, only one line and the TSA agents were grumbling that only ½ of their fellow workers had bothered to show up for work this morning. I estimate that it took almost ½ hour to get through the security checkpoint. Lots of people got frustrated but there was nothing anyone could do about it except laugh at the comedic scene.
After I passed the security checkpoint I headed for the nearest coffee vendor and found, to my delight, that Dick and Barb were there enjoying their morning coffee. We had a nice visit and proceeded to the gate area.
When I made my reservation, I assumed that the plane would be an Airbus 300 like the airline flies from Miami. I was wrong. The plane was a 737 so my idea of sitting in the rear of the plane and exiting the rear of the plane was foiled as there would be no rear exiting on this flight. I sat in row 27 of 30 on the aisle seat and waited for my seat mates. I’ll bet that you can guess who they were. The winner is: the mother with the two small girls. Oh my, what was I in for on this flight. This story is getting long and I have lots more to tell so I’ll just say it was a pleasant flight. I was entertained by Dora the Explorer, helped the lady to fill out her paperwork for immigration and customs, and helped her get the kids off the plane and into the terminal for the immigration line. I never saw her after that.
The immigration line was surprisingly short. The agents were efficient and prompt and when I arrived at baggage claim, the bags were coming off the plane. I have discovered over the years that the Haitian baggage handlers could care less about getting tour bags to you and it seems to take forever for them to unload cart after cart of bags. Of course, mine were on the last cart. Dick had rented two carts for my bags and those of his and Barb’s. Boyer, ou main man, arrived at baggage claim and we loaded my two bags on the bottom of the cart because they contained the medications and placed the bags of Dick and Barb containing food items on top in case customs stopped us for a bag search. That is another tip for my team mates and here is and additional tip. DO NOT wear your FOTCOH T Shirt when coming into Port-au-Prince. We believe that the shirts are a RED FLAG to the customs people that we are likely carrying drugs. So wear something that blends in with the crowd and that may get you a free pass to go like we had yesterday. We sailed out of the customs area to smiles and hand shakes. Be prepared to surrender your white customs forms to the clerk. Ours was busy talking with another and did not even glance at mine. Also be prepared to surrender your baggage claim tags to the agent who merely grabs them and does no checking whatsoever.
Boyer had driven over in the Toyota truck and Dick insisted that I ride up front so I could see more on our trip over the mountains. It was some trip. For those of you who have ridden with Boyer, you will understand. He drives a break neck speed, cuts corners short, passes cars with a short safety margin, and so on. There are 365 curves on the 81 Km trip from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel and my head snapped at each turn and my stomach churned inside as we raced on. I was very happy to see Jacmel bay from the top of the mountain road. We stopped at St. Cyr pharmacy to pick up some wine. So, dear Holly, they did not have a pinot grigio, only Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay. I did find some Cote Du Rhone myself and a Rose wine for you. By the way, Holly was the only person who informed me of their wine preference but now you know our limited wine selection here in Jacmel.
It was well passed lunch time by now and Dick chose to have lunch at the Hotel Cap Lamondue which is one of my favorites. When we arrived we encountered a large party of Blancs who did not seem overly friendly. We greeted the owner, a nice lady that I have met before and sat down at the table. There had been no time for a rest room break so I took off in search of the men’s room. When I passed the group I noticed that many of them had on Notre Dame University apparel and wondered about that. In a short while, one of the group came over and introduced himself. His name is Mark Walsh MD and his group was in Leogane on a fact finding mission for the University. He explained that Father Tom Streit, CSC is w world renowned scientist who received a $ 5 million dollar grant from the Bill Gates Foundation to eradicate Filarias in Haiti. Dr Mark is an emergency room physician in South Bend and soon we met several other doctors from the team. We were informed, much to our dismay, that the 250 bed hospital in Leogane had closed and the ND group was searching for a place to work out of. And so, perhaps we have stumbled on another group who can work with us, provide us with medical volunteers, and maybe tap into additional sources of donations. We encouraged them to follow us out to the clinic and they though that was a good idea. It was spoiled by the fact that it took forever to get their food and made us wait also for our order so it was a long lunch break and the group needed to return to Leogane. Yes, for my Peoria readers, many of the group spoke highly of our own Bishop Jenky. So, my friend Bruce Steiner, please be sure to contact out good Bishop and pass along the greetings. Please!
Ah, at last we arrived at the clinic. Things are in great shape. I have managed to put away most of the shipments that have arrived. The pharmacy is in the best condition I have ever seen so a hearty thank you goes out to Gary Alwan, Jess Streif, and Sharon Doran for a job well done. Things are clearly marked, neatly organized, and some of the medications I will need right away appear to be packaged and ready to dispense. Thank you, thank you, and thank you. Barb, Dick and I worked till about 6:30 and stopped for a Prestige on the third floor balcony to watch the daylight end. We sat on the East side and enjoyed the slight breeze, the sound of the goats, the view of the white cranes and a brown pelican, the fires on the mountain, and the taste of the Prestige beer.
We ate so late a lunch and so heavy a meal we decided that we could do without supper. Incidentally, I had the Lambi Kreole which was excellent along with rice and beans, no pomme frites (French fries) for lunch.
So, here I sit hunting and pecking my way through my adventures and I am getting sleepy so I’ll close and post this in the morning. I do need to thank you for reading this. Even more important, I need to thank you all for your prayers, your support, and your encouragement. All of those drive me to do this work for the Haitian people.