Why I’m Not In Haiti Right Now

December 28, 2010

in #Haiti,Travel

According to my calendar I am supposed to be in Haiti right now. Oh, but I am not. Instead, I am laying in bed in my apartment in Manhattan.

Let’s rewind, shall we?

Sunday morning around 5 am I was on my way to my friend Karen’s apartment. Karen is someone I have met through preparing for this trip and she is one of my favorite people going on the trip. Karen’s sister was going to drive us to the airport. I could tell Karen was stressed when I arrived, but Karen’s a super hard worker, so I know this was probably her “normal.”

We got to JFK in record time, and this is where Karen and I parted ways. There were 30 of us flying that morning, and half of our team was on a Delta flight, while the other half was on an American Airlines flight. Karen was Delta, I was American.

At the American terminal I picked up my allotted suitcases of medical supplies from our meeting spot, and went to check in at the baggage drop counter. It took forever, but I got it done, went to my gate and charged my iPhone. I exchanged a few texts with Karen saying how happy I was to have met her and share this experience with her. We said our e-farewells, as her flight was set to leave 45 minutes before mine, and she was off to our final destination.

It was 8:40 am and a blizzard was coming. But everything was clear outside.

Five minutes before boarding time, we were told our flight had been canceled. This was horrible news, not because we were separated from our group, but because we have half of the medical supplies and clothing donations in our allotted luggage. The team in Haiti would not get these items until we could get them over on our flights.

The 13 of us on the American flight scrambled and ran to the ticket counter to wait in line to get rebooked. We were spread out in smaller groups, doing our best to make sure the first of us in the line had a strategy to try to get us all on a flight together. American told us we were in the wrong line and had us relocate to a different counter.

And then we waited.

Why Im Not In Haiti Right NowAn agent from American Airlines came and made some announcements to the line in French or Haitian Creole and I could see people were visibly upset by his words. People were yelling at him, and arguing. One particular guy seemed upset about my group, but I wasn’t sure why. He looked like he was French, and kept saying something about these people not caring about Haiti. Not sure what that was about. It seems as though everything was pissing him off though.

We waited in line for roughly 90 minutes. There was speculation that the weather was not the issue, all skies being clear, but that the airline was afraid the plane would get stuck in Haiti, unable to return to the States once we were dropped off in Port Au Prince. The line wasn’t moving. The agents weren’t rebooking people, we were all just standing still.   Once, an agent came by and said they were thinking about reinstating our flight. Then finally they told us to go home and call the American Airlines number to rebook tickets, as they weren’t doing anything in person right now. This made several people angry as they were not from here and had no “home” to go to, or a phone to call the airline. Yet the airline was claiming they wouldn’t handle any of this in person. I hope American Airlines took care of those people. I couldn’t stick around to find out what happened.

My group decided we would have to regroup for a game plan. We circled up, said a short prayer in the terminal, and then decided we needed to get our suitcases from baggage claim. One of us was already on hold with American Airlines. After being on hold for 80 minutes, she finally spoke to an agent who got us all booked on a flight to Haiti for Tuesday at 7 am. We thought we were golden.

After that, it seemed like it took us way too long to figure out how to get ourselves back to the City. We had 26 suitcases to figure out how to get to one location that would be easy to retrieve when it was time to return to the airport in a few days (never doubt me when I say transportation in NYC is ridiculous).  I was definitely frustrated but was trying not to show it. I was sleepy, not having had sleep the previous night. I finally got home around 5pm, and took the most epic nap known to man. I slept through the blizzard.

The next morning I got a phone call from American Airlines. It seems my re-booked flight had been canceled too. The storm was supposed to be long gone by the time my flight was scheduled, but…I don’t know why it was canceled. I e-mailed the team and we began trying to call American Airlines (whose line kept saying they were too busy to talk right now) to see if we could rebook ourselves on the same flight again.

I had been automatically rebooked to Haiti for Thursday, and so had a few others, but we wanted to be on the same flight. This would make things easier on our counterparts in Haiti  pick us up from the airport: since we have a self-imposed curfew that says we can’t be out in Port-Au-Prince past dusk, we can’t fly in on any flight to Haiti if it means we arrive at night. American Airlines kept saying the earliest they could get us to Haiti was January 1. Not cool, since we are set to return on January 2.

Needless to say the day went south for me. I called American Airlines every hour to see if I could get booked on an earlier flight, but these efforts were pointless if I wasn’t on a flight with others. Several people on the team began logging onto CheapTickets.com to buy new tickets to Haiti for Tuesday. The tickets were priced $950-2500. I simply couldn’t rationalize spending extra money to go to Haiti two days early. Not $950. Not when rent is due. Not when this is not an emergency. Not when $950 for Haiti could be spent in more fruitful ways for Haiti; my presence wasn’t that crucial, in my opinion. I could wait. For a few others it seemed that they would either have to pay $950 for a new ticket, or not go at all, since they hadn’t been rebooked for a second time. That was probably a tough decision to make.

This morning 6 of the 13 who had been left behind flew to Haiti with their shiny new plane tickets. Don’t ask me why both Delta and American had ticket inventory via CheapTickets.com for sale but couldn’t get me or others on those flights when called directly. One other person and myself will be flying to Haiti on Thursday morning. The others have decided to cancel the trip due to flight availability.

It’s been a bitter pill for me to swallow. I’ve had so many emotions about this whole ordeal. I’ve had to bite my tongue a lot. I’ve had to repent about some things. I’ve had to check my heart a lot. I’ve had to emotionally surrender to this process. I became so frustrated I didn’t want to go anymore. I’ve wondered what is God trying to tell me about all of this. Why Me? I know He’s probably tired of me asking, “WHY ME LAWD?” but it seems like every other day I’m knocking on His door demanding some answers. In many ways it just doesn’t seem fair.Still, I try to find some valuable lessons learned from this situation.

I’ve spent the day laying in bed feeling sorry for myself. I gave myself the morning to do this, but it’s time I get myself together and keep pushing. I have things I can do while I am here (client work to finish up, closing out 2010, planning for 2011). I have one more typhoid vaccine dosage scheduled for tomorrow (read: I shouldn’t have been on my way to Haiti before finishing these pills). Finally, we have an ultrasound machine that needed to be transported to Haiti with us, but it was going to get left behind because it never arrived on time for our departure on Sunday. It still hasn’t arrived to the City, but hopefully it will get here today or tomorrow, and then it can go down with us. If it does get here in time, I have to find way to procure it from Ft. Greene, Brooklyn before I get to the airport.

It feels good getting the entire story off of my chest. I’m able to look at the situation a bit more objectively now, and find some silver linings. I’m obviously salty about the situation I am in, but it is what it is. I am always reminded that my idea of perfect is rarely ever God’s idea of what perfect is for me. What’s perfect for me is whatever His will is for me, should I be willing to surrender to that. Tough way to learn this lesson though! Haha.

Anyway, enough of the emo spiritual dramz. I’m going to go hang with my line sister, who is in town for the holiday break. I love my friends! That reminds me. On Thursday, when I see Karen in Haiti, I am either going to burst into tears, or into a fit of laughter. I’m sure she will too.

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