Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Haiti: Part 9 THE FINALE

Here's the final installment of Jay's journal to Haiti. He, my hubby J, and five other guys went to Haiti April 26-May 2. If you are just now catching this, you might want to start at the beginning.

Haiti: Part 1 & 2
Haiti: Part 3 & 4
Haiti: Part 5 & 6
Haiti: Part 7 & 8

Here's Jay, the author, who graciously let me publish this to my blog:
Part 9: The flood, the flight, the fight, and the finish.

It took me a few phone calls to get through to Shantel. I could tell she's upset. "There is a flood." We hadn't watched television or news, or really heard anything about back home in several days. "There is water in our back yard, the kids basketball goal is floating... I've started carrying important things upstairs." Naturally, I figured she was over reacting. Then she sent me pictures. Then the news came in from Nashville. Flooding everywhere. Highways and roads being closed. Shantel couldn't get out of our subdivision. The small creek in our back yard was a giant raging river and the community was surrounded by water. I have never felt so helpless in my entire life. I heard words come from my mouth, "It's just a house. Take care of the girls, you'll be fine."

The guys all started calling home getting various reports. The biggest flood in Nashville history, cars, and people, and buildings being swept away. While we were at the beach our homes were being threatened. We called friends, and family, and church members. Story after story piled in, and it looked like we would be coming home to a different place. Saturday night we packed up, and knew we would make it to Miami, but had no idea if they would let us back into Nashville.

By 5:30a on Sunday I was packed and ready to go. One back pack was all I brought home. We opted not to drive the road back to Port Au Prince so we wouldn't miss our flight from Haiti to Miami, and instead were flying a charter plane from Jacmel to Port Au Prince. The Jacmel airport was an over grown driveway with no planes anywhere around. One plane would fly in, pick up passengers and turn around. We were the first people at the "airport." we let ourselves in. A man sleepily showed up at the door of the "airport" (that we never actually walked in) and took down our names and birth dates. About 6:30a a small plane dropped in on the driveway, squeeled to a hault and then turned around. We were on the 15 passenger plane and ready for take off in under 2 minutes. It was a little unnerving to see the pilots hand hanging out the window at the front of the plane. There was no systems check, or refueling, we just rode down the driveway turned around, and then blasted down the "driveway" right at the "airport" and at the last moment, flew away. The flight lasted 15 minutes at most. Flying over Haiti was saddening. Seeing the devastation from a few thousand feet at most was almost overwhelming. It was easy to see how thousands of people died. Concrete homes with little to no building regulations toppling over and crushing entire families, and businesses, and hospitals. Tent after tent, after make-shift shelter littered the landscape.

A taxi-van driver whipped us over to the Port Au Prince airport from where our charter flight landed. I have no idea why it didn't land where we were flying from, but in Haiti, you didn't ask too many questions. Re-entry into Port Au Prince airport was kind of nice. We sat in an air conditioned lobby with mostly English speaking people heading back to the United States. Tons of relief workers and doctors; I met a nurse who saw over 450 patients in five days and a construction crew that build 43 houses in a week. I felt very inadequate, but equally inspired by care and concern being shown to a place that could easily be forgotten.

No one was holding up signs and cheering for us when we walked off the plane in Miami, but I felt like kissing the ground and hugging everyone I saw. Most of the people I wanted to see were Ronald McDonald, the Burger King, and Mr. Coca Cola himself. We walked with purpose to find out how we would get home. Nashville flight: CANCELLED. We knew getting home would be a fight, but it didn't sting any less seeing it on the plasma paneled flat screen. We went straight to the counter and started working out the details. The airline had booked us for 11:20 pm Tuesday night to head back to Nashville. Unacceptable. We thought about Louisville, Memphis, Knoxville, and even Birmingham. BOOM. decided. Before I knew it, we were being booked on a flight to Knoxville for 8pm that evening, and would land at 10:30p. Then we would drive as far as we could, and hopefully be home that evening. The guys I traveled with were calling rental car companies, hotels in between Nashville and Knoxville and their wives for permission before I even knew what happened. They were ready for this fight, they had trained, and they had frequent traveler miles burning a holes in their pockets. Gung Ho was being gung ho, and Kevin was searching for Marlins tickets. I just kinda watched what was happening to me, and trying to call my wife.

The water had gone down a little and Shantel was much more calm. Amazing neighbors and church friends had checked in on her, and the situation had slowed a bit for her. The rest of Nashville was a different story. More rain was coming, and the worst would not be over for a while. 30 and 40 miles of interstate were being closed down, and entire communities were disappearing under flood water. We just wanted to get back to what was left of home.

We split up in two taxis, with over 8 hours before our flight to Knoxville would take off, and decided to go to a Marlins day game. I wasn't thrilled about this. Sitting outside was the last thing I wanted to do. To my surprise, no one in Miami knows there is a major league baseball team that plays in their town. We walked in for free. I counted 847 people at the game. This was good for us. Somehow, gung ho talked our way into the club level section, and before I knew it, we were seated in the shade. We danced the chicken dance, we screamed charge, we ate hamburgers and hotdogs, and watched baseball. Then, I remembered, there was a lounge inside. We wandered into a mixture of an airport terminal lobby and a super sports man cave. There were flat-screens everywhere playing the game we were watching, other games that were being played, sportscenter, and the 1986 major league baseball all-star game. I ate ice-cream while sitting in a leather chair and watching Cal Ripken Jr. and Barry Larkin play ball. The tragic turn of events was not lost on me; less than 6 hours before I was in a third world country. Now, I was in a climate-controlled house of worship for a child's game. I still ate my ice cream though.

We taxied back to the airport and continued our waiting game. I wasn't even sure we would make it to Knoxville. The flooding was everywhere, and the news was reporting deaths. The Opryland Hotel was evacuated and people who were in luxury suites were now in a high school gym laying on the floors without pillows or blankets. I just wanted to hold my wife and hug my children. Instead, we played spades in a airport cafeteria. It was a fight to stay sane. It was a fight to be polite. It was a fight just to get home.

By 8pm we were all spread out over our third airplane flight in less than 24 hours. After this we'd have a car ride. What a fight. I read two books while I was on the trip. "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, and Donald Millers, "A Million Miles, and a Thousand Years." One story about making your life a meaningful story, and the other a hopeless journey on a road to keep hope alive. The irony was not lost on me there either. The plane landed in Knoxville and the rain was coming down.

"Don't come home." was the general consensus by all the wives of all the husbands on the trip. The magic of Facebook and text messaging banded them together against us, and the fight turned against us for a while in the Knoxville airport. All we wanted to do was go home. All they wanted to do was keep us safe. They were fine, the houses were fine, but no one was supposed to go anywhere. The entire city had imposed a travel curfew. We just wanted to go, but home didn't want us right now. They wanted us safe.

We split up in two cars. One heading to North Nashville and one South. We would drive till we couldn't go any farther, then we'd stop for the night. It sounded like a good plan. About 10 miles in, hotels had been booked a hour and half from Nashville in Cookeville, TN. Gung ho wasn't happy. I was miserable, and the wives were generally displeased with their stubborn husbands. Our mission trip to Haiti had turned into a mission to get home- and yes- it was a fight.

We were up by 4:59a. In the morning. The drive through downtown Nashville was almost as sobering as the drive from Port Au Prince to Jacmel. It felt like I'd come full circle. I started thinking about all I had seen, and everything I had felt, and wasn't really sure how I was going to explain to my wife the things I'd experienced. I just knew that I loved her and I was glad she was safe, and my girls were protected. I had talked to Shantel a few times during my trip, but only about the highlights. I hadn't heard much from my daughters other than "I love you daddy, I miss you!" I was ready to give them small gifts I had brought back and tell them the stories of the children across the ocean that were a lot like them, yet completely different. At 7am on Monday I was dropped off at my water-logged door step. The sky was pefectly blue, with whisps of clouds floating. I half-expected to see an ark parked in my cul de sac with an old man walking off the animal kingdom two by two.

I rang the door bell to my house, only two hear a stampede of tiny feet coming my way. My daughters poked through the curtains and screamed, "DADDY!" The door opened, and I was home. My daughter Hope smiled at me and said, "Hi Daddy, do you have pictures?" I was wowed by her interest in Haiti and the orphans and my travels. "I do", I said with a smile. "Yeah, Daddy, I want to see the ones where you threw up!"

No comments: