This is the third and final account in a series about Wanjira Banfield’s recent mission to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
With good faith and ease, Minister of Health Alex Larsen spoke of the tremendous work and unwavering patience it will take to rebuild Haiti.
Although evidently grief stricken and very much aware of the hindrances in getting necessary aid to the people in need, he was quite impressed with the strides we've made as a small team in such a short amount of time.
"We have a long way to go to restructure the political, social and physical landscape of this country, and I am thankful for your dedication and the steps you all have made thus far," Larsen shared with us.
The meeting concluded on a very positive, encouraging note with key people from our team set in place to supervise much of the aid that was set to arrive safely in the country.
Accountability was key, and bureaucracy was not an option. The focus was on the well-being of the people. It was clear that what Haiti didn't need was rapacious occupiers solely interested in the machination and corruption of Haiti.
We spent most of the rest of our days tracking incoming shipments, distributing items, and processing our progress. The days became longer, and the people became more desperate and afraid.
The agony and devastation began to take its toll on me.
We would stop over at hospitals with extra medical supplies in tow, feeling a sense of accomplishment. Yet an hour later, we would walk into another makeshift caring facility and see double, even triple the number of helpless, injured and panicked people. Earthquake aftershocks were becoming more frequent on the island, which only continued to incite fear.
It was clear that we couldn't be everywhere we were needed all the time. Nor could we help everyone right away. But I knew I had done all I could do on this journey. I set out to Aeroport Internacional Toussaint Louverture (Toussaint Louverture International Airport), where my journey into Haiti had begun, attempting to return to the United States.
What I witnessed next was unimaginable. The U.S Military and the U.S Consulate completely took over the operations of the airport. Men and women in army fatigue garments were stationed with AK 47s in hand, and stolid faces to suit.
In an attempt to control what could become a chaotic situation, the military actually created an intense, hostile environment.
Confused and nervous people tried desperately to get some type of clarity and understanding about the process in place, but they were met with mulish opposition. Over 500 Haitian U.S. citizens were lined up alongside the airport, trying to flee the country.
There were children carrying cartoon-printed duffel bags full of only what they could carry from their homes. No one knew where any of the evacuating aircraft were going until they were aboard the plane.
As I watched the mayhem unfold, I knew it was going to be quite the adventure trying to evacuate. Upon our arrival in Haiti the previous Sunday, we simply walked through the airport without question. Unfortunately, because of that, I had absolutely no proof or validation that I had arrived on a relief mission just days earlier.
Therefore, if I was going to leave, it was going to be through the same measures as everyone else who was attempting to evacuate.
As I stood in the far end of the line, I saw an American Airlines aircraft landing on the tarmac. Knowing that Airline Ambassadors, the organization with which I was carrying out my relief mission, is directly affiliated with American Airlines, I knew I needed to be on that plane. Acting in desperation, a pinch of hope and a prayer, I decided to walk off the line toward the plane, trying to explain my situation to the outside crew members. I was sent back and forth from the plane to the tented command center until a gentleman in a green jumper scanned my passport and told me, “You’re the last one for today.”
Call me a realist with idealistic tendencies or simply an optimist with realistic views, but I don’t doubt for minute that a bit of divine intervention got me onto that flight home.
What was more intensely ironic was the moment I walked up into the aircraft. The crew on board was the exact same crew that accompanied us to Haiti on another mission back in 2008. As I caught up with some old friends and met a few new ones, I looked out across the dark, gray skies that watch over the people of Haiti every day and night, and prayed that a better day and brighter future lay ahead for such beautiful people.
As it turned out, I barely made it out of the country before the 6.0-magnitude aftershock that seriously rocked the area where we were staying in Martissant. The menacing shock literally occurred just a few hours after I arrived home.
My team and I are currently continuing our efforts from our respective home bases, and we are looking forward to returning to Haiti later in the year.