Sunday, August 09, 2009

Final Haiti Update: A Comedy of Errors aka The Long Road Home

We made it! That's the good news. The hairy details of how we made it home from Pignon, Haiti to Fresno, California are worth recording just for the laughability of it all.

Saturday morning I rose to the crow of the rooster, which pretty much means I was up in the middle of the night. I slipped off to the orphanage to finish painting the final phrases of the blessing prayer on the wall of the boys' room. (Always one more job to finish!) When I returned to the house I found myself in a wild frenzy of multitasking: trying to get breakfast on the table for the team, saying good mornings and then goodbyes, passing out extra clothes and cosmetics to our Haitian friends, trying to dress my girls and pack their carry-ons with the neccesities for travel, scrubbing my own teeth and throwing on a hat and finally whisking the first half of our team out the door.

We were in the second group to ride to the airport, which afforded us a few extra minutes to pray over the orphanage and grab a few more things from the house that we had forgotten. Dozens of friends showed up at the house to say goodbye, pray and sing to send us off. My one regret was that I couldn't possibly say a personal goodbye to everyone. We gave quick hugs and piled into the truck.

Then we were off for one last bumpy truck ride to the small airport in Pignon where we would "hurry up and wait" for our plane to arrive. We were to take Tropical Air from Pignon to Port Au Prince at 8 a.m. to catch a flight leaving Port Au Prince for the U.S. at 10:20 a.m. The little plane did not arrive in Pignon at 8:30 a.m.

When we finally arrived in Port Au Prince, we gathered up our bags, met up with Peter and then drove to the International airport a few miles down the road. We got into the airport through security and then in line for American Airlines. When our family came to the front of the line, an American Airlines employee stopped me and said I was not allowed to continue. Apparently, my passport was expired. I looked at Ericlee and the girls dumbfounded. I had checked everyone's passport in the family but didn't even think about checking my own. I had used my passport the March before for our last trip to Haiti. Little did I know that it expired in June.

Yes, this was the same passport I used to get Giada's new passport. And yes, this was the same passport I used to get into Haiti. No one along with way noticed. This American Airlines woman was bound and determined to keep me in Haiti. She said I would have to cancel my reservation and go to the American Embassy on Monday and get it fixed. This was Saturday. She said I should reschedule a flight for Wednesday or Thursday.

Wednesday or Thursday? Was this some kind of joke? How could I possibly stay in Haiti in Port Au Prince another 3-4 days with my husband and two kids? Meanwhile, someone from our group ran back to us and informed us that the whole group was late for the flight and our seats were already gone. We had arrived 55 minutes before the flight was to leave and the rule is that you need to arrive one hour ahead for international flights. Ah, let the adventure begin!

Ericlee and I called Peter and asked him to come back to the airport while Nathan Freeland and Bryan Gudgel began to work on the situation with the whole group's tickets. We were all to be on standby. Of course, standby wasn't looking very promising with dozens of people already on the list, including many other missionary teams.

After several hours of waiting in line, we saw Nathan and Peter *behind* the American Airlines desk with the head honcho in charge of American Airlines. She was "working something out" for our group. Peter told me to proceed and not to mention anything else about the passport. Some of our group was to leave on the next flight and the others would be on standby for the following flights. We all passed through the security lines to the gate.

Somehow none of the customs people noticed my expired passport. This was a miracle. Unfortunately, the woman who was determined to make me stay earlier had now been reassigned to a new post inside security at the American Airlines door. Of course, she was really ticked that I had made it through that far and had not followed her orders to stay in the country until Monday.

"What are you trying to do here, Ma'am," she asked me. I didn't know what to say. I bit my tongue and tried not to think about any sarcastic comebacks. After all, it was my fault for not renewing my passport. I just really wanted to go home. After some negotiating she finally decided to let the U.S. deal with me. I passed through.

Then the waiting continued. We waved goodbye to Brandy and Tiana Freeland and Beverly Damm who made it on the first flight. Anne and Paul Brant were then called off the standby list. The rest of the group remained. We waited another couple of hours for another flight. This time Gail and Ernie Partida were called to board the plane. This left Nathan Freeland, Stacie and Bryan Gudgel and the Gilmore family. Mind you by this point we had been waiting more than six hours. A certain 3-year-old had already skipped her nap and was running circles around the rows of waiting passengers. And a certain teething 5-month-old was ferociously gnawing on her fist.

We were all antsy.

We watched one last flight take off without us. There were no more flights to the U.S. that night and we had to stay the night in Port Au Prince. Peter came to pick us up and take us to his apartment in the city. We jokingly called ourselves Haiti Team 4 because now the 5 of us plus our 2 kids were a new little team.

We continued to Peter's spacious apartment and met his wife's cousins who are renters there. Peter said he was taking us out for a special treat - Domino's Pizza. Yes, we ate pizza in Haiti. Talk about a culture clash. Admittedly, Meilani and I were pretty excited. This seemed one step closer to home. We laughed and joked with our little team and Peter. He took us on a whirlwind trip of Port Au Prince.

This little jaunt through Port Au Prince was culture shock in itself for me. How different the big city seemed compared to our mountain town of Pignon. What was most striking was the contrast of the expensive large palace where the president lived and the extravagant hotels right next to streets filled with faces of poverty. This reminded me so much more of my time in Latin American countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala. It was eye-opening to see Haiti in this new light.

Unfortunately, we had a rough night. Ericlee struggled with a migraine that left him unable to really move without throwing up. Giada started a round of diarrhea - her first sickness of the trip. We stayed in a bedroom that was pretty hot and oppressively dark and none of the four of us really slept. The morning light could not come soon enough.

Sunday morning we woke early, filled our tummies with coffee, bread and hard-boiled eggs and carted off to the airport once again. I had to go through customs and security again with my expired passport - praying all the way that they would let me through. By now, the agents knew me and waved us on by. What a miracle!

Soon we were back to our familiar waiting seats inside the American Airlines terminal. Thank goodness for wireless internet so we could communicate a bit with friends and family back home through Facebook and Twitter. In a strange way I felt like I was living a Mission Trip Reality TV show or something. We could receive messages from friends all around the world who were following our updates and praying for us.

The morning flight was full but Nathan and the Gudgels ended up making it on the second flight out. We waved goodbye to the rest of our team. This was probably the only time I really felt like breaking down. We all really wanted to go home by this point. As a little gift, Meilani fell asleep in the stroller and was able to take a nap and Giada soon followed.

We made it out on the 3 p.m. flight to Port Au Prince. What an amazing relief! We arrived in Miami and the adventures continued as we faced customs with my expired passport. As we were waiting in line, Meilani sreeched that she had to go potty. We dashed to the restroom but couldn't make it to the front of the long line (with only two bathroom stalls!) in time. She soaked her dirty travel clothes right there in line.

We ran back to Daddy and Giada and changed into Meilani's alternate dirty travel clothes. We were whisked into a special customs line for people with children or disabilities. While waiting in line, we had the fun blessing of hearing a customs guard explain to another man and his wife/girlfriend that he would probably have to spend the night in jail if his country did not contact the customs agent. I shuddered to think of what they would do with me.

I prayed a silent prayer as we stepped up in line. Immediately, the customs agent started smiling and talking to Giada who cooed her hellos to him. He went through the whole family's passport and then came to mine. He looked at me with a furrowed brow, "When were you planning to renew this?"

"Immediately," I said. "I didn't realize it was expired until we were already in Haiti."

He nodded solemnly and told me I better get it renewed right away and then let us pass. Sweet Relief. Again.

We entered the Miami airport and somehow felt like we were home free. Of course the adventure wasn't really over. It took us an additional 3 hours in lines to get boarding passes for a morning flight to Fresno and vouchers for the hotel and meals. We finally got to the hotel at 9:30 p.m. We stuck our key in the door and, lo and behold, the key didn't work. Ericlee had to run downstairs to have it reprogrammed.

Meanwhile, Meilani realized she had to go to the bathroom really badly - this time #2. We were on the fifth floor so we had to just sit tight and wait for Daddy. Needless to say, Meilani pooped in her pants. Could I blame her? I just had to laugh so I didn't cry! We gave Meilani a good scrub in the warm bath (something she had been longing for in Haiti), ordered room service (a fat hamburger and a deluxe salmon cobb salad) with our voucher and finally collapsed in bed.

We caught our plane from Miami to Dallas and then to Fresno without incident. Yes, I was holding my breath the entire way. We arrived in Fresno the next afternoon and were happily greeted by the grandparents. Home Sweet Home!

1 comment:

The VM Family said...

As one of those "friends from all over the world, following your updates and praying" it sure is interesting to read all the details of your adventure home!

So much to be thankful for! So many little blessings along the way! I admire the optimism and faith you faced this experience with.