It is 9:30pm. I’ve been back on US soil about 24 hours but am in no way prepared to debrief about the trip to Haiti. I’ve told Kelsey and the boys a few stories and shed a few tears in the process. I promise it will come quickly, and when it does, it will come with force, but for tonight, you’re going to have to settle for our excellent adventure in getting out of Haiti.
When we flew in on Thursday, we’d stopped by a tent marked Mission Aviation Fellowship at the east end of the runway. They said they had a plane flying back to Florida every day and took our name down as “on standby.” They were quick to point out that they took everyone’s name down and put them on standby.
Saturday morning, we headed to the airport. It’s about a forty minute drive on Haitian roads but probably no more than 8 miles as the crow flies. The crow would have been my preferred mode of transportation. Instead, we climbed into the back of a Mitsubishi cab-over truck. The back could best be described as a prison truck – mesh metal on all sides with a top. And a padlock on the back for our safety.
Our driver drove hard and fast down the back roads. Understand the main roads in Haiti are bad. The back roads are unbelievable. We navigated a number of sections I would never have driven my Suburban down – and we navigated them at speed. We’d driven all over Port au Prince but none of this looked familiar. I was about to start thinking that we’d been kidnapped and were going to be in next month’s Readers’ Digest “Real Life Adventure” installment when our driver cut down one more short street and popped out in front of the main airport terminal.
We piled out, grabbed our bags and headed in to the airport. At the front door we found a Haitian security guard telling us “Get out your passport, get out your ticket, get out your ID.” Next to him was a US Immigration & Customs Enforcement officer telling him “Please be quiet….”. I agreed, because we had no ticket.
At security, the glanced at our little contingency – Kirk Bennett, Levi Lim and myself. Two American men and a woman with a passport from Myanmar stamped “US Resident”. They scratched their heads a bit but let us pass.
After walking through the abandon building we popped out the other side on the tarmac. If the airport was a circus when we arrived, it had turned into a wild life preserve. Civilians, relief workers, soldiers, police officers, flight line workers, and some who I couldn’t quite figure out wandered to and fro. We started walking for the Missions Aviation Fellowship area that we’d seen on Thursday.
And we walked.
And we walked some more.
We passed through several all-military sections. We went past a huge depot of water. We passed idling aircraft and suspicious looking characters. We came to a US military checkpoint and asked “have you seen MAF?”
“Missions Aviation Fellowship,” we said.
“No. But some people came from the direction you’re coming from and went that way looking for them.”
“Did they come back?”
“No, but they might have.”
“OK, here’s the deal,” we told them. “We’re walking that way. But look at us. Remember these faces. We may need back in and we need you to let us in.”
The soldiers laughed and assured us we could reenter. At no point did anyone so much as ask us names. We continued walking in the heat, each carrying a heavy pack and duffel. After about a 3/4 mile we reached the end of the runway, and the MAF building.
Inside, we found out MAF had moved. Back to the main terminal. We reloaded our packs and started walking back…after a couple of hundred feet, Levi struck up a conversation with three Haitians in an Isuzu Trooper. They agreed to take us back for $10. We didn’t feel good about it, but we didn’t feel good about another hike either, so we piled in. I handed the driver ten bucks and he roared off…headed for a gate to the main street where he would take us out to the front of the airport so we could go through security again.
Something about this felt really, really bad. Over the roaring engine, I muttered “Kirk! Kirk! We do NOT want to go out that gate with these guys!”
At one point I tried texting Kelsey a picture along with a caption “With 3 Haitians in a brown Isuzu Trooper – find us!” in case something happened.
Kirk agreed…so I pointed over his shoulder straight ahead and yelled “No! No! No gate! Drive down the taxiway!”
He gave me the Haitian equivalent of “Huh?” but obeyed. His friends chattered at him in Creole but he kept driving. Approaching the US Military checkpoint, he didn’t know what to do. Soldiers yelled for him to stop, but I yelled for him to go. Levi leaned out the window and yelled to the soldiers “It’s us!”. Remarkably, they recognized her and waved us on.
The Haitians were shocked. They started getting a little panicky now but we just kept yelling directions.
“Keep driving! Look out! Left! Between these planes!” The drove us straight up to the main gate on the tarmac between military and cargo jets. It was so unbelievable that I took another quick picture, expecting the whole time that this was going to come to an unfortunate ending.
I told Kirk and Levi “Get out! Get your bags!”, wanting to put as much distance as I could between us and these guys, pretty certain they were about to be arrested.
I’m not sure what happened to them, but we didn’t see them again. Instead, we sat at the airport – on the tarmac – for hours. We ate dried fruit and turkey jerky. I managed to get behind a security line and score some bottles of water. Eventually, around 5pm, our ride showed up.
Our ride was an eleven passenger luxury jet. Full leather. Burled walnut. A company had donated it to ferry Americans back home. We weren’t sure where it was going and didn’t much care…we just got on.
Pizza and drinks waiting for us. We were commanded to raid the cabinets for snacks. We obliged. M&M’s are particularly good at 40,000 feet in a private jet.
A short two hours later, we deplaned in Fort Pierce, Florida. Friends of Kirk’s picked us up, fed us like kings and sent us to bed.
I couldn’t make this stuff up, people. It’s good to be home.
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