Blog

January 26, 2010

Returning from Haiti, reality sets in

Haiti Forever Mission 2 chapter 3

As we deplane, the media is already on the ground photographing the plane.

James, Frank and myself have very specific plans:

  1. We need to find all the goodies we have brought down for our police officers on the ground.
  2. We need to make sure we find tents and sleeping bags and water and some food for our nurses and doctors.
  3. We need to help segregate goods for the Air Canada Hospital.
  4. We need to help PIH organize their transport.

haiti_1x1_frank_plane

Frank talking to a reporter on flight down – View all photos

The first volley goes very smoothly – everything on the plane is separated quickly and efficiently. A school bus with the moniker “LOVE BUS” pulls up. This is the bus which was hired by our team on the ground to transport the nurses and doctors to the hospital. We are also getting the Pepsi products and water and goodies to the police officers. Phase One is complete.

The machinery that is needed to remove the large pallets from the plane is not working, but we have no fear – the USAF comes to the rescue with their machinery, and proceeds to remove all the pallets.

Last week we were able to pack all of our stuff right there on the tarmac, but now, the protocol has changed. The goods are now being moved a ways down the runway to a holding area which is protected by the USAF. This seems difficult for us and we send Frank to speak to the USAF. They are in a no-win situation. For the last two weeks, people have been dropping off goods on the tarmac and much of it hasn’t been processed quickly enough. Also, packing and unpacking right there on the tarmac is a safety hazard and they do not want to take a chance that aid workers will be injured.

Clearly it makes sense. Although it will make our job in the middle of the night slightly more difficult, when we stopped to think about it, we cannot fault their logic. Also they are so nice and polite and really want to help.

We make our way down into a holding area. There are a large amount of pallets across the field and I wonder if this is aid which is sitting there waiting to be picked up. I am told ‘yes’.

I don’t want to think about it.

I hope and pray that this stuff will make its way quickly to those who need it.

We are ready – PIH’s staff and truck are there. We have one mission now and that is to open up all the pallets because we need to find sleeping bags. I cannot think of sending these nurses and doctors in the middle of the night without those things.

Jude tells me 6 pallets are coming down to us. He is still by the plane unloading and getting the pallets for the small hospital together.

Thank goodness for Rogers – the service of the phones is perfect and we are all able to communicate.

We start to open the pallets. Most of the pallets are much needed medicine, generously donated by Apotex. As we open the pallets I realize that the medicine in my hands is going to save lives. I cannot begin to really explain the feeling I had at that particular moment. I truly wish every single person who has given or been touched by this tragedy to could somehow be able to experience that moment. Knowing that feeling of actually, physically, touching something that you know is going to save a life.

I felt blessed and privileged to be living this moment. There are moments when the world strikes a perfect pitch – when there is not one negative bit of energy. This was one of those moments.

It was the middle of the night, very close to pitch black, and here we were – James, Frank, the doctors, the nurses, PIH’s staff and even the guys from the USAF – all helping to move all the medicine from the pallets to the truck, which would then take them to the 13 hospitals that PIH was overseeing. I will never ever forget those 4 hours.

The nurses and doctors, who would have to get up a few hours later, were working as hard as anyone, even Dr. Satzman, which worried me somewhat.

There is an old joke that when you are looking for something, it is always in the last place you look – well obviously, because who finds something and keeps looking for it? Al kidding aside, we had to look through every single pallet and 30,000 lbs of medicine and equipment, to finally find the tents. By the time we did, we were running short of time and had to get to the plane.

I leave Louen – PIH’s ‘Angel’ – with the stock. I introduce her to the most handsome young officer overseeing the yard and he assures me all is good. I load the nurses and doctors on the “LOVE BUS” and make sure the driver knows where they are going. Our trusted officers are going to escort them – I am happy. Jude has found more tents and more blankets, and he is running down to us in the yard. This guy is Superman in disguise. I think he is has become a dear friend and the respect I have for him goes beyond words.

We have achieved 95% on our mission. We have had to leave PIH to finish the unpacking of the pallets and I feel so bad. I email Louen and apologize, but she assures me it’s OK. I tell her to leave it and to come back the following day – that it is secure with the USAF.

When we get to the plane, there are buses there with the orphans.

Duncan has asked me and Frank to help out if there are needs. The Air Canada volunteers are numerous and I don’t want to take one of their spots, so we wait till all the kids are off. There are more than enough volunteers and they are taking such good care of the children.

I would have loved to have taken care of one on the flight, but I am happy to help serve water and help clean-up. This is a ‘family affair’ and the flight is full. I am happy to help.

As I am serving water, I stop at one of the seats of the evacuees a beautiful young woman, because along with the orphans, there are also many evacuees with us.

She has a picture of a beautiful woman on her lap. I ask her in French if that is her mother. Tears well up in her eyes and I understand that she has lost her mother. I feel terrible, so I hug her and tell her that if she needs anything, to just ask. I realize that many people on this flight are going home to Canada, but they have left their loved ones behind, most without a burial or any real closure. This is unimaginable. The plane is almost full. I can only imagine the sorrow and pain. Like last week, our passengers are quiet and circumspect. I try to talk to as many as I can, but the plane is quiet.

As I am going down the aisle, I stop next to one of the volunteers.

She has the cutest little baby in her arms – they are both sleeping, and the baby has her hands in her own mouth – it is truly a beautiful sight. I tease her about how selfish she is because she is not letting her volunteer partner share the cuddling, and she smiles. They haven’t moved all flight.

There are two babies who aren’t feeling well, so the Air Canada doctor, Dr. Guy Riendeau, is back and on the case – he is a wonderful person and was also on the flight last week.

On the way down Jude had introduced me to Mary, who is a really nice lady and very caring. She has two older kids who are brother and sister, they are 11 and 8, and if memory serves me right. They are beautiful and have the greatest smiles. They are happy to be heading to a new family. Mary finds her way to the front of the plane. In her hands is a young boy who is called Destin – meaning Destiny. He will not let anyone sit down with him, so I take him in my arms so that Mary can take a bathroom break. He is clearly past exhaustion and cannot sleep. He appears younger than he is and I am cuddling with him. I am so happy.

I stop to talk to some of the Air Canada guys who helped unload. One of them offers me a glass of water. Destin starts to cry out and reach for the glass, so I put the glass up to his mouth. He does not drink but he puts his tiny face into the glass and lets the water lap at his lips. He isn’t drinking – he may be so dehydrated that his body has shut down his thirst sensors, but the coolness of the water on his lips is soothing him. Mary has come out and sees what is happening.

She gets me a bottle which I try to put it in Destin’s mouth but he rejects it, he wants to keep his face in the glass. This goes on for a few minutes, and I make sure he is not hurting himself. I go to the back to sit next to Mary to try to sit with Destin. But he doesn’t want to sit – he wants to be in my arms and walking around the plane.

So I do this, and then Mary takes over.

I have been up all night and haven’t slept much in 10 days. I go to a seat and fall asleep.

I am awakened as the pilot announces that we are landing in Ottawa, I had forgotten about that. We were originally supposed to land in Montreal, but in order to accommodate the new young Canadians, we have landed in Ottawa. I am not sure what time it is but as we land I check my BB and I see an email from Louen. They worked all night and all the medication was unpacked and taken off the airport and into the hospitals.

I look down the aisle and tell Frank and James. They give me the big thumbs up.

We have been part of another incredible experience and we are proud to know that we have achieved all that we had set out to do. Duncan and Jude and all our partners have done this for us. We would never have achieved any of this without their incredible support.

When I land I am told that the Montreal Chief of Police was on the flight and he was bringing back about 19 Montreal police officers of Haitian descent, who had been on the ground. They have a bus waiting for them to take them to Montreal. Carl and Gilles – Air Canada security staff and my new friends – offer me a lift. So we get on the nice bus with Dr. Reindeau and his associate, and we make our way to Montreal.

I have a great conversation with the doctor – he gives me the lowdown on the flight and the difficulties with the two young orphans who weren’t well. He feels confident they will be fine and we talk in general about Life.

The bus ride is surreal because we never discuss what we just did.

Imagine leaving at 5:30 pm on Saturday and now at 8:00 am Sunday we have come and gone and spent hours unpacking aid in a completely different country.

I am glad to be home. I am proud to be part of a group of people at OneXOne, but also, I feel like I am part of the Air Canada team. There are no requests too difficult and there are no problems – only opportunities. This was this mission – the ‘no stone left unturned’ mission.

There is talk of another flight – could it be possible? Could we be part of a third flight?

I can only hope.

Joey

“HOPE BELONGS TO EVERYONE”

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