Five of the February team members boarded the plane at Logan Airport in Boston; our sixth member, Nicole, was taking a different flight so we were planning to meet her in Haiti. Our flights were scheduled to land only an hour apart, so we thought that would work well. We had to switch planes and barely made it in the 22 minutes we were given. Then we sat on the tarmac for a while, before returning to the gate because of a blown circuit. Nearly an hour later, we were finally in the air.
Solange, an ER nurse at Boston Medical Center (BMC), is new to our team, and we hadn’t met her before. Cat and Jenna are also new to METI. They’re both P.A.s in the Boston area. Donnie and I met Cat and Jenna just once during a planning meeting. Nicole is an ER nurse at a Boston area hospital, and we’ve worked closely with her for years. She is smart. She always greets our patients with a smile.
Donnie and I had prepared our team members for the arrival at the airport. If you’ve never been to Haiti, you’d hardly believe the rush of workers who try to grab your bags and help you bring them outside. It can be overwhelming! This time, we made it through customs and got hung up at the exit. You’re supposed to hand in your baggage claims, which are supposed to be attached to your boarding pass. Ours were not attached. Five dollars later, though, we were through.
It was HOT outside! Hundreds of people were outside the airport, and there were more who wanted to earn tips by helping with our luggage. You can try to say no, but it’s tough. And it usually doesn’t work.
We couldn’t find Nicole. We battled through the foot traffic and emerged in the parking lot where we’ve met our drivers on previous trips. We still can’t find Nicole. Where is she? We were confident that she had landed safely and was around somewhere. The airport isn’t that big but we weren’t allowed back inside. We couldn’t call; we couldn’t send email. Solange’s phone was “locked” and we couldn’t figure out how to unlock it. We paid someone a small fee to borrow his phone, called our contact to determine where our ride was, and asked about Nicole. He denied having seen her or picked her up.
We waited and searched for some time, not wanting to leave because the addresses are hard to communicate here and therefore hard to find. Like, “find a ride, take a left at the cow and beep twice so we open the gate.”
After thinking carefully for a few minutes, we decided to head to our villas and try connecting to the Internet. We thought Nicole would make it to an Internet connection somehow and check her email to figure out where we were. Hours went by. We went to the grocery store, but they wouldn’t take our credit cards because the phone lines were down. So we waited in 95-degree temps, which felt like 115 degrees!
Solange was the only one not too worried about Nicole. They’re both native Haitians. Solange said, “If she was American, I would worry. She’s Haitian, she’s totally fine. This is her country. She’s fine.”
Sure enough, moments later, at 7 p.m., an email came through; Nicole was here and had her sister pick her up. She spent the afternoon visiting with family and then somehow found her way to our compound. With an address that I could barely understand, without any markings on the properties, she arrived, with smiles for us and hugs from her family.
The six of us sat down to dinner and planned our week of training. We listened to Nicole reflect on the changes in her country since she was last here, in 2002, eight years before the devastating earthquake. Her eyes teared up just slightly as she spoke of sleeping outdoors for two months because her family was afraid to go back into the house. With slight tears in her eyes, she spoke of how her family slept outdoors for 2 months because they were afraid to go back in their houses. She called it a “slumber party”. A pretty positive outlook for such a negative situation. She spent the night telling us stories of the culture and how it used to be. We learned that she has been a nurse since 1977, and spent five years working in Switzerland. She cares SO much about the work we are trying to do in Haiti!
There’s something amazing about this group of volunteers – Jenna, Cat, Solange, Nicole, Donnie, and me. We’re so glad we found Nicole. She’s home now.