|Port-Au-Prince, Haiti from my plane.|
I kept a journal of the trip, as I always do, and jotted down some of my feelings as I first arrived at the International Terminal in Port-Au-Prince. Once of my favorite stories of the entire trip happened just as we landed.
The money that gets donated goes to a fund that is used to buy medicines directly. These medicines become my own legal property, which is important for customs reasons (although, I do not really understand the intricacies of these laws and rules). We were instructed to pack them in a way that they didn't appear to be merchandise because we would be taxed on them if the authorities thought that we were selling them.
I remember thinking, "How can I take 300 oral re-hydration salt packets in my luggage, along side gigantic unopened bottles of Amoxicillin, several boxes of brand new reading glasses, and an assortment of prescription bottles filled with enough blood pressure medication to kill a herd of wild horses and make it look like its my own personal stash?"
I had nothing to worry about, for sure, because they really were gifts for the patients we saw in the rural clinics we were to visit in the coming week, but proving this to customs official whom spoke no English would be another story altogether. God certainly had a hand in getting this medicine to these people that he loved.
When getting on the plane in the international terminal, I ran into no one checking in that spoke English. Intimidated? A little, but really, in my line of work, I'm used to not being able to speak to the people around me and use charades and rudimentary hand gestures to convey important questions and directions.
Once on the plane, it was a expectantly light load of people flying from mainland USA to PAP considering the recent disaster and outbreak of Cholera. Heck, only an idiot would fly to Haiti unless they had a REALLY good reason. Because it was a light load of passengers, the stewardesses made the strangest request of the passengers.
This friendly Creole-accented voice and gleaming white smile took me completely off-guard, "Sir, would you mind moving to the back of the plane? The pilot will not take off until you move to the back of them plane."
I'm going to be honest, my mind immediately went to Rosa Parks' bus incident. I know, that stupid, right? They weren't discriminating against me. My ancestors weren't subjugated to tyrannical slavery and denied basic human rights for generations. But I could not figure out what was going on, but I didn't ask and just got up from my seat and moved to the back of the plane.*
As I walked back toward the rear of the fuselage a young woman caught my eye as she looked up from her lap top. "Hey there!" she said without a hint of Creole-accent.
"You're American?" I asked her.
"Yeah, sit here, I'll help you feel out your customs forms."
That was all the introduction I needed. I buckled up next to my new friend who turned out to be a Haitian born political analyst and third party observer for the upcoming presidential election. She knew everything about Haiti. In fact, she was actually an expert on Haitian foreign affairs and politics. I got a 90 minute lesson on Haitian history (not just the Wikipedia version I had read in the hotel the night before) and two note book pages full of notes on safe places and where to find help in case of an emergency, including her personal mobile phone number and the phone number to her hotel where she was staying with the international press corps.
|The medicine and medical supplies I carried in my luggage.|
The last bit of advice she gave me was to stay with her once we got through immigration because the Customs agents in the international terminal had been increasingly difficult to deal with and were recently caught "skimming" valuable material that could be sold on the virulent black market. Some of the most valuable, in light of the cholera epidemic, are antibiotics... GULP.
I did my best to stick with her through immigration, but she got through the line much faster than I did because of her dual citizenship. I didn't have any trouble in immigration, there were just some minor communication problems that slowed things down, significantly.
Then we were allowed to identify and grab our on luggage from a pile of bags thrown haphazardly on the airport black top. We then formed 2 single file lines as we came up to customs.
I had seen my friend waiting for me with her one carry-on bag but she was rushed by airport security to get through customs and not allowed to wait for me. I saw every other person on the planes baggage get sorted through with great caution and diligence. Most of the passengers had no actual baggage, only garbage bags that they had thrown their clothes and other travel articles in. I watched the customs agents rip them open, comb through the content and toss the belongings off the table with an attitude that said, "Come on! Someone's gotta have something more interesting in their bags."
They checked every single bag, without exception ahead of me. I was carrying a very heavy sea bag loaded with medicines, a large suitcase with medical supplies and equipment and a back pack with my personal effects. My heart started beating wildly as I approached the Customs agent who never even made eye contact with me and just waved me through the line. Wait. Read this next line carefully. This customs agent was looking for the exact kind of stuff I was carrying, he checked every bag before me and after me, but waved me through.
It took me a second to realize what was going on. I even asked him, "aren't you going to check them?" He didn't understand me, and just as well, it was probably a stupid question.
I ran into the nice young lady who had tried to help me before we were separated while she was waiting for her escort. I told her what happened, her jaw dropped. She was speechless, literally speechless. We didn't get to talk any more, but she had known that I was there as a medical missionary and probably has a better understanding of what happened there, or of how unusual this was. But there was no doubting it, God wanted this medicine in the country.
*Note: I came to find out that the reason the pilot wanted me, and a few others to move toward the back of the plane was to even out the load for take-off and landing. I'd never heard of this before, but it was a small plane, and kind of makes sense
If you would like to donate to the upcoming Haiti Mission, you can either donate to Orangeburg Ave Baptist Church in Zach Greenlee's name or use the Donate button in the upper right corner of this blog. Thank you, and please remember this mission and the people of Haiti in your prayers.