Sunday, May 3, 2009

On Traveling to Haiti and other related things #5

It was 10:55am; I had arrived in Port au Prince.

There’s something exciting about stepping through the door from the plane onto the step platform. I breathed deep and took that first step down. I descended the stairs and stepped onto Haitian ground. I walked a couple hundred yards to the entrance and just inside the arriving gate, a band, dressed in DigiCell t-shirts (one of the Haitian cell phone carriers), played lively Haitian music. This is always one of my favorite encounters when arriving in Haiti. You can’t help but feel welcomed and happy.

I stood in line to present my VISA and Declarations Forms. I had filled out my forms as instructed and handed them over the woman behind the counter. I had never done this alone before and hoped I had gotten all the information correctly and in the right fields. I wasn’t looking forward to being pulled into a small office for questions or even worse, being deported. I mean, after all I’d just arrived. The woman processing the paperwork didn’t even look up, but simply stamped my papers and handed them back to me. I was cleared to proceed.

After retrieving my luggage, I was to meet Nadir, a Haitian who runs a taxi service from the International Airport to the smaller, local Haitian Airport. I was very nervous about this part. I didn’t know that I would recognize Nadir. It had been a couple years since I had seen him and I was worried that the chaos that happens between baggage claim and the exit door to the airport might claim its first victim; me. I paid two American Dollars to rent a cart and stood waiting for my luggage. I watched the carousel go around and around but there was no sight of my bags. Outside the windows I could see more and more luggage being unloaded. With each new round of bags, I became hopeful and then disappointed. Porters were scurrying around pulling unclaimed bags off and stacking them in the center of the baggage claim area and helping other travelers pull bags and put them on their $2 luggage carts. One of the porters approached me and looked at my tags. I knew I would have to give him some money for helping but I didn’t care. I was grateful for an advocate. He watched bags and inspected tags. Over and over again he would lift the bag enough to check the tag and place it back on the carousel. I waited for at least 30 minutes for my bags and just as I was beginning to lose hope, on the horizon was a familiar sight; my bags. I breathed a silent sigh of relief.

Now to find Nadir.

Just as my last bag was being hoisted onto my cart someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up and immediately knew it wasn’t Nadir but I didn’t know who it was. “Are you Amy?” “Yes, I am.” “You have a phone call. Its Nadir”, he said as he handed me his phone. Although Nadir speaks excellent English, it is spoken with a thick accent and in the midst of a noisy airport I could hardly make out what he was saying. I thought I understood the word “outside”. I assumed I was to head outside and he would meet me there. I think he felt unsure that I understood his message so he called the man who loaned me the phone who came back to where I was and simply said, “Follow me”. The line to get from baggage claim outside was congested. It was every man for himself. Dozens of people with overloaded luggage carts were coming from all directions, diverging into an area that split into two single lanes. No one cares who you’re following or why. But somehow he pushed his way through and kept me close behind. As I came to the exit, another man who did look familiar spoke my name.

It was Nadir. He had found me.

I wish I could say that the nice man who loaned me his phone disappeared into the distance and all that was left was a white feather in my cart. I would be lying. He boarded the bus, along with one other woman and we all headed to the small airport. Maybe he wasn’t an angel, but he will most certainly be remembered, at least by me, as a saint.

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