Arrival into Dominican Republic/Haiti

Santo Domingo Travel Blog

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Arriving into Haiti

When I first learned of the earthquake that struck Haiti, and as I watched the news reports slowly come in of the devastation, it never occurred to me that I would soon be there in the midst of the carnage. A little more than 24 hours after the quake, however, I was contacted about going down…it was a mad scramble to gather teams with any kind of disaster relief experience, even for an organization such as UNICEF, but two days later I found my self in Santo Domingo with other staff and volunteers waiting on the clearance for our jet to land in Port-au-Prince. We heard bits and pieces of news coming out of Haiti at the DR airport and was forewarned that this relief effort would be unparalleled.

Quick shot I took as we were nearing the landing strip

 

I had left the freezing landscape of Missouri for a hot and sunny tropical island, normally a welcome excursion, but now my stomach was in knots as I tried to imagine what lie ahead. I didn’t think twice when asked if I would come to help with the coordination and distribution of water and supplies. During my volunteer duties in Africa I often saw suffering of varying degrees. To be sure, I didn’t grow calloused or insensitive to the human condition; I just felt those experiences would prepare me for what I would witness in Haiti. But then as I began hearing the horrific reports from people who had just come across the border from Dominican Republic’s neighboring country, I surreptitiously thought to myself that I shouldn’t be there.

Most of the time we had UN soldiers when we went out to deliver.
In fact, I didn’t want to be there. What I really wanted was to get a flight back to the states and put this behind me.

 

The truth is I was scared out of my mind…scared of what I would see and scared of how I would respond emotionally. Suffering is one thing, but death is quite another. I have seen a few people die in my lifetime, and it is without a doubt the most emotional and most gut-wrenching experience I have ever had, regardless if I knew the person, or not. And one thing was clear; we were going to see a great deal of both suffering and death.  Eventually my fear was overcome with a calm, almost lethargic mood. I just remember feeling numb (perhaps my body’s own natural mechanism to stave off the fear) as we were cleared for our flight later that afternoon and began boarding.

Unloading water at the airport
As I buckled myself into my seat, I conceded to the reality that I was going to be here for a few days with a job to do. Despite my fears, despite the huge knot in my stomach, I was merely a small part of something much larger than myself.

 

The plane barely seemed to reach a flying altitude before we started our descent. We circled the airport for what seemed like forever and everyone inside was squeezing up to the windows to get a look down below. Suddenly, the word going around was that we now weren’t going to be able to land. You could almost feel the deflation of emotions when the pilot then announced we would be landing. The first clear look I got at the destruction was in the harbor and inward as we approached the landing strip. I think I must have just gasped at what I can only describe as an utter annihilation. I’d earlier seen a few satellite shots on CNN, but here it was up close…and getting closer.

Haitians in line for food and water.

 

The Port-au-Prince airport is a small airport with just one main tarmac, but I could see commercial and military jets everywhere. Crates upon crates of shrink-wrapped supplies were being unloaded and lined up in rows in just about every direction you looked.

We sat at the end of the runway for a long delay and finally taxied to our destination.  After debarking we went straightaway through a very quick customs checkpoint and then to a makeshift control center where we received a debriefing and some resemblance of a strategic plan. One thing seemed fairly obvious from the onset; there was mass confusion and disorganization everywhere. Whatever question you asked it was unlikely you would get a clear answer. At that point, there just weren’t any clear answers.

 

Our mission, itself, was quite clear: deliver supplies. Orphanages and schools were the first priority…anywhere there might be children. But ‘how’ to get the supplies delivered was a challenge we would be facing for several days. The first order of business on our first day here was coordinating with other teams and other organizations, as well as finding out where we’d be sleeping. The short version of the story is that we spent our first night sleeping outside at the airport, but we actually spent most of the night helping to unload cargo planes and pack UN trucks with water and food for deployment the next day.

 

When I finally did crawl under my blanket at about 3 in the morning I could faintly hear over the rumble of jet engines and military trucks the injured people wailing aloud as they were brought in to a nearby provisional hospital. Somehow I fell asleep through all of it.

pearcetoyou says:
Thanks for the kind words, Vanessa!
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011
Vanessa_Mun_Yee says:
I always think that how cool and kind you are to help these unfortunate people ~ you the best James~!
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011
Charmink says:
very courageous! very brave! keep up...
Posted on: Mar 09, 2010
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Arriving into Haiti
Arriving into Haiti
Quick shot I took as we were neari…
Quick shot I took as we were near…
Most of the time we had UN soldier…
Most of the time we had UN soldie…
Unloading water at the airport
Unloading water at the airport
Haitians in line for food and wate…
Haitians in line for food and wat…
Santo Domingo
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