Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Day 1 In Country- Getting the Orphans Home

Its hard to know where to start on my Haiti experience. I hope you are reading and for more regular updates and stories about what we are doing here. This has been an emotional and physical experience.

I will try to give you a quick recap best I can for now.

Day 1 in country. This was the day we sent the orphans home. Originally I wasn't supposed to be on the unexpected and quick developing orphan team. I was back at camp organizing other activities when they left. But after a few hours of not being able to reach them I dispatched myself and a translator in a taxi to the airport where the orphan team was... doing something? We had no idea what to expect when we got there. My silly American mind thought that a team of 15 adults and 121 babies and children would be in a cool, air-conditioned room inside the airport, waiting for their chartered flight home.

Boy was I ever wrong. Instead I found them just beyond the outdoor security checkpoint in an ICE canopy. ICE= Immigration Customs Enforcement. It was easily 98 degrees outside, with a blazing sun. Our volunteers were holding all these precious little babies and children. And let me tell you, it is not fun to hold a baby in that kind of heat.

I was on a mission to find the answer to an important question. I rushed through the canopy. A sweet little baby held his arms out to me as I passed by. Without even thinking twice, I just scooped him up and kept on moving. He put his cute little chubby arms around me and clung. His name was Wyclef Jean- named after the singer. I kept him on my hip as I ran around trying to get answers to questions and make phone calls in and off the island. He never once complained, cried, or squirmed. He just clung.

My questions answered and fires put out, I could have left. But how could I? My teammates were all sitting there looking exhausted, with babies and children all over them. We were clearly not yet used to this heat. I didn't think twice about staying. I picked up a second baby and got to work bouncing both hips.

I discovered that the paperwork/packets for the orphans had not yet come through. Our leader, Steve Studdert was literally with the Prime Minister of Haiti working to get everything done. I was busy making phone calls to various people via my dad in the States. We couldn't call in-country, but we could call out of country. So I would call my dad, and then give him an urgent message, and a name and a phone number, and he would call that person. And we'd play phone tag over and over again. The messages were things like, “We lose the chartered flight in 15 minutes if we don't get the packets!” “ICE is threatening to kick us out!” Nothing small or simple.

In the end, we got 66 of “our orphans” on the plane. In one of the more surreal moments of my life 15 children were left behind. The other children were almost out of site. I could see one adult just as she was about to disappear. Some stranger asked, “Who is in charge here?” Everyone pointed at me. I very tentatively raised my hand. She had me sign something. I still don't know what (it was in French). Next thing I know, 15 children and babies are in my custody.

Still holding 2 babies (not Wyclef- he made the plane), I ran up to the woman who appeared to be in charge earlier. I asked what I was supposed to do with the babies. She gave me the name (but no address) of the orphanage. I asked for the names of the children. She gave me 13 names. Some children had bracelets on, some did not. One little boy sobbed in the corner. His 2 siblings had made the plane, and he had not. Paperwork mix up. 

Suddenly I was faced with the very strange prospect of getting 16 volunteers and 15 children to an orphanage without an address. ICE had to get us a "tap tap" (Haitian for taxi). This was also about to be my first experience with a tap tap. Let me just say, American cab drivers have NOTHING on tap tap drivers. 
Up to this point I still thought we had 13 children. After all, that was the number I was told. That was how many names I was given. I made sure each volunteer had a child, and I checked them off as they got into the 2 tap taps. That was when I realized that out of my list of 13 names, 5 were wrong. And then I realized we had 15 children. Talk about terrifying moments. 

Let me explain a tap tap to you. Its a pick up truck, with a bench built across each side, and instead of the cab of the truck down where you picture it, it is raised up on stilts so that you can sit in the back. And they are always painted very loud and crazy colors. Seatbelts? HA! No, just sitting in the bed of a truck on a loose piece of wood really. Car seats? Are you crazy? Silly Americans!

We piled into the truck, each one of us holding to our child for dear life. Some children were bigger than others. Most were infants or toddlers. I was holding one of the smaller infants. A cute little guy named Donelson. I was on the end seat. My favorite security guard with his M-16 was standing on the bumper of the truck next to me. I asked the girl on the other side of me (also holding an infant) to put her arm around me. The roads of Port au Prince are rocky, bumpy, and the drivers are insane. (I've been in a lot of Third World countries and their crazy driving conditions. No one holds a candle to the insanity of Haiti driving.) I wanted to hold on to little Donelson for dear life. One bump and we both go flying out the back of the truck. The nurse put her arm around me, and then took it back. She said, "I'm sorry. I can't. We go over a bump and we'll both fly out with our babies." So I shifted the baby to my other leg, and used one arm to hold on to the truck better. 

I have never been as scared as I was driving those babies to the orphanage. 

When we got there another surreal moment came upon me. We just handed the babies over. The orphanage was already overflowing with children. One of the translators told the woman in charge that this is where we were told to take them. (They couldn't go back to their first orphanage. It was too damaged from the earthquake.) She asked a few questions, we handed over the babies, and we got back in our tap taps and drove away. That was it. No papers. No forms. No identifying and making sure we didn't steal a little baby. (Which trust me, is always a temptation around here.) I just handed over a bunch of babies and walked away. 

I know they have good parents who want them. I trust those parents to fight for them. I know one family has already been reunited with their son that was left behind. That comforts my heart. I will be haunted until I know each of those children has made it to the States. 

And that was just Day 1 In Country.

Me and Wyclef Jean. He was named after the singer!

international media crews, total chaos, and tons of strange white people holding them was not enough to distract the little boys from staring at the big, rough, tough ICE agents with their big guns. they are hanging over the table just in awe of the big bad customs agents. no matter the language, boys will be boys.

79 children, 16 volunteers. we were each holding multiple kids at once! i love this picture of 4 kids sitting on rick at once.

how can this cute little face not convince you all you want to go adopt a dozen Haitian angels??
all the little girls were in their "sunday best" to go home to their new parents. and most of the little boys were wearing matching superhero shirts.

(fun sidenote about this picture. both babies are looking over his shoulder at several media cameras focused on them. there were probably 2-3 news crews, and 3-5 newspaper photogs trained on them. those kids are probably thinking, "silly whiteys, whatchu looking at? get me a clean diaper!")

 gotta love the rough, tough security agent, gun, badge and all, holding the sweet little baby. 

waiting to hear which names would be called to get on the plane. look how tired those kiddos were!

 (the van version of a tap tap)

(the truck version of a tap tap. in Haiti, there is "always room for one more." note the person hanging out of the end of the truck. can you imagine holding a baby in that??)


  1. good grief! This doesn't sound like the trip I thought you were going to take! I'm glad they have you.

  2. Love reading you sounding like you!

    Wish I was there!!

    God be with all of you.


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