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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Earthquake Calendar: Day Seven, "The Great Escape"

Rousing the troops- at 3 am!
Pappa Kevin gets Rebekah ready.

Gretchen's two duffle bags of granola bars
come in handy- throughout the day we're feeding
the kids a bar every two hours just to keep them occupied!
The Cage
Finally inside the Embassy, the kiddos have some fun!
...For ten hours!

Here, we wait.
And wait...
Regan Blesh and her stow-away.
This little guy made it through American customs
without a word. (Maybe it was the 26 kids that
distracted the customs agents.)
Pappa Kevin takes special care of Stephania.
It was hard for me to think of the hundreds of other
kids like Stephy we left behind in Haiti. I'm glad now
that I was nearly unconscious throughout the whole process.
Denise Blesh. She and her four kids were a godsend- literally.
Without those extra hands our ship would have sunk- or more
appropriately, our plane downed!
Praise God that they were able to receive the same humanitarian
parole for their little Bethania that we did for our 26.
The adoption paperwork Jack and Marcia had slaved over for 8 months.
Jack and Marcia were ready. Apparently, so was God.
Gretchen and Jack jump through the legal ropes.

Finally- we're on the shuttle headed towards the airfield.
We're tired, but grateful.

At the airport, international news crews descend upon our
adorable and highly photogenic Haitian refugees.
On the plane, some of the kiddos nap...
Most of them play!
"Daniel, where are you going?"
By this time, the kids know.
They're going HOME!
Chloe Blesh goofs off with Djoulie and Nicot.
This young woman- herself a refugee- was another
blessing from God. Her hands were so helpful with our
babies! Needing transportation to the states, she joined our group
at the embassy and flew with us to Florida. There she met up
with her own adoptive family! Her English was very limited,
though. I can only imagine the bittersweetness of her own homegoing.
I am sure the adjustment has been difficult and very lonely.
Kethia and Rob. We're on American soil!
This precious girl almost broke my heart!
In customs, the tears careening down my face,
I had to tell myself, "If God can preserve little Bethany from
the throws of a 7.0 earthquake, He can protect her heart and deliver
her safely to her family." I believe He did. Faithful God!
The melee! The kids wait in a back room as we process them one by one
and hand them off to their familes, anxiously awaiting behind glass doors!
Twenty-six kids only took us six or so hours. Great job, Ft. Pierce Customs Agents!
Dave gives his signature sign of approval.
As I hugged each one of the kids Goodbye,
I knew this moment was a highlight of my life.

Monday 1/18
3 am- wake kids. Load cage. Pray with nannies; tearful farewell. They want us to remember them! We will, we will! We will come back for you! Sean Blesh’s family: his wife, Denise, and four kids, are evacuating today also. They have a Haitian-adopted daughter whose paper work they too must expedite to get her out of the country. We caravan to embassy, leaving at 4 am. The cage full with cargo and kids; I ride with Renato on my lap in Blesh’s vehicle to embassy. Eerie scenes on the dark drive there: crew working on extracting what they think is sixty (wrong estimation) live people from the basement of the collapsed Caribbean Super Market- corpses on the street outside the gate evidence their efforts; packs of dogs hunt together under cover of the black morning hours; sections of the street are blocked off where masses of people sleep; rubble everywhere. Sean and Denise remark how deserted the streets are of the usual traffic and how uncanny the silence is (the city before the quake was never quiet). My hungry and searching eyes devour it all. I want to Remember.

Arrive at embassy. Unload kids and cargo at embassy door- the side door. Wait past 5 outside. I am still painfully ill. Per an American medical worker’s suggestion, I eat a vegetarian MRE, which makes me sicker. The Blesh kids are in awe of the MRE heating system- me too! After this fateful meal, Tom snaps a picture of me lying on the road by the curb in the fetal position: I spend most of the day in this position, doubled over in pain, exhausted. Quite a long time later, after many Haitian embassy workers and cars have passed by the crazed American woman, I move from the lying on the curb to sitting in the midst of the children on the lawn. It is here, observing the simple actions of the kids eating (more!) granola bars, and pondering their interactions with each other that I quietly shed my first tears. This is it. It took a 7.0 earthquake and only God knows how many deaths but these kids are going HOME.

The sun rises. Helicopters circle above us. Lines of hundreds of Haitians become visible outside the front gate. We are escorted inside the embassy. It is quite the scene as the ten of us “big people,” 27 small children, and more than a dozen large totes make our way forward- a bedraggled caravan of tired refugees. Our cargo is deposited in the interior court yard where hundreds of relief workers have set up camp. This is unbelievable and the joke of the day- we are actually inside our own American embassy! Such a thing has never happened in Haiti before! Everything inside this sanctuary communicates that we are on a transported piece of American turf- the English-speakers, beautiful landscaping, orderly rows of matching chairs, flushing toilets, clean windows, offers of food and water, men and women in military garb. We are led to the second of a series of adjacent waiting rooms where we spend the next nine hours waiting. Hundreds of people filter in and out of our assigned space over the course of our wait; it is “organized” chaos.

Once inside, I collapse into my curled- up position on the ground with a sheet pulled over me- for hours- waking only to drink water, visit the bathroom, and recoil from kids crawling on me and dogs licking my face! Meanwhile, calls are received and made, VIPs consulted (and stateside, prayers offered without ceasing). Several hours into our wait somebody in our group (my guess is Gretchen or Denise- a mom!) suggests we turn the chairs inward to create a huge circle- much easier to contain the kids that way! Every once and a while I awake to overhear “Nicot, stop pulling your sister’s ear!” “Kids, you can have a lolly-pop if you sit down!” “Who needs to go to the bathroom?” “Lay down, Kethia!” “Don’t step on Stephania, Matu!” “You want a granola bar?” “Sebastian needs a bottle.” “Djuolie needs a diaper change.” “Reece, can you help?” Finally, finally, we are told we’re on our way! Again, we load ourselves up (or rather, down) with children and cargo to plod out to the shuttles.

The shuttle has DR plates and the driver speaks Spanish. Today, we love the neighbors! We are taken to the big airport where news crews prey upon Jack and Gretchen and camera men upon our kids! This was a mistake, though- we’re supposed to fly out of the smaller air field. We wait- what are we waiting on?! We need to move! Finally our driver gets the message and we start for the missionary airport. A CVS camera man accompanies us to film the kids getting onto the plane- a comfortable image to project for Americans to end the day’s Haiti news coverage . Hendricks Motor Sports has donated the plane and crew. With Jameslee and Dave on separate arms, I climb the ladder. On the plane, we try to position ourselves throughout the 40 seats to create an effective distribution of adults and kids. All day we have avoided talking with the kids about our actions and the desired result. Once settled, smiling to myself as I take in the sight of our giddy assembly, I begin to probe them one by one,“Reece, where are you going?” –“To Evansville.” “Daniel, where are you going?” –“Chicago.” “Steeve?” –“Arizona.” “Elmise?” –“Michigan.” They Know. Contentedly, my heart affirms, “Yes, you are really are going HOME…”
The engines gear up. We are the last plane daylight permits off the field today. Unfortunately I’m seated on the wing so I can’t visibly say goodbye to Haiti as we ascend. One week after arriving in Haiti from my Christmas vacation with the mind to serve there the next seven months, I am on a plane flying back to America. Once at altitude, our stewardess serves the kids snacks. The crew is so kind!

We land in Fort Pierce, FL, after seven pm and dress the kids in yellow t-shirts donated by the embassy and Hendricks ball caps. These kids are rock stars! The customs crew is waiting with food, toys, blankets (it’s very chilly!) and even cots for the kids to sleep on. Outside the air field, families cheer and camera crews capture the jubilee. Inside we spend the next six hours processing the kids through customs. After sleeping all day, fortunately my body is now cooperating with me a little more and I am able to help out. As I hand the children off one by one to eager and joyful parents, I am in awe. When I moved to Haiti I expected –no, hoped- to witness five, maybe six home goings over the course of my year there. Now five months into that year I am participating in the home going of all twenty-six and it is my privilege to personally hand off twenty of these to their families. The other six -Steeve and Jean-Baptiste, Sebastian, Bethany, Sara, and Lukeson- will spend the night with Gretchen in a safe house and be re-united with their (mostly west-coast) families in the morning. As I hug these children goodbye, humble thankfulness for God’s protection of each one and a strong confidence that He will continue to provide swells my tired and happy heart.

In Florida a surprise greets me: my own parents! They flew into Orlando and Mamma texts me that they are driving to pick me up! At one a.m. Tuesday morning Daddy rouses me from a dead sleep off of one of the chairs. We drive to a nearby hotel. Mamma has clean clothes, a heating pad for my back, and a new toothbrush waiting for me there! On the TV news coverage of the Haiti earthquake is surreal. I enjoy a hot shower and collapse into the most comfortable bed…

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Earthquake Calendar: Day Six

US Air Force! I couldn't resist!
What girl doesn't love men in uniform? And these boys were from back home!

Behind the scenes, behind security

Tom in action with the boys from the 82nd
Thanks, guys!
Military checkpoint. That's a Haitian police officer.

Squatters camps were springing up.
The Relief Team scheming.
Miriam and Cathy helped in so many ways!
Sunday 1/17
Yesterday? or the day before my Pastor explained to me about Church services to be held this morning but can it really be Sunday? What an odd feeling- disbelief that Sunday has come so quickly married to the shock that only four full days have passed since the quake: time has been moving so slowly. It feels like a whole month has gone by since my return to Haiti but it’s not yet been even a full week.

Make l’abri for kids’ breakfast at Tony’s. Serve Bertoni and Rebekah, refugees staying in Tony’s apartment, coffee and our leftover pancakes from dinner last night. Rebekah is 8 months pregnant with their first child. I love making coffee for friends and through this earthquake perfect strangers quickly become such; “old” friends become brothers and sisters. Jack, Gretchen, and Chris conference at picnic table (where our Team breakfasts) then Tony’s apartment, drawing up plans for the future of the post-earthquake Three Angels. After a QCS staff meeting, Miriam and Cathy make the hard decision to leave for the states. The school directors had surveyed the wider area around Port-au-Prince and used the meeting to express to the staff the realities facing Haiti. They predict there will be food shortages, rioting, and untimely deaths from lack of medical care- they say it will get much worse before it gets any better. I help Cathy pack- she has one hour. The evacuees are allowed a single backpack. Cathy’s whirl-wind departure is hard to digest. By her absence my prayer-warrior and strongest support is gone.

But there is little time to sit and cry. Tony Decoder- second in command at QCS- seeks me out: “Abbey, we need to know when your orphanage will be leaving. The school is going to become a central command station for many relief agencies and we need you out.” This is the Question I’ve been avoiding –and trying to resolve- all week. Trips to the Chapel, a failed attempt to relocate to the Meers’ house, the initial failure to find Pastor Jules, and the growing awareness that my “Plan B” to place our kids in ones and twos into QCS students’ families indefinitely are efforts which have kept me busy all week yet have yielded no solution. But now, with my Team on the ground, we’re moving forward.”Abbey, I just need to know a day.” I can’t put this off any longer. My response: “Tonight’s our last night. We will leave [presumably to return to O] tomorrow morning.”Plans are made with Steve Hersey to use the QCS “cage” vehicle to transport all children and materials to O Monday. We will sleep in the school room on our compound, post guards at night, and try to get a water truck. Immediately after my response to Mr. Decoder I begin to feel panicked for the first time. I am not excited about leaving the safety net of QCS. Gretchen interviews by phone on Gary Hoffman’s KFI radio program. Afterward she shares with me that she has the exact feelings. She also says that when the kids get to the states they, the Board, want me to come too. This is not what I wanted to hear, but I will acquiesce. The Board is the authority God has elected over me; I will submit.

Meanwhile, the guys have gone to the O and are prepping for the kids’ return tomorrow. Tom, the visionary and adventurer, wants to go to the airport to secure supplies for our people (our kids, Haitian staff & their families) and to establish favorable relations with the US military- maybe they can use 91 Delmas #19 as a command post for Petionville- the security would be an asset to us. Francois drives us- of course I have to tag along! I have to see this guy in action (Tom claims he can get anything from anybody at anytime) and to learn this new skill set- very valuable in disaster zones. We meet a Sgt. of the 82nd Airborne division at the big airport and determine he wants a Haitian cell phone (that works- that’s the trick!). He gives us 45 minutes to find one and 1,000 minutes. We are told upon securing the goods to go to a military checkpoint and give a code name. This is so Jason Borne. We race around the PAP suburbs to find phone. Back in Delmas, find Simm card and minutes, need phone. Return to airport out of time and without phone. Tom buys phone from Jean Smith, a young Haitian who is one of a hundred lined up outside the military check point offering themselves for translation work in exchange for food. Smith has three children, no wife, and no house. He is desperate to feed his kids. Our Sgt. accompanies Tom & I onto airfield- Francoise has to stay behind. We exchange the coveted Haitian phone for boxes of water and MREs. Conceal the boxes in back of vehicle with a towel- very inconspicuous! Pick up Francoise and Smith outside of checkpoint, I drive us homewards. Discover that phone cards are in ash tray, return to airfield. Offer cards, return to QCS. Prep chicken soup for the kids’dinner in Tony’s apartment. It’s already dark. Gretchen keeps me company. I am grateful to learn more about Three Angels and to hear Gretchen’s heart on the matter. It’s nice to have a girl around! For my dinner I eat trail mix and samples of the Teams’ MREs. Probably not the best idea! Around 9 pm, seized by debilitating gut pain. Lay down on the couch in the girls’ apartment to sleep (Jaime and Jamie have moved into Cathy’s room). I am in agony.

Around 10? 11? pm Nichole stumbles out of her room with a text for Gretchen. Gretchen scrambles to contact Shannon in Los Angeles who had fielded the call through Facebooking Megan, who then texted Nichole. Shannon had received a call from our angelic case-worker in D.C. who had taken an interest in us and who had been working on our case all week. Her message: get kids to embassy ASAP Monday morning, meet Pius, and if you have a plane we can get you out of Haiti. With this message Dr. Jack and Chris are mobilized to retrieve legal documents and supplies from O. I task Chris with bringing back my US cell phone and computer drive since I am unable to move. (I can think of no other irreplaceable personal items at the O. I have my computer, camera, and my passport. Everything else is scrapped. I don’t even have a Bible! I will leave Haiti like the others before me- with a single bag.) Concerned for my condition, Nichole prays over me. Will I even be able to get up, much less travel? I ask God. Slowly I shower, pack, and write notes to friends- not exactly the goodbye I’d imagined but it is the opportunity I am given so I take it.

Mr. Decoder, amazingly, this is our last night at QCS. We will be leaving in the morning! My desperate but determined statement hours earlier became a prophetic declaration. Our God is the heavens; He does whatever He pleases! I lie down fitfully til 3 am.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Earthquake Calendar: Day Five

In line for water- this is washing/cooking water.

It cannot be drunk.

It cracked me up to see a white guy in the crowd

gathered here to purchase gas.

UN police on the patrol

Looking legit

The choas of the Big airport

Back at QCS- Ben and Katie play with our kids

Saturday 1/16
Walk breakfast food across the street to make at Miriam’s since Tony’s apartment gas is out. Prepare l’abris for kids’ breakfast. Try QCS internet to check Relief Team’s status. Net down. Jeni and Kaite, QCS teachers, leave for states. They are the first of my friends there to evacuate. Clean public bathrooms that our kids have access to. Leave for airport with Francois in rented tap-tap around 11(?) The drive to the airport is AMAZING- I am outside of my bubble and witnessing the wider touch of the earthquake- devastation, yet in pockets- nothing. What decides the buildings that crumble and those that don’t? At the “Big” (the international) airport, for the first time in Haiti my white skin isn’t a hassle- I march right onto the flight line and witness the beginnings of the enormous relief and evacuation efforts . News crews- everywhere. Welcome to Haiti, American marines. No visual ID on team at Big airport, race over to little (missionary) air field. Team nowhere to be found at either airport. We have no team and no cargo, so we give tap-tap to John Garvin of Map International, who is waiting for transportation to Mission of Hope but, surprise, has no communication. From conversation with John, who is the last on his flight, Francoise & I determine that our team flew in with him. We take off on motorcycle for Livesay’s to hopefully connect with Megan. Megan not there. Check on my friend from church, Myrtho Dartiguenave in her home inTabarre. Meanwhile, at QCS: “To give the Three Angels kids some much-needed stress relief, the "young teachers" from Quisqueya took the kids off the porch to run around on the "big kid"/older elementary playground. This sweet one was my sidekick. They are wild. They've learned two new words in English- "helicopter" and "ladybug". They aren't sleeping well- most still wet the bed at 4, 5, and 6.”-from Ben Kilpatrick’s blog. Motorcycle back to QCS. Half of Relief Team is there with Megan who picked them up at the airport per Gretchen’s request. Walk to O- meet Chris, Tom, and Rob, who have moved all downstairs bunk beds into school house. Plan is to relocate kids to O after mason rebuilds back wall. Make pancakes for kids’ dinner, tote them down to school with team. Sleep in Cathy’s spare bed- on a mattress! Mourners wake me up; sounds like an angry mob outside the walls.