After finishing up our clinics and work at the orphanage on Tuesday, we said our goodbyes to the kids and staff which is always a hard piece. When you enter into their world and their pain and connect with them on an emotional level, you become bonded, even though you don't speak the same language. The kids cry and hold on to you and you see their broken hearts after they have enjoyed your hugs and attention for the last week. Even the staff and helpers show the sadness that they feel about losing our company and our presence, asking when we will come back so they have something, anything, to look forward to.
Wednesday was a relaxed morning at the hotel, with a later breakfast and departure time than we had enjoyed all week. We said our goodbyes to the friends we had made and boarded the big yellow school bus and set out for Port-au-Prince. While we were in route, we got a message that American Airlines wanted to bump us to the next flight leaving a few hours after our scheduled flight and would give us some travel vouchers to make the change. After some phone calls with the airline and taking a vote, we agreed, as it was only going to get us home about an hour later than planned. We dropped off the 2 Drs. Koh that were flying to New York and decided to take a little driving tour around while we had a little more time to kill.

U.S. military and U.N. soldiers were seen on the streets from the U.S., India, Canada and China, and so our presence did not seem to draw the same amount of attention that they did pre-earthquake. We got stuck in a traffic jam for about ½ an hour on a road filled with abandoned and destroyed cars from the earthquake, essentially leaving enough room for one lane of traffic, yet 2 and 3 rows were formed, horns honking and cars going in different directions with no order whatsoever. Widely exposed and very visible, we were smack dab in an area that we learned the next day home had been called out as a place for foreigners to avoid after some robberies and political turmoil that had taken place this week. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose, since we didn’t realize that we should have been a lot more concerned.

It was market day, and everyone was out buying and selling – mangoes stacked on the ground, clothes being displayed in huge piles on the concrete as a woman sat in the middle of them, sorting as people were looking for something specific. Men pushing carts full of shoes, or bottles of brown water, or sodas in used bottles. Tent cities were everywhere, and we can only begin to imagine the heat trapped in those with no air movement. It had rained, and we saw some flooding in one of the tent cities that must make for a muddy mess. There is no escape from the heat, or from the crowds of people, or from the filth and dirt and trash that is everywhere. No privacy, no quiet, no relief. Everyone lives in such squalor.
Those in our group that were here in March thought that things had improved, but there is still so much devastation. I wondered what kind of home or school or business it was, and what precious lives were still buried under the rubble. We saw a young girl being pushed around in a wheelchair because she no longer had legs, and I imagined how difficult it must be for her to get around on the bumpy gravel roads. We drove around and we watched life. Even there in the city, life in Haiti is lived primarily outside – Moms were out washing clothes in a pan outside their tents, cooking a meal over a little charcoal fire, kids were running around that should have been in school but either had not the privilege of attending, or maybe their school was destroyed in the earthquake and they have no school now. I wondered how do the children find their tent home among the hundred others that look the same?  

 Our new flight ended up being delayed and making our connecting flight into DC from Miami was in jeopardy. Dave was at the ticket counter and on the phone with the American Airlines group desk for about an hour, trying to make arrangements to ensure that we did not get stuck in Haiti and had the best chance of making our connection in Miami where we still had to retrieve our bags and clear customs and immigration. American decided to move our group to the front of the aircraft so that we could disembark first - I don’t think that flying first class could have come at a better time as we enjoyed our pre-flight icy-cold drinks, a nice meal, fresh-baked cookies and air-conditioning… you couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces as we relished in what surely felt like a gift from God after feeling so uncomfortable for the last week (I got some great pics of this on the plane but unfortunately, lost my camera on that flight). When we reached Miami, we all ran through immigration, baggage, customs, security, and off to our gate which was literally about a 3 mile trek start-to-finish, according to the stewardess. By the skin of our teeth, we made it - the last ones on the plane. We were on our way home! Quick goodbyes at the DC airport and one lost bag, and we went our separate ways.

We rolled in to our house around 2:30 a.m., and washed off Haiti before going to bed – a shower without shoes for the first time in a week felt good as I melted into my cool and comfortable bed and fell quickly asleep. It was good to be home. Throughout the next day, I found myself enjoying the simple things that I had come to miss for one week such as cold water with that familiar chlorine taste that ensures me of its safety, a cool spring day where I wasn't sweating profusely with dirt and dust caked into my skin, toilets that flush properly, clean surroundings – we are back to the good life once again.

I felt the dichotomy and disparity all day - enjoying my blessings with a heavy heart for the Haitian people for the lives that they live. We were uncomfortable for a week - they are uncomfortable every day. Life for us here will quickly return to normal, and our week in Haiti will soon be a distant memory that we will re-live through pictures and videos and by seeing our group we traveled with – some who were strangers to us a week ago now feel like family for what we experienced together.

Our lives are changed each time we go and we see, what the pictures can only give you a tiny glimpse of. You have to see it with your own eyes to believe it. You have to hear it, feel it and smell it to really understand Haiti. S.o.S. will return to Haiti again in January 2011. Come and see for yourselves.