Haiti: The Good, The Bad, & The Downright Crazy (Part 2)
Hey Folks! So yesterday I posted Part 1 of my Haiti Trip which included details about my time spent in Haiti and the work I did while there. Today’s part 2 post is all about the “downright crazy” part of my trip which was the day I came home. So without further ado, here’s the epic tale…
I walked into the Port-au-Prince airport Friday afternoon, 2 hours before my flight. The place was PACKED. I’d never seen it so busy. I go stand in line to check in at US Airways and check my bag. I stand in line for over an hour just to check in! I’m checking the clock regularly to make sure I’ve got plenty of time before boarding. While I’m standing in line, the drug dogs are walking around sniffing everyone and their luggage. I’m watching a yellow lab sniffing all the people around me, and then he comes to me, and just very peacefully sits down right in front of my suitcase. Umm….what? That can’t be right.
The man on the other end of the leash is dressed in fatigues and has an automatic weapon strapped across his chest, and his hand always resting near the trigger. The man says something to me in Creole (which of course I don’t understand), and then he waves over his buddy who is dressed and armed the same way. They both start talking in Creole, to each other and to me. I just shrug and keep telling them I don’t understand. Meanwhile my heart feels like it’s going to pound out of my throat, and I’m thinking about how easily someone could have planted drugs on my suitcase while I was standing in line. I’m also wondering what Haitian prison will be like.
They start motioning to me, and through charades, it looks like they want me to take my suitcase somewhere. So I think they’re going to take me to a room to interrogate and arrest me. I grab my suitcase as they were miming for me to do and back up a few steps. There underneath the corner of my bag, unbeknownst to me earlier, was an eyeglasses case. They had the dog sniff my bag and then the case, and thank the Lord Jesus he sat down in front of the eyeglass case this time! They called over a third guy who had on long gloves and carried a metal box. He opened the box and scooped up the case without touching it. Then he put a padlock on it. Then, without a word to me, the three men walked away.
I’m standing there, wide eyed, not sure if I should be relieved yet, wondering what in the world just happened. And just like that, the line moves forward a bit, and so do I. So I guess they’re not coming back to take me away forever? I’m hoping that’s the case and say a prayer of thanks as I continue making my way to the front of the line.
Finally, after an hour of waiting in line and thinking I would spend my days in a Haitian prison, I make it to the check-in counter. The cheerful woman tells me that I am on standby because they have overbooked the flight. She says that when I get to my gate, I need to go to the desk and ask for a seat. I’m pretty bummed to hear that I might be spending another night in Haiti and not at home, but I thank her and smile anyways, and make my way over to security.
After standing in the security line, I put my shoes and purse in a bin, put my carry-on bag on the conveyor belt, take out my laptop, and put it in its own bin (per the requirements). There’s a guy in front of me with like 5 bins holding up the line. He’s having a hard time and it appears he’s never done this before. After going through the X ray, his bins are all piling up, and he’s not moving fast enough. The airport workers are shouting at him, and I’m assuming they’re telling him to clear the line so we can all move along. I kneel down to put my shoes back on. A guy comes and picks up all the bins on the conveyor belt to make room for others to come through. I stand up, grab my carry-on bag, and make my way to emigration.
So I stand in line at emigration (which is something not every country has for those leaving the country, but Haiti does). When you enter Haiti, they give you a green card, and then when you leave, they take that green card and stamp your passport saying that you’re leaving. So as I’m standing in yet another line, I’m still regularly checking the time to make sure I’ll make it to my gate in time for boarding. So far so good, but I’m cutting it close.
After emigration, I go upstairs to my gate, where there is another security line. It may seem weird to have two security lines, but I’ve discovered that most countries actually do this. Not sure why the US only has one, you’d think we’d be MORE secure rather than less, but whatever. So once again I take off my shoes, put them and my purse in a bin, put my carry-on bag on the conveyor belt, and….oh no! my laptop! MY LAPTOP IS GONE!
Once again, my heart is pounding and I have another freak out moment. I immediately knew what happened. When the guy picked up all the bins at the previous security checkpoint, he took the one with my laptop in it. I frantically tell the security worker that my laptop was downstairs and ask if I can go back and get it and then come back. Thankfully he understood English and said, “oh yes go!”
So I race back downstairs, all the while thinking “It’s been stolen, there is no way it’s still there. This is Haiti. My laptop is gone for good.” Clearly, I could stand to work on my faith skills. I reach the first security line and ask an airport employee if she found a laptop. She looks puzzled, and I can tell we don’t speak the same language. Exasperated, I just repeat myself “a lap-top” I say very slowly and motioning like I’m typing. Thankfully her face lights up, and I can tell we’re getting somewhere. She walks off to the side, next to the guy monitoring the Xray, and she picks up my laptop! Praise the Lord it wasn’t stolen! I say another quick prayer, thanking God that I’m not in jail and my laptop wasn’t stolen.
I ask if I can bypass the emigration line, since I already stood in it, gave away my green card, and got my passport stamped. I show her my stamp with the current day’s date on it. She points to the emigration line and says “check again”. I tell her that my plane will be boarding soon and I REALLY don’t have time to wait in a line unnecessarily. She says “Passport! Check again!”
UGH! I go and stand in line AGAIN, fidgeting the whole time and checking my phone about every 30 seconds. I get to the front of the line, and of course the guy who had stamped me earlier was gone. So I went to a new guy, hurriedly explained my situation, and he looked at me with zero compassion and a little confusion. He asked about my green card and I told him again why I didn’t have it. He sees my stamp for the current day and he says “oh you’ve got a stamp already?” I’m about to burst. “YES! YES! I’ve already come through this line once!” He calmly says, “oh, you didn’t have to check again. You may go.”
I run back upstairs. My plane should be boarding right about now. I’ve still got to clear that last security line AND get a seat on the plane! I get to the security line. Thankfully, the guy I’d spoken to earlier sees me, recognizes me, and waves me to the front of the line. He sees the laptop in my hand and says, “Oh praise God! You found it!” I agree and say, “YES! PRAISE GOD!”
So now I finally make it to my gate, and I’m relieved to see that they’re not boarding yet. The plane was delayed! That’s the first time I’ve ever been happy to have a delayed flight. Because otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have made it. So I send yet another prayer of thanks up to God. I go to the desk and see the same cheerful lady who had checked my bag earlier. “Hello again!” I say, “So you told me that I need to check with the desk to get a seat, so here I am!” She explains again that the flight has been overbooked. But then after a few clicks of the mouse, she says, “But it does look like we have an extra seat in first class, so I will give you a complimentary upgrade.”
WOOHOO! Finally some good news! I thank her profusely and get super excited about my first time ever in first class. At that point, I was drenched in sweat (both from nervousness and also the insane Haiti heat and non air-conditioned airport). I felt like my heart rate was just leveling out for the first time in 2 hours. All the seats were taken, so I leaned against the wall and just tried to breathe, thank God for His provisions so far today, and also thank Him for that first class upgrade! I’m glad that this craziness is behind me, and now I can just get home….or so I thought.
Soon after, we boarded the plane, 25 minutes later than scheduled. I settle in to my nice, wide, cushy first class seat and try to relax. Then…a shattering sound and all the passengers murmuring. Since I was in the very first row of the plane, I could hear the flight attendants talking in their little area. They said that a woman had bought 2 big bottles of rum in the airport, and she dropped both of them in the cabin. Here’s how the conversation went:
Flight Attendant 1: There is glass and alcohol EVERYWHERE!
Flight Attendant 2: But, we’re already late, can we still take off?
FA 1: NO WE CAN’T TAKE OFF! THERE’S GLASS AND ALCOHOL EVERYWHERE!
FA 2: But what are we gonna do?!
FA 1: I guess we just clean it up…*loud sigh*
They took trash bags to clean up the glass, and they started taking blankets from first class to sop up the rum. 30 minutes later, we were able to take off. But wait…Port-au-Prince only has one runway, and we had to wait for another plane to land. So we sit for another 10 minutes.
Finally, over an hour behind schedule, we take off. It suddenly occurs to me that my layover in Miami was originally 2 hours long, and now it will only be about an hour. I’m pretty certain that will not be enough time to clear customs, re-check my bag, clear security, and get to my gate. Looks like the stress of the day is not yet over.
However, there’s not a lot I can do about it from 35,000 feet. So I just try to enjoy my first class experience! I totally was not expecting a meal on an hour and 40 minute flight. So it was a delightful surprise when I was served spinach and cheese ravioli with veggie salad, bread, and the best part….a big, warm cookie. It’s a shame I don’t like wine, because I REALLY could’ve used a drink at this point, and it’s free in first class after all.
After an uneventful (thank goodness) flight, we fly into Miami airspace, and the pilot tells us we’ve been put in a holding pattern due to air traffic. UGH! Another delay! Then we finally land, and we sit on the tarmac for several minutes because “there’s a plane in the way of our gate”. UGH! ANOTHER DELAY!
Now that I can use my phone, I text Blake and tell him there’s no way I’m gonna make my connection to Birmingham. He says, “I believe in you! GO GO GO!”
Finally, we arrive at the gate, and since I’m in the very first seat, I’m the first person off of the plane. We walk into the airport and…the glass doors are closed and locked. We’re trapped. I knock and motion an employee over. He’s like “Huh. That’s weird. These shouldn’t be closed.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I gathered, but I’ve got to catch a plane, can you please open them?!” He says he doesn’t have clearance and he’s got to get someone else to open them. Thankfully that person arrives soon and frees us from our class cage.
I mumble something about how terrible the Miami airport is as I sprint through the doors to get to passport control. I get there. Stand in line for what seems to be eternity. Then I clear customs, and sprint to baggage claim to recheck my bag. I am that person running through the airport like a wild person, shouting “Excuse me! Excuse me!” to try and avoid knocking down small children and elderly people.
I get to baggage claim, and our luggage isn’t even on the carousel yet. UUUGGGH! While we wait, several of the other passengers and I comiserate about how ridiculously terrible the Miami airport is. They’re understaffed and lack the facility and capacity for the volume of international flights that come through there. I’ve gone through it 3 times in Miami, and it is ALWAYS this way. Thankfully the 2 prior times, I’ve had longer layovers so it didn’t matter. Well, it looked like the 3rd time wasn’t the charm.
Finally my bag appears, and I race to the re-check line. Of course, I’m in the slowest of the 6 possible lanes. Then I re-check my suitcase and begin sprinting again. This time to security.
The security line is insane. Like all the way out the door. Only half the lanes are open. Everyone seems to be in the same boat I’m in. It seems like every single person would be missing their flight. People are getting aggressive and shouting at the employees (again this has happened all 3 times I’ve been in Miami). Everyone wants to skip ahead in line, but that defeats the purpose when everyone in line is late and about to miss their flight.
I begin to feel hopeless and text Blake that there’s just no way. He gives me some more encouragement. I say a prayer asking that God make a way for me to get home tonight!
I clear security at 9:55, the same time my plane was scheduled to board. I begin the final leg of my marathon, and sprint as fast as I can through the airport (of course the moving sidewalks are broken because this is the Miami airport). I get to the sky train and have to go through 3 different station (aka, the other side of the airport) to make it to my terminal. Then my gate is at the END of the terminal. So I run some more, my legs feeling like rubber and my lungs burning.
I get to my gate at 9:15, 20 minutes after the boarding time BUT still 10 minutes before takeoff. I go to the desk and say through gasps of air “I’m going to Birmingham.” Just then, a lady comes on the mic and says “Flight 7602 to Birmingham is now closed.”
“NO!” says the guy at the desk and I simultaneously. The lady looks at me and goes, “Oh I’m so sorry. The flight is closed.” “WHAT?! Maam, please! Tell them you made a mistake and there’s another passenger.” “No, I’m sorry, once it’s closed, it’s closed.” Oh my goodness. I begged. I pleaded. I used the missionary card: “Please maam, I’ve been in Haiti with an orphan care ministry for the past week.” When that didn’t work. I argued: “Ok, here’s what I don’t understand. I flew into Miami on US Air, and I’m flying out of Miami on US Air. When I checked in at customs, you should have known that I was here and that I was coming. In addition, I’ve asked several people all along the way since I landed to hold the plan for me. Obviously no one listened. But I was here before you closed it, so you shouldn’t have closed it. I was here before you closed it, and I still have 10 minutes before takeoff, so I should be allowed on the plane.”
She looks at me very apologetically and says that she cannot open the plane under any circumstance or she’ll get in trouble. There are about 4 other people standing behind the desk looking on, also looking very sad. I start to make eye contact with each of them and beg them, “Please, please just re-open the plane.” They all say that it would get them in serious trouble.
So I put my nasty, sweaty head down on the desk, take a deep breath, and start to come to terms with it. I started this journey thinking that I would end up in prison, then I thought I lost my laptop, then I thought I’d miss my flight out of Haiti. So hey…at least none of that happened. I guess compared to those things, a free night in Miami is not so bad. I text Blake and tell him that he does not need to pick me up tonight and that I would call later with more details. Then I begin booking a hotel with the lady at the desk, and she tells me the next flight to Birmingham would be the next day at 3pm.
Suddenly, a man burst through the doors and says “PASSENGER LINDSAY BAILEY?” (that’s my maiden name on my passsport), and I go, “THAT’S ME!” He says, “I’m getting you home tonight!” “THANK YOU!!!!!”
He says, “Come on, we gotta go go go! Hurry!” So he and I sprint to the plane. On the way, he says, “I’m sorry you had to go through that. Some people are so damn afraid of getting in trouble that they just won’t do the right thing.” “Thank you for doing the right thing!” I exclaim.
We keep sprinting to the plane. The little enclosed ramp has already been taken away, and there’s just some steep stairs, and a guy standing by the plane. He tells me and my heroic escort that the plane is closed. My hero says, “No it’s not. She’s getting on this plane.” The guy makes no more arguments after that and he radios to the plane to open the door. They open the door, I climb up the steps and thank my hero one last time.
Phew! I made it! I apologize to everyone on board for being the cause of the delay. I still have no idea how the hero knew my name or my situation. There might be a totally reasonable explanation. Maybe one of the desk people radioed him and I didn’t know it. But all I know is it was the power of prayer!
Before takeoff I quickly text Blake to tell him that I WILL be at the airport tonight and please pick me up! WOOHOO! I take the next hour and a half of flight time to just thank Jesus again for all He did for me that day. Yes, it was stressful and even scary and frustrating, but throughout the day, the Lord made Himself known in so many ways! So thank you very much for your continued prayers, especially when I’m traveling. They definitely work!