Let’s start with the night before. In typical Stephanie fashion, I began packing for my trip the day before I was to leave. Ben and I are similar in the sense that the rush of an impending deadline is exactly what it takes to get our butts in gear. I had spent weeks gathering supplies and waited until the day before I left to make sense of the chaos strewn over our dining table and various parts of our bedroom and living room. After a few hours I managed to cram everything into my duffle only to find myself 6 pounds over the limit (Ben blamed the four pairs of shoes I brought. He said they were unnecessary. Silly man.). I shuffled things around and wound up with the heaviest carry-on ever and finally made my way to bed well after midnight.
I woke the next morning tired yet excited and nervous. We were both quiet as we stopped by Starbucks to grab breakfast and my final latte – a last little piece of indulgence. The weight of what I was about to do was heavy on my shoulders and I held tightly to my husband’s strong hand in an attempt to burn the feel of his warm hand upon mine. I don’t know what I was more nervous about: stepping so far out of my comfort zone or doing so without my best friend. I had never challenged myself like this. I’ve never put myself in a situation in which I had to rely on my own strength. Until this time I’ve always had my family, my friends and most recently, my husband. It’s an intimidating thing to know that you are on your own. But, of course, I know that I am not alone. I was very aware that He was leading me to this place and that He would be there with me, holding my hand and protecting my heart. Yes, I was scared, nervous and weak, but I knew this was what I was supposed to do and I knew that He would make me strong.
The airport was very crowded (which is not common for our beloved PDX), but I still managed to find a few other girls I would be traveling with. It was nice to connect with some familiar faces and know that we’d all be traveling to Miami together. We flew to San Francisco and then onto Miami. We traveled all day and arrived in Florida around 10:45 pm east coast time (it’s 3 hours ahead of the west coast). By the time we got our luggage it was about 11:15 pm. I headed out to catch the shuttle to my hotel (the Days Inn – DO NOT EVER STAY THERE!). I arrived at the hotel only to find out that there was a mix-up and my reservation was at the other hotel. I thought the mistake was mine, so I took the shuttle back to the airport to catch the other shuttle to the other Days Inn. I eventually made it to the other Days Inn only to then discover that the hotel had made a mistake and I was supposed to be at the first Days Inn. It was an issue because the second hotel didn’t have a 24 hour shuttle and I’d have to take a $20 cab to the airport at 3 am. The manager at the second hotel was very nice and said he’d take care of my room and arranged for the first hotel’s shuttle to pick me up and take me back to the first hotel. Well, that never happened. After waiting for a half hour, I finally took the shuttle back to the airport. I was frustrated, tired, sweaty (it was so muggy) and smelled like cigarettes (Miami smells like one giant ashtray). I called the first Days Inn and talked to the manager. He denied just talking to the other manager and said he had no record of me having a reservation. I tried to discuss my options with him over the phone but he just kept saying, “Come down here and we’ll work it out” in his broken English. I had little faith in him, but he said he was sending a shuttle for me. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, well after midnight, I gave up. I spoke with a security officer at the airport and asked where a safe place to spend the night would be. She directed me to the 24-hour subway where I got some dinner and settled in for a long night. Well, what was left of the night. You see, we were supposed to check in for our flight at 4:00 am, so at best, I would get three hours of sleep. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Try as I might, sleeping with one arm around your carry-on and your feet on your pack is not cozy and trying to tune out the group of chatty Cuban grandmas to the side of you is easier said than done.
3:30 am finally came and I made my way to the bathroom and whipped out my shower wipes and got ready for the day. I was really hoping to wash my hair one last time, but that was not an option. Oh well. My group slowly trickled in and we checked in with Project Medishare. They weren’t super organized, but we shrugged it off and thought nothing of it (little did we know that this was the most organized we would get). We waited the few hours before boarding the Vision flight to Port au Prince.
Flying over the sea before reaching Haiti was intense. I stretched over my neighbor to try to catch the first glimpse of this little island. I watched as bright blue waters sparkled. It seemed serene, peaceful. The large sinking ship seemed very out-of-place. I had to look twice to see if I really just saw what I think I did. I did. We flew over little of the city on our descent into Port au Prince and saw little destruction – that is not to say there was none – we simply hadn’t seen it yet. Upon disembarking the plane we were greeted with the most overwhelming burst of heat. The air was heavy with heat and I immediately began to sweat. We packed into the immigration building where hundreds of people waited in lines for entrance papers. I clung onto my passport and other papers knowing they were both my ticket in and ticket out.
We finally found a Medishare representative and he sporadically lead a group of us out the gates and down the block to a waiting SUV. Though the Project Medishare field hospital was set up on the airport grounds, we had to leave the airport to get to it. It was at this point that I felt so incredibly out of place. I had never felt “white” before, but as the wall of people parted to let us through, I did. A friend of mine warned me of people who would try to grab my bags, not to steal them, but to carry them and then charge me for his services, but this didn’t happen. The men (all men, no women) simply moved out of the way and stared. I felt like Moses parting the red sea, only not as biblical or grand.