Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Airport hanger in Miami with all our supplies

Zeus. The most amazing, trained search and rescue dog ever!

Our team from Union College working in conjunction with ACTS World Relief

In Haiti, sleeping on the airport tarmac, being blasted by hot jets every few minutes

One of the many military transport planes coming in and out of the country bringing supplies.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Arriving in Haiti

January 18

We are in Haiti! But we haven't traveled more than 500 ft. from the plane... The entire day has been filled with change after change, but we just keep going with the flow and whatever is the plan for the next 5 minutes. After changes in planes, changes in airports, and not being sure we would even be allowed into Haiti, it was finally back to the original plan. We flew out around 6:30pm after spending the entire day in a big airport hanger at the Opa Loca airport. A cool Jewish guy funded all the trips to Haiti in his private leer jet ($30,000 a trip) that held 13 passengers at a time. We got to be the second team going out, but on the flight over, we heard that the airport was going to be shut down again the next day, so no more of our teams were going to make it.

After circling for over an hour above Port-au-Prince, we were finally allowed to land. There were tons of planes that our pilots were constantly dodging around in the sky, all trying to get clearance to land at the airport overfilled with huge military transport planes.

Walking off the plane, my skin felt sticky immediately although the temperature wasn't all that bad. After unloading the plane with all our supplies and gear, we found a spot just a ways down on the tarmac to set up camp. The recent news was that all the roads were closed due to curfew that was just started tonight. So we can't leave the airport till tomorrow morning. Even then, we have no transportation to take us to the hospital or anything.

Since the airport structure is declared unsafe (I can see huge cracks up the walls and broken ceiling at some levels) we are just sleeping right outside, next to all the planes that are rolling in and out. It is quite the experience! The military has some amazing huge planes that just about shatter my eardrums.

My voice is already going hoarse from yelling constantly over the plane engines...and now we are attempting some sleep with pieces of toilet paper stuffed in our ears.

Heading out to the latrines at the edge of the runways, we saw a huge line of mostly Haitians, waiting to leave the country. It looks chaotic to have everyone and everything out on the tarmac, but I still feel like it's at least controlled chaos.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring. There is a SAR firefighting team from California next to us and they said they found a live person today. So there are still people hanging on under the rubble. We have an amazing search and rescue trained dog with us, and I'm excited to see him at work.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Traveling Thoughts

January 17, 2010

Haiti. My first time back overseas since I returned from Africa two years ago. Before leaving for Tchad, I had many months to prepare myself. Granted that was for a whole year and this is just for a week, but one day is just not enough time to be ready for what I can only imagine awaits us. And I don't mean being ready in the sense of having my bags all packed and saying quick goodbyes. I mean being ready emotionally for ugly devastation and very possibly entering the biggest disaster I will ever respond to in my life-time.

I know what poverty looks like, I know what horrific medical conditions look like, and I know what death looks like. My time in Africa included daily doses of it all. But all of that was cushioned by the people accepting and living with their lives that way. They knew how to enjoy their days despite the extreme hardships they faced, and taught me to do the same.

In Haiti, however, the people won't have that peace of mind to pass on. They've just had their meager belongings and homes ripped from their hands. They've seen their dear friends and family crushed under poorly constructed bricks. And they are alone in the grips of survival since everyone around them is grappling to deal with the same disaster. If Haiti is anything like Africa and how I've seen many 3rd-world countries to be, community is everything. Everyone's lives are interconnected and I can't imagine how that has been affected. Surely a disaster in the U.S. is devastating, but how much worse it would be if we actually knew every one of our neighbors personally and to then lose half of them instantly.

As these thoughts all whirl around in my head, we are in the air, flying towards Miami. During the quick half hour we speed-walked through the Houston airport, we received a call from the ACTS world relief director we will be working with. Before we left, the plan was that we would be working with some orphanages and hospital, so it was a surprise when he asked if we had packed any rescue equipment. Apparently the new plan is that we will be heading out in search and rescue among the debris.

I am not surprised that what we thought we would be doing has changed. As I was telling the reporter last night and TV crew this morning, if there is anything that I have learned from my trips overseas, it is that flexibility is a must. And that I almost never have actually done what my initial job description said.

It might even change again by the time we land in Port-au-Prince. When I think about search and rescue, it brings mixed feelings. Initially I'm excited about being out in the front of things, finding and rescuing people. It is what many of us heroically dream of doing. But honestly, when I think about it, how many live people are there going to be to rescue after 6 days. This more likely will be a task of locating and extricating bodies from the rubble. Even if we did find someone holding on, are there even trauma centers or good medical facilities to just whisk them off to? So it will certainly be a grim task. I also doubt more my skills in search and rescue. I haven't even done the SAR training in Colorado yet for my degree. There are so many other IRR students wanting to come who are so much more qualified than I am. I am very comfortable with the medical side of things, but setting up pulleys and systems to extricate people is different. At least I have some rope knowledge from rock-climbing...and despite my doubts and misgivings, I know God is sending me for a purpose, if none other than to remind me that it isn't by my power that people will be saved, but by His.

Well, we are landing in Florida now and must immediately head out to buy supplies that the commercial flight wouldn't allow us to carry. And it will be necessary to pick up as much rescue equipment as possible for our new job. The plan has been to fly out on a chartered jet sometime tomorrow morning to Haiti and I have heard that our team will be one of the first to be ferried over to get search and rescue in action immediately.

Haiti Blogs

I just returned from a week down in Haiti helping with relief efforts after the January 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country. In many ways, I felt like I was going home, being the first time I've been back overseas in a third-world country since my year in Africa. Every night as I crashed on my pad for sleep, I did some journaling. There was so much to write about, although my exhaustion kept me from documenting all of it.

However, I now plan on typing up my journaling one day or so at a time to share our experiences. For those that don't know, a group of 4 students and a faculty member from my college were given the chance to travel down to Haiti for 5 days and start relief work with plans of more students to come later on. It was a great chance to use our skills that we have learned in the myriad of classes we've gone through for our degree in International Rescue and Relief. The college was amazing in so quickly approving our trip, excusing us from classes, and providing the financial means until we can raise the money to cover it. I found out last Friday evening I was part of the group leaving, and we were on the plane by Sunday morning! Bit of a hectic rush getting packed for the unknown, trying to get typhoid shots in the middle of a holiday weekend, and answering all the reporters' questions.

Anyway, the trip started with a day of traveling to Miami, and busy evening of gathering needed supplies...