January 17, 2010: I arrived back in Haiti. Tired. Relieved. And ready to get started. I had no idea what the next year would hold.
The little plane landed on Port au Prince's only runway, then quickly taxied off onto the grass. I got out when the propellers were still spinning. The pilot unloaded my bags (just 50 pounds total--that's all we could bring--the rest of the meds & supplies had landed on Heartline's chartered plane a couple hours earlier). I grabbed my stuff and looked around. The area surrounding the airport runway was crowded with people (people associated with the U.S. military and NGOs and various governmental organizations) and aircraft, including several very large planes (C-130s, I believe). Because I wasn't sure what else to do, I started walking across the grass towards the damaged airport. I got to the edge of the grass where it turns to pavement and wasn't sure if I was allowed to cross. I waved down a very-young appearing U.S. military guy who was riding around on a 4-wheeler. I asked him if I could cross the pavement to get to the airport. He answered, "Sure, just don't get hit by an airplane." Awesome. That made me laugh. Degage. I did look carefully before I crossed--there were planes everywhere, including, off to the right, a plane taxiing down the pavement I needed to cross overy.
After crossing over I saw a long line of people. I later learned they were all waiting to leave on the next available plane, trying to get out as quick as possible. I believe this option was only open to those with U.S. passports. I then saw Troy and he lead me through the damaged airport. I saw the telltale cracks that indicated earthquake damage for the first time. I think I could have walked through the airport without showing my passport but I asked the guy to stamp it anyways--I guess to create some sort of record that I was here on this day, and also because I didn't know how long I'd be staying or if the immigration people would be as lax when I left again.
After walking through the airport we emerged outside on the other side. Things looked about the same at first, then the damage became more apparent as we drove away from the airport towards Tabarre. There were some collapsed buildings and many collapsed concrete walls. I kept thinking about how much diesel it took to get me from the airport and I felt bad. I knew that Heartline, like most of the rest of the country, didn't have a source of diesel yet. We arrived at the Livesay's house and it was so, so good to see Tara and Geronne and the kids who were still in Haiti.
That afternoon we drove around Port au Prince (including downtown) and saw some of the areas with the worst damage. It was shocking to see this country I love in a state I never could have imagined it would be in. Chan Mars, an area very near to the palace that used to be a big park, was already full of tents and tarps and other makeshift dwellings.
That evening we unpacked bags and set up our field clinic/ER/OR in the Heartline women's program/sewing program house. We sort of had a blank slate--we had several almost-empty rooms and tons of meds and supplies with which to fill them. The Heartline people who were in Haiti for the earthquake had been working long hours to get the house ready. I'm an organizer so I liked the idea of having first shot at deciding where things would go. We prepared as much as we could that evening, knowing that the next day would bring huge challenges as we opened our little clinic.