My friend M. and I have been in contact with each other since we were in process of adopting our E. She was a volunteer at his orphanage and has a real heart for Haiti. She gave me permission to post her email she sent the other day, describing her recent trip to Haiti.
Thank you all for your patience in waiting for me to find the words to tell the story of our adventure last week. It is still very surreal to me that Little M. and I were in Port Au Prince, Haiti when the earthquake struck on Tuesday. The destruction to Port Au Prince is devastating and the suffering of the Haitian people absolutely incomprehensible. And yet Little M. and I survived the inital quake and I felt protected at every step of our journey over the next few days. For that, I praise God. And I write, not to sensationalize the event, but to personalize it and to ask you in the coming weeks, as the media moves on to other news, to continue praying for and supporting the Haitians through their recovery and rebuilding.
Last month I had planned a short trip to Haiti for some meetings regarding Little M. Our American Airline flight into Port Au Prince landed half an hour early at 3:45 pm on Tuesday and we deplaned quickly because the airbus flight was only 3/4 full. I had only checked one small bag so Little M. and I were out of the airport by 4:30pm. We went straight to the Visa Lodge hotel (which is only a 5-10 minute drive from the airport). I checked in, quickly dropped our bags in our room, and returned to the patio restaurant of the hotel. I had just ordered food for Little M., when the shaking started. Ceiling fans and panels fell around us and chaos immediately broke out on the street below- people screaming, dust clouds billowing. At first we werent sure if it was an earthquake or if a bomb had gone off. I even initially felt relief with the first aftershock, knowing that we were not dealing with a coup or chemical weapons. Most hotel guests immediately went to the pebbled driveway/parking area of the Visa Lodge. An American pastor also staying at the hotel had an iPhone that worked intermittently for the first few hours after the earthquake. That is how I immediately knew the magnitude of the quake and was also able to send a text message that Little M. and I were safe. The American Airline staff arrived at the Visa Lodge later that evening reporting that part of the control tower at the airport collapsed and that their offices were destroyed. Had our flight not been early or I had chosen another hotel or we had been in a different part of our hotel, our outcome could have been very different.
Aftershocks continued through the night and we spent it outside in the driveway (open space) of the Visa Lodge. The kitchen of the hotel was destroyed in the earthquake and the main buildings had large cracks in the walls. At first light Little M. and I, 2 American pastors, and a few other guests from the hotel caught a ride with an airport shuttle that was taking some pilots to the airport to survery the damage. We all knew the international side of the airport would not be running flights that day. But we were initally hopeful that the small airport, which normally runs small airplanes back and forth to other cities in Haiti, would be cleared to at least fly its planes out and we could get to Cap Haitian. After a few hours we realized that was not going to happen and that we were also not going to be allowed to leave on the private plane of a man from the DR who had offered to take us. One of the other Visa Lodge guests who was at the airport with us was from the DR and had a pickup truck parked at the Visa Lodge. At that point he decided to try to drive to the border and he graciously allowed us all to go with him. It was 12 people total by that time and we must have been quite a sight piled into that pick up truck with all of our luggage, too. We had no idea if roads would be passable and I wondered if I would have trouble getting across the border. The critical care nurse part of me was pretty disgusted leaving a place in such dire need. My heart was torn over the unknown whereabouts of many friends. But it seemed the only option as I had no way to provide safe refuge or clean water for Little M. for more than a few days.
We saw small bits of the destruction in PAP as we passed out of town. But by the time we were a few miles outside, it was eerily quiet and undistrubed. The rest of our trip to the border was uneventful. Our time at the border was tedious but no one questioned us and we all passed through within a few hours. From the border we drove 5 hours to Santo Domingo. Once we were across the border into the DR cell service returned to the iPhone and we were once again able to send a text to family and also (unbelievably!) rebook our plane flights to leave from Santo Domingo Thursday morning. We found a hotel in Santo Domingo by 7pm that evening. And our travel from there to Miami through customs/immmigration and to home on Thursday was smooth... another amazing occurrence.
Little M. and I had an adventure last week. An adventure we will not forget. We were protected from harm and safe during extensive travel. I thank the Lord for that. And I am deeply indebted to the pastor whose preparedness for his trip (iPhone with an international plan!) allowed us to contact family and who provided help and protection in countless other ways. We will continue to process our experience for a long time- but at this time I feel, above all other things, blesssed. Thank you all for your prayers, support, and encouragement this week.
In closing, I want to offer a few suggestions for practical ways to help Haiti in this time of great need:
The most efficient and effective way to donate to the immediate relief effort is to give money to organizations that are already in place in Haiti and prepared for this type of situations. Organizations that I recommend include Partners in Health (www.standwithhaiti.org), Doctors without Borders, Real Hope for Haiti (www.realhopeforhaiti.org), Feed My Starving Children (www.fmsc.org), and Water Missions International.
One of the next greatest concerns at this time is for the NGOs who run orphanages and rescue centers in Haiti. Many of them survived the earthquake but are concerned about access to necessary supplies (infant formula, medications, food, soap) to continue caring for their children and the ones they will receive from this crisis. If you are interested in helping in this way, please send money to Children of the Promise (www.childrenofthepromise.org) or Real Hope for Haiti. And if you are interested in collecting basic supplies, please contact me for more information.