Monday, January 25, 2010

Leaving Haiti

I told my friend and employee that we were going to leave, and she cried. That was one of the worst moments. When I say "my friend and employee" it might sound strange. O. has been working in our home since we first moved to Haiti; I feel that we have grown up together. She helped me with my babies; I helped her with hers. We help each other in many ways. Our friendship is one of the things that gives me the most joy in my life in Haiti. But her story is not mine to tell.

We packed our bags. My children don't even own pants that go all the way to their ankles. (Trousers, for the British people I understand are now reading here!) We live in shorts and capri pants. We found the warmest outfits we could. My son wanted to pack his boxed Junie B. Jones set but I talked him out of that. My daughter was sad that she hadn't read all her Christmas books. I thought of photo albums, but realized that this is not permanent; I will be back to my home.

We stopped by the school in the morning and I said a few goodbyes. There was a lot of crying and hugging. My daughter went to her locker and got out a few precious keepsakes.

I worried about our drive to the airport, about what the children would see and whether I should shield their eyes. It turned out that they saw some terrible destruction of buildings, but there were no bodies visible. The bakery up the street from our house was open; that meant that they had worked all night. People were selling fresh bread out of large bags. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere; many people had Vaseline or toothpaste smeared under their noses to help them deal with the smell in the street. There was more activity than I had expected. It was difficult to look at the devastation of so many buildings. Many were flattened. Others seemed to have nothing wrong with them.

We saw some American friends who were still figuring out what they were going to do, and talked about what we had experienced, what stories we had heard. The same thing happened at the airport; as we waited in the damaged building with ceiling tiles and pieces of rebar hanging down, we shared stories. This is what we heard; this is what happened; this is who is all right and who is not. Whenever I saw a familiar face I would burst into tears. The new greeting was: I'm so glad you are alive. How is your family? How is your house?

I don't know how long we waited but eventually we took off. I felt I was escaping, running away, abandoning my friends and people I love. But as soon as I was sitting still in the seat of the airplane, with nothing else to do or think about, I fell asleep. I woke as we landed in the Bahamas; as the landing shook the plane, I thought I was in another earthquake.

It's all a blur: Florida, a rental car to Orlando, flying north on a ticket purchased by strangers. Hours in Atlanta; thankfully the television was showing a football game instead of the usually ubiquitous CNN, but an ad for the Red Cross came on with earthquake footage and I hid the children's eyes. People around were discussing jet lag. The woman across from us commented that I looked exhausted and I told her we had just come from Haiti. Everyone got quiet, as though our story trumped anything they could tell. The woman said that she had just come back from a cruise, and that when they had passed by Haiti, the captain had asked everyone for a moment of silence. Another flight.

And finally we were there; my dad was at the airport and we drove home through the streets of a different world from the one we had left that morning.

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