Sunday, January 01, 2006

Toussaint L’Overture: A Name Too Good for the PAP Airport

I’m not technically live from Haiti anymore. However, I have a few more posts to write about our experiences there and also in Cleveland where Jackson awaits surgery.

After all my dread of Haitian immigrations and the U.S. consulate, the most trying part of the day turned out to be the PAP Airport. It’s a dispiriting place under the best of circumstances: too many men have been authorized as sky caps and they furiously compete for your business, to the point of ripping the suitcases out of your hands. It’s Darwinistic and dehumanizing for them and for us.

A complete sense of apathy and incompetence envelopes the airport and this combined with the urgency of people who want to leave Haiti, now, make for an unpleasant experience. There are too few ticket agents and passengers mill in lines, not sure where to go next. It’s no wonder the Department of Homeland Security has signs posted all over U.S. airports stating that the airport in PAP doesn’t meet adequate security standards.

We get Jackson a wheelchair immediately, and the skycaps shunt us off to one side, assuring us we will be seen soon. The lines aren’t moving though, and John has to go intervene, cutting in front of some gran manje, saying, “We’ve got a sick boy here.” Then the ticket agent can’t find Jackson’s name in the computer. Eventually she does, and we go through customs and two more x-ray machines into the waiting area, only to find the 3:20 flight is delayed for an hour and a half. Gran manje, which literally translates as big eaters, is a disparaging term for upper class Haitians.

This delay means that when we get to Miami, we have to move quickly through the airport to make our connecting flight. Fortunately, a wheelchair is waiting for Jackson at the door of the plane and the woman who is pushing it is inordinately good. We have to walk at least a half a mile, possibly more, and I am not exaggerating, to customs, where we breeze through and John doesn’t even get asked if he’s ever lived in Arkansas, like he usually does. We then claim our luggage, have it x-rayed and then rechecked. Our attendant knows where our next gate is, in a far corner of the airport. We arrive at boarding time.

We are flying in a small jet to Cleveland and have to take a bus across the tarmac to our plane. Jackson has been holding his own, but I can tell he’s spent and especially uncomfortable on the planes; he wants to put his head back. But already, he can tell he’s not in Haiti: people are very nice to him and wish him well. The flight to Cleveland is cramped but uneventful. At the airport, The Clinic, as all Clevelanders call it, has arranged to have someone pick us up and take us to a hotel near the hospital. We get to bed at 12:30 am with a 6 am wake up call. Jackson and John fall asleep immediately, but it’s another sleepless night pour moi.

No comments: