Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Road or River?

Here's a short clip from outside our front gate after a 20 minute downpour. This gives you a small idea why MAF is so vital here especially when the roads turn into this! Its hard to imagine how people live on the hillsides and mountains with torrential rain like this (last week 16 people were killed by flooding here in Port au Prince)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Good Mistake

My eyes are strained with focus; every nerve in my body is alert as I peer through the thick black clouds around me. A sudden flash of lightening to my left jolts my passengers as they too intently gaze outside. Heavy rain pounds the windscreen as I struggle to find my way through the mountain pass, praying that the weather will lift just a little so that I can resume a more comfortable altitude.

Late Wednesday afternoon I set out to pick up several passengers from Pignon. Since we are now in the rainy season, every afternoon thick cumulus clouds build up and quickly turn to large thunderstorms making it difficult to cross the two mountain ranges laying between Port au Prince and the Central Plateau. I request 10 extra gallons for the trip so I would have an extra 30 minute reserve, but discover that they accidentally put 18 gallons extra! I become somewhat annoyed at the fueling personnel since this means that I will be able to carry 60 lbs less cargo. As I take off, I quickly realize that the flight would not be an easy one, and call flight following on the HF radio to confirm weather reports in the Pignon area.

A thick black ceiling of clouds make it impossible to climb over the mountains, and the rain ahead drops the visibility down to a few miles. As I level off at 2000 ft I start planning a route that I will take to get through the mountain pass ahead. As I approach Pignon, I am aware that the weather is rapidly deteriorating behind me, so I call flight following again to ensure that the passengers are ready to leave without delay, and that the weather at Pignon is holding. A few miles out from Pignon, the clouds suddenly break and a small hole of blue sky lingers directly overhead the airport. I quickly land, board the passengers and take off to return to Port au Prince.

As I begin climbing, I look at the dark clouds ahead which are now several hundred feet above the ground. I double check the quantity of my fuel and run a quick calculation to determine how many hours of fuel I have left. My passengers peer nervously over my shoulder as I press forward through the rain pounding on the windscreen. The visibility has now dropped down to close to a mile, and I keep a close eye on the river 1000 ft below to guide me down the valley ahead. I spot another small valley to my left that should take me though the mountain range, but as I head up the valley, the visibility continues to drop and the rain pounds harder on the windscreen making it nearly impossible to see ahead of me. Suddenly, as I enter the clouds, it becomes white all around me. I focus on my instruments an execute a 180 degree turn careful not to lose any altitude since I know that we are low in a narrow mountain pass. Seconds later we pop back out of the clouds, and I begin looking for another route to take back to Port. As I fly along the base of the mountain I quickly realize that the ceilings have now dropped down to ground level in the valley passes. My last option is to fly all of the way out to the coast and follow the coastline back to Port au Prince, but this will take an extra 45 minutes. Again I check my fuel and run some calculations to determine if this is feasible. I call flight following on the radio to give them my position over Gonaives and my intentions of heading back over the coast. As I approach the coastline I begin to feel relieved. As long as I keep my mixture leaned out, and follow the coastline south I should have no problem getting to Port. I maintain 400 feet above the ocean, and switch to my left fuel tank thanking God for that extra fuel. Fifteen minutes later I spot the airport, call tower and land. I praise the Lord for safety on this flight as my wheels touch down on the runway and my passengers begin clapping! After I shut down, I check my fuel and discover that I have a mere 8 gallons remaining. It truly was providential having that extra fuel onboard!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Safety in the storm

I stare out the window as ominous clouds roll in. Although the sun is still out, it now illuminates the world with a strange golden glow. The wind is starting to pick up too. It's 5:00 p.m. and Jason still isn't home. I'm starting to get worried. He's never home this late. Too bad I can't call him. Among the things I left in Canada was my cell phone. I had brought it with me so I could check the time while I was traveling, since I didn't have a watch. When I arrived in Canada I had retired it to my night stand drawer, and had forgotten to check there in my rush to pack. Since we didn't have a home phone, I had no other way of contacting Jason. " A tropical storm is definitely on its way in, I really hope he's not flying", I say to Jayden, who is playing with the Tupperware on the floor as I prepare dinner. He looks up, but doesn't respond, to intent on seeing how many bottle caps fit in Jason's water bottle. I can hear thunder rumbling in the distance. All I can do now is pray. All things are in God's hands and I pray that He will provide safety and protection for Jason. Not even ten minutes later I hear the welcoming honking of a car horn by our gate. Sure enough, Jason is back. Just as he walks through the door the sky opens and torrential rains come down. The sound is almost deafening on our tin roof. Together we walk to the window and gaze in awe at the extreme force of the storm. I silently thank God for bringing Jason home safely before the storm. Our God truly is an Awesome God.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The trip back.

I struggle to stay focused, but black and grey spots keep dancing in front of my eyes in crazy patterns, blurring my vision. It's 2:00 a.m. and I'm on Air Canada flight 905, 35,000 feet up, on route to Montreal. Jayden is sound asleep in my arms, his warm body pressing against mine, but I don't think it's just his warmth that makes me feel like I'm burning up. I close my eyes tightly and hunch over him as much as I can in hopes that the feelings of nausea and dizziness pass. As I close my eyes the events of the last two weeks race like a freight train through my brain. The long flight to Canada, my packed schedule and the late nights. I really loved seeing everyone and doing everything, but it sure was a lot to pack into two weeks. Today had been especially busy, so busy in fact that I had less than an hour to pack two suitcases. With the amount of things I had received and purchased I easily could have packed four suitcases, so it took some time to decide what I wanted to take now and what could wait for two months when Jasons' parents came to visit. In the process I was not nearly as organized as I normally am. I didn't have time to make lists or even double check what I did so I had made some stupid mistakes. I had forgotten to check the bathroom, so now I had left my glasses and contact solution behind. What was even sillier was the fact that I hadn't put any diapers for Jayden in my back pack. 10 minutes before boarding, I smelled something really bad and sure enough he was really dirty. Embarrassed, I had to go on a hunt for someone else with a baby and was finally able to get a diaper. Unfortunately it was only a size 3, Jayden wears size 5, but it was sure better than the other alternative, making a diaper out of the extra T-shirt I had brought for him. I'm sure that wouldn't have been exactly leak proof! Although it was now after 2:00 a.m. I hadn't been able to fall asleep either and I could feel my body starting to rebel.
I open my eyes again in hopes that I can focus now, but the grey and black spots are still clouding my vision. The airplane is dark too, and almost everyone is sleeping. My brain feels fuzzy and it's getting harder and harder to think straight, but I have to do something. The girl across the aisle from me who I'd made friends with earlier is fast asleep, her little baby lying contentedly on her chest. So, instead I turn to the French man beside me. He startles when I tap him on his shoulder. "Can you call a stewardess", I groan, "I feel like I'm going to faint". He doesn't hear me at first, so now frantically I repeat my question. I feel like it won't be long before I completely black out, and I fight the waves of dizziness that try to overcome me. The French man half rises, trying to see if perhaps he can find a stewardess, but none are in sight. "The button", I whisper, "just push the button". I can't stand up to push it, so fortunately he understands and pushes it for me. Two stewardesses are instantly at my side. "I'm going to faint", I whisper. One immediately grabs Jayden off my lap, who instantly wakes up. "Mama baby", he whimpers (which can be translated, Mama , I'm your baby, how could you possibly think of letting some strange people hold me?)(he said this a lot in the last two weeks) "MAMA BABY!" His cries become louder. As soon as he's gone I pull my tray table down, lay my head down and wiggle out of my jacket. I'm so hot. "Water,"I whisper. The stewardess returns seconds later with water and an ice pack, which she places on the back of my neck. Unfortunately, the ice pack has a leak and a minute later I feel ice cold water trickling down my neck. I start to tremble, I'm suddenly freezing . Noticing the drip, the stewardess thankfully goes and gets me a different one. Everyone around me is now awake and I feel many a sympathetic stare. I'm so embarrassed, I almost wish I could just disappear through the floor, but then I'd either be stuck in the freezing cold baggage compartment, or free falling through the sky, without a parachute . Nope, I guess I'd better stay where I am.. Thankfully with the help of the ice pack and the glass of water, I slowly start feeling better. The nausea passes as well. I slowly sit back up, and the stewardess comes back with apples slices and two chocolate chip cookies. "When was the last time you ate?", she asks At first I can't remember, my brain is to fuzzy, but then I remember I did have dinner at 5:30. However I had been busy feeding Jayden, and on the phone figuring out if my flight was on time, so I hadn't eaten much. The apple and the chocolate chip cookies taste good, so I eat all of it. I'm really feeling more like myself now, so I ask for Jayden back. He's happy to see me and holds me tightly, as if to say, I'm not letting you give me away again! I still can't sleep, but at least I feel better now. Two hours later we arrive at the Montreal airport. Although it's only 4:30 a.m. for us, it's 7:30 a.m. local time so Jayden and I go have breakfast at Tim Hortons. Three hours later we board our next flight. Now we are on route to Port-au-Prince. This time the airplane has some empty seats so I move to a different spot with Jayden where he can have a seat too. He instantly falls asleep and I'm able to doze off for a bit too. I use his mimi (a stuffed animal) as my pillow. At 2:20 p.m. local time we arrive in Port-au-Prince. The airplane felt cold, so the warmth feels good. Jason is even able to walk right onto the tarmac to greet us. It's sure nice to see him again. As we drive home and I see all the familiar sights, I can't help but smile. It's nice to be back.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Trip to Canada!

10:00 a.m. Port-au-Prince, Haiti
The house is spotless, the suitcases are packed, and the fridge and freezer are stocked with meals for Jason . I check the clock one last time, and then go through my lists. Yup, I think everything is done. Daniel, the MAF driver should be here any minute so I help Jayden put on his shoes. “Outside?” he asks, oblivious to where we are going. “We are going to the airport, in a BIG broom, broom,” I answer. He looks at me for a second and then points up. “Broom, broom?” he asks. Yes, I say, and he smiles. Just then I hear the beep beep of a car horn, Daniel must be here. Denise and Anoud help me carry the suitcases down the stairs and then it’s time for goodbyes. Anoud shakes my hand and smiles, but Denise fights to keep her composure. I know that I will miss her too and I give her hand a final squeeze before I get into the truck. As we leave the vehicle is surrounded by a group of little boys, I smile and wave and off we go. I no longer brace myself for the deep ruts in the dusty, rocky road, but let my body rise and fall with the flow. Jayden is sitting on my lap, something extremely illegal in Canada but widely done in Haiti. Traffic is so slow, even if we did hit someone or someone hit us it probably wouldn’t cause more than a dent. With my suitcases on the back seat, there is just no room for him there. An hour and fifteen minutes later we finally arrive at the airport. Now we just have to wait.
11:30 Port-au-Prince, Domestic Terminal
We are waiting at the domestic terminal for Jason. Since our flight doesn’t leave till 3:00 he promised to take us out for lunch at a little nearby gas station. Since Daniel had other things to do later that morning and afternoon the only time he could pick us up was 10:00 a.m.
11:45 a.m.
“Dada, Dada” Jayden is pointing to a group of people coming through the doors from the tarmac. Sure enough, there he is. He wipes the sweat from his brow and when he spots us his face lights up. I know I’m going to miss him a lot. Once he’s finished some paperwork we drive to a little nearby gas station and enjoy some sandwiches.
1:00 p.m.
We are back at the Port-au-Prince airport, this time now in the international terminal . I hug Jason goodbye and then he hugs Jayden. Minutes later he’s gone and I’m left all alone. I push Jayden’s buggy to the check in counter and pull my two suitcases behind me.
2:00 p.m.
We are now sitting by the Air Canada gate. Our flight will board in half an hour. Jayden is sitting quietly in his stroller playing with his ball so I strike up a conversation with the guy beside me. He looks about 18 or 19 and says he’s from India. After a few minutes he asks me if I can watch his duffel bag because he needs to ask the attendant something. I eye the big red bag and for a second wonder if there’s a bomb in there! Then I laugh it off and tell myself that’s a terrible thought to think. Thankfully he comes back a minute later!
2:40 p.m.
A heat blast hits me as I push open the glass doors and step onto the tarmac. I can’t help but smile as I see the giant Air Canada aircraft in the distance. As we walk towards it strains of “O Canada” swirl through my head and it takes all my self control to keep myself from singing out loud. I discreetly look around and then not seeing anyone close by I start singing away. Who cares if people think I’m crazy. It just feels good to sing.
2:55 p.m.
Ready for take off. I slip my seatbelt on and hold Jayden securely on my lap. I like the thrill of getting pushed back onto my seat as the plane takes off. Jayden likes it too, and we smile at each other.
8:15 p.m. Montreal, Toronto
“Wow, wow,” Jayden’s nose is pressed against the glass and I lean past him to see what he’s looking at. “Wow, wow” he repeats again. I take a moment to absorb the beauty. It’s 8:15 p.m. and we are just coming in for landing at the Montreal airport. The sun is setting giving the peaceful landscape scene a golden glow. “Wow”, I say. There really is no better word to describe it. Purple, pink clouds tinged with gold dot the iridescent blue sky. Row upon row of perfectly square fields touch the horizon. The traffic on the roads is almost non-existent. What a world of difference. A rush of excitement fills me. “Oh Canada!”
8:40 p.m.
I’m still waiting for my suitcases. Since we need to clear customs I have to collect my suitcases here. Finally, after almost giving up hope I see them coming down the conveyer belt. Since I don’t have much time till my next flight I’m in a rush now. With one hand I push Jaydens’ stroller and the other hand I pull the baggage cart loaded with my two suitcases behind me. It’s quite a sight and everyone stares, but I don’t care. There is just no other way to do it.
10:00 p.m.
We’ve cleared customs and I’ve even been able to quickly buy “real chocolate milk”. Jayden and I enjoy this tasty treat and then it’s time to board. The flight is practically empty so we have lots of room for ourselves.
11:20 p.m.
We’ve just landed and as we landed Jayden has finally fallen asleep. Since the flight was so empty the stewardesses have allowed me to take my stroller on board. I carefully fold it open and then place my sleeping baby into it. He’s so tired he doesn’t even stir. I follow the few other passengers down endless long hallways in hope that someone will be going where I’m supposed to go. The beauty of the sparkling hallways and massive windows hits me, and I can’t help but stare. Has it really been that long since I’ve seen beautiful buildings??
12:01 a.m.
Where to now? I’ve been able to locate my suitcases but I don’t know where to find my next check in point. It’s midnight and the airport is deserted. Even the lights are dimming. Pushing a baggage cart, and a stroller and carrying a heavy backpack on my back is getting tiring, especially when you don’t know where you are going. Finally I find a security guard in a bathroom and ask for directions. “You’re here all by yourself? With a sleeping baby? Pushing a baggage cart and a stroller? And your next flight doesn’t leave till 7:00 a.m.? Where are you going to sleep?” She looks at me in disbelief. “You’re just a little girl,” she says and shakes her head. I almost start feeling sorry for myself too. I’m so tired, I fight back tears and say with the strongest voice I can muster. “I’m 23, I’m married and I’ve traveled lots of times, it's no problem”. She shakes her head again and the takes the baggage cart from my hands. I smile thankfully. The stroller and cart keep wanting to go in opposite directions when I push them, so an extra set of hands is a good thing. “Where are you planning to sleep?” she asks again. “I was just hoping to find a bench somewhere,” I say. She mutters something under her breath, and then points me to the restaurant section. “There are some benches in there,” she says. “Since no one’s there they probably won’t mind if you sleep there. It’s right close to your gate too,” she points. “Thank you, thank you”, I say and then push my stuff towards the bench. Thankfully, Jayden’s still fast asleep, so now it’s time to get organized. I make sure our passports and cash are safely in the pouch that I wear under my T-shirt. Then I surround us and our suitcases with a row of chairs, this way in case anyone moves them I will wake up. Finally I tie Jayden’s ankle to my wrist. I really don’t want to wake up and find him gone! As I try to find a comfortable position, I can’t help but smile. I’ve always wanted to experience what it was like spending a night on a bench.

1:00 a.m.
beep, Beep, BEEEEP. I struggle to open my eyes and try to identify the noise. Lights are flashing and the screeching beep is getting progressively louder. It’s the fire alarm, and I groan. Unless I actually see smoke I’m not moving, I decide. My body is just too tired and how can I possibly move all this stuff? Thankfully seconds later it is announced that they are simply testing the fire alarm. I cover my ears and moan, great timing. Thankfully Jayden hasn’t woken up. I try to get comfortable again and doze off once more.
5:00 a.m.
Jayden and I are both wide awake. I loosen my braid and re-braid it in hopes I’ll look a little more presentable. At least I’m able to check in my baggage now, and then we go on a hunt for a Tim Hortons. Finally we find one and we order our very first bacon breakfast sandwich. It’s been almost 6 months now. “Wow,” Jayden says and I have to agree.
7:00 a.m.
The flight is packed and we are getting ready for takeoff. Jayden doesn’t want to sleep and there are no extra seats so I spend the next four hours trying to keep him entertained.
9:15 a.m.
Vancouver, our final stop. I collect my suitcases once again and then head out to find my sister-in-law Leanne. At first I can’t find her, but finally we spot her and the kids. We hug each other. It’s great to see them again. Soon I’ll get to see all my family and friends as well.
10:30 a.m.
We’re driving back and are in awe of the straight smooth roads, the beautiful green grass, the small amount of traffic and the clear blue skies. The air is so crisp! I take a few big breaths, and it feels good. Everything looks so clean, and organized! It really is great being able to come and visit!
11:15 a.m.
We finally arrive at my parents. In Haiti the time is 1:15 p.m. This means that our total traveling time was 27 hours!