The airport was chaotic, a far cry from the usual. Our gorgeous Gulfstream seemed to shrink as we approached the gigantic military cargo planes lining the tarmac. We quickly unloaded our cargo, found a large cargo cart and lugged it up toward the heavily-damaged and unoccupied terminal building. All along the edge of the building were tents and cordoned off groups of chairs. I saw Geraldo Rivera doing his thing under one of the tents.
First a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, now Geraldo.... will the suffering never end?
Several of us stayed with our cargo while Dr. Tim and I tried to figure out how to contact our ride. We went briefly into the terminal building but quickly realized that it would not factor in to our exit strategy. We walked several hundred yards east toward the United Nations-guarded gate, which turned out to be THE only way in or out of the airport. There was a mob scene at the gate when we first arrived, perhaps 500 or so riled-up Haitians pressing against the gate, with troops (US and UN) facing them from the inside.
It was obvious we would not exit any time soon. As we continued our attempts to contact our driver, we watched first-hand something one sees only on TV or in the movies. Troops with shields and clubs pushing back crowds of the desperate. A few rocks were thrown back toward us, answered by gunshots of something non-lethal back into the crowds... I don't know what it was. A big white UN tank came out through the gate to let the crowds know that they were serious about preserving order. It worked, and after finally connecting with our ride (three vehicles, including a sizable truck for our cargo), we exited out that same gate, made our way safely through the crowds, and headed west toward Leogane... earthquake epicenter.
I must admit, the whole airport scene unnerved me a bit. I felt very responsible for the safety of my team. I mean, first Geraldo, and then the riot scene. What next? Another earthquake?
Our caravan traveled about an hour to a rendezvous point where we connected with the missionaries who had been investigating possible sites for a field hospital. After a rice-and-beans lunch, we moved on, continuing our journey west. We traveled through the village of Leogane which had been totally and absolutely decimated by the quake. What a pitiful site. We contemplated setting up in Leogane, but decided to keep moving, coming soon to the next village... Petit Goave. We were the first medical (or otherwise!) relief people to arrive since the quake. Many, many people here died in the quake. Many others severely wounded. Everyone hungry and thirsty. Here we found an old, run-down, though beautiful mission compound right on the sea. We showed up without warning, spoke with the caretakers, and found ourselves a home.
We wandered the property a bit, getting our bearings, checking out the structural integrity of the buildings, and decided to make our supply house out of a small school building. It looked safe enough. Just outside this building was an area suitable to have our outside hospital. Large trees would provide good shade, with the help of a few large tarps we had brought along.
We unloaded our cargo, putting the medical supplies in the little school building. Close to this was a small, four-room dormitory with plenty of bunk beds. No running water. Electricity could be made available if we fired up a generator. There was a fairly nice bathroom / shower facility, but again no running water. All showering and flushing was with buckets.
And since water in Haiti is a precious commodity, the toilet credo was:
"If it's yellow let it mellow. If it's brown flush it down."
We crashed for the night, knowing the following day would change us forever.
Welcome to Haiti.