Be the Cause

Haiti – Day 1

Watching the ripples of the ocean fly by underneath as we land in Port Au Prince. Local Time 7am.

We step outside the airport, 10 sleepy eyed faces. We get to the hotel, eat and crash heavily. Hours later we are greeted by the same supplies we brought in. Now it’s time to put in work. We start organizing everything we’ve brought, making neat little piles of toothbrushes, toothpaste, women’s hygiene products, medicine, slippers, backpacks with school supplies, underwear, socks, and first aid supplies. Everything is earmarked for a different displacement camp or orphanage that we’ll be visiting in the coming days. That part was easy. Next came the tough job. As we visit each displacement camp we are expected to give a presentation on cholera, HIV, Hygiene, and the prevalence of rape in the campsites. The organizers have decided that at the campsites they’ll split the women from the men for these presentations. I gather with the other few male volunteers and we think through how to broach topics like safe sex and rape with the goal of actually affecting positive change in the lives of the community. We come up with a plan that includes some statistics, some jokes, some props, and some heart-felt stories. The female volunteers also gather, and come up with a plan of their own. Tomorrow, we meet the people we’ve come to serve.

Haiti – Chaos marks the beginning

They say that things first need to fall apart before they can come together anew. Well, our journey definitely began by first falling apart.

Travelers trickled into LAX gathering their wits about the journey ahead. Goodbyes long said to loved ones, there was now only one path forward, through the American Airlines check-in kiosk.

Ten travelers made their way to the counter, each with one check-in baggage filled with supplies that we plan on distributing in the Haitian Displacement Camps. Of course I happen to go last, of course all my supplies happen to be in a cardboard box, and of course the American Airlines agent I approach happens to conduct the most thorough research on box baggage rules in the entire history of American Airlines flights. After 10 minutes of studying all the rules and regulations he determines that shipping boxes to Haiti is not allowed. We all winced as we see a box from a fellow traveler to Haiti pass by on the conveyer belt behind him. He proceeded to explain the extra charges we would have to incur in order to get our supplies safely to Haiti. This, after months of collecting and then organizing supplies was a little much, and two warriors quickly came to my rescue. For the next ten minutes I watched in awe as Sonali and Eli made a most impassioned case for allowing us to ship the box, or to waive any additional fees.

The discussion wasn’t really about a box, it had more to do with the responsibility that we all have to participate in things larger than us, and about feeling the need of a people far away. Even one pair of slippers that didn’t make its way was one little girl that would have to go without in an already dreary campsite. The appeal didn’t work. The American Airlines Agent even called in his supervisor who also just stone-walled our requests. Eventually we purchased a duffel bag and starting shifting the supplies over. The American Airline agent watching us leaned over, grabbed a few supplies and actually started helping us with the transition. At one point he was the one ensuring that we could fit in as much stuff as possible. Sure he still charged us for the extra bag, but who knows maybe a few minutes of helping-out is just what he needed. A small gift from us to American Airlines.

We proceeded through security, now late, ran to the gate, and boarded to find that overhead cabin space was unavailable. Eventually, somehow, we got to our seats and watched Los Angeles disappear behind us.

Forgotten luggage, un-abiding ticket agents, and barely boarding on time: just a beginning. I asked Sonali if the rest of the trip was going to be like this, she said “Wait till you see what’s in store ahead”.

I sat down and found two blankets on my seat. The lady next to me asks for one and of course I reply, “There’s an extra charge for that”.

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