I was stirred awake and into a nightmare. The words I heard pierced my soul.
"They just had another one"
In the dark I sat straight up. Frantically I searched the room, trying to remember where I was. In just a few seconds I knew, Miami International Airport Hotel. I was gone and they had just had another earthquake.
January 20th I boarded a plane in Port Au Prince bound for Miami. I was needed to help in the huge task of trying to get the children being adopted by American families out. 81 little lives were at stake. I went because they needed me to. Everything inside me fought it but I knew what my task of the hour was. I expected to return to Haiti the next day. Instead I remained in Miami. I took a shower, my first in 11 days. I watched the water flood down the drain and it made my physically sick. I walked outside my room and faced the array of food, water and "necessities" that were offered to me and I was overwhelmed. All I could think about what lie 800 miles, and a world away. I went through the motions surrounded by people who didn't get it.
And then, the wake up call. I should have been there! I should have been sleeping on the ground alongside the nannies and babies that I loved. I should have reassured them. I should have gathered in prayer and lifted my hands in songs of praise. I should not have left. I should have been helping those babies.
I had no idea how huge what we were doing was. In the next few hours I realized I was helping them more than I ever could have dreamed. I wrote emails and made phone calls that directly resulted in 81 children being allowed to step on a plane and land in a country that welcomed them with open arms and flashing cameras.
On Thursday January 21st I boarded a flight again. I returned to the place where I left my heart. I stepped off the jet next to a caravan of white buses. Staring out at me were familiar faces. The nannies I had come to love sat with their babies on their laps. They looked exhausted but upon exiting the vehicles each forced a smile. They proudly carried their babies one last time. They walked up the steps and onto the jet. Almost none had ever seen an airplane before. Their excitement mingled with their pain. They placed their children in the arms of volunteers and said goodbye. Tears were not shed. Instead they showed, once again, the strength of the Haitian way. For most of those children these were the only mothers they had ever known. For all of these ladies these were the children of their hearts. These were first steps and first words. They were sleepless nights and sweet sticky kisses. In a matter of minutes they let them go.
In my arms was placed Jacob. I clutched him tightly and frantically tried to soak in every second. You see, along with the babies came my luggage. I was not to return to Haiti as planned. I said goodbye too, not knowing when I would ever see my friends again. Thankfully there was no time to focus on what I was leaving behind. The precious cargo on the plane, and what lie ahead needed me to much. I sat with Jacob while Mackensly and Manuel huddled beside me. I passed out cookies and juice as we sat on the runway. I changed diapers while we waited for clearance to take off. I held my breath, knowing that until we were in the air, it was too good to be true. For an hour we sat, anxious and tense. Finally we began to move. Faster and faster until we felt the wheels leave the ground. It was really happening. It was a dream.
The lights were turned down low and most of the babies quickly fell asleep. Those of us volunteers on the plane spent the flight filling out visa and customs forms for each and every child. 81 forms. We finished just as the lights of Miami came into view. The ground came closer and closer until finally we touched down. 81 children were home.
Upon entering the terminal we were taken to the immigration processing area where each child was cleared for their Humanitarian Parole. None of us had any idea what to expect, none of us would have dreamed that the process would take almost 8 hours. Anxiously I watched the clock. Midnight, 1, 2...7am finally the last name was called. The last hurdle was crossed. This was really happening.
We gathered and paraded through the airport. 81 babies and more volunteers than I could count. We were met in a flash of cameras and microphones. Everyone, adults and children alike stared wide eyed at the crowd before us. We were sleep deprived, dirty and overwhelmed, we were ready to be done. We boarded 2 buses that took us to the terminal where the parents were waiting. Everyone was ushered into a room where the children were cleaned and dressed as well as possible while Dixie greeted the waiting parents.
At GLA there is a tradition that when a child leaves all of the nannies and other children gather to send them off. They sing a special goodbye song and everyone gives their well wishes and hugs. This is a ritual that every child participates in and waits eagerly for. Usually the song is personalized with a child's name being entered, on this day there were too many. They sang instead "goodbye my friend, goodbye my friend" There wasn't a dry eye in the room. They sang goodbye, to their friends, their caretakers and the life they had known. They then went on to sing "this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it"
Rejoice we did. Dixie returned and quickly they began calling one child at a time to meet their parents. We watched as one by one the room cleared. The K's were called, I stood up. With me was Kerderns. I carried him out of the room and searched for the familiar faces, I spotted them through the crowd and as I pushed my way through they got closer and closer. Finally we stood face to face and I presented Kerderns Pierre to his new mom and dad.Then I stepped closer as someone snapped a photo, the first of this new chapter. I stood beside my mom and dad as they held my new little brother for the very first time.
Every volunteer of GLA dreams of leaving with a baby. There isn't one who goes with the same spirit they arrived with. Every time I fly away I imagine the weight of a little child in my arms. I prayed that one day I would carry one with me. Never could I have dreamed it would have happened in such an amazing way.