I guess it’s time to tell my version of the story of the day that changed hundreds of lives. Quite possibly the most amazing thing I have ever been a part of, and yet at the time it seemed so incredibly ordinary. Perhaps it came from the mixture of shock and exhaustion, both emotional and physical, but when I think back I can’t remember realizing just how huge that journey was. It’s incredible that it’s been an entire year. Almost unbelievable. I remember it so vividly. From the sound of the crying that filled the plane to the smell that filled the immigration room where we waited, it’s all so perfectly clear.
I arrived at the airport on January 20th on what was supposed to be a quick overnight trip to accompany 50 children from another orphanage on a flight into Miami. I had debated whether to go or not. I remember being terrified of what it was going to be like on that drive down. I remember slipping on my sunglasses and staring at my hands for most of the 45 min drive. I remember the internal struggle not to look out the window while at the same time being almost unable to tear my eyes away. I remember the shock of seeing the Caribbean Market. I remember seeing this.
The airport was like something out of a movie. We drove around the building to a gate guarded by a UN tower. We waved our American passports out the window of the car and were immediately led past the lines of people and inside. The entire runway looked like a war zone. There were helicopters and huge c130s landing and taking off and uniformed troops from Canada, the US buzzing everywhere. I remember shock over the short uniform shorts of the French men. I remember telling myself that this was real, over and over again, I felt that foggy feeling of being in a dream and knowing that I wasn’t.
We sat for several hours before the plane that was to take the children out landed. By the time they arrived we learned that the orphanage had already been evacuate on an earlier flight. Instead Moriah and Brandon prepared to return to GLA with the truckloads of relief supplies while I was asked to fly into Miami and help with the humanitarian parole efforts there. The choice still haunts me. I can’t say I wish I hadn’t gone, but I can’t believe I left. And I had no idea that when I did, I wouldn’t be coming back.
The next two days in Mami were a blur of phone calls, pacing the airport and panic attacks every time the building swayed with a landing plane. In all the days surrounding the earthquake these are the only that I don’t remember clearly. All I remember is hiding in the bathroom and crying, a lot. And hearing that on the morning after I left there was a 6.1 aftershock.
After 2 days in Miami we got the call that the children had been granted their humanitarian parole. We quickly arranged a flight in to pick them up.
In between the running I sent a text to my parents. It read, “ get some diapers, size 2 and get to Miami, your baby is coming tomorrow.”
From that second on the trip meant just a little more to me. I was bringing babies to their families and from that was built my very own. God works in amazing ways.
When we arrived in Port Au Prince it was dark. It felt like forever while we waited for them to open the door and lower the stairs. I waited, not to patiently, to step out and start breathing again.
I walked onto the tarmac and watched as van after van drove towards us. Each was filled to the brim with wide eyed children. I prayed they would understand. I heard the nannies singing songs that were familiar and comforting. For as long as I live I will never forget the incredible strength in those women that night. As they smiled through their tears and proudly carried their babies to their new life, in those minutes I learned more about grace and love than ever before.
We sat on the runway for more than an hour before we were cleared to take off. We split up, 6 kids with one adult for each row. Those tiny little bodies seat belted into overwhelming seats. While we waiting we passed out cookies and water bottles and changed countless diapers. I watched the faces of the kids who understood and I was stopped in my tracks. What could they possibly be thinking.
When we finally landed in Miami we filed off of the plane and into a small immigration area. It took almost an hour for them to check each child against their file. When the last name was called I naively thought that we were finally done. I had no idea.
After the initial processing we were lead into a small, glass walled room where each of the children were processed by immigration officials. One by one, 81 flies were checked, 81 children were fingerprinted and 81 photos were taken. For 8 hours and 11 minutes we waited. No one had any idea that we would be in there for soooo long. The parents were waiting on the other side.
Finally everyone was finished and we set out on the last leg of our journey. With a baby in my arms and a small hand held tight we walked those final steps. There were cameras and flashbulbs everywhere and I remember being incredibly annoyed. Why wouldn’t they just leave these kids alone, why couldn’t they just let them be.
When we arrived in the waiting room there were snacks and clothes for us to change the kids into . While Dixie spoke to the parents I took my last moments to hold “my babies” before they belonged to someone else. As my tears began to well the children who were old enough gathered in a corner of the room and began to sing. They proclaimed the words that they had countless times before, goodbye my friend, pray for us.
Those welling tears began to fall. It was finally time. One by one I watched babies I had loved placed in the arms of someone who loved them too. One by one they went until finally, it was my turn. I took a precious 21 pound boy in my arms and brought him to parents who had waited and prayed for him. As I handed him to his new dad I didn’t quite let go, instead I wrapped my arms around both of them and soaked in this new version of the family I used to know.