I can't complain, I love my current job but I miss the excitement of Leaving at a moment's notice to go god knows where and into unknown conditions. I've mentioned my trip to Haiti after the earthquake but I never told the whole story. And because I'm tired of writing about PTSD, war and my own personal tragedies. Of all the places the military took me, I never thought it would be to Haiti. I felt a bit of a connection to Haiti because a lot of my classmates in school were from Haiti and many of them still had family there.
Shortly after the earthquake, we got the notice that they were sending teams into Haiti to document the humanitarian relief. I was on one of the alternate teams so I fully expected to be on standby but not to actually go. Once the primary teams were gone, they started asking for more teams. Within 12 hours we were leaving. This was the part of my job that I lived for! Fly by the seat of my pants. Just pack and go and then worry about what to do when we get there.
ArrivalFlying into the airport in Haiti was like landing into chaos. There were people everywhere. FEMA, search and rescue, media, and every branch of service milling around. The runways were filled with pallets of supplies being prepped to go out to the survivors. After wandering around and trying to get our gear from one end of the runway to the other, we found where we were staying and stowed our equipment and off we went in search of a story. There was media everywhere, interviewing politicians and celebrities. I was surprised to see Bill and Hillary Clinton walking around. I heard somewhere that they vacationed in Haiti back in the day and they loved it there. Unfortunately we didn't have any luck finding a story and we couldn't get much footage of survivors and humanitarian relief at the airport. We needed to forward deploy.
Later that day we packed up to move forward into the city to the U.S. Embassy. We would get better access there and would be able to go out into the city to document damage and search and rescue efforts. The morning we were leaving the airport, I woke up to my cot shaking. I thought it was one of the guys messing with me and I was just about to start hurling obscenities at them until the lights came on and someone told us we'd just had a big aftershock. If the aftershock was that strong, I can even imagine what the earthquake was like.
Moving OnWe were able to get seats on a helicopter and it was a short trip. We landed a short distance from the embassy but it felt like 10 miles away while we were lugging weapons, pelican cases full of camera gear and rucksacks with the bare essentials. Took make matters worse, it was 90 degrees in January and humid. It was about then that I realized that the hot weather was going to cause bigger problems. I'd quit smoking about a month before and it was so hot my nicotine patches were sliding off my arm from all the sweating. I was petrified I would have a nicotine fit and snap someone's neck. I ended up using duck tape to keep it on my arm, guess it really is good for everything!
|Our hallway at the Embassy|
"Roughing it"We were not prepared for the crazy conditions at the embassy. There wasn't enough room for all of the search and rescue, FEMA and military that were holing up there. It was a nice embassy and the air conditioning worked well so it was better than I could've hoped for. We wandered around looking for somewhere to set our gear down and put out our sleeping bags. We settled on a hallway that was empty. I picked the unfortunate spot near the bathroom, which I quickly regretted. We slept terrible, the floor was hard, the fluorescent lights were on all night and there was constant traffic in and out of the bathroom all night. Not to mention having to hear the sound of someone vomiting and the smell coming out of the bathroom. The first couple of nights sucked but we were indoors and in the air conditioning so it really wasn't that bad.
Vague instructionsThe next day my teammate and I got our first mission and it was interesting to say the least. We were told to get a car and a driver and go to the port where we would get a boat ride to the big hospital ship off the coast. But before that, we needed to find an unnamed and nondescript doctor and make sure he takes our car to get to a meeting at the Embassy. Once he's done he would send the car back to pick us up. No specific details, just that. I had to laugh because, all I could imagine was my team mate and I standing at the port alone with no ride back to the embassy. It wasn't exactly the safest place to be sitting in the dark alone and it was way too far to try to walk back. Thankfully, it ended up being one of the most memorable days I had in Haiti.
I know this post might sound like a lot of complaining, but I secretly loved "embracing the suck" it always made for a good stories later on. I would trade sleeping in the hallway on the ground for anything because it's something I'll never forget, nor will I forget the people I experienced it with. Anyway, before this gets too long, I'm going to pause here. I'll continue tomorrow!