Thursday, May 18, 2006

Security Breach at PAP Airport

Happy Flag Day!

Thursday, May 18, 2006 is Flag Day in Haiti. Flag Day is tantamount to the 4th of July in the States. It is not technically the celebration of Haiti's independence, but it is very important.

The photo to the left was taken yesterday, the 17th of May at the Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Port au Prince, Haiti. They had some pre-flag day events going on there on Wednesday.

The day started out fairly normal ... or as normal as a day can be when you plan to put an 11 year old on a plane by herself for an entire day of travel. 

Ugh. Horrible.

Paige was headed to Minnesota to visit her other family. Troy dropped Paige and I off at the door at 11am, and left with Pastor Rony to go get his blood work done again. We made our plan that Troy would return in two and a half hours to get me. I did not want to leave the building until I knew the plane was in the air.

Paige and I had the forced help with our bags, try as you might to say "no mesi, no mesi" sometimes "no mesi" means "sure, yes, help me".  Once we had our help we didn't need we stood in line, stood in line, stood in line. All very normal. When we got to the front of the correct line we filled out all the papers for a minor to fly unaccompanied. It was 11:30.

The ever so pleasant AA employee told us to come back at 12:30 to the ticket counter to meet her escort.

We went to a little airport restaurant that was upstairs, it is only for people who have not gone through security and into the holding area for flights. I never knew it existed prior to today. We had a terribly gross piece of pizza and worked on some math together and chatted.

At 12:30 we went back to the ticketing line to find our lady again. She assigned "Marcel" to walk us to the gate. When we got to the first checkpoint Marcel told me I could not come with them. This was surprising to us since we had been told by American Airlines that I would be able to sit at the gate with her until she took off. Paige started crying, which made me cry. We pulled off to the side to pray together and then I sent her on her way with Marcel and told her I would not leave the airport until her plane was in the air.

As I walked away I felt that sinking cruddy feeling a mom feels when she knows her kid is disappointed and sad. I decided that I should try and figure out if there was a way to see Paige one more time.

I went back up the stairs to the restaurant. I noticed a hallway leading towards daylight. I followed it, it took me to a flight of stairs where a door had been left cracked open. I peeked around and did not see anyone so I quietly tip-toed in past the door. The stairs led me up to another hallway. In that hallway there was one office with windows at hip level that had blinds on them. I ducked down low to pass the office windows so no one would tell me to leave. 

Five steps past the office was a corridor that led to open air. I stepped out to find myself on a cat-walk type thing that overlooked the tarmac. It was on the back side of that black fence you see in the photo that we took from the front of the airport.

I won't lie. My heart was pounding out of my chest because I knew I was not supposed to be up there. I also knew that no one had seen me and that it was my chance to see Paige one more time.

I stood in the shadow of a cement beam so the guys in the air-traffic control booth right next to me would not see me. I stood back and very still so the guys on the ground working on loading planes would not see me or notice motion.

There was a lot of commotion on the tarmac. They were rolling out red carpet (for real - actual red carpet!) and there was a huge marching band standing lined up and ready to play. Five black Suburban's pulled up, all in a row. Out stepped a ton of secret service type guys, and then President Preval! The band played for him, he shook six hands and they all jumped back in their Suburbans and left. There were UN with machine guns and police all over the place. I could have thrown a rock and hit Preval or the air traffic control tower. I was that close.

Once that excitement ended and I had still not been caught I settled in with my eyes focused on the plane I guessed would be Paige's plane. Sure enough, about ten minutes later they brought out the grannies in the wheelchair's and right after that came Paige. 

The engines were running on the plane so I wondered if she would hear me. I yelled "Paige Paige" she looked all around and had a hard time finding me. When she did, she smiled and waved. She climbed the steps to the plane, turning around and smiling and waving every few steps. 

My cover was blown so I waited until she was out of sight and gave the "up-nod" to the guy on the ground who was staring at me in shock and awe and utter horror. I bolted off the roof and retraced my steps back out and down. 

When I got to the office with the glass windows I met a lady who told me I could be in very big, big trouble. I smiled and wished her a good day and ran past her before she decided to do something about me.

The lesson and a free tip I'll offer to the UN and the Haitian Police force and the President's secret service team is this: Do not focus so much on one area of the airport. The tarmac is just one small piece of your airport. Beware of more than just regular run-of-the-mill predictable foes.  Listen up now, key point: Watch out for moms who want to make their kids happy. They are dangerous.