Friday, August 11, 2006

The Horror that is the PAP airport

Warning: Sarcasm Threat - Moderately High Alert - ORANGE

I don’t know why it surprises me when things are weird and unpredictable in Haiti … maybe I am just naïve enough to think it could or should be a similar experience exiting the country each time you do it.

As I stood inside the airport with streams of sweat starting at the base of my neck and running down my back where it soaked into the belt line of my pants … I started reflecting on all the different departures over the years. That is what led me to count and realize that Wednesday was the 10th time I have left Haiti.

We pulled up to a long line outside the airport. That is never a good sign. Can you ever think of a time in the USA, where you stood OUTSIDE the airport in line … no, I didn’t think so.

After 15 minutes outside we finally made it into the building. We had gone through the usual rigmarole of fighting off all the bag helper guys … we found one we wanted to work with and told him he was our man and nobody else was getting in on our deal. He seemed to dig that.

Some of the problem is caused by the fact that EVERYONE is an expert. Often times their expertise extends so far that they treat you as if you might be mentally incapacitated.

Like, I need to be told to step forward in line as we progress towards the security line. No, no --- I knew that already. They will tell you anyway. “Madame, Madame,” while pointing and gesturing to move ahead one baby step. What's this you say? When the line advances, I am to advance with it???? What a concept. Thanks for letting me in on the secret.

Then there is the fact that personal space - as you and I know it, does not exist in Haiti. Why would someone who normally rides around on a truck that is meant to seat six people comfortably, but instead “seats” 26 people ------ why would that person think to stand an arms length away from me? They wouldn’t, and they don’t.

There are many people wanting to tell you where to go, where to stand, which line you should be in, take your bags, boss you, stand up, sit down, fight-fight- fight.

I knew all of this before Wednesday, I guess I just had a few easy exits and forgot how bad the hard ones can be.

I will give you the highlights briefly.

1- First line we were in, turned out to be for people with children under 12 months. Noah is 29 months. Five minutes wasted.
2- Second line seemed okay, very long and packed like sardines. Britt stood while I went off to the side to entertain Noah.
3- One hour later when Britt got to the front a lady yelled at us for joining Britt. After our tongue lashing we just shrugged and refused to move. We were closing in on flight time.
4- On each of the other nine trips they open and hand check our checked bags at this point. Wednesday they were not hand checking anything. What is that????
5- Once to the counter … about fifteen more minutes after crabby power trip lady tried to make us go back in line, we faced the real issues of the day.
6- The lady just could not comprehend the four of us. She couldn’t get four boarding passes to print – I am telling you, she could not do it. On many occasions she walked away, got distracted by helping a co-worker and then came back and said “you have four, right?” I nodded patiently, yes we are still four.
7- Then, the machine that prints the boarding passes overheated. No less than five American Airlines employees stood around fanning it and blowing on it to try and get it to cool off. That lasted ten minutes. Blowing on a printer, the way you would hot food, that is a new one.
8- The belt that the luggage travels on was broken. They were placing bags in a pile that was as tall as most of the ticketing agents. Finally, some guy showed up and started moving the bags when the ladies could no longer move and were being crushed by the bags that had accumulated behind them.
9- We were four of the last six people to get on the plane before the doors were shut. That is with arriving two hours in advance and only having a 1/10th of mile walk between the ticket desk and the gate.

Suffice it to say, just getting to the plane was the most challenging part of our day. Miami was a breeze, Noah was good. He did not earn his way into the cockpit in Miami by being a jerk, I can tell you that. He turned on the charm and went places. I guess the pilot knew the difference between a terror and a terrorist.

The three kids and I head to Okoboji tomorrow. Have a great weekend. We will check back in on Monday. Maybe then I can tell about the lady who was unfamiliar with suggested airplane attire … she thought we were on a topless plane … she was not exposing her chestal region for anything important (like nursing) either. (I thought Paige’s eyes were going to pop out of her head and roll down the aisle.) This is the same wonderful U.S. citizen who let her baby use me as a jungle gym for two hours. Good times.