Wednesday, January 13 came and went. Troy spent that entire day trying to assess the situation while looking for living people and confirming answers for acquaintances and strangers alike. I never left home except to use internet a few doors down when I needed to. I stayed with the kids and our two friends/guests. Nothing about that day felt real, it was very much a time of floating above reality and looking down onto it. I believe the psychologist types call this disassociating.
We did not sleep more than an hour or two Wednesday night heading into Thursday. We woke up Thursday to learn that Kristen and Erin could not get out on the flights they had booked but that their husbands were talking and making plans B and C.
Word on the street was that possibly 50,000 had died. The bodies were beginning to pile up around town. That seemed impossible. Fifty-thousand?
Troy left to go up the hill to Delmas 75 to check on the folks working that clinic and to find out if there was diesel available anywhere along the route. Kristen and Erin and I fielded phone calls and tried to give the kids attention, but we were not all that good at it. The house had 10 kids, ages 15 - 8 - 8- 5 - 3 - 3- 3 - 2 - 2 - and 9 months ... we were outnumbered on a good day but with our brains spinning and no sleep, none of us were in stellar parenting mode by any stretch of the imagination.
During times when the internet was up I tried to keep track of emails for Troy. Sometime during the first half of that day (somewhat in response to emails and questions) I wrote three very short posts. This and this and this.
When Troy got back around 11am he decided to take a motorcycle (pay a driver to take him) to the US Embassy. The reason for that was to conserve his own diesel in our truck and to try to keep from wasting while sitting in gridlock traffic. We had not yet gone there and we were hearing (through you and the internet) that evacuation flights had begun. He left for the Embassy at around 11:15am and was supposed to get back by 1pm to bring Kristen and Erin to a flight they thought they could catch to Jamaica. When he was not back at 1pm I got ready to take them, not really sure what to expect or if it was even possible to make it the the airport. As we were about to pull out Troy arrived back home. He said he had been to the Embassy and had decided while there to put our kids' names and my name on the list to evacuate. The Embassy had told him that things were changing all the time but that if the kids could be back within an hour they could likely get them out on Thursday night around 4pm or 5pm. They said each person could have 50 pounds of luggage. Being back within an hour, even though the Embassy is three miles from our house, was basically impossible. Plus, we had guests that needed out too and wanted a ride the other direction. He sort of gave up on the idea that we would get our kids back to the Embassy in time for that flight they mentioned. Troy left around 1:30 with Kristen and Erin and Kristen's infant daughter. They pulled out thinking they would head to try to get the Jamaica flight. Their two in-the-process-of-being-adopted sons stayed back with me. (There was no humanitarian parole for kids in the adoption process on our radar at that time - we were still not to 48 hours after the EQ.) Somewhere on the drive they abandoned their Jamaica plan and went to the U.S. Embassy. I was not in the car so I don't know how that decision was made. Troy dropped them to the Embassy and came home.
When he got home we had one of the more intense conversations of our marriage. He wanted me to leave with the kids. I felt torn and uncertain, and just sick. I asked if Kristen and Erin could possibly escort them? He said, "No, I put YOUR name on the list." We went round and round and it was highly emotional. He wanted me to go out to feel like he had us all in a "safe" place and I wanted to stay and work and get the kids out while we had capable, loving escorts to help them. We really could not communicate well (read: fighting) because we were both under stress and not able to share our fear-based choices. I wanted to stay to work, but I also was not ready to leave Troy in such an unknown new world. I knew the kids would be safe once they were on U.S. soil we had all the plans made with Britt and Chris and my parents and that felt okay to me. Leaving Troy when things were spinning out of control in Haiti was too much for me in that moment. We eventually decided that I would pack my stuff, I would pack the kids stuff, and I would be ready to go *if* the U.S. Embassy would not allow us to have Erin or Kristen escort.
About 5pm we were packed and ready and headed with the five passport carrying kids to the airport. I bawled my head off saying goodbye to everyone, uncertain if I would be returning home or flying out with the kids. We left behind the Haitian kids without U.S. passports, Jeronne was home with Megan to care for them. The kids were full of questions, but not yet afraid. Troy walked us into the Embassy. At the door they had security and the normal scanning machines and check-in process.
Troy went into the building to see if they would take my name off of the list. I waited in the courtyard with the kids and many others who were gathered there waiting for that same flight out. Troy came back out to tell me he had listed Erin as the escort for the kids and that they told him that no flight had left yet and that the plan was to leave around 10pm and go to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to then book commercial flights to the USA on our own.
The Embassy staff was clearly working under great stress and with lots of conflicting and wrong information coming their way. I felt terrible for them as we watched them talk to angry people and put up with a lot of crap. When you got on their list you had to sign a piece of paper that said that the U.S. Government has a right to bill you for your evacuation. It made perfect sense to us. We choose to go abroad. A disaster happens. Our governmentt shows up with planes for us. We get to leave. Seems simple.
While I am nervous to see if we ever get a bill, I sure as heck think it makes sense that they may bill something for it at some point. Every other time I leave Haiti I pay for a flight out. I know others disagree on that ... and I know it because people were jerks to the Embassy employees about it. As if the US Embassy employees set that policy. A woman literally said, "What? You might bill me for my flight? It is not MY fault the Earthquake happened!" Uh. Yeah. Apparently it is their fault? People are ridiculous sometimes. But I digress.
There were people trading stories in the courtyard. Paige ran into a lot of friends from school. Her friend Dawn was there with her family. Their house had collapsed on them but they had found a way to crawl out. Dawn's Mom was hurt and needed to be carried. Dawn seemed incredibly strong for a teenager who had gone through what she had gone through. Dawn's dad works for World Vision and Troy quickly offered them any help we might be able to offer and exchanged emails.
We are unsure of exact count, but there were probably about 175 people at the Embassy that night. Some stayed in the courtyard and others sat inside.
Troy left to go get sheets for the Church of the Open Door group (people we have MN connections to) to use and something to lay our kids down on and some food. Before he got back, at around 7pm they came out to distribute MREs (military ready to eat meals). We sat in a circle with our group and the Buxman kids and the Tlucek group. Troy delivered blankets and we laid them out to get everyone to sleep for awhile. (In theory.) Lydia was manic and would not settle down. Isaac and Hope and Noah all fell asleep around 10pm. Paige could not sleep. Lydie sort of did for about three minutes.
Around 11pm there was some buzz around the courtyard that if you were willing to abandon your bags and you did not have a baby, you could go on a flight straight to the USA. We did not jump on that because we had Lydia and Kristen had Karis. We watched as a few decided to take that chance, including the Tlucek kids and their guardian Kelly. Ten minutes passed while we discussed the change and tried to figure out if the Dominican Republic plane was still coming? No one seemed to really know. I went to ask an employee. She said she did not know yet that the only SURE flight was the one straight to somewhere in the U.S. (she did not know where) and that you could not take luggage.
We talked some more and Erin was willing to take the kids and go if they would let Lydia sit on a lap. The Embassy lady said okay and we began trying to put layers of clothes on the kids while trying to wake them up and get them on their feet. The Buxman kids were unsure about leaving their bags and Kristen felt that she could not travel without luggage with her infant, she was thinking she would stay and see what other choices might be offered.
Erin and I walked into the Embassy from the courtyard and got in a line. The line let us out the backdoor to a driveway area where black Suburbans were pulling up. As you got to the front you showed your passports and had your names checked against a list. In that line Isaac lightened the mood by saying, "Hey Ma, do you think there is any good place to get a haircut in America?" Right as we were getting to the front Kristen showed up with her baby girl and said she decided to go with Erin and the kids. They loaded into the Suburban. Paige was crying quietly, Noah was crying with some force, and Lydie was screaming. Hope and Isaac were both quiet.
After they were in the Suburban the Embassy worker saw me crying and said "Ma'am I can try to get you on this flight too." I told her I was staying but wanted to stand outside until the Suburbans left. At that moment there was obviously major stress among the Embassy workers. They forgot about me (the only person outside the back door with them at that moment) and talked together about the news they had just received. One woman told the others that USAID was asking that all the Suburbans come immediately to the Hotel Montana to work on recovery. Yet their orders were to get people to the airport. They discussed the options for about a minute then one dark-haired woman who seemed to have the most authority said "Go go go, get these people to the airport and then go straight to the Montana."
Off the long line of black Suburbans went. My kids and friends ended up being in the second to last one. I think that was right around midnight. I walked back inside wondering if I had made the right choice. I felt utterly alone and on the verge of vomiting. I passed a woman sitting in a side waiting area that thought I was an Embassy employee. She said, "I have myself and one child with passports, but two children without. Can we please go?" I told her I was not in charge but that I had heard they would only talk to people with a passport in hand at that time. She asked me to take her two kids without the passports. I said, "No, I'm sorry, no."
I walked back into the large waiting area. The room was mostly empty. I decided to go outside and gather all the bags that our group had abandoned. As I walked out a lady carrying two of our pillows and a blanket passed me. I said, "Hey, those were ours!" I immediately felt like a jerk and told her to keep them. I gathered the stuff into a pile and listened in on a conversation nearby for a few minutes. I saw a few rats running along the wall and decided I did not want to lay down outside yet.
I went back inside with a blanket and laid down on the floor near the TV that was broadcasting CNN. Anderson Cooper stood in his black t-shirt talking about the numbers of deaths. I watched the footage as if it was not where I was. A heavy darkness fell over me. I wondered how this could be true? After a few minutes more people trickled into a fairly empty room. The Embassy employees were giving them instructions about the new bag rules. One young Haitian-American woman who had been visiting Haiti for two weeks got very angry about not being able to bring luggage. She verbally abused the weary Embassy employees while they graciously kept apologizing. She went on a major rant about how expensive her clothes were and how much she needed her scarf, and her shoes, and her toiletries. I listened to it while still laying on the floor watching the footage of dead bodies on the sides of the roads - right.outside. - right outside - a mile away - dead bodies ... and there she stood complaining about the cost of her designer wear. "You are the US Embassy - you said I could bring luggage - you should KNOW if I can bring luggage." It was atrocious listening to her - atrocious.
The full story - not sure I should tell it -- but I lost it. Really lost it. I stood up on my feet and across a few rows of chairs I told (yelled) her to SHUT UP and sit down. (There were strong swear words involved. People that know me in real life do not find this surprising.) She came right back at me and told me she would stick her foot in my #$* if I did not lay back down. I told her I'd like to see that and said, "Bring it." I then told her that she was a spoiled, entitled jerk (add more swear words) and that one look at the television told me her suitcase and precious designer clothing was actually of ZERO importance. There was a moment where it easily could have turned physical. Thank goodness the rows of chairs separated us. I was as mad as I have ever been and she was as self-centered as anyone can be. I laid back down shaking mad. She left to get in line to go to the airport. The pastor from Open Door was at the far end of the room. I wondered if he was impressed with my language.
After another hour of CNN coverage and all hope zapped, I went outside. I laid awake listening to planes and helicopters and wondering where my kids were until about 5:30am. That made three nights with less than four hours of sleep combined. As the sun started to come up I fell asleep. I woke up to Troy's voice yelling my name. He was outside the courtyard. I got up and started walking toward him. He yelled that our kids were safe and in New Jersey. I fell on the ground crying and thanking God. It was very dramatic ... not the way I typically roll - but then nothing about that night was typical. Troy helped me get the bags out of the courtyard (a few more things had been stolen in the night but I couldn't care less) and into our truck. We drove three miles home crying and amazed that our kids were in New Jersey, of all places.
Shortly after we got home on Friday morning, I wrote this.
EQ P3 - Chasing down emergency twitter messages (the good and the bad parts of that) and what we all did to get ready for the medical clinic, the weekend of January 15-17th.
To read EQ P1 go here.