We were in the airport when Former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide returned to Haiti after seven years in exile. The return was highly anticipated.
Earlier this week, we passed his home and preparation was underway. The entrance was freshly painted in a peach/pink color. We saw men adorning the high perimeter wall with dozens of Haitian flags.
We left for the airport early to avoid any possible pandemonium. As we approached the heart of Port au Prince, we saw several UN vehicles and a number of armed UN soldiers.
There was a tense calm in the air as we disembarked our chartered bus. Airport security was extremely elevated. We went through four security check points including two body searches and a pair of x-rays.
Shortly after we settled down in the departure lounge, we saw several airport workers rushing to a nearby exit. They got word of Aristide’s arrival and wanted to get a glimpse. I was able to see the former president’s chartered plane from a gift shop on the ground floor and was able to snap an obstructed photograph. Leaving the airport would have been risky[I decided not to]. Instead, I headed to the food court with televisions.
Several locals were glued to the screen. Ironically, most foreigners appeared oblivious playing cards, reading or chatting with family and friends.
Aristide’s arrival speech was about 30 minutes in length. It was delivered in at least five languages – French, Creole, Spanish, Swahili and English. With the help of a colleague, I was able to get the gist of his remarks delivered in Creole.
Among other things, he told the crowd, “My brothers and sisters, union makes us stronger; division makes us weak.”
I was excited about the opportunity to witness history, but was relieved when the Howard delegation was able to depart safely. However, we will keep our new friends and the people of Haiti in our thoughts and prayers.