By all accounts, no one knew what to expect. In fact, most people braced themselves for the worst. The journey from Washington to “earthquake ravaged Haiti” was about 13 hours for most people in the Howard delegation. The group met on campus at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 12 before heading to Reagan National Airport followed by a layover in Miami. We traveled to Haiti in two groups – A and B. I was in group B on the second leg with 18 other people.
As we boarded the plane, it was out of body for most of us especially Haitian born and Haitian Americans…are we going Haiti or Hawaii. We overheard a young woman in her late teens who said she was looking forward to a tan. Her mother quickly silenced her.
Besides the Howard delegation, there were about five other people of color on the 737 aircraft. A quick math shows only 25 out of about 300 and including the second flight – 50 out of 600. The jet was filled with dozes of White missionary groups committed to a variety of causes as expressed by their t-shirts including the “Three Angels,” a group dedicated to children, ending hunger etc.
The flight was about two hours. The pilot alerted us when we were 120 miles away from touch down. I could see the anticipation on people’s faces. There was a hush as people peeked over their seats to see Haiti…what will it look like? Just what will the “poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere” [a boiler plate description for Haiti] look like from 20,000 ft, 10,000 ft or 5,000 ft even. As we got closer, we saw beauty. We saw a majestic mountain range – half green and lush, while the other half was brown and arid. We also saw Caribbean water with shades of dark blue, sky blue teal, turquoise and white sand.
Wow! This is Haiti? It was quite disorienting…it was not the dominant images we see in the media, which is our primary window to the world. Within about 30 miles we were able to see fields of blue tarp tents and some rubble and general destruction from the earthquake complete with aid marquees – UN trucks and a host of other agencies.
The landing earned a pilot a round of applause as is customary on flights to the Caribbean and to parts of Africa. We disembarked and entered a jetway, which was brand new. “This was not here when I was here in October” one person said…We even got a shuttle to the main airport building. Before passengers had to walk on the tarmac to immigration and customs. “There is hope for Haiti,” another person said. But one could not help but think whether the airport improvements were paramount to handle the volume of missionaries and missions in the aftermath of the Jan. 12, 2010 quake. We reunited with 10 other members of our delegation who arrived a few hours earlier. We boarded our 30-seater Toyota Coaster bus and were on our way 1 hour West of Port au Prince to a town called Archaie.
Follow through March 18 for service activities led by Howard students, faculty and staff throughout Haiti.
Kerry-Ann Hamilton, media relations manager, is traveling with Howard University volunteers on their service mission to Haiti. Her blog “Howard Brings Hope to Haiti” chronicles the travels and work of more than two dozen students, faculty and staff during Alternative Spring Break 2011.