When we landed in Port Au Prince, Haiti last Thursday I wasn’t sure what to expect. The airport had been destroyed by the earthquake and some temporary structures had been built. The customs and immigration area has been moved to an old hanger. The door opened and we walked down a long hallway. We all congregated around the exit and held up our passports making sure nothing had been lost. In the distance we could hear music greeting us to Haiti. We walked closer to the music and the warning of, “Say goodbye to the air conditioning” rang through my ears. We walked past the musicians and out the door.
We were hit with a wall of heavy air and heat and crowded onto a tram, standing room only. They shuttled us to immigration where we had to be cleared to enter the country. It was a huge metal building with no air flow. We walked in and there were no signs just a woman in uniform pointing at lines of people and shouting something to us in Creole. We got in line and had our passports and visa applications in hand for someone to review. The lines went fast and then we waited for someone to drop off our luggage.
It was not like a baggage claim area in any other airport I’ve been to. A man rolled out a big cart and everyone’s bags were on it. Everyone rushed over to the cart and dumped bags on the floor to get theirs. It was a free for all. People pushing one another and it was crowded. We finally got our bags and it was time to go through customs. Customs was pretty lax and it was time to head to the outdoors.
We were told early on not to give anyone our bags or even touch them unless it was our guide, Jacque and he would be wearing a red shirt. We met up with Jacque and followed him out the door. The doorway was small and people were trying to squeeze through the door. Our group got separated from one another so we had to stop and wait. There were men with red hats standing outside trying to take our bags so that they could get a tip. They were pretty insistent. This is when I started to regret bringing the two huge bags of donations.
We ran outside and had to go down the road for almost a mile to get to the trucks waiting on us. This is where it started to hit me that we were not in the US anymore. As we walked to the pick up area we were still fenced in on the airport side. Haitian people were on the outside of the fence yelling at everyone on the inside. Whether they were asking for money or asking for your items were unclear. The guys in the red hats were following us trying to take our bags o get a tip. Security were walking around with sawed off shotguns, handguns and other weapons. I assume they were security because they were in plain clothes. Jacque was rushing us out of the airport. It seemed like we were being rushed out for our own safety.
We made it to the trucks, loaded all our luggage and we were off in the streets of Port Au Prince to the next airport Tortug Air to take us to Port Au Paix.