Our mission team in December 2009 was larger than ever, with 15 members. I wondered how Pere Sadoni, the priest director of St. Vincent’s School, was going to transport all of us and our bags from the airport to the school, since previously he had picked us up in a couple of SUV type vehicles driven by school staff members. Not to worry, after collecting our bags at the airport and being ushered through customs by the usual envoy from the Bishop’s office, we went outside to wait for a few moments only. Soon a school bus marked Ecole St. Vincent pulled up, and off we went.
We were driving merrily along through Port au Prince when the bus had to drive up a rather steep hill. About 2/3 of the way up, the bus slipped out of gear and began ROLLING BACKWARDS DOWN THE HILL. We came to a sudden jerking halt as the driver tried in vain to get the bus back in to gear. No go. My daughter told me later she was frightened that we were going to roll backwards all the way down the hill and crash at the bottom. She has a flair for the dramatic. I was more worried about how we were going to get us and all our bags the rest of the way to St. Vincent’s, as night was falling and after all, we were in Port au Prince. Speaking of bags, we had each brought two suitcases, one loaded with our precious medical supplies as well as toys and school supplies for the children. The airlines have a weight limit of 50 pounds on each bag, so we had stuffed each one to weigh about 49.5 pounds. Multiply 15 travelers by 2 bags each, and you can imagine the weight being carried up the hill by that poor old school bus. Amy Chanin, who had lived in Haiti for three years some time ago, suggested we get out and walk the rest of the way. I knew THAT was a bad idea. Our Haitian escort, Jackson, promptly closed all the windows in the bus and moved our bags from the back of the bus, away from the rear doors to the middle of the bus. Welcome to Haiti, I thought with a smile, hoping our new team members wouldn’t be too unnerved by this experience.
Amy tried to talk with Jackson in Creole, and learned that Pere Sadoni had been notified of our predicament and was on his way to assist us. Of course, this information was only obtained after about 20 minutes of confused conversation and efforts by the Haitians to reassure us that they had the situation under control. There was lots of shouting and activity outside the bus as well, which sounded like offers of advice on what we should do as well as comments about what a bus full of white people was doing in the streets of Port au Prince, at night. Most likely there were threatening comments, too, but such is the blissful ignorance of one who doesn’t speak the language. After what seemed like an hour but was actually only about 30 minutes, Pere Sadoni pulled up in his vehicle and took three of our passengers with him. Another man who introduced himself as Police, took 5 or 6 of us, including myself, Adam and Sienna, in his car. The New Orleans crowd hopped in the back of a pickup, and Amy stayed with Ollie Rencher, a priest from Holy Communion church in Memphis, ostensibly to guard the bags. She was the most fearless of all of us and I knew she was not going to leave those bags behind, or let anyone mess with them.
We all arrived at the school less than ten minutes later, and the bus pulled up right behind us. Apparently it started back up the hill easily after unloading all that weight (and having time for the clutch to cool down). We were all grateful to be at St. Vincent’s with all our bags, a minor miracle given the fact we had nearly missed our connection in Miami.