Sunday, January 31, 2010
Judith's Deployment - Update #4
Sunday, January 24, 2010 5:13 PM; Subject: Individual Stories
There was just a man at my interview window, who lived on Canape Vert. He was here with his Amcit son. I asked if Hospital du Canape Vert was still there. He told me that it was totally pancaked. His son's school in Keskea (I don't know how to write that), is gone too. I remember that name. He also thinks our house is gone. It is those little things that remind me of the personal tragedies of this disaster. It is almost impossible to believe that most of Port-au-Prince is just rubble. Where we drive, we see some evidence, but not much, a house that is dangerously leaning forward and a little cul-de-sac from which only the road is OK, the houses are rubble.
Some more stories:
-An Amcit arrived yesterday at the airport and he was off his bipolar meds. When he decided to go to the airport, he was manic and was trying to control himself without medicine. When he first arrived, he had four guys with guns around him because he flailed and talked erratically. His eyes looked mad. We got him somewhat calmed down and sitting and he explained that Paul Farmer had arranged for him to fly. He kept on mentioning Paul Farmer, but we did not want to ask, so to not send him on another tangent. He told us that he had to focus on familiar faces and first he picked David and then me. Sooooo, there we were, pretty much strapped to a mental patient. He needed to be assured constantly that he wasn't dead. That was his greatest fear, that he did not know he was dead. His dialog pretty much went like this: "Paul Farmer wants me to go home because my students need me. OK. It is 1030 right now, on the count of three, we disconnect. One, two, three, (closes his eyes), disconnect. OK, I am back. Am I dead? (I would ask him if he could feel my hand, if he did, he was not dead). He would hold our hands, rap his arm around our legs (he was sitting and we were standing), and kissed us when he felt elated that he was still alive. The military finally came to bring him to the med tent, sedated him, and flew him to the USS Comfort (the hospital ship). Afterward the doctor came back over and told us that Paul Farmer was his boss here in Haiti. He has an identical twin brother with exactly the same condition. Very intense. We had to decompress for a while after that.
-News break: some dude just walked into our section with three pizzas from Atlanta! Because we are working here. He is our hero of the day. That is what people do all the time around here. Bringing us food from the U.S: pizza, donuts, chips and dip. So appreciated by all. Not only the food, but the thought behind it even more.
-Yesterday, I met the cutest, cutest little girl. An ICE (immigration and citizenship enforcement?) brought a U.S. soldier over to our manifest table at the airport and told us to put him on the manifest first. The soldier told us that he is originally from Haiti and was on staff duty when his commander told him to call home. He did not understand, but did it anyway and found out there was a quake. The first mention of it was on CNN without any pictures and they thought it was just a little quake. Then, the pictures started flowing in and he heard a lady stating that she drove on Delmas road and she only saw destroyed houses. His sister lived on Delmas. That is when he went into high gear, booked himself on a plane to Haiti, rebooked himself via Santo Domingo when the first plane was canceled, and got on a nine-hour bus ride from there. He arrived in Port-au-Prince and immediately when to Route Delmas to find his family. He heard pretty quickly that his sister and husband had died, but did not know what happened to his cute little niece. He showed her picture to all people and finally found her at some woman's house. He was soo, soo, happy. ICE will get her humanitarian parole once she gets off the plane in Florida. All pre-arranged. I had to bring the little girl to the port-a-potties and when we walked back she gave me a big hug. That made me cry and she grabbed my face with both her hand and had her nose touch mine. OMG! And the soldier felt blessed that all of us helped him through this. And I am thinking, where were the blessings when your sister and brother-in-law died in the rubble?
-A load of doctors came in the day before and yesterday. They were the first ones to rotate back to the U.S. from general hospital, I think. You know, all evacuess who walk up and get the promissory note presented to them, ask us if they have to pay because they are missionaries, or doctors, or whatever. "Everybody is special," has become our motto. So, a whole group of doctors walked in and one asked if they had to sign the note too. I said, "just like everybody else who is evacuated." And he said, "You don't even know what we have been through." and just started crying. They had amputated left and right and did not have a place to dispose of the limbs, they had seen so much misery. Sad. This is where the CNN story came in. I told him to read it.
-But, at the airport we are all working really well as a team. We have the Airforce getting and giving all the flight information and the number of seats available. We have the Coast Guard running around, doing security, and helping us with bags, accompanying children to the bathrooms etc. We have DMAT people who do the same and make sure that we drink enough. And we have the RSOs who joke with us and keep us safe. The girl-RSO actually told us the secret that you can go to the bathroom on the plane. We now also have ICE guys working with us and I think that is working well too.
-A woman had this cute pink file with dots from JCPenny for all her documents. This makes you realize again that she is an individual and not just an anonymous person going through this earthquake. The same with the guy who had the same birthday as my dad, a person named "nelson" almost like my old cat, a girl with a cute belt and big old brown eyes. I can go on and on.
(Let me dry my eyes, first. This email was very emotional for me.)
-"Hospital du Canape Vert" - The hospital on Green Canopy Road was not far from our house. It was the top hospital in Port au Prince. We drove by it frequently and in a dire situation, embassy staff would use it but there was always an adventure story to hear about at happy hour if any of your colleagues had to go there.
- Paul Farmer is a prominent physician, and anthropologist who works on global solutions to sickness and disease by focusing on the poorest and sickest parts of the world; Haiti being one of these type of places.
- Promissory Note - everyone being provided a flight to evacuate from Haiti was required to sign a promissory note which established the fact that the evacuee was effectively accepting a loan for the price of the flight. These were a bit controversial under the circumstances but they had to be done before anybody could be evacuated. Also, as far as the initial military flight out of Haiti went, its thought that its very unlikely the government would attempt to follow-up and collect.
- DMAT - Disaster Medical Assistance Team; under Department of Health and Human Services
Judith's Deployment - Update #5
I spent Tuesday getting a flight and re-instituting some hotel reservation that Judith and I had made previously for a trip to Miami that had be be postponed because of her deployment. By the end of the day, everything was set for a few days of R & R (rest and recuperation) in a nice hotel in the Coconut Grove area of Miami. Helen also wanted to take a break and do some shopping but could only stay over in Miami one night. Luckily, I was also able to get her booked into the same hotel we were in.
On Wednesday morning Judith's group was quickly manifested on a C-130 (a US Air Force cargo plane) that flew directly into Homestead Air Force Base, just South of Miami. The group was put on a bus and transported to Miami International Airport and I was there in time to meet them. So, from Wednesday morning until Friday evening, Judith had some time to decompress, relax and shop before her return to "normal" life here in Nassau.
What follows are two emails from Judith. The first one presented is the final one she wrote while still in Haiti. The second is one that she wrote while on her R & R break in Miami. Just like the previous ones presented in this series of blog posts, these last two are excellent. As has been the practice before, I provide editorial comments only where needed so as to illuminate things for a wider readership.
Following Judith's emails are pictures she took during her deployment. These pictures were taken at a variety of locations. They cover the locations where Judith worked, some locations in town and finally pictures of our neighborhood and house. One set of these pictures solves one of the questions Judith and I had been asking ourselves - what happened to our house? They provide the answer to this question and it is not a good one. In her email below, you will read about how it made Judith feel. Even though I was not there, this news and the images were very upsetting for me also. Even though its only a building, an inanimate object, its a symbol as well. These feelings come from that fact that this house was the home for Judith, Jonathan and myself for two years. This is also the house where we started our "pet family" - its where we lived when we brought Myles, our first family pet (our Hungarian Vizsla) home. Now its basically destroyed.
Anyway, here are the emails with the pictures after.........
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 4:49 PM; Subject: Status Update
Just a quick email with all the impressions from today. Please post ASAP so that people know that I am leaving tomorrow morning. Love you and looking forward to seeing you.
We were supposed to work the night shift tonight so we were off today. We went to the XXX office upstairs because they owed us one: we fixed their pants by hand-stitching a big old tear. We wanted to tag along while they were doing a recon route through down-town Port-au-Prince. I have a whole load of pictures that I will send as soon as I am in a spot where I can access my Yahoo account via wireless. In this case, a picture does not speak a thousand words. There are no words for what you see with your own eyes driving through the downtown area. There are areas that are relatively unaffected, and then there are sections that are totally devastated. And everything pancakes onto itself because the columns and rebar sections where probably made of wet sand and flower-arranger wire. In some cases, you could count de floors by just counting the layers of horizontal slaps slapped on top of each other. “Hmm, that house had five levels.” Pancaked is the best way to describe this. Each floor is now one pancake.
People still are afraid to return to their houses at night. After the aftershocks and seeing the devastation with my own eyes, I totally understand. I will not ever again walk through the airport here. Ever. So, what the people do, is they block off sections of the street with cars and rocks and tires and anything else they can find and they sleep on the street. They use the street, because that is far enough from the houses that if another aftershock happens, they will not be hit. Our drivers first thought that there were corpses on the street.
I was afraid that I would not recognize anything and could not find our house, but once we got going, I recognized pretty much everything. We had to go in a few streets to get to Rue Pacot, via Rue Oscar (where Txx lived) and the Haitian Police HQ (what used to be the Duvalier family house). But we finally found it and came from up the mountain down. All around us in Pacot the houses were already completely destroyed and I saw cars crushed under garages and houses. So, I feared the worst. I saw the gates first, took a picture of the house number on the wall (49A) and only then did I look at the house itself. It used to have three stories, but now it has only two. The middle floor has totally disappeared. When I send you my photos, we’ll put the before and after pictures up so you can see this almost un-imaginable force of nature. In a few seconds, a whole country turned to rubble. We were able to walk almost all around the house, except for the back where two corrugated patio covers blocked our way (our: Helen and Judith). On the ground floor in the back was a den area that is now only two foot high. I was able to take a picture through a hole and saw a bed. The kitchen and dining area (the real second story of the house) have totally disappeared. The staircase area in the middle of the house has made a 90 degree, dead-man fall pivoting outside of the house and the wooden stairs just kind of bungle on its last attachment to the top floor. Our third story bedroom is now on the ground floor, pretty much. The same with Nxx and Mxxxxx’s house and the USAID house behind us. I took one picture of Nxx and Mxxxxx house and will send that to them later.
This has totally, totally wiped me out. I have no energy left and feel like I haven’t slept in two weeks. And this morning, before we left, I was fine. I cried hard for a minute at our old pool and thought of how Myles figured out that he did not have to chase the ball up our hilly drive way because it would come rolling back automatically.
We have also been told that the 18-member team with which I arrived, will leave Port-au-Prince tomorrow morning (Wed. 27 Jan). We are all a bit mad and angry because we are committed to finishing this up and feel that they are taking it away from us. But, we know that this is our stress speaking and natural in people who do this kind of work. Over-commitment etc. So, we are packing our bags right now, taking one last shower before we go to bed, and drink one last beer (or something stronger) with our fellow Huah (Army term) teammates before going to airport tomorrow and catching a military flight anywhere on the east coast. From there, we’ll find our way back.
One last funny thing. The 82nd Airborne has set up a camp right near the old Embassy. I guess to establish a new port. We stopped there to survey the site and asked if we could use their bathroom. They told us that we’d better not use their port-a-potties because they were really nasty. But, we had four of those at the airport for thousands, and there were at least seven for less than 200 soldiers. We asked them if they wanted to gamble that we could tough it out. We won. It was the nicest port-a-potty I have ever seen.
- "rebar" - short for reinforcing bars; the steel rods that are run through concrete structures to strengthen them and give them some vibration absorbing flexibility. In Haiti, the rebar thickness used is typically well below what the specification would call for.
- "via Rue Oscar (where Txx lived)" - Rue Oscar runs parallel to Rue Pacot and a good friend, Txx lived on that street
- "Nxx and Mxxxxx’s house and the USAID house behind us" - Nxx and Mxxxxx were also good friends who we served with in Haiti. Its a small State Department world - We also served with them in Islamabad. In a similar arrangement to Haiti, their house and our house, while not directly beside each other, were very close to each other in Islamabad also - what a coincidence. Back in Haiti, our House (49A), Nxx and Mxxxxx's house - right next door and the "UASID house - right behind, forms a triangle of houses with a shared pool in the middle. At the time we lived there all three of these houses were leased by the embassy. The "USAID House" was for employees of the United Sated Agency for International Development. This agency is part of the State Department but it operates fairly independent of it and in countries where it operates, they run a separate mission from the embassy with its own Director. Sadly, all three of these houses were destroyed in the quake. At the time of the quake, we believe that none of them were "Embassy Houses". Apparently the leases were ended at some time after we left. A final note is that Judith and I knew the owners of these three houses or at least the Matriarchal "LaRoche Sisters" who represented the owning family whenever we would have discussion about upkeep and improvements, etc. They were very nice ladies and always appeared together. I wonder what became of them?
Fri, January 29, 2010 9:00:51 AM; subject: Table has Turned
We are back, not in the Bahamas yet, but in Miami. We took a stage-or-baby-steps approach to the whole return to the 'real' world. It is too much to be in Haiti in the morning and in your own bed at night. You just can't process it. It is impossible for the human mind.
Our team all had to laugh that once we were manifested onto the next C-130 flight to Homestead AFB, we became the evacuees we had processed for the last ten days. And let me tell you how well the military does this. I had total faith every time an evacuee asked me where the plane was going because they had to go to Miami, Boston, New York. I told them, without actually verifying, but with total faith in the military system, that it did not matter where there would end up because the military would help them get to their final destination. That made the evacuee feel comfortable and they were no longer stressed out about flying to the U.S. And, of course, I was right about our great military.
When we landed at Homestead with about 45 real evacuees, we were welcomed home and everybody cheered. It still makes me well up thinking about it. We got put on buses to the gym, immigration and customs were done automatically for us, without us having to wait in a line (all of the evacuees, not just the diplomats). There was food and drinks and hand sanitizer and clean port-a-potties and cots to rest on. The only thing that I could not handle is that all these people were shoving stuff in our face; "You want coffee? Let me give you some sanitizer too!" It was too much for me after those intense 10 days. I had to be left alone for a while. Even for an extrovert, being around people in an intense environment for 24/7 for 10 days pegged my people-meter.
A bus brought us to MIA international airport where we met Frank. That was the greatest to see him again, but also totally surreal. The surreal part of being back is slowly dissipating and I think I'll be OK, not perfect, when we land in the Bahamas tonight. Helen stayed in the same hotel with us (great, four star) and we cleaned up, shopped, ate, drank, and crashed hard into our real beds.
I got sick on my last day in Haiti, cold with sore throat, just like pretty much 90 percent of the people working there: close quarters, bad hygiene, bad food, and exhausting days. I am just now getting over it.
Yesterday, I was so spaced out that I asked Frank if I had taken the wrong headache pills by accident. We have some that are a bit stronger than Tylenol and I had one of those by accident once before and it made my totally loopy. I thought that had happened again. This time the loopy-ness came from my experiences, not a pill. I was walking around Coconut Grove by myself and just started sweating, I could only walk really slow and felt weirdly high. So, I went back to the hotel and slept for while. Earthquake inside: My body looks the same, my basic personality is there, but the rest of me is shaken; earthquake shaken, not stirred. I need time to clear the rubble, bring in the Komatsus and clear the ways to normal.
--------Here are some photos......---------
This is the Black hawk that Helen and Judith, along with most of the rest of the team flew in from Santo Domingo to Haiti. It actually landed on a landing zone established for the embassy. Judith said the flight was quite smooth and very exciting. From Santo Domingo, they flew West along the southern coastline of the Island of Hispaniola. A little before the Haitian town of Jacmel, they turned North, flew up and over the mountains and down into the valley where Port au Prince is situated. She said the views were fantastic. Also shown is the reception hangar at the military side of the airport in Santo Domingo, the DomRep. This was where they joined up for the Black Hawk ride to Haiti. It was set up to receive evacuees. Notes the tables set up with clothes, etc., donated to evacuees. ------------------------------------------
These are photos of operations at the airport.
Top left: The processing and waiting area for evacuees
Top Right: The control tent where passenger manifests were completed, etc. Parked directly in front is a US Air Force C-5 Galaxy - a particularly huge transport aircraft
Bottom Left, going across; First two are pictures of supplies with particular note given to the stack of diapers; next are the infamous porta-a-potties; then the waiting line of evacuees and last are the wheelchairs of which any were needed because many evacuees were elderly.
Here are two photos taken at the embassy. The first is Judith's "Hooch". Actually an office cubicle on the Consular area. Judith slept on this side and Helen, her partner from Nassau slept on the other side. Judith said she was quite comfortable. The other photo is of the line that was more or less a permanent fixture for the first couple of weeks after the quake. Some would wait in line for days to see if they could get a visa to leave. Judith said they would literally wait for days and not leave; meaning the line area got pretty nasty.
This montage shows the destruction in the downtown area of the city. Of note, is the the building in the center, top row which is the National Cathedral. Bottom right is signs of progress with the "Komatsu" scooping the rubble up into the dump truck.
More photos of the downtown area:
Top left; going right: In the distance sitting in the bay is the USNS Comfort; the famous hospital ship. Next is an orderly line in from of the partially destroyed Presidential Palace. Judith suspects the line is orderly because if everyone remains calm they will get some aid, food or assistance or whatever might be at the end of the line.
Bottom row from the left: The former US Embassy, now closed. Its where Judith and I went to work everyday. It was closed up when the quake came and not damaged. We heard the US Government donated it to the Haitian government to use for some post quake rebuilding management purpose. The final two pictures are of tent cities that sprung up. These were initially thought to be primarily for people whose homes were destroyed. It was quickly realized that people who had homes intact were also living outside because they were afraid an aftershock would bring their homes down onto them.
These are outside shots of the house we lived in from July 1998 to July 2000; 49A Rue Pacot. The house was more or less completely destroyed.
These are pictures of some of the interiors of the house.
Below is a chart with a side-by-side comparison of the house before and after the quake. The house was built on the side of a hill, with the left side being three levels consisting of a storage area/cistern at the ground level, the main floor consisting of the dining room and kitchen and the upper floor consisting of bedrooms. The main floor of the left side of the house collapsed and the top floor of that side of the house fell onto the main floor. It seems like much of the debris from the walls of main floor fell inwards. As the arrows on the chart show, the main floor on that side of the house consisting of the dining room and kitchen simply disappeared and its looks as if the left side of the house consists of two stories, where originally it was three.
These are scans of pictures we took while posted in Haiti. The top left photo is one of my absolute favorites. It shows how concrete is poured there....bucket brigade! Also, gives insight into why so many buildings collapsed. Next to the left is a "Gingerbread" House. This one was a few blocks from our house. Judith said that even in the main quake area, they held up well because they were more sturdily constructed than many other homes. Continuing to the right is the pool and house in happier times. This section of the house is where the master bedroom is. Underneath is a den where we spent much of our time. The upper master bedroom area collapsed down onto the den during the quake. Of course that's Myles as a puppy doing the famous Vizsla leap into the pool. On the bottom left is a nice view in the hills up above the city. Finally on the right is a picture of Union School; a school for well-to-do Haitian, expat and diplomat kids. Jon went there for a semester before he started at Randolph Macon Academy in Virginia. Union School was destroyed in the quake.
Next is a before and after shot of the street market down near the port, just down from the old embassy location. Judith said it really hadn't changed...nasty, dirty and chaotic as ever. Back when we were posted there, this market was absolutely off limits. The large cart-looking thing is called a Broutte and they and their operators thoroughly amused me when I was there. One would see every possible imaginable thing being hauled on these things. I even once saw an entire small compact car being carted around on one.
I have to close with a positive image.......our house as it was when we lived there...........Both Judith and I will never forget our two years in Haiti during 1998-2000. As I conclude this post, I just want to say that I have immeasurable pride in Judith for stepping forward and volunteering to go there some ten years later.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Judith's Deployment - Update #3
January 23, 2010 is day seven of Judith's deployment and this is post #3. The majority of this post consists of her emails. They are posted in chronological order, going forward in time. The email excerpts take you from Thursday afternoon through Saturday morning. At the end of some of the excerpts, I have entered editor's comments. I do this only to clarify and give context/background. I have also “redacted” (government-speak for deleted) a few names or other references, where appropriate. This in no way takes away from the value of the story.
In one of her emails, she mentions the house we lived in while posted to Haiti. I found a couple of photos of the place and scanned them in and posted them near the end of this article.
At the very end of this post is a CNN article Judith sent me. I wouldn’t normally replicate a media article on a blog but I have done it here because Judith chose to send it to me, so it has value from that perspective.
21 Jan; 1321; subject: Another day in Haiti - What is a day when it consists of 36 hours?
Just got a good four-hour nap. Finally. My mind was running and processing so much that it takes me forever to wind down. The ACS chief, who is married to the AGSO let Helen and me shower and crash at their house in the housing compound across the street from the Embassy. It looks a bit like Nautica. We also did some laundry while we were at it. I told our group that I can do one more day of 16 hour shift (really 20 when it is all said and done) and four hours of sleep. Then I am going to need to get a good sleep in. The XX said that we were switching to 12-hour shifts. Alhamdullela! This means that we are going to do visa intake for 12 hours and then sleep and stuff.
-ACS = American Citizen Services, a sub-section of a Consulate;
-AGSO=Assistant General Service Officer who is the deputy to the SGSO
= Supervisory General Services Officer. These officers oversee the internal logistics of the embassy. It’s what I do for the State Department;
-Nautica is the name of a gated community here in Nassau where we lease a number of residences for embassy employees to live in.
Remember that wrap that I bought at the airport? I have used it soo much over the last few days: I went to my airport shift in running shorts, black tank, and running shoes and wore the wrap around my shoulders, to be a little bit more dressed. Then I used it as a blanket at the AGSO/ACS house and now I am using it as my wrap again while doing intake to make it all look better than just a tank. As news anchors, nobody can see our legs or feet, so I am wearing my five dollar flip-flops (Five. Five Dollar. Five Dollar Flip-Flops…to the subway song).
The airport shift was the most drama so far. We had loads of people trying to get non-Amcits on the flights. Old dual citizen ladies that were being pushed in wheelchairs by young men with only Haitian passports. The women had no idea what was going on and those men totally took advantage of them. It did not work, though. They didn’t go to the U.S. We had a bunch of people trying to get their non Amcit brother or sister on and they were the only one who could take care of them. We had people who were trying to use their rank, army husband, anything to get on that plane. Then we had a bunch of people trying to sneak on the planes. Trying to sneak in our tent and then just walk on. I, personally, caught five. We had an actual stow-away on a plane already. Finally, we had some British journalists who were trying to use their fame (In the U.K) to get on a flight. And an LPR Israeli woman that was part of a missionary group that left from the U.S. that could not get on. Her team mates decided to just leave her on the tarmac with us and got on the plane. So much for friendship. “They had to get back so that new doctors could come on.” When I said that they could just stay and there would be the same number of doctors, they understood that I wasn’t playing and they decided to abandon their friend.
-non-Amcits = people who are not US Citizens;
-LPR=Lawful Permanent Resident, a green card holder
As you can suspect from the above, we were in the line to decide who was going to get manifested or not. I was the one who had to tell them that they couldn’t go. Because of Beth and her training in Dakar, I explained in a nice way that although LPRs couldn’t go right now, as soon as the regular planes were flying, they could go to the normal process. I also remembered to keep repeating the same message and not let them get me arguing with me: “Unfortunately, because of the quake, we can only evacuate Americans at this time.” “Unfortunately, because of the quake, we can only evacuate Americans at this time.” “Unfortunately, because of the quake, we can only evacuate Americans at this time.” “Unfortunately, because of the quake, we can only evacuate Americans at this time.”
-Beth is an esteemed State Department colleague, great friend and an individual that has had a profound and positive influence on Judith….and me for that matter.
From: Gary XXXXX [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, January 21, 2010 4:39 PM
To: Shields, Francis E
Subject: Re: Judith's Deployment - Update #2 & Donation Appeal for "FSN's"
Frank: Read the posts. Judith sounds like she is having quite an experience right now. Great of her to step forward and help in this way. Pls give her my regards and tell her to stay safe. Best, Gary
Editor's Comment: I provided this email as just as an example of many emails I have received. In this case, this gentleman is one of Judith and my very favorite State Department people. He was one of my first bosses and remains a good friend.
21 Jan; 0931; Subject: Prestige - Guess what? I am drinking a prestige with Liz, Tammy's friend, in the house she is in. And it tastes really, really good. I heard through the grapevine that all the survivors are ordered to take a three day R and R. XX left today and a visitor is in charge. Like my new name_scheme? I am really eating it up today: real meal and now beer and wine and cheese. Some other women neighbors came over and we are chatting. So normal. - also heard through the same grapevine that DHS is going to parole all these accompaniers of minors, so we don't have to do so much in the visa department. They are also going to take over the airport. Again, less work for us. Even before I knew that, I told Roger that I would be off the radar until 0700. (Meanwhile, the impromptu sesh has expanded with the MLO and another mil guy). Also while chatting all these places they were talking about, reminded me of when we were here: Union School (still here), Caribbean supermarket (gone), Munchies Pizza, Gallery Monin closed before the quake, etc.
Count for today: one prestige and three-quarter bottle of wine. I am ready to go to sleep:) on the a mil guy who was on the Hawks with us, promised he would hook me up with some beer, but I had not seen him around. But he saw me in the house, so he brought over two cans of Prestige.
I am sitting outside the embassy nice benches surrounded by soldiers. It is good to be around them. They make me proud to be an American. Huah!I am going in, read a mag and go to bed.
I love you
Editor's Comment: This is one of the best emails in my opinion. It really gives you a feel for what Judith is doing, who she encounters, what’s going on and so on. Anyway, my notes:
-Prestige = national beer of Haiti;
-“…..all survivours ordered to take a three day R and R” = Embassy employees that were in Haiti at the time of the quake and not evacuated because they are designated as emergency essential staff were all ordered to take a three day Rest and Recuperation break -- a wise decision by the Department. Many of these people were having PTSD symptoms and even if not, they needed to be relieved for a few days and allow “fresh troops” to run the place;
-“DHS is going to parole all these accompaniers of minors, so we don't have to do so much in the visa department”. = This means that instead of going through all of the work at the embassy to issue these accompaniers a Visa, they are allowed to travel to the US w/o one and they get “paroled” by DHS at the port of entry. Parole places similar conditions but isn’t technically a Visa. The plus of it is that the beleaguered embassy is relieved of some workload.
-“They are also going to take over the airport.” = With DHS taking over the operations at the airport that embassy consular employees are carrying (manifesting, etc.), the stress and workload on the consular staff will be lessened. This is appropriate because DHS has Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers that can do these operations.
-“sesh: = An Australian slang term for a drinking get together. We learned it from an expat Australian family we became friends while when we were stationed in Wiesbaden Germany back in the Army days
-MLO = Military Liaison Office – The office at the embassy that handles Security assistance which involves working with the host nation security services, military and so on. This is the office I was assigned to when Judith and I lived in Haiti, 98-00.
-Union School = The main international school for expat and diplomatic community kids. Jonathan went there for a semester when we lived there
-Caribbean Supermarket – the supermarket that catered to expats, diplomats and other foreigners. We shopped there at least every week.
21 Jan; 0953; Subject: Prestige - Nice! I know what: why don' you set up a facebook account for me with the Haiti stuff?
I had to laugh about food when I read what I wrote about eating here. I am becoming way more conscious of what I put in my body because the only things to eat here, are nutrigrain bars, canned black beans, Vienna sausages, and m and m's. Now I try to eat as many carrots I can find. That is not hard here: it is the only fresh thing around. Coffee situation is horrible: only the powder shit from MRE
-MRE = Meal, Ready-to-eat….duhhhh.
22 Jan; 8:21;ubject: A new dawn
First, I slept so good. I asked to sleep in an office and I was out in 10 seconds. I am refreshed and ready to go. We are on our bus to the airport. We have moved to phase two of the operation: 12 hour shifts for us and better processes for vetting people for eligibility and for getting them on the planes. While the fog of war hasn't entirely lifted and some q's remain, I see the sun and think this will be great. I also met the new MLO. I heard that our house is destroyed....
-“I heard that our house is destroyed....” – I hope not. It was a really cool house. I have put some pictures of it at the end of this post.
22 Jan, 0833; Subject: Coming to Haiti - Hi Judith!
Coming to join you to assist GSO. Going on Sunday to Santo Domingo for 3 weeks. Let me know what to bring.
Judith responds and asks that a few items be brought:
Kaki shorts: on shelf in closet
Dark red pakistan scarf
Light blue pakistan scarf
Cord for the mini computer
-The AGSO from Nassau, ++++, who I supervise volunteered and was chosen to go. He was in Islamabad for two years, getting there just as Judith and I were leaving. He is a great guy and I love working with him. I am getting old, now supervising people that are the same age as my son, Jon. +++++ kids me and threatens to call me Dad. I am proud of him for stepping forward and glad that he will be there with Judith for her second week. He will be there for three weeks and will be doing logistics related work, the same type of work he does here in Nassau, whereas Judith is doing consular work
22 Jan; 1857: subject: OMG - First, Helen needs some fruit cups in cans. We are almost done with our shift and this little boy shows up by himself. The cutest little backpack and he carries a soccer ball in it. We gave him a load of candy that we bagged for kids and one of those light sticks. I also gave him an mre to show at home. He almost had me cry. He is quietly sitting with us in the big big folding chair.
We had a bunch of doctors coming in and they told us that they had to do many amputations and did not have any way to dispose of the limbs.
We figured out that we could ask the mil flight if we could use their toilets. That is a godsend. We have four porta-potties for the entire airport, not just us. When I have to go, I put on gloves and bring the baby-wipes. Then I wipe off the front part of the seat and the rest of the pottie that may remotely touch my legs if I can't sustain my hover. There was a Delta flight here and they had to laugh so much that we were so happy to pee there. They promised they would get us some alcohol next week.....
Tomorrow we are probably less busy because ICE is here, taking over. Also, we strengthened our rules: only Amcits and one person accompanying a minor Amcit. We had some really upset mixed Amcit/greencard families. I helped one: it was an Amcit father with an Amcit child and a greencard mother. Technically, the minor could have been accompanied by the Amcit father, leaving the mother. This is what my colleague wanted to do. I told the guy to let his wife and son go right now, put on a different shirt and get back in line. They made it. You should have seen those happy people. And that made me feel really, really good.
23 Jan; 0702; subject: Good Morning - Sunshine:) I love you. Good nite sleep up and off to the airport
23 Jan; 0852; subject: Re: Good Morning - Is he flying on Sunday arriving on Monday? We have an Amcit guy who is totally mental from what he has seen downtown. You should see his eyes. Totally f-ed up. We have four RSO’s on him and there is a nurse and another guy accompanying him
-“Good Morning - Is he flying on Sunday arriving on Monday?” – A question about ++++; he will be in Haiti on Monday, 25 Jan
-RSO’s = Regional Security Officers, the name for Diplomatic Security Special Agents when they work overseas.
House Pictures: Below are scan of two photos of the house we lived in while posted to PaP. The house was on 49A Rue Pacot in the Pacot neighborhood, Southeast of the city on the side of the foothills leading up into the mountains. It was a nice neighborhood by Haiti standards and there were several embassy houses in this neighborhood. As of this post, we don’t know of its status. It was quite a nice house and we enjoyed it very much.
CNN article: Judith forwarded this CNN article to me today (23 Jan). There are bizzillions of articles out there and no use in replicating them on a blog. I include it only because she chose it and sent it to me.
Sent from email@example.com's mobile device from http://www.cnn.com.
Volunteers in Haiti take a breath, find time to cry
Like many people who have done their time in Haiti, Gary Garner needs a good cry.
In the past five days, the Salt Lake City, Utah, physician has held a dying man in his arms and amputated more fingers and toes than he can remember. Now, he needs a rest.
Friday found him on the tarmac at the Port-au-Prince airport, searching for a way back to a normal life.
"We're going to go home and cry," Garner said in a low voice.
Then quietly, gently, with the suffering showing in his eyes as he looks away, he starts to cry. The pain can't wait for home.
Elizabeth Bellino couldn't wait either. The New Orleans, Louisiana, pediatrician sat in her car Friday and wept because doctors at another nation's hospital would not accept a truckload of food and water from her. Nor would they let her pick up patients to take back to the University of Miami field hospital, where she's been volunteering this week.
"It's so frustrating," Bellino said afterward. "Why would they do that?"
There's much crying in Haiti. There's certain to be more once caregivers and others get home.
For now, though, the work continues.
Bellino had an increasing patient load at the hospital, located in a dusty field adjacent to the Aeroport International Toussaint L'Ouverture. A 5.9-magnitude aftershock Wednesday had given her new patients.
Even though Garner was trying to figure out how to get home, he still kept tending to patients being brought to a landing zone in three private helicopters.
Those helicopters belong to Utah businessman Jeremy Johnson, who offered to take a medical team to Haiti after last week's 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed tens of thousands and injured thousands more.
Garner was a last-minute addition to a team put together by financial adviser Craig Nelson, a neighbor in Utah.
Nelson had been to Haiti on a Mormon mission 20 years ago, along with Steve Hansen and Chuck Peterson, now both Utah physicians. When Nelson heard about the earthquake, he decided they needed to go. Hansen and Peterson readily agreed.
They were dropped off Monday at the coastal city of Leogane, nearly 20 miles (30 kilometers) west of Port-au-Prince. The city was at the epicenter of last week's earthquake, and some reports say up to 90 percent of Leogane's buildings were damaged or destroyed.
Impact Your World
The U.S. doctors were among the first caregivers to arrive and were later joined by teams from Cuba, Germany, Canada and other nations. Unlike what happened to Bellino in Port-au-Prince, everyone got along fine in Leogane.
"It was like the United Nations of medical work," said Nelson.
"There were no nationalities," Garner said.
They treated about 300 patients. The medicine was often rudimentary because of a lack of supplies.
One doctor used a Leatherman tool to amputate a man's lower leg. Doctors also used a rack from the back of a bicycle as a makeshift orthopedic splint, screwing it into the patient's leg bones.
The days were long, bleeding deep into the night. Sleep lasted three or four hours.
"We worked until our headlamps ran out of batteries and then people would bring us batteries," Garner said.
"You can sleep when you're dead," he said. "And I'll have plenty of time to sleep this weekend."
And, no doubt, have a good cry or two.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Judith's Deployment - Update #2
The emails she has been able to send me are excerpted below. They go from the latest, received yesterday evening back to the first few she sent me right after she was on the ground at the embassy. They are all very interesting and they give an inside look – the good and the bad. In a few places, I have inserted some explanatory remarks in parentheses.
Following the emails I have added images of the embassy area and the airport, the places where she will be doing her work.
Email received Tue, 19 Jan, 1937 –
I just walked around the embassy compound and found a washer and dryer in the warehouse break-room area. YES. I am going to use it. As you could see on Google earth, the whole compound is pretty big. Right now all the grass is covered with tents and people: soldiers and search-and-rescue people. There are also some dogs. So nice. It might rain tonight, so they are all packing up their field beds with the silvery shock blankets you get in some MREs. Now they look like giant wrapped sandwiches.
Did I tell you that Roger Rigaud is here and I am in his team. We are team 2 and this week's shift is Embassy from 2300-0700 and Airport from 0700-1500. Yes, that is a 16 hour shift. However, it is probably not busy that late at night in the Embassy, so hopefully we can catch some snoozers. (Roger Rigaud is a State Dept colleague we served with while posted in Haiti 98-00)
I also saw Mike Limpantis He got grey-y hair, is married, has a two year old daughter and lives in DC. (another State Dept colleague we served with in Haiti)
Email received Tue, 19 Jan, 1222, subject: More Haiti –
I am just back from a twenty-four hours and more workday. We started out in the consular section, with the mundane task of copying visa applications forms. Then I went to getting all the people who got visa loaded on the busses to the airport, where these people would be loaded on planes after a load of more waiting for them. We let only Americans on the planes for now because we are evacuating people and we have to make sure that Americans are safe first. This, of course, causes a whole load of drama and screaming and crying in the visa lines inside the Embassy and at the lines outside the airport. There are lines everywhere with people waiting for something. Mostly, to get out of Haiti. Loading busses was also a whole ordeal, because they had to get pre-staged and we had doctors who wanted to tell us who should go first and adopted parents (with CNN) who felt just as strong about being first. And then, we have the Haitians who are already prone on trying to sneak in front of the line or get in any which way they can. I forgot how much pressure people try to put on you. We loaded about 60-100 each round and finally got all people out by 2100. Then it was time to go to the airport where we had lines outside and in. For outside to be allowed inside they had to be an American citizen. No legal residents, no people with visas. There are a load of little kid-American citizens that all can be accompanied by a grown-up Haitian with a visa. We issued a load of those visas yesterday so that people could accompany a minor Amcit (American citizen). Then we had a line that checked to make sure that we only manifested Americans and their accompanier on the planes. We manifested them by creating an excel worksheet with their names, passport numbers, and anything special about them. Between 2200 and 0400 we got 475 people on about 13 planes. All manually entered. Then around 0600 we started outside the airport again with seeing who could get in. It is an endless cycle.
I am drinking an MRE cappucino right now and have eaten some of my candy bars. We kind of have a buffet set up here where people bring us food. A whole load of cans showed up today, including Vienna sausages. So, I got some for you to bring back:) I am going to find a pillow that was also donated to us and then to sleep. Got to take my first shower here at 1000 at the pool. Washed all the clothes while I was at it and they are all drying in my little area where I sleep. In a cubicle.
Email received Mon, 18 Jan, 1651 –
I am a few minutes to catch you up.
The people who have been here, are a bit like zombies and are getting on each other’s (not ours) nerves. Nerves are very frayed here. I keep that constantly in my mind and am extremely calm when listening to them and talking to them or asking them something.
When we arrived we got a discombobulated explanation of what needed to be done on the NIV (non-immigrant Visas) side and which window could do what. No rhyme or reason and we were all kind of looking at each other. It became quickly clear that people are frayed and that some organization needed to be done. Some of our group have taken a bit of charge. ………….. And very dirty (referring to the Consular area). Stuff and trash is everywhere. No organization. This may be my next self-assigned task; cleaning a huge consular section.
So far, I have printed forms, got a tent set up…what a feat to be honest: I had to walk with everybody and wait with every decision maker or tasker and kept with it. Otherwise they would be off task as soon as someone else needed them for something else. Tammy’s friend who works in ACS has assigned me to be the official airport travel coordinator (Tammy is a friend and colleague we work with here in Nassau and her friend is posted in Haiti, doing Consular work there ). I.e. we stage people inside the Embassy who are allowed to go to the airport to be flown out. As soon as the busses come back from the last round, we check the docs one more time and start loading them in an organized way. We just shipped off a group of 28 orphans with their helpers. They are not yet adopted, but are called evacuated orphans. My God. They were so grateful to be finally going. So rewarding.
I have had two croissants with nothing on it and a load of water. It is hot, hot, hot. Hotter than Haides actually. Pun intended.
Vivienne is still working at the Embassy. (Vivienne Jeune, is a Haitian who was the budget person in the Military Liaison Office which is where I worked when we were posted in Haiti 98-00. Here husband is an engineer working in the Ministry of Works for the Haitian Government). Luckily, she was in Canada the day the earthquake hit because her daughter was giving birth to her first grandchild. So, they are ok, but not here. Which is better for them. Do you remember Kettly Jean Babtiste? I don’t remember where she worked, but I remember her name. She is here and OK. She remembered you and was happy to see us. I also saw a lady from the warehouse how is now working for the consular section. That was really nice too. (More references to people we knew when posted in Haiti)
These are two short emails received just a few hours after Judith got off the helicopter at the Embassy.
Email received January 18, 1223 -
Thank you, honey. It is a bit crazy here but I can shelter from it if I need. I am walking the GSO through to get a tent set up for the officers outside so that we can process more people. The GSO heard that the XX said no yesterday. So I am hand-holding everybody to yes :-) If you know what I mean. I think I am good at this...
Email received January 18, 1222 -
I am here and have one moment of down time. I am set up with a little corner to sleep and am now running around getting a tent set up so we can process people outside through to determine whether they are going to the airport or not. Will try to email later.
Love you all
I am proud to be here
Get people to donate money to the red cross or doctors without borders.
This is a close up image of the embassy. It is a fairly large compound, approximately 10 acres. It is built to the new standard developed following the Embassy bombings in Africa. From a security perspective, the main standard was that the embassy buildings have to have a certain amount of setback from the perimeter of the grounds to ensure a safe enough distance from streets where vehicle borne bombs will have less of an effect. In order to accomplish this, a parcel of land of ten acres has to be located for a new embassy site. The effect of this is that most new embassies are constructed out in the suburbs or even in rural areas, away from the typically congested urban centers of capitals. This is where most embassies are typically located on order to be close to the host country’s government. So, we have created a trade – off: a physical distancing of ourselves from our governmental hosts in exchange for greater physical security.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Judith's Deployment - update #1
Hi. I will use this forum to give everyone in a little more detail than what’s been given in short emails sent to some of you. First I will provide a summary of events from the time Judith volunteered to go to Haiti leading up to today, when she arrived at the embassy in Port au Prince and started to work. Following this, I have added some remarks and interesting images intended to provide a broader perspective, perhaps beyond what is portrayed in the media.
When the quake hit, Judith wanted to assist immediately. The first thing we did was donate some money – to two places so far – Dr’s Without Borders and a State Department fund for assisting local embassy employees affected by the quake.
A day or two after the quake, her chance to actually volunteer and go there arose. The Consular Affairs Bureau of the State Department put out notifications for volunteers but they were very specific on what they wanted: individuals with Consular experience, some background with Haiti and language capabilities in either French or Haitian Creole. Judith responded to this call, advising of her attributes: have Consular experience ( two years work in a Consular Section in Dakar, Senegal); lived in Haiti for two years and speaks acceptable French. Around 1130 Friday, the list of people who the Consular Affairs Director selected went out. The list contained about 25 State Department employees and Judith was on it! Another person from our embassy was also on it. She is a Bahamian local employee with a Haitian mother and relatives in Haiti. She also speaks Haitian Creole.
The selectees were advised to prepare travel documents, pack and try to get to Santo Domingo by Sunday. Once at the airport in Santo Domingo, they would be met by Embassy staff from there, put up in a hotel and flown into to the US Embassy, Port au Prince, Haiti the next morning.
There were not a lot of details given but they were told to expect to live very primitively, sleeping on the floor, not a lot of food and so on. Since this group was being assembled for Consular work, it was assumed that they would reinforce the existing Consular staff at Embassy – Haiti and help with the huge backlog of US Citizens waiting to be evacuated out of Haiti. The assignment is to last two weeks.
Friday afternoon we got her travel documents done and she went to the embassy nurse to make sure she shots were up to date. She had to have one injection but other than that everything was up to date. She also got some malaria pills – the daily kind - Doxycycline. On Saturday, we got Judith organized with some sleeping gear, energy bars, etc. and made sure she was packed and ready. I took her to the airport on Sunday and saw her off.
During her trip, we were able to keep in touch, texting a lot. The trip went routinely and played out as described. After a few hours sleep in a Santo Domingo hotel, Monday morning came round and Judith texted me, advising they were being bused to the military side of the airport at 0545, to meet their US Customs and Border Protection UH – 60 Blackhawk helicopter which would transport them directly to the embassy in Port au Prince.
By this time, about eight of the group Judith would be working with had made it to Santo Domingo the day before and also some of them were already at the embassy in Haiti. Judith was able to send me a few texts as they waited in the holding area, got loaded onto the helicopter and even sent one or two while flying along. She said it was extremely exciting and that she was totally honored to be able to be a part of this effort. About 0930, surprisingly I got a text from her advising that the helicopter had deposited them at the Embassy’s landing zone. I say surprisingly because the text means the cellular network is working at Port au Prince.
A few hours later, I got a couple of emails from Judith advising that they were settled in and that it was busy there but not chaotic. By the middle of the morning, she reported that she was working on coordinating getting another tent set-up outside to make the processing of applicants to be evacuated go faster and smoother. So, she is “on the grpound”, getting it done.
Below is a picture of the type of aircraft Judith flew in from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to the US Embassy, Port au Prince Haiti. It is a UH-60 Blackhawk; a utility helicopter for transporting people and supplies.:
Below is a post-quake an image showing the downtown and outlying areas of Port au Prince. I show this to give a perspective of where the embassy is located compared to the airport and the downtown area. As you can see, the embassy is quite a ways from the city center and close to the airport; more or less on the very Eastern edge of the suburbs. If you continue east, you would hit the Haiti/DomRep border. It is also not in an area that received a lot of quake damage although there was some nearby. The embassy itself was largely undamaged. It is very secure, guarded by Embassy Security Staff and US Military. You have to click on this image to enlarge it so you can see the details.
Below is a close up image of the presidential palace – post quake. It was very near to the embassy’s old location. The new embassy opened only about a year ago. Judith and I drove by everyday on the way to work while posted in Haiti, 98-00.