I made it into Roanoke at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday not exactly ready to kiss the soil but something close. My relieved husband, Tom Landon, and my sight-for-sore-eyes editor, Brian Kelley, were waiting for me at the airport. As we walked out the door, a pack of friends sprang from the shadows.
Never before have I felt so loved. Or lucky. On the flight leaving Port-au-Prince, I sat next to an ex-Army Ranger who does Navy contract work in Cap-Haitien, where the rioting began. “Boy, do I have a story to tell you,” he said. He described how he’d hired a Haitian driver/translator to take him into that chaotic city for a meeting — around the same time our medical team was trying to flee the unrest in Limbe.
He described roadblocks much like those we passed, only the ones in Cap-Haitien were a day or so ahead of those in Limbe and so were already fortified with rebar and barbed wire on top of the garden-variety roadblocks of boulders, vehicles and tire fires. He said he was as scared as he’d been in his life, which was saying something for a 240-pound dude with a tree for a neck and bent thumbs that he called his “stranglers.” They were weapons of the carry-on variety, developed in his youth by doing push-ups on his thumbs.
Ranger man had no gun on him, but he had plenty of cash, which he used to negotiate passage at each checkpoint. All told, he spent $380 to make his way through three or four — only to stumble upon a back road out and bail on Cap-Haitien altogether in favor of driving six hours back to Port-au-Prince.
There is so much to tell. . . .
But I’ll save the rest of the story for my upcoming newspaper article. For now, I’ll finish this post by saying how grateful I am to everyone who rallied to get us out of Limbe, especially Angel Missions nurse Kez Furth, who defied both the orders of her boss Vanessa Carpenter and the United Nations.
I’d also like to thank all the friends and relatives who friends who e-mailed, Facebooked, called, and fixed food and drink for my sweet worried husband, Tom, who by all accounts was a wreck. . . but never let me hear him sweat when we talked on the phone.
Back home in Portland, Me., Dr. Chi Jakonya e-mailed early Thursday to say that she was more reassured than ever about our decision to risk life and limb to flee:
“Can you imagine spending another night in Limbe listening to the crowds getting angrier and the stones getting closer?? We really were very lucky to leave when we did. As our U.S. [Embassy] escort predicted, the roadblocks are being fortified, and the minister’s trip up to try and calm things down seems to have failed.
“Our folks in Maine came to pick us up in a limo, which had us all in stitches (swore never to step foot in one; now it’ll be my regular mode of transport every time I escape rape and murder by angry thugs). We watched a comedy and laughed hysterically at anything even vaguely funny on the two-hour drive home. It’s 3 a.m., can’t sleep, still feeling pretty shell shocked.”
Me, too, Chi. But I’m also feeling blessed by this expanded new world of ours — a holy jumble of people, places and problems that I dare say none of us will ever forget.
— Beth Macy