Unless you’re a very frequent flyer, almost everybody gets nervous in the airport. Will my luggage get lost? Will my gate get changed at the last minute? I’m here and I have all of my bags, but I definitely forgot something at home and will some how miss this flight.
These thoughts run through our minds, but we almost always make it--often with an hour to spare. However, when you’re going to Haiti, there’s more to the story.
On my most recent trip to Haiti, I noticed I had a little less anxiety about traveling and more time for observation. At the airport, before sitting on the floor outside my gate, I used the bathroom and cherished my last flush for the next few weeks. Next, I filled my water bottle, which I initially took for granted. In fact, at first I was irritated that it took me so long to find a hydration station in the terminal. Then, I looked around at my fellow travelers and thought about where they come from, where they are going, and how grateful I was for cold, clean water.
I took a seat on my suitcase because there weren't enough seats for everybody at the gate. I listened to the Creole being spoken around me, recognizing the words that resemble their French counterparts. I smiled at a woman and her baby and they smiled back at me. I remembered the Haitian custom of saying bonjou or bonswa to everybody you see, and I noticed that, even though the vast majority of passengers were Haitian, nobody said hello me.
Then, a woman walked up to me and asked me if i was going to Haiti. I smiled and said yes. To my surprise, she let out a confused, slightly irritated “humph”. I realized how lucky we (YSI) are in Pont Morel to be instantly recognized as friends. That positive reputation and association with YSI does not necessarily extend to the airport in New York City.
I was one of about 10 white people on that plane. I was thankful and excited to be there, but I was unsure of how everyone felt about my presence. I could not understand most of what they were saying. Unfamiliar with the differences in body language between our two cultures, it was impossible to know whether or not people were smiling at me out of obligation or simply to say bienvenue (welcome).
On my first trip to Haiti, there was a seat between me and a very elderly Haitian woman who appeared to be very nervous about flying. She held my hand as the flight took off and looked past me out the window for the entire flight. As soon as we emerged from the clouds over the island-- her island-- she grabbed my hand again and said bienvenue over and over again. She didn’t care who I was or about the color of my skin. She was just glad to have somebody to share the joy she felt about going home.