1. Let’s Go To Haiti

  A couple of soldiers came to guide all of us on to the aircraft. As I walked toward the ramp up to the airplane, a man in an orange shirt patted me on the back while muttering a number as he kept count. Once aboard the cargo plane, they instructed the hundred or more of us to sit on the floor in rows, squished against each other.

     Massive straps anchored to the deck stretched over ten of us per strap, like a giant seatbelt. Medical stretchers filled with the injured were stacked three and four high, placed like bunk beds in one of the corners. A small aisle had been created so the military could pass between the rows of people.

     Nobody had seen it coming. We had arrived in Haiti the morning of the day the earthquake hit. I looked around and spotted a few of my group members in the crowd of people on the plane. I had just struck up a conversation with a young survivor who sat beside me when I heard someone yell my name.

     “Owen!” I looked around for the voice.

     Again. “Owen.”

     I found the voice, settling my eyes on Margaux, who sat a few rows away. My classmate pointed toward two advancing soldiers. Apparently, they had been searching for me. Elijah, another group member, was with them. The plane was too loud for me to yell, so I raised my hand to indicate where I was.

     “Come with me.” one of them instructed.

     I was alarmed, but knowing no better, I obeyed. The young soldier held out his hand to help me up and I took it. He guided me away from where I was sitting. Elijah stayed.

     As we walked, I noticed he was holding my arm carefully. With each step I took, he would offer words of encouragement. “Yeah, that’s it,” and      “Watch your step.” To him, I was just a kid, but this was way over the top.

     I asked what was going on.

     “I’m taking you to your mom.”

     I was even more confused now. Wasn’t she with us?

     We headed toward the front of the plane where a small fold out of metal stairs touched the pavement. He led the way off the aircraft, offering his hand again for steadiness on the way down. I was deafened by the footsteps of marching troops and the roaring engines of military planes. He let go of my wrist as we walked until we reached an old, isolated city bus. The soldier motioned with his hand for the driver to open the door.

     “Get in,” he commanded. He stayed on the pavement as the driver shut the doors behind me. Once I saw the doors were sealed, I turned my head to see eight passengers from my volunteer group, including my mom and brother. They looked up at me from their seats, but quickly closed their eyes again. They were getting ready to sleep.

     I remained standing at the front, ready to leave, still unsure why they weren’t on the plane — why we weren’t on it. My heart started racing. If we didn’t get off the bus immediately, we were going to miss the flight, the flight that would take us home.

     “What’s going on?” I asked, my voice composed despite my growing fear.

     “I couldn’t get on the plane,” my mom said, her voice surprisingly calm. “So I told the soldiers to go and get you. I didn’t want you to leave without me. We have to stick together as a family.”

I was pissed. All I wanted was to be home.

“Why couldn’t you get on the plane?” I asked.

“’Cause there wasn’t enough room,” she sat up, continuing. “I pleaded with them to go get you, but they refused until finally Curtis mentioned that you have a disability and then they agreed to go get you.”

     I glanced over at Curtis, who sat next to his wife Corrine.

     There it is. No wonder the soldier was treating me like a kid.

     “So they traded Elijah for you.”

     I gave up, sitting down.

     “How long until the next plane?” I knew I wasn’t leaving anytime soon.

     “I don’t know,” my mom said. “Hopefully before the next earthquake hits.”          * * *

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