A week or so before I return to Haiti I send a ‘Mule to Haiti’ email to my connections asking what they want me to bring down. I am allowed one 50 pound bag in coach, a second costs forty dollars. I usually fill two hockey bags with requested supplies and carry-on my personal items. After this trip I may reconsider that advertisement.
I am flying down with two electricians, John Picard and Greg Smith; they came to BLB to wire the first floor and are returning to wire the second floor before we pour the concrete roof. Len got us an upgrade to first class which means wider seats and fresh juice, but more importantly we are allowed three checked bags each at seventy pounds a piece.
The Thursday before our flight we all meet at Granite City Electric in Quincy, who is donating all the fixtures and fittings for the orphanage. I bring a collection of hockey bags and the items I have acquired thus far for the trip. Everything packs into seven bags; the heaviest one weighs in at 66 pounds. This should be a breeze.
The next day Greg emails me that he has another bag of goods and Renee tells me to expect a keyboard MoHI would really like to have for an upcoming conference. That tallies us to nine pieces; all good. On Sunday the keyboard is delivered to my house, along with piles of work gloves, C-clamps, medical supplies and two cartons of cleft palate nursers. The keyboard, swaddled in bubble wrap, is too large to meet unified dimension requirements, so I repackage it in corrugated, custom cut for a snug fit, and stick the rest of the items wherever.
We convene at Logan at 4:00 am for our 5:30 flight. John arrives first and checks his three bags. Greg and I wind up with seven bags between us, we quick shuffle reduce to six and take them to the sky cap. Someone’s scale is off; our biggest bags now weigh over eighty pounds. We open the bags along the curb and start to sort when the sky cap informs us that American Airlines does not accept cardboard packages to Haiti; the keyboard cannot go. We shoehorn it in the largest duffle, which leaves all sorts of paraphernalia on the pavement. I have never been so thankful for four in the morning; at any other hour our shenanigans would bring the State Troopers down on our pandemonium.
The sky cap is no longer an innocent bystander, he asks us where we are going and why, he suggests improved packing techniques. We play our Haiti card and tell him we are building an orphanage. He believes us; we are far too disorganized to terrorize anyone. He tells us to toss everything in a bag, checks a huge coil of wire that won’t fit anywhere, doesn’t bother to weigh anything and hands us a sheath of baggage claims. John palms the guy a twenty, which is money well spent.
These are the things we carried:
Forty eight Granite City T-shirts
Thirty pairs of Granite City sandals
Eight pairs of safety glasses
Six rolls of blue wiring tubing
Six bags of construction gloves
Four cartons of light switches and receptacles
Four heavy C-clamps
Three rolls of undersurface drainage filter fabric
Two cartons of masonry anchors
Two cartons of cleft palate nipples
Two cartons of blue tube fittings
Two rolls of insulated tubing for solar panel connections
One new computer for Gama
One carton of personal items for Angela
Until this trip I have had great luck breezing past customs in Port au Prince, but as we load our ten items on three carts at baggage claim, I know my luck is over. Each of us gets called by customs officials who rifle through every bag. The Oreos in Angela’s personal box receive the most attention. I consider for a moment handing them over in exchange for safe passage, but in the end we strike a deal – $110 for the whole lot. If there is any science to determining that sum, it gets lost in translation.