Tuesday, March 22, 2005

U.S. Navy guys

I saw them as we entered the airport in PAP last week in Haiti. The two of them, dressed in BDU’s (battle dress uniforms) were standing near the long lines where you show your passport and paperwork to the Haitian immigration officers sitting inside their open air cubbyholes.

U.S. Navy guys.

One was tall, bald, had an arresting face and yards of complex tattoos carved on his exposed forearms. The other was shorter with cropped brown hair and a young, earnest face. Very American.

It made me a little relieved to see them. Not that I expected anything, just a nice reminder of home as I’m entering this somewhat volatile country.

Nothing happened while we were touring around. The usual traffic jams, the poverty, everything seemed “normal.” But I was well aware of the last trip, when we had to turn around at the airport and leave because our Haiti staff feared for our safety. And I knew situations in Haiti have a tendency to suddenly explode without warning. But nothing happened. The only difference was C drove the long way around downtown, because certain areas were “hot spots” and things “tend to get a little dicey there.”

We saw the UN guys tooling around, some in their tanks, some directing traffic, some just driving about in the white vehicles. They’ve become part of the scenery for me by now. And we visited the general hospital, where we received grim reminders of how desperate shortages are. People with broken bones who lie in bed and nothing can be done for them because there are no supplies. Traction is a jug filled with sand and a string tied to the broken limb. There are no sutures, little anesthesia. If you need surgery, you bring your own supplies.

We saw the same U.S. Navy guys at the airport as we’re leaving. They were standing next to the check-in line in their BDU’s, talking quietly. Again, it felt reassuring to see them.

We were back home in the US in less than two hours. Started making plans for the next trip back.

And then two days later, hell breaks loose in Haiti. Two UN peacekeepers were killed when the UN engaged former Haitian soldiers. It was a grim reminder that beneath the calm surface is a boiling volcano and there are areas still controlled by armed ex-soldiers.

When I heard the news, I thought of the Navy guys. Our guys.

I’m just glad they were there. I hope they’re still there next time I visit.

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