Friday, May 7, 2010

the view from above

Have you ever flown in a 16-passenger plane in which you could watch the pilot peering out of the front window? It was a first for me and a fantastic experience. Not only did I not have to stow my bags securely or listen to constant reminders about turning off my mobile, but we flew at an altitude low enough that I could see the world below.

As we departed Port au Prince, I saw the checks of bright blue, sky blue, and blue-gray throughout the city, occupying almost as much space as the concrete buildings. The original homes of many people living in tents are still standing, but their owners prefer to live in the tents out of fear of another earthquake. The considerable amount of blue tentage I saw from the sky suggested to me that this was a lovely city not too long ago. Where blue tarps now sit would have been green wide open spaces.

As we landed in the southern city of Les Cayes, a very different sight greeted me. Unfinished concrete buildings were a common sight, as were bright blue rooftops. But these blue tops were not tents, they were graves and churches, it seemed. In the place of sprawling concrete urbanisation, I was greeted by rice, bean and maize fields.

When we alighted - me, 7 other passengers and the pilot - we collected our bags from the empty seats and climbed down the three short metal steps onto the tarmac that was about the size of your average driveway in the U.S.

In front of me, a stout older woman dressed all in black gathered up shopping bags and a plastic garment bag and accepted a young man's hand in lieu of a bannister. When she landed on solid ground she began wailing. "Oh Jesu, Mon Dieu!" I couldn't make out much of what she said and when I asked my colleaghe he said it appeared that this was her first trip back home since the earthquake, and that she had lost dear ones on that day. She was returning to her family in mourning.

She screamed and almost fainted a few feet in front of me. I picked up her black hat that had tumbled off her head and handed it to the security guard who comforted her as he tried to pass her off to her family members waiting in the building. I had been about to comment about how awesome the little-plane ride had been, but now that thought seemed crass and untimely.

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