Thursday, May 16, 2013

How I Lost a Haitian

Marcel Garcon is a local man who has committed his life to advancing his community. He is the director of the Parish Karitas program and he coordinates the Peasant Movement of Gros-Morne. Among this work he organizes farmers into groups, provides training on organic and sustainable methods, helps to plant 60,000 trees a year, directs goat-breeding and courtyard garden projects - all things that the Quixote Center has helped fund for years.

And so the Quixote Center invited Marcel to speak on these projects at a conference in Washington, D.C. The sisters chose me to accompany him.

My one job was to make sure he survived his first international travel. After that I would be his guide, translate for him, and I could take some time to visit grad schools and see relatives. I was to help him find his seat on the plane, explain the cultural significance of salted pretzels, hold his arm as he stumbled up the first few escalators, warn him about taking off shoes at security, and get through immigration.

Well, I failed at that last step. To come into the U.S. there is one line for foreign visitors and one line for U.S. citizens. So Marcel and I had to split up. And when I found him again it was 7 hours later, we had missed our connecting flight, I was in tears trying to page him in French, and there was a distinct possibility that he was:
a) Being sent back to Haiti (if something was wrong with his papers) and I wouldn't know until he landed there and was able to call the sisters.
b) On his way from Miami to D.C. (if someone had helped him go through customs, security, navigate the Air Tram, and find the correct gate) where there would be no one waiting to pick him up.
c) In Miami either: 1. Not through security. 2. Through security. 3. Kidnapped.

The problem was no one could tell me if he was still in immigration, had made the next flight - nothing. Apparently it's against the law. Luckily my about-to-freak-out-"I literally just lost this Haitian man"-pooling eyes helped a few merciful airport workers to break the rules and do those things for me.

At the end of it all,  he was in a parking garage, thinking I had left him and continued on to D.C. He called an old friend from Gros-Morne who now lives in Miami, who came down to the airport and picked him up. This friend called the sisters in Haiti, who called the sisters in D.C., who called me, who then called the friend.

Besides this minor hiccup in the trip, Marcel gave a great presentation, became a master of escalators, was in awe of the metro, loved the cherry blossoms, appreciated the monuments and national sites, and bought 6 Obama t-shirts for him and his family. Here are some pictures of his first time in the U.S.:

Saying "Hi" to Obama

Cherry Blossoms!

Introduction to French Fries.
And then, to thank me for making the trip with him, Marcel ordered a hand-made, baby pink outfit made for me. Across the front is embroidered the date we left: April 4, 2013.

The day I lost a Haitian.

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