Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Working a Flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Until last Wednesday, I had flown into Port-au-Prince, Haiti only one time in the last 23 years as an international flight attendant.  I remember the airport - and walking outside in stifling and suffocating heat and humidity along the tarmac perpendicular to the airplanes lined up and parallel to the building; I remember the vendor - her store was inside the airport, upstairs, and full of Haitian crafts, vanilla and liqueurs.  I remember how naively sweet the Haitian people were on the flight - many didn’t know how to flush the toilet or where to throw their wet hand towel, but many came dressed up for the flight in suits and hats, and always smiled at us working the flight.
The airport looks different now; my original vendor where I purchased a stunning black iron serving plate decorated with bright fruit designs in 1996 was gone, and the outside path to walk to the airplanes for boarding is now covered. Looking out at the tarmac, I envisioned the wingtip to wingtip lineup of military and commercial aircraft parked two years ago bringing in desperately needed supplies of all kinds. I went inside to buy the famous Haitian vanilla again. It was a different brand than before, but I was thrilled to see that even after the earthquake, some things are still available. The few vendors in the airport were eating plate lunches and the first vendor we stopped at had only a fish skeleton left atop her rice, with the head still attached. I purchased a bottle of Haitian Cremas, a rum based drink made with creamed coconut and either condensed or evaporated milk. It is served at holidays and on other special occasions, but I might just get it good and cold and drink some sooner as opposed to later since it is said to be like drinking a milkshake.
Our passengers on our flight were the same, for the most part.  Hats (one woman was wearing two new beautiful hats that still had the price tags on them), suits (both men and women), and still confusion over the lavatories’ buttons and design. A woman wore a silk gold and purple dress that was out of the realm of passenger attire on a Caribbean flight. She looked proud, and fierce, and beautiful. There is always one exception to the rule, and it was a 16 year old girl, who was not Haitian, and was part of a group of high school students who were on their way to New York City to perform in a musical concert.  She was texting on her iPhone after the aircraft door was closed.  When Alison, the flight attendant working on that side of the plane asked her to turn off her cell phone, the young girl - without looking up - dismissed Alison with a wave of her hand and said to her, “I’m busy.”  Lucky for her, Alison is a patient flight attendant.  Alison said to the young upstart, “Turn your phone off now, please, or you can sit in the terminal while we leave, and be busy there.”  She turned off her phone.  
The next day our crew flew to Paris, France. We had French speaking flight attendants on both flights, however, the speakers did not speak French on the Port-au-Prince trip.  No need to since the passengers speak Creole.  But, to go from the former French colony of Haiti, to the “motherland” of France within 24 hours, glaringly pointed out the striking differences in two countries that at one time, spoke the same language.

1 comment:

  1. As a flight attendant, I've flown to Haiti a handful of times and you got it right on all accounts. Americans seem to pull out their best t-shirt and worn jeans for their flights and it is so refreshing to see a culture dress up for their trip.

    I haven't tried the Cremas, but I think I need to try a bottle now!