Mickhi Dbrisk was not allowed on that plane he had found. He had no passport to board. Like many of the mostly black members of the Bed Stuy Volunteer Ambulance Corporation, he seemed annoyed and surprised that he even needed such papers in such a time of great calamity. Yet, even the devastation of the great earthquake did not waive the requirement to have a passport for international travel. Thus, though his ultimate role in the world to come was substantial, through lack of papers he wrote himself out of the history of the response. Art least the first wave of it.
But Sebastian and 103 other Haitian, West Indian and African American medical volunteers organized by the BSVAC and AMHE managed to get on that Vision International plane paid for by the Church of Scientology, on the morning of January 15th 2010. It all happened so fast. As if guided by the spirits? Well perhaps an alliance of aliens and spirits. Adon was in a near sea of heroic strangers with a green rucksack and a dark blue uniform. He had literally taken an FDNY lieutenants Exam in the morning and thrown his needed things into a green rucksack go bag and then taken a cab right to JFK.
They were all mostly strangers moved by a duty to act, or my patriotism to the cause of Haiti. Humanitarians and medical internationalists; the first wave of rescuers in. The 104 have boarded the airship.
“What do you know about Haiti,” Sebastian leans over the seat to ask the only other half-Jew on the plane, EMT Alex Furlini. Furlini is a little fellow. With a brown beard and eager eyes. Sebastian is slender and is wearing a brown skally cap beret.
“Not very much,” the young bearded architect, part time EMT responds.
“Have you ever done something like this before,” Sebastian asks.
“No, never, I guess I was moved by what I saw on the TV.”
“You know. I’m told I have a good head on my shoulders. An imagination of some repute, but for the life of me I can’t imagine what we’re actually flying into.”
“Well I know it’s gonna be bad. Real bad,” chimes in a Haitian Firefighter Paramedic from Atlanta named Dany Bélair.
“Yeah, but how bad!? I can’t picture it at all,” Adon says.
“Then better that you don’t,” Bélair replies.
“So you’re an EMT with the fire department?” Alex asks them.
“Yeah, Bedford Stuyvesant and the notorious Woodhull hospital 35.”
“I live down the street from there,” Alex says.
“I’m in the Fire Department in Atlanta,” Dany says, “I was just visiting my parents in New York.”
“What do you do in New York, Mr. Furlini,” Sebastian realizes he doesn’t know the guy’s first name.
“Alex Furlini. I’m an architect actually.”
“Well there’s gonna be work for you for years my brother because there aren’t any buildings standing in that capital,” quibs Dany Menard sitting next to them, “my people just can’t ever win.”
“They say joking is the healthiest way to deal with tragedy. You are?” inquires Sebastian.
“Fire Fighter Danny Bélair,” the brother responds.
“So what do you think we’re flying into Fire Fighter Dany?” asks Sebastian.
“Well hell I’d imagine. I’d imagine the worst thing you’d ever seen or suffered and multiply that by ten thousand.”
The worst things Sebastian had ever seen were a double lynching in a Bedstuy school yard. The utter crushing and disembowelment of a crack head he knew struck on the Cross Bronx expressway. As well as a picture of his best friend Jeremy who’d taken a handgun to his own foolish head. That’s the worst he could remember seeing in this objective reality, the land of reach out and touch me. In his mind was a darker place in which he’d seen quite a bit far worse.
Furlini had gotten his EMT certificate during a period of uncertain depression taking a leap of faith EMS might cure him of his nervous twitch, his vague desire for heroism. In fact, he’d never been behind the wheel of an ambulance in his life. He’d only read about dead and dying things as well as sickness.
“No, I don’t think any of us will have seen anything quite like this,” mutters Sebastian to Alex and Bélair. Most of the cabin is passed out.
“Exciting right,” grins Bélair the joker. A third generation Haitian fire fighter, a half Jewish architect and part Hebrew mutt EMT share a grim moment.
“Well you know what they say about good intentions,” says Sebastian.
“Oh, they’ll always kill you,” glibs Bélair.
Sebastian couldn’t but dart off the faintest recognition that he’d seen Alex Furlini before.
The airlift was organized in wildfire mode via the two truck, ‘minority run’ Bedstuy Volunteer Ambulance Corps. They were just about the only thing left behind from the fabled Black Panthers, well besides a substantial prisoner population and some folklore posters and memorabilia. About four hours after the first quake hit they went on the local telescreen network and declared they were going to Haiti on a rescue and relief mission. Donations poured in, volunteers lined up, and they partnered with Haitian Physicians Association to ensure a steady wave of doctors, nurses and a few loose millionaires.
“Did you know Haiti has more millionaires than any other West Indian island,” says Paramedic Victor Cange to EMT Dominich Asbun.
Dominich is composing the opening chapter of his journal account of the happenings to follow. He’s tall, dark and handsome with a goatee.
“I didn’t know that. Did you know there are more Palestinian doctors than any other group of Arabs in the Middle East?”
Neither of these ethnic factoids are verifiable, they sort of served as proud rumors one might make national small talk over.
“My sister was working at the U.N. when the quake hit. She was outside getting coffee when the building killed all her co-workers,” explains Victor Cange.
“Maybe, but the living have to bury the dead.”
Victor Cange and Dominich both work for the Transcare Corporation along with several others on flight 749 Vision Air chartered by the Church of Scientology to fly 104 medical volunteers to Haiti on the 15th of January, 2010.
“What are we gonna see down there you think?” asks Dominich.
“The end of the world,” says Sultan, another Transcare Medic from Guyana.
So, after Bedstuy Volunteer Ambulance Corps partnered with Haitian Physicians Abroad they realized that FEMA and UN were not admitting civilians into the country. The 82nd Airborne had landed and there was no functional airport, no functional port to off load aid. They built a supply garrison and had to repave-re-erect Toussaint L’Ouverture international airport. That was when an elderly and calculated man named Patrick O’Connor showed up at the office depot on Green and Malcolm X Blvd promising back end logistics and a plane with a landing docket. He was a representative of the Church of Scientology’s volunteer ministry.
“So what the hell’s up with all these Scientologists?” asks medical student, EMT certified Jim Miranda to his buddy Kevin Wessel, two of four volunteer fire fighters from Long Island.
“Who the hell cares, they’re getting us there,” responds a half asleep Kevin, always an Irish optimist.
“Don’t they believe in aliens?” mutters Jim.
“Tell me something Miranda, if the Klu Klux Klan itself was gonna pay for and secure the clearance for this relief mission wouldn’t we still be here?”
Kevin had heard Sebastian make that glib in the JFK terminal line to Victor Cange in the same context. Kevin wasn’t sure what they’d find down there either, but he was sleeping the nervousness off.
“No, I think I’d be just about as nervous. I mean ask yourself about motivation buddy.”
“No I don’t have to. It’s a large-scale disaster MCI rescue mission, it’s just gonna be 10,000 times worse than anything we’ve ever seen before.”
Jim has black hair, a grey GO NAVY shirt from his past service. Kevin has brown curly hair and is wearing a black Bedstuy Volunteers t-shirt and blue BDUs. Both are firefighters with the East Norwich Fire Rescue Volunteers, both carry stethoscopes around their necks and jack knives on their belts, they wonder what they’ve gotten into so rashly. So like everyone else they cling to a talisman.
There are a lot of Haitian nurses and doctors on the plane. The EMS contingent is however rather diverse. What people saw on the TV screen they could not ignore. If there was a way to go they were going, that’s simply how bad it all looked.
“We’re the ones driving toward the burning building. In this case, it’s a burning country,” said firefighter- paramedic Dany Bélair. If that was even the right allegory at all.
EMT Dominich Asbun writes in his journal, as it is calming to do so.
“Apart from the hella time I’ve had psyching myself up for this – the news images, the stories, imagining rotting bodies and dying babies and limbs and the violence wrought that I might witness, and my own emotional state and turning the tap back off as tight as I can – one of the funny things that comes up is the feeling of importance, of mission. I guess this is what someone going off to war with the cheers of his country feels like: something you’ve trained for, and the rules of society bent towards your purpose. The world is watching with its mouth open while you pack your bags, and they’re asking you everything and thanking you, and suddenly some part of you takes in the hype and expects everyone to care as much. Riding my bike on the sidewalk towards Bed-Stuy Volunteer Ambulance Corps (BSVAC), I see cops, and yeah I get off my bike (it’s the law), but for a second, I consider riding by. When they’d stop me, I’d say, It’s OK, Officer, I’m an EMT; I’m going to Haiti today to provide medical relief. “That’s cute,” said Mercedes, and, “That’s so noble,” said Ashton, and “That’s amazing,” said Pascale. I guess I care more who it’s from than what they said – I don’t know what I’d say myself. But, anyway, this thing ain’t mine and I want to keep foremost the idea that the people in Haiti need it, that importance and compliments or not – compliments or not, I have absolutely no idea what some pain is like and what I can do is put myself somewhere to help. They’re singing ‘Lean On Me’ on the bus to the plane, ha, while the plane gets fuel problems fixed. I’m not saying I don’t do this for the adventure, though. Isn’t everything we do, in the end, in some way for ourselves? Not everything – it’ll be in the details, the actual actions that I do for people, not in the general ‘Going to Haiti’.
The fucking plane leaks fuel. Then, it doesn’t leak! It was over fueled, and delayed, and we lost our time slot in Haiti for landing as assigned by the Marines.
‘Going to Miami. Bienvenido a Miami’. Hurry, wait, Hurry, wait, Hurry…Flying is a magic,” sings in hand scrawled words formed by Dominich Asbun, future doctor.
Recalls Toba Hadaad:
It’s vital that you don’t spend all your emergency funds on the landing slot bribes alone. You need to rent a second and third plane. Don’t worry about the return planes, they can get back on evacuation flights the military will run. And hope you end up with one that doesn’t leak jet fuel and explode in a ball trying to cross around Cuban airspace. Or that the so-called religious group your government funds, one of two as means to move people around the planet in a hyper clandestine fashion; you hope that front group religion with their yellow shirts and odd touching rituals doesn’t rub the locals the wrong way.