The pilot was 12.  Ok. So he wasn’t, but he was a baby faced boy new to MAF, the organization that flies missionaries into and out of the more remote places on the planet. When he told me he’d only been flying for three months I felt a red flag wave in my head. The purpose of putting my life in his very young hands was to visit my little man Ydson at his foster home in the north of Haiti. I had not seen him since the Covid 19 pandemic began in Haiti in March and nine months is a long lonely time. Nor had Ydson been in his school , since the director cautiously only reopened school in October to the least vulnerable students. One could drive the 100 miles of Haiti’s treacherous, mud soaked, twisting mountain roads but that takes over five hours. And that’s after taking a boat for 90 minutes from La Gonave to the main island. Furthermore, it assumes you will not have a run in with kidnapping thugs or an out of control oncoming vehicle. And who wants to have that much fun?  With MAF we could fly directly from our little airstrip on La Gonave to the airport in Cap Haitian. Flying time: a boring 35 minutes.

We left at 10:30 a.m. under blue and sunny skies. But as we headed north over the expanse of water between the island and Haiti’s northern peninsula, I could see the thickening clouds over the oncoming mountains. There were the initial bumps as we rose through the gray mists which eventually smoothed out once above them. Far below were the brown and green peaks, the dots of houses in impossible places, the flooded rice fields, the rough farms. Lovely, yes? No. Just ahead was a thickening darkness that threatened. The five seater was suddenly pounding and bouncing as we dropped below the gloom. And I realized with some serious alarm that we were now lower than the mountain peaks. Nurse Beth, my travel buddy, was happily snapping pictures of what was certain to be our crash site, oblivious to my white knuckled terror. 
Now I regularly fly to Cap Haitian from either La Gonave or Port au Prince and well I know what I should be looking at below. You follow a fairly direct line south to northeast, arching over the ranges of mountains. The Haitian national motto is  “ Deye mon, gen mon.”  Beyond the mountains there are mountains. And this is true of Haiti both literally and figuratively. There is no break in the endless rows of teeth that rise up between the coastlines. Nor is there ever a let up in either natural disaster or political strife. But I digress. 

From my little window in our plane I could clearly see outside. And what I could see was not what I usually see. From out of each side of our flying death trap were not the ranges of mountains. Instead we were deep within the canyon of a winding sludge of a river, sheer slopes on either side. So this is how it ends. Our pilot was following the serpentine curve of the river. It felt like we were driving to Cap Haitian, but in the air! Furthermore, he was looking all around–above, below and out the side of his window as if he were lost. My God, the pilot is lost! Hail Mary, full of grace…I think I see the ocean. It is, it is the ocean. After an hour of “flying” we were out over the Atlantic Ocean, but no runway in sight. The kid…I mean our pilot… made a wide turn back around and there just ahead was the blessed landing strip of Cap Haitian International Airport. And I couldn’t wait to get my hands around the neck of that maniac who was piloting the plane.

“What the hell was that? Were you trying to get us killed? Where’d you get your license, Montgomery Ward?” I was screaming at him with one fist holding onto his shirt collar and the other shaking in his face. 

That was my plan, but before I could say anything he said, “ There was a plane above us that couldn’t get in to land because the clouds were too low. So I dropped down below the clouds–sorry if it was a little bumpy– so that I’d be able to find a way in to land.” And what I said was, “That was the greatest piece of navigation I ever saw and you’re my favorite pilot.”

Postscript: All of the above was immediately eclipsed by the afternoon spent with Ydson, his teacher, and his foster family. Though I speak with his teacher almost daily, and I know he is well loved and cared for, nothing compares to hands on love. Flying in Haiti is not cheap. Just crossing the 19 air miles from La Gonave to Port au Prince is over $300. To fly to the north… well you could empty your bank account.  Is it worth it? Just look at that face.  
Pictures below are of Ydson gracing us with one of his rare smiles and flying over/within Haiti”s mountains.