Pacing with my mobile in a Japanese restaurant lobby, navigating the touchtone maze of State Department options, I glanced at the little Buddha carved into a tabletop and thought, “Sure, smile away bud.  Someone needs to.”   In the next room, my wife Paula and daughter Isabel were having dinner without me.  I’d escaped for some quiet so I could Solve The Problem.  Isabel had also been smiling, and laughing, and doing her best to distract me.  I knew in a distant diffuse way that I’d be desperate for some playful Isabel distraction in about a week, but no matter . . . The Problem.

Just before dinner, we’d spent a frantic hour searching for my passport.  We looked everywhere:  luggage I hadn’t used in years, beneath all the couches and beds, through every page of every loose book.  I finally gave in, ready for a food break, and called the State Department.

After a bit, I finally made it to a real person.  Apparently I’d need to travel to New York City, bringing proof of imminent travel and an old passport.  I made an appointment.  With a morning bus and train, I could make it to the passport office (dragging my two big suitcases), then back to Newark Airport for an afternoon flight to Miami and an overnight.   Probably would cost about $500 after all the fees and such.

Back home after dinner, we put Isabel to bed and resumed our search.  I was certain I’d put my passport on the tall table in our kitchen, but it was gone.  We’d just had some maids clean our place, who had a funny habit of tucking things away in mysterious places.  There was also Isabel, who’s emerging sense of organization never failed to frustrate and delight.  I had a car coming at 2am and it was rapidly approaching the time I’d have to call it off.

While in the basement rifling through ancient history, I hear Paula upstairs, “I found it!”   Someone had put it in a little photo box that we never use.  I ran upstairs and gave her the hug of hugs, letting out a big hearty sigh.   With all of ten seconds of relief, I remembered that I still had to finish packing and I had absolutely no energy left to do it.  Somehow I managed it.

But I couldn’t sleep, for twelve uncomfortable hours.  In the car, trying to squeeze around the armrest.  At the airport, with my head nodding awake every twenty seconds.  On the plane, bouncing our way through the winter storm I’d just missed.  Finally I gave up and resigned myself to six hours sleep in 48 hours.

On the plane from Miami, I sat next to a CNN cameraman.  He’d covered the earthquake, Katrina, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other hairy places.  I asked him which was worst.  “The earthquake, no question,” he said.

Landing in Port-au-Prince, I went through the logistics in a sleepy daze: passport, luggage, customs, new mobile phone, pickup.  Ysmaille, my driver, drove me to the Hotel Olaffson while I looked out the window, taking in the crowds and details of personal life. The city looked cleaner than November.  The sidewalks were all but clear, there was little garbage, with not a tire in sight.

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