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Robert J. Southern Peace Corps - Haiti FAQ
Robert J. Southern Peace Corps - Haiti FAQ
Peace Corps - Haiti FAQ
Were you all alone?
It is Peace Corps' policy (in most countries) that volunteers are to live in their host communities alone. The reason is that Peace Corps work involves becoming completely immersed in the host community. Part of the cultural immersion process is learning to speak the native language fluently, live with and at the same level as the host country nationals, and learn about them and their needs.
In the beginning the culture shock is great and the volunteer is made to reach out to the community. In this way the volunteer becomes part of the community and the people. It can be very difficult to promote that idea if the volunteer is with another volunteer speaking english all the time. And I can guarantee that no matter how hard you may try, if someone is around that can speak the native tongue, there is an uncontrollable compulsion to communicate in this way.
Was I alone alone? No. I lived with a Haitian family. However, I was not able to communicate with them on many levels, leaving me to my non-stop letter writing. There were many volunteers who lived alone in their communities. This didn't work out for me.
Did you see any voodoo?
This is what I wrote after the Peace Corps training group I was in travelled to a popular voodoo temple in the Artibonite Valley of central Haiti -
"Today all the trainees went to Ti Riviere for a voodoo ceremony that ended up not happening. It was interesting nonetheless. We did learn some about the religion in Haiti - even though it was a lecture by a very boring PC volunteer!! The temple was creepy. There were all these rooms for different kinds of things. One room was for the dead person to lie. They believe that the dead can talk, even to identify their potential murderer, or to tie up some last minute family matters - whatever. There was another room for people who are sick, for excorcisms, for offerings and for what looked like babtisms or something. I just couldn't get over the view. And it was overcast. It never rained but it looked like it would any minute. The mountains and the green was beautiful!"
Green was not a color I saw very often in my training village. Anyway, I went to a voodoo party (fet) another time near my site (Peace Corps lingo for where you live after training for two years). The voodoo practitioner was a professor of some kind that would visit my village on the weekends for his weekend getaway from Port 'au Prince. He was one of the most sophisticated men I knew in my village, as well as the most wealthy. For example, he had a car.
Because I couldn't understand most of what was being said (I had a hard time with dialects and slang in the beginning), I had to figure out what was going on by observation. A man had hired the voodoo priest/practitioner, the dancers and the drum players. He must have made other arrangements for the food and the clarin or Haitian moonshine. There must have been close to 30 people at the time I was there. The ceremony is said to last all night, as people dance, sing and play drums. Sacrifices are common and I heard that a chicken was probably sacrificed. I left around midnight and things weren't even starting.
I did see a bit of the ceremony warming up. A small group of women wearing white dresses collected around the drummers. The four drums were of varying sizes, from a small size drum that fits between a man's legs to a drum that stood as tall as a man and was still played between the legs. The women danced and everyone sang. The clarin was passed around copiously.
Are Haitians anti-american?
Haitians don't have time to be anti-american. Understandably some Haitians may feel uneasy around Marines, but that is residual anti-military sentiment from their own military along with ours. Haitians are suspect of white people who claim to be living in the country just to 'help' people. They are especially suspect when you tell them you aren't rich and you don't have any medicine and you don't practice any religion.
What language is spoken in Haiti?
Two languages are spoken in Haiti, French and Haitian Creole. All Haitians speak Creole, which is a indecipherable mixture of many western African indigenous tribal languages, French and who knows what else? Most Haitians can speak French. Maybe a majority of Haitians speak French regularly, but in the rural areas, everyone speaks Creole.Peace Corps taught us Haitian Creole.
Where is Haiti?
Haiti is the western third of an island once known as Hispanola. The Dominican Republic is the country located in the eastern two-thirds of the island. Haiti is southeast of Jamaica, which is south of Miami.
Why is the Dominican Republic so different from Haiti?
The main differences that exist between the Dominican Republic and Haiti are language and infrastructure. The reason for this is colonization. The French colonized Haiti and the Spanish colonized the Dominican Rep. with some crossover, but that's a much longer, and sad story. The French and the Spanish were both really bad at colonization, as that kind of thing goes, which sucks to begin with. However, the French were particularly bad at colonizing Haiti; they didn't build anything. Eventually the slaves took over a country that was already stripped of natural resources and in shambles in any civic sense.
What is the HIV situation in Haiti?
This is very difficult to measure, or get answers for. What I remember is a stat given to Peace Corps trainees in the summer of '98. The Haitian police force had a very high percentage of HIV positive people. Most Haitians that I knew didn't have any promiscous sex or use any kind of intraveneous drug.
What are the people like?
Haitians are warm, intelligent and like anyone else. They love their friends and family and want the best for their children. The majority of Haitians have lived a hard life resulting in a fatalistic attitude about life and death. Most Haitians believe in voodoo. A Haitian told me that Haitians don't trust anyone.
What were your living conditions?
I lived in a cement block house with a great view of the bay of Jacmel. I had an outhouse, no running water and no electricity.
Did you like it?
I found Peace Corps Haiti to be very difficult and I was medically evacuated after 10 months.
Has Peace Corps helped your resume?
If I were interested in international development after the Peace Corps, then my resume would have put me in a very good position. Most USAid and UN workers I met in Haiti had Peace Corps experience. Peace Corps opens many doors in government work as well. Furthermore, through the Peace Corps fellows program, volunteers can get grants and scholarships with great advanced degree programs around the country.
Were you scared?
Peace Corps wasn't for me and that scared me, cause for the first time I was wrong about myself and I didn't know what was right. I was scared every day, all the time. Was it the Peace Corps? I think Peace Corps strips away the bullshit and the volunteer gets into hyper reality, in-your-face, "you are the weakest link" kind of questions. Who wouldn't be scared of that? I knew it would be scary, I just didn't think I would be so uncomfortable with it.
Are there any trees?
Yes, there are trees. In fact, there is a Pine forest! However, there used to be Eucalyptus and Mahogney trees everywhere. Now, of the few trees that are left, they all provide food of some kind - orange, grapefruit, tangerine, breadfruit, coconut, mango, avocado, almond and numerous types of bananas.