February 21, 2004 - Richmond Times Dispatch: Haiti Peace Corps Volunteer Melissa Perkins says farewell to her husband, Jean Hariph "Santo" Joseph, who had yet to secure a visa

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Haiti: Special Report: February, 2004: Haiti Peace Corps Information Center: February 21, 2004 - Richmond Times Dispatch: Haiti Peace Corps Volunteer Melissa Perkins says farewell to her husband, Jean Hariph "Santo" Joseph, who had yet to secure a visa

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-13-69.balt.east.verizon.net - on Saturday, February 21, 2004 - 10:28 am: Edit Post

Haiti Peace Corps Volunteer Melissa Perkins says farewell to her husband, Jean Hariph "Santo" Joseph, who had yet to secure a visa

Haiti Peace Corps Volunteer Melissa Perkins says farewell to her husband, Jean Hariph "Santo" Joseph, who had yet to secure a visa

Newlywed alone

Time has run out for Peace Corps volunteer from Richmond and her Haitian husband


Caption: Melissa Perkins and Jean Hariph "Santo" Joseph were wed on a beach in Haiti.

At 9 a.m. yesterday, Melissa Joseph was forced to evacuate from Haiti for the Dominican Republic, where she will leave for Washington tomorrow.

She left with her Peace Corps compatriots, a modicum of belongings and a farewell to her husband, Jean Hariph "Santo" Joseph, who had yet to secure a visa.

"She knows this is what she's got to do," said Carol Perkins of her daughter, who called on her cell phone Thursday night with the news she was coming home - alone.

"She's just worried about their situation."

The violent and rapidly escalating revolt against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in recent weeks triggered an advisory from the U.S. State Department on Thursday that nongovernment Americans should leave while transportation was still available. Family members and nonemergency employees of the U.S. Embassy are free to leave voluntarily.

But with embassy staff sure to dwindle and the bride not there to help champion her husband's visa, neither newlywed knows when they will meet again.

The Peace Corps drew the Hermitage High School graduate to its humanitarian cause during her last semester at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she minored in business and majored in psychology and political science.

Joseph did not complete the intense application process and get assigned until 2002, six months after her graduation with honors.

Carol Perkins still remembers the day the oldest of her three children came home and said she wanted to join the corps. Perkins said her and her husband's jaws dropped.

Their daughter's safety was their immediate concern. Her first choice was somewhere in Central or South America. When Haiti wound up as her destination, the Perkinses' anxiety increased.

For Joseph, Haiti was to offer a break from the structure and demands of going to school and working full time. The corps would also serve as a transition period between graduate school and the rest of her life, her parents said.

The outgoing Joseph helped local women develop products to sell at market. Eventually, she became a translator for the doctors who traveled the countryside. But coming into her own did not come easy, Joseph's parents said.

Joseph, who had studied Spanish for several years, struggled with the Creole language as well as the cultural differences. Rolling blackouts were as common as outhouses. If anything, the bare-bones living gave their daughter perspective, the Perkinses said.

"The program has done what it's intended to do. It really opened her eyes," said Jim Perkins in the kitchen of his home in western Henrico County.

Joseph met her husband at the start of her tour, her parents said. A driver-for-hire who came from a family of farmers, he lived across the street from where she was staying.

Carol Perkins said that how the couple's cultural and racial differences would affect them when they eventually moved to Richmond was also a concern. The separation challenges he would face in the United States away from his close-knit family were another consideration - for both families.

"But the bottom line is she told us, 'I've always made good decisions and maybe you weren't in favor of those decisions, but they've worked out for me,'" Jim Perkins said.

Joseph's mother, a commercial underwriter, and her father, a manager of wireless-equipment logistics, will sponsor their son-in-law for his visa. They met him when they visited Haiti six months into their daughter's tour. They suspected there was more to their friendship but did not pry.

When Joseph was here last June, she told her parents she wanted to get married. Their jaws dropped again. A week of Joseph's two-week visit was spent searching for a wedding dress and getting it altered.

"We have to trust her judgment in what she does and what has to be done," Carol Perkins said. "You want them to do the right thing and keep safe, but you have to step back and realize it's their lives."

The Jan. 10 wedding drew a handful of Joseph's family and friends to a beach near the bridegroom's hometown in northern Haiti. The group flew together, and Jim Perkins recalled opening a newspaper to the international section, where a headline read: "Two killed in riots in Port-au-Prince."

It was the very city they were flying to. He kept the information to himself.

The Perkinses said that manifests, or protests, had been closing businesses and making travel difficult. Lack of fuel resulting from closed businesses kept some of the bridegroom's family from making it to the wedding, and three days before the ceremony, a new priest had to be recruited to marry the couple. The first priest could not get the paperwork needed to perform the ceremony, which was in Creole and mostly followed Haitian tradition.

Joseph read her vows and did her readings in English so that her guests would know some of what was going on. The couple also broke with Haitian tradition and ate the wedding cake, which is usually taken home and displayed, and replaced by pineapple upside-down cakes at the reception.

"It was a real different experience," Carol Perkins said with a laugh.

Later, the stress of the uncertainty showed as her eyes welled.

"We don't know what the future holds for them, even when they get back here," she said.

The Perkinses said the wedding was timed so that the lengthy visa process for their son-in-law would be completed by the time their daughter's two-year tour ended in May. Then the uprising began, and the couple's quest to get the visa became urgent.

The Perkinses said the pair thought they were close to getting the visa Thursday during a meeting at the U.S. Embassy. All the paperwork had been completed, but a criminal background check using his fingerprints still loomed with a two- to six-week waiting period. It was time the couple did not have, with Melissa Joseph leaving the next day.

"All I could think about was: What if the embassy closes?" Jim Perkins said. "Here's the big black hole you fall into if something isn't done."

To that end, the Perkinses have written their congressman, Rep. Eric I. Cantor, R-7th, the U.S. State Department and the White House about their daughter's situation.

Jim Perkins said a representative from Cantor's office told him that "if the embassy closes, there is no mechanism in Washington or anywhere to get a visa."

At the same time, he said, Cantor's office pledged to expedite the matter as much as possible.

"All of a sudden it has turned into an international situation," Jim Perkins said. "It's small potatoes compared to everything going on, but this is right at home with our family."

Contact Penelope M. Carrington at (804) 649-6027 or pcarrington@timesdispatch.com

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Story Source: Richmond Times Dispatch

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Married Couples; COS - Haiti; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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