February 28, 2004 - Richmond Times Dispatch: Newlywed Peace Corps Volunteer Melissa Perkins agonizes over husband's fate in Haiti

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Haiti: Feb, 2004: Peace Corps evacuates Volunteers from Haiti: February 28, 2004 - Richmond Times Dispatch: Newlywed Peace Corps Volunteer Melissa Perkins agonizes over husband's fate in Haiti

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Newlywed Peace Corps Volunteer Melissa Perkins agonizes over husband's fate in Haiti

Newlywed Peace Corps Volunteer Melissa Perkins agonizes over husband's fate in Haiti

Newlywed agonizes over husband's fate
A Peace Corps volunteer who made it back worries about husband in Haiti


Feb 28, 2004

When Peace Corps volunteer Melissa Perkins Joseph got off the plane in Washington last Saturday after being ripped from her second home in Haiti, the bite of the wintry winds pierced her thin red jacket.

"It was like, death," Joseph recalled Thursday in the living room of her parents' West End home.

She had walked through the door just about an hour before.

The cold reality of the newlywed's situation is equally stark: She is back in her country for good, but without her Haitian husband. Not only couldn't Jean Hariph "Santo" Joseph get a visa to enter the United States, the already deadly coup in the Caribbean nation about 650 miles off Miami might prevent him from getting one altogether.

The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince has been closed for days, halting all work. Scores in Haiti's paltry police force have abandoned their posts, and the capital city is expected to fall to encroaching rebels and opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The paperwork was done

Meanwhile, the international community debates the timing of any military intervention. The United States sent 50 Marines last week to protect the embassy, but this week, officials said they want a political settlement before more are deployed.

"These people can't win. People are getting killed and they have no food," said Melissa Joseph, who wants to see something done. "I'm not saying we have to take care of Haiti and fix their problems, but this is a crisis."

No one knew the protests, which had become more intense in recent months, would escalate so quickly into civil unrest and sap the time the Josephs thought they had.

Married Jan. 10, they had completed the necessary visa paperwork last week and were awaiting results of a fingerprint check. It's a two- to six-week wait under normal circumstances.

In the middle of last week, the 2001 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University got the call from the Peace Corps to leave her home in Leogane and head to the capital.
'I was just gone'

She and her husband thought their stay would be temporary.

Hers was.

"Not knowing how long we'll be separated and leaving him in a country that is very unstable with the opposition taking over city by city with the end hope of taking over Port-au-Prince. . . . It's dangerous," said Melissa Joseph. "I've left him behind to go through all that by himself."

The reality gnaws at emotions that would be raw if they weren't frozen.

"It's been nonstop from the time we were told we were evacuating and I feel mentally exhausted. To be torn out of a place I spent two years. . . . That was my home," said Joseph, who worked with a hospital program that helped local women borrow money and use it to develop goods to sell at market.

"I'm not very old . . . but this is the most traumatic thing I've been through in my entire life," the 24-year-old said. "I wasn't able to say goodbye to anybody. Not anyone with the hospital, my neighbors, Santo's family - my family; people I may not see for how long. I was just gone."

The couple's parting at the airport wasn't all that tender, either.

"We stood outside trying to catch up, going, 'Let's see who I can call and who I can get information,'" she said.

The couple met in Arcahaie, an hour north of the capital, where Melissa Joseph did her three months of language, culture and technical training. Her husband, a driver for hire, lived across the street with his farming family, which included his sister. She cooked Melissa Joseph's meals.

"He's sweet and caring. I feel like we just clicked even though we come from completely different cultures and backgrounds," Melissa Joseph said. "It's just that he understands me."

Their friendship, which helped her learn Creole fluently, soon turned romantic and Santo, 29, eventually moved with Melissa to her permanent project site in Leogane, an hour west of Port-au-Prince.

"It was hard living conditions, but every day I was rewarded with the people there and the work I did," she said.

Joseph said she hadn't felt threatened until about three weeks ago when "gunfire and people dying and hearing them screaming" woke her at 2 a.m.

Despite what's in the news, Joseph said, most of the people of Haiti are "beautiful, sweet, nice, loving and they have so much hope." Eighty percent of the population is unemployed and they're still a hardworking people, she said.

"They try and get up every day and sell something in the market and try to get one U.S. dollar," she said.

Joseph spent nine of them to see the final installment of "The Lord of the Rings" in Washington. She even had popcorn and marveled at the variety at the concession stand.
State Department involved

"They don't have variety in Haiti. They don't have Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite. They just have Coke," she said.

Joseph said this deluge of choices is one of the many aspects of American society her husband will have to adjust to. But far more overwhelming is the knowledge that getting her husband here is just the beginning of a long journey filled with changes.

"It's like a roller coaster, the stresses that you go through. But this is something we both want to do . . . We still have each other and our love for each other and things will work out," Joseph said.

Yesterday, Rob Collins, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Eric I. Cantor, R-7th, said that Marines hoped to reopen the embassy.

Whatever the case, he said the office is working with the U.S. State Department and the embassy to "see if we can get these loved ones reunited."

In the meantime, Joseph can't help but think how different her situation would be had the couple invested the couple of hundred dollars in a tourist visa. Instead, they decided to focus on the more expensive - nearly $1,000 - permanent visa, she said.

"It was a cost issue to do both," Joseph said. "But money doesn't matter when it comes to situations like this."

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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