February 25, 2004 - Cullowhee United Methodist Church: Jessica Heckert is serving in the Peace Corps in Haiti in the village Dufayi

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Haiti: Peace Corps Haiti : The Peace Corps in Haiti: February 25, 2004 - Cullowhee United Methodist Church: Jessica Heckert is serving in the Peace Corps in Haiti in the village Dufayi

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-13-23.balt.east.verizon.net - on Monday, March 15, 2004 - 9:49 pm: Edit Post

Jessica Heckert is serving in the Peace Corps in Haiti in the village Dufayi

Jessica Heckert is serving in the Peace Corps in Haiti in the village Dufayi

Jessica Heckert, daughter of Sue and Paul Heckert, is serving in the Peace Corps in Haiti in the village Dufayi, located in the central plateau. Jessica is a 2003 graduate of Greensboro College.

Her recent assignments have included translating for medical and veterinarian aid workers. Her long-term assignment, however, is helping the villagers improve their agriculture. Examples of her project ideas include: erosion control, environmental education, pressing sesame seeds into cooking oil, and raising rabbits for protein.

Her adventures have included all day trips (of less than 100 miles) with a dozen people crammed into the back of a Land Rover, rats under her bed, and frequent marriage proposals. Despite recent unrest, her rural location is relatively safe.

August 17, 2003: Jessica flew out of Asheville for 3 days of pre-training and orientation in Miami with other Peace Corps Trainees headed for the Caribbean. At this time, if she did not have the required inoculations then they were administered: Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Tetanus, MMR, Polio and DR (?). She also is mandated to take an anti-malarial drug once a week. If she does not, then she is shipped home.

Her first three months in Haiti involved learning the culture, agricultural technology and the language of Kreyòl. Kreyòl is a combination of African languages and French. Jessica wrote, “Luckily, Kreyòl is a fairly easy language to learn and about 50% of the time if I take the English word or Spanish word and accent it correctly, it is the right word. The other ½ of the time, I sound stupid. The hardest thing about Kreyol is that one word can mean 5 different unrelated things. The definition is contextual, but that is confusing when all the words in a sentence are contextual. I think that is left over from the influence of the tonal African languages, except they all sound the same now. One evening someone was talking about “let.” Well, I thought they were wanting me to drink milk. I kept explaining that I was allergic to it. Finally, I realized they were asking about a letter. Yeah, that was a bit confusing.”

Jessica spent her 3 months of training in Archaie which is on the coast northwest of the capital, Port au Prince. (See map)

September 1, 2003: Her first correspondence home was, “I have been living with a family for just over 2 weeks, and they are tons of fun. I have 5 siblings ages 7, 11, 12, 15, and 18. The heat is becoming very tolerable. The only thing I am really not enjoying is the food. I am learning to tolerate it though. I find plantains disgusting, and they fry everything, but like I said I am adjusting. The lack of electricity is easy to adjust to. I just go to bed around 8 PM. and I am up around 6 every morning. So for the first time in my life, I am not sleep deprived which is quite nice! This morning I stayed in bed reading till about 6:45 and my mother started knocking on my door. She was worried that I was sick and thought I needed to go to the Dr. This of course was acted out by her and my brother because my language skills aren't at that level yet.”

September 30, 2003: Jessica wrote, “I don't know how up to date you are on all the Haiti news, and if you heard about the political assassination in Gonaive. We went through there, a few days prior to that, to go north for our agricultural sector training. The US Embassy told us we couldn't go through there on the way home. So basically the only other alternative to avoid Gonaive was to circumnavigate the top half of the country on the worst roads in the entire country, and if you can imagine there are no good roads in Haiti. There were places on these roads where big vehicles were piled up with mud above the windows. Anyway, they wanted us to take public transport home but our training director for agriculture refused because taking 20 white people on this little excursion with three exchanges was just a bit more than he was ready for. They sent drivers from the Embassy to get us instead on these same horrible roads. We were packed 12 people each into Toyota land cruisers for a 12 hour drive. Luckily for the rest of us, one guy had giardia and we had to stop every hour or so for his diarrhea, so we got to move around. His giardia is better now though. Anyway, we arrived home very safely though all very grumpy from having no time or clean location to eat all day and all a bit bruised from being jostled on those roads so much. Parts of me still hurts from this. W e have Sundays off so a bunch of us went up to one of the really nice private resort beaches near us the next day. It was nice to have a break. It is only about half an hour away once we walk an hour to get the tap taps.”

“Agricultural sector training was in a really pretty area, and one evening we went into Cap Haitian and ate ice cream!! We learned a lot of stuff about tree nurseries and good reforestation practices that are appropriate for Haiti and how to convince Haitians that maybe they should consider reforestation and such.”

“About reforestation, we try to use a lot of fruit trees because if they are making money, people are less likely to cut them down for fire wood. Also, there are a whole lot of fast growing nitrogen using trees that will grow on hill sides with very little topsoil. So, those are a big hit because you can convince people to chop off the top of them because they grow fast enough, and are still establishing good root systems. If you plant them in contour lines then you can plant crops intermittently too after the top soil gets established. I only know their names in Kreyòl.”

October 7, 2003: “We spent yesterday meeting US diplomats and other important people like the ambassador. We got briefed by the head US security officer. Crimes other than pick pocketing of US citizens are nonexistent except for a few incidents where the victim was dealing drugs or other bad things. But apparently, we should still be very concerned about Al Qaida here. It gave us all the giggles when he said it, but apparently, we should be on the lookout, and no one in the world is safe from terrorists. I don't think terrorists could find me in my isolated location.”

October 10, 2003: “I found out my site where I will be going for the next two years. I am going to be located in the lower central plateau. The nearest city that you might be able to find on the map is Mirebalais. It is about 50 miles north east of Port au Prince, but there is a huge mountain range separating it from Port. So, it isn't easily accessible. If you want to learn more about the central plateau you can read about it in a recent Newsweek article titled "Where living is lethal." Yes, that is my new home!! Ha Ha. No, actually, I am really excited about the program I am working with. It is associated with a women's organization.”

Jessica visited her permanent site toward the end of her 3 months of training and said, “ My site is in a really pretty area on a mountain overlooking a river valley with quite a few trees too. It is a lot cooler there, and the people were so friendly and hospitable, and a lot of them really want to make a difference in their living standards, which is so refreshing to know, and I am really excited to start working with them.”

“Oh, you also never have to worry about me and electricity. I live right off of Lake Peligre which is the dam that supplies most of the country’s power, I will never lose power for long.”

Jessica is in the town of Dufayi which is 8 miles northwest of Mirebalais along the Peligre River.

November 1, 2003: Training stuff is all done. We just have the weekend to pack our stuff and tie up loose ends. Tuesday we go to Port au Prince and swear in on Thursday. We will be in a fairly nice hotel.

Peace Corps News Release, November 20, 2004: Recently in Haiti, 26 Americans joined the ranks of Peace Corps volunteers as they were sworn-in by the Honorable James B. Foley, the United States Ambassador to Haiti. On November 6, the new volunteers were inducted into the Peace Corps at a formal ceremony conducted in three languages at the ambassador`s residence, in Port-au-Prince.

Fifteen of the new volunteers are assigned to the agriculture and environment project and will spend their two years of international service improving the living conditions of farmers. They will work to increase agricultural production and income while conserving and rehabilitating the environment.

December 7, 2003: My site is absolutely gorgeous, and it is small so really friendly. In Archaie, my training site, we were always getting asked for things, “Give me that. Buy me that.” Now, I have a wonderful relationship with the people I live with. They ask me to bring them stuff and aren’t shy about asking to borrow soap, sugar or extra vegetables which they know I have. But it goes both ways, because they insist on making food for me. I have a neighbor across the street who brings me grapefruits faster than I can eat them. It is usually accompanied by a marriage proposal, but those are a dime a dozen these days. Oh, one of the daughters in the family was in Port au Prince for a few days and just came back and brought me an apple because she remembered I said I missed them. So good!”

“Where I live is kind of the traditional family setup in Haiti which isn’t really common anymore. There are 3 houses all together of related family members. The house I live in consists of one room for me, an old man in one room, his son in the other and the other room is storage for some of the farming co-op’s equipment. Haitian houses are almost always square with 4 rooms. The doors between all of them lock. There isn’t a lot that goes on inside houses because they are hot, dank and small. The kitchens are separate structures outside and people usually socialize on the porch or in the yard." [Note: For a picture of Jessica's house click here.]

“I have certainly done a lot of reading since I have arrived at my site, about 2 books every week. If I don’t read and write for a long time before I go to bed, I will wake up after my 7-8 hours of sleep and have to lay there for several hours before the sun rises. If I turn the light on in my room or even the flashlight, the old man in the next room is always worried and says, “ Jessica are you sick? Is the devil coming after you?” None of the above! I just can’t sleep more than 8 hours! I have electricity in my room which is nice!”

“If some group wants to do some sort of giving.....here is an option. A type of grant that PCVs do is called a partnership grant where organizations or individuals from the states can donate to a specific project that a PCV is doing. To find these go to the Peace Corps website, look under donations and there should be some things that lead you to this. I think you can then select info by country etc. I actually just talked to a girl today who is almost finished her grant proposal for a new school and it should be listed on the website by January.”

“The volunteers in the whole country plus a few others were all together for Thanksgiving. We had a lot of fun. The girl’s house where we celebrated lives near a Belgium couple who work with “Save the Children.” They let us use their gas stove for the day which was really nice. I made two pumpkin pies. Then I read somewhere that you can use a local vegetable(militent) in place of apples when cooking. So, I made a pie with it. Everyone including me was hesitant about how it would turn out. We had to try it as soon as I brought it back from their house. It was so good! We ate most of it before we really started dinner. We also had mash potatoes, potato salad, beet salad,( a Haitian dish), and two turkeys. There isn’t a lot of meat on Haitian turkeys. Also for some reason, Haitians consider the breast meat scraps and throw it away -??? Anyway, we paid her neighbors to prepare the beet salad and turkey-quite a process. We also had cornbread and stuffing and a cake mix someone had bought in Port au Prince. Oh yes, the gravy included the turkeys heads. That kind of shocked us!!”

“Today, I had to take part in a meeting with officers in the local farming co-ops and other Haitians that work with agriculture in the area. They are really eager to start a repinye (tree nursery) because I mentioned once that I visited one when I was in Mirebalais, which is the city near me. That and I think I have to do a presentation on composting sometime soon for them. They are also very eager to graft trees. There are a lot of species of mangoes that have good root stalk but really stringy fruit that only animals will eat. They want to graft good mango species on the other trees. Ditto with other types of trees. I will need to buy grafting tape next week in Port au Prince or everyone will be disappointed. The tape seals out moisture at the grafting site while the graft starts to stick.”

“The town of Dufayi, where I live, is really pretty and so much cooler than the city of Mirebalais, 8 miles away. I guess partially because it is rural, a higher elevation and right off the country’s biggest river. I don’t know if the river’s distance makes that much of a climate change, but it is certainly nice scenery on my 40 minute walk up the mountain. Public transport doesn’t run with any regularity either and when it does, it is full to the point where I think it will over turn, or I will fall out, so I walk anyway. Luckily, I am becoming friends with the drivers from World Vision/USAID, and there is a baby weighing clinic/food supplement distribution center with no building, just a stop, not far up the road. They pass by a lot and give me rides when they can. So yes, it pays to make friends with the chofis. (From context, that word must mean chauffeur. Jessica did not translate this word so it sounds like she is falling into the local lingo easily.) Since there are so many aid workers that work in the Central Plateau, after awhile hopefully, we will learn where they go and get lots of free rides with them. The cost really isn’t the concern but comfort. On buses, they put 6 people across in seats with luggage made for 4 people. I always pay a little extra for the seat in the cab with the driver if I can. When we went north for Thanksgiving, we were able to catch a free ride over a good chunk of the road with a hospital delivery truck. On the way home, we found a Tap Tap direct to Port au Prince. We just paid for the whole trip and got off early to save having to wait for Tap Taps going in the right direction. We had to stop twice for their attempts to fix the broken shocks and once for a flat tire. This is typical in a country where not one has any concept of preventative maintenance. The roads only receive maintenance when someone is too board to do anything else. You will occasionally see men sitting in the middle of the roads chipping away at boulders that have fallen, in order to make the roads more passable.”

“Sometimes I feel like I live in the Wild West. The pony express would be improved mail! People die of the same diseases that everyone died of on the Oregon Trail, and frequently, you see people driving along with someone in the passenger seat with a shot gun. These are generally people with really nice cars. It is protection in case someone tries to steal their cars.”

December 30, 2003: “Well I don't remember if I told you I was going to be translating for this group of medical students all week, but they didn't show because of political stuff. Anyway, after a few days of wandering around, we ended up staying with these missionaries nearby who have a group from the states who just came in. They have medical and eye supplies, so we are translating for them instead. They are from Lakewood Baptist Church, Rock Hill, SC. I'll probably send some letters home with them. The volunteer from near Port au Prince came up this afternoon too and brought all the Christmas presents with him."

“The medical missionaries will be here till the 9th, I think. They didn't have enough room in the vehicles for everyone to go out to the clinics, so some of us got to ride horses out which is fun. The local missionaries take good care of their horses, so I don't feel like I abuse them just by riding them."

To find pictures and journals of the medical missionaries journey to Haiti on the website of Lakewood Baptist Church, click here.

January 13, 2004: “Two nights ago I woke up to the neighbor’s cat eating a rat under my bed. I didn't know what it was until the next morning. I just knew it was loud and was scared to get out of bed! Yeah, headless rats are not pretty. I don't know if it chased/ followed the rat in or brought it in to eat there after he killed it, but it was big!! I had to get some neighbor kid to get it out for me because I was almost in tears over it. There was a small space under my door, but they boarded up the space for me now, so hopefully no more problems. Evidently, there is a couple that has come to Dufayi for a few months, husband Canadian and wife English. I haven't met them yet so that should be fun.”

“Some people at my sight are eager for some sort of oil press type making project, b/c Haitians use a lot of oil when they cook, and it is expensive. I know we don't think of it as healthy, but malnourished people need more fat in their diets. So I am trying to do some research on the internet about that.”

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Story Source: Cullowhee United Methodist Church

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Haiti; PCVs in the Field



By JANE DOE ( on Friday, March 19, 2004 - 10:39 am: Edit Post

We are a group of kids that are doing a virtual trip to haiti and we need more stuff about Dufayi and other inportant facts about it like what it is like . The market the people were they mean to you . the family that you lived with could you send me pictures of them and did they act the same way around you as they did around there own type of people. so if there is anything like pictures of what Dufayi it would be a big help .

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