The Blans of Haiti

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti — Walls Guest House has the feel of an upscale hostel, and was founded in 1984 by Anne and Jack Wall of Ontario. Any profit the guest house makes for visitors such as myself is funneled into FIDA, an organization they created to support agricultural cooperatives in rural Haiti. The place hosts an interesting group of expats and visitors, one that gives you a somewhat representative idea of reasons for foreign interest in Haiti.

Two women are here to adopt Haitian children. One is from Arizona, and hopes to take five children back with her. She’s working directly with an orphanage and will be here in Haiti for two years to establish guardianship, a process that will make it easier for her to bring them back to the United States. The other woman is from Holland, living at the guesthouse with the boy she hopes to adopt while she finalizes paperwork to take him to his new country. She’s been here for two months and expects to be here for two more. A young woman from Ontario is here to marry her Haitian fiancé. Once they wed next week she returns to Canada without him to wait for the year it will take to process his visa. Three volunteer social workers are here from Cuba for the next two years to help educate the families of blind Haitians. An American couple from Florida arrived this morning on their way to a Christian mission in Gonaive.

The missionaries have done their job well, and the strong Christian influence is evident today, Sunday. The manager of Walls, Veniel Jean, invites me to church with his daughter and wife. He estimates that 70 percent of Haitians are doing the same, and it sure seems that way, as streams of Haitians in their Sunday best stream into Catholic, Pentecostal, Adventist and Baptist churches.

Officially the country is 80 percent Catholic, most of the remaining percentage Protestant, with a smattering of other religions. Voudou is the island’s folk religion and has remained alive (according to “Why the Cocks Fight” by Michele Wucker) by identifying many of the Catholic saints as existing members of the Voudou pantheon, such as St. Patrick, who drove snakes from Ireland, as Danbala, the great serpent who is the spirit of life.

We are in church for two hours. The pastor leads a few hymns before introducing the main act, Maestro Pierre Delit. The Maestro’s job is to get the congregation fired up, and he does it perfectly,
roaring out to the crowd in a call and response that brings the congregation repeatedly to its feet. The church is overflowing and people sit outside. Venial says that attendance today is relatively low, and that at tonight’s service, the overflow will be even larger.

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