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9074: Travel article from UK Independent newspaper (fwd)

From: Tttnhm@aol.com

The Caribbean: White sands and black magic

Which is the best island in the Caribbean? Tough one, but luckily all the 
research has been done for us. Nevis, Mustique or Haiti, there's an island to 
suit everyone, says James Henderson

The Independent, London, UK, 07 September 2001

They say that doctors go in fear of being collared and quizzed by complete 
strangers about their ailments: "I wonder if I could have a word..." You 
might be surprised that a Caribbean guide book writer could venture any 
professional complaints in life, but I do have a grievance on similar lines: 
I groan inwardly every time I'm asked: "So, tell me, what's the best island 
in the Caribbean?"

What they usually mean is: "Please tell me where I should go on holiday – 
which island, airline and hotel, oh, and if you've got a couple of 
recommendations for a romantic dinner out, then that would be nice too." I 
know this because I can see their eyes glaze over when I start talking about 
the places that I actually love. Like Haiti for instance...

Poor, benighted Haiti, it's hardly a tourist destination. But it really is 
one of my favourite islands. It is vibrant, compelling and relentless; tough 
travel but fascinating. Haiti takes familiar Caribbean strains, good and bad, 
and amplifies them to a blare: Haitian "tap-tap" buses are the most crowded 
in the Caribbean, but they are as brightly painted as circus caravans. They 
are inscribed with slogans in Haitian kweyol, the hardest baked of the 
Caribbean creoles. At times these sound like incantations, but at least you 
have a chance of benediction when you are run over in the heaving streets of 
Port au Prince – with a scream of horns you will look up and see 'DIEU te 
BENISSE' before being despatched.

And then there's the voodoo. Once I hitched a lift in a truck to a voodoo 
pilgrimage, the Sodo. Every vehicle in town was going there. Except the one I 
chose. It was only when I had climbed aboard that I realised I had managed, 
on my way to a Catholic voodoo pilgrimage, to climb into a lorry full of 
Protestant Evangelists. Four hours of conversion attempts on a badly 
pot-holed road left my mind as numb as my bum. It all threatened to dissolve 
into a fight when I pointed out a voodoo doll nailed to a tree.

At the Sodo (Creole for the French 'Saut d'eau', or cascade) Catholic 
devotees honour an appearance of the Virgin Mary in a waterfall. But they 
also honour Erzulie, Mary's less effete voodoo counterpart. Coquettish 
Erzulie is the loa (or life spirit) who oversees matters of love. Pilgrims 
come to pray for lovers, to keep their lovers, for children, or anything 
pretty much. Some just give thanks, others literally arrive with a shopping 
list of requests.

They bathe in the spattering, hundred-foot shower of the waterfall. Some 
become possessed, but most simply wash themselves (literally, with shampoo 
and soap) all over. The last thing they do is to hitch up their skirts and 
drop their underwear into the stream. Underfoot the riverbed runs spongy with 

The Sodo is not spooky, but after dark falls the atmosphere changes as voodoo 
ceremonies begin. Candle clutching crones, eyes and teeth flashing, pray to 
the locked white-washed church, to ask Bon Dieu Bon (God oversees all the 
voodoo spirits as he does the Catholic saints) to bless their services. The 
drum-driven rhythms last long into the night.

By the time I've got on to this story the person who unwittingly asked for a 
bit of free holiday advice has either decided to go next year or they have 
quietly crossed themselves and moved on....

Full article available at http://www.independent.co.uk/story.jsp?story=93331


This email is forwarded as a service of the Haiti Support Group. 


The Haiti Support Group - solidarity with the Haitian people's struggle for 
justice, participatory democracy and equitable development, since 1992.