October 31, 2011 – Port au Prince, Haiti
“Should I stay or should I go?” I ask myself, trying not to panic as I watch my two friends, Trek and Jack, being led away by a mysterious Voodoo Priestess dressed in black. They follow her through a white door in the far corner of the rustic temple.
I’m left standing alone in the center of the Voodoo temple, a tall blonde in a sea of dark Haitians. I do not blend in at all.
I don’t know much about Haitian Voodoo, it’s a mystery to me, but I think they’re into sacrificial killings and I begin to wonder if “foreign men” are on the menu tonight. I have two choices: run to find someone to help save my friends from a certain slaughter or take a chance on following them through that closed door. There’s nowhere to run so instead I follow…
Slowly, I open the door, peering through a crack I expect to see pools of human blood and body parts strewn around. Instead I see Trek and Jack, happily snacking on watermelon chunks and other Haitian delicacies. It appears “foreign men” are not on the menu tonight, thank god! The few foreigners in attendance are given a warm welcome by the Voodoo Priestess and are offered Haitian snacks in a private dining area before the festivities begin. I exhale and grab a plate!
Mysterious and often misunderstood, Haitian Voodoo (or more correctly, “Vodou”) is far more than the typical American image of sticking pins into a Voodoo doll and it’s more than just a religion. According to “Vodou Experts”, it’s “an experience that ties both body and soul together and is derived from the Congolese tradition of kanga.” Hmmm…
So, how did this trio of Americans end up at a Haitian Voodoo ceremony?
Jack and I traveled to Haiti as part of our mission to start our own relief organization. We were successful in starting it but failed in funding it and eventually merged with another. This trip to Haiti happened to coincide with Halloween weekend, a big holiday in Haiti, and we were invited by our hosts at “St. Joseph’s Home” to join a few of the guys in a local and authentic Voodoo experience.
Trek is another American and happened to be staying at St. Joe’s too, and also happens to be one of the most interesting people I’ve met on the road. The three of us hung together, obviously not blending in with the crowd of local Haitians. Fortunately, Trek had done his research and had an understanding of how we, as foreigners, could fit in…and it all began with Rum. The magical key to cultural acceptance.
Surrounding the Voodoo altar was a team of security guards wearing official black t-shirts who joined hands in a human chain to keep some sort of order and separate the spirit-possessed voodoo “Priests” from the voodoo worshipers. Somehow Trek had snagged an “official” t-shirt and was welcomed into the circle as one of the guards.
Since he was tied up, he slipped me some cash and whispered that I was to run into the side alley and buy as much rum as possible from the rum sellers stationed there. So I ran into the dark alley and returned with the bottle of rum and Trek began offering shots to the Haitians in the crowd near us. It was just the ice-breaker we needed and soon we were accepted by the mob of Haitians, doing shots of rum, and dancing to the pounding rhythm of the wild Voodoo band.
And the band played on…and the priests became possessed by spirits…and the people danced…and the sweat flew…and the rum flowed. Suddenly (around 3 am I think?) a brass band popped out of the wooden bleachers surrounding the altar, complete with trombones, trumpets, french horns and drums, blasting music and riling up the already frenzied crowd even more.
It was a bit surreal, like a movie or a really bizarre ambien-induced dream. And the three Americans danced to the rhythm of the drums and the sounds of the brass Voodoo band, fueled by shots of rum and energized by the wild crowd.
This was an all night Voodoo celebration, but Jack and I had a flight to catch in the morning…flying out of this bizarre movie and back to the reality of our lives. So, around 5 am we staggered out of there, escorted by our local friend Walnes, our personal body guard who had been quietly lurking in the shadows all night, keeping a watchful eye on us “just in case”.
We walked home through the dark, misty streets of Port au Prince, quiet except for the distant sounds of howling street dogs and roosters just waking up. Our ears still rang from the blaring music of the brass band…as the band kept playing and the party raged on.
Haitian Voodoo is still a mystery to me, but at least I know they don’t usually sacrifice foreign tourists.