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Haiti's Villages Still Waiting for the Good Times : Life After Duvalier Remains Hard; Many Lack Food, Electricity, Sanitation

May 18, 1986|DAN SEWELL | Associated Press

LULLY, Haiti — People in hundreds of villages like this one across Haiti still wait for change to come from the overthrow of the Duvalier dictatorship last February.

Life is still a hardship, and they remain without electricity, plumbing, sanitation or medical care.

"I start when the sun comes up, and I stop after it goes down," said Albert Loussaint, who cuts down trees for lumber with his partner, Christian Pierre. "The work is hard.

"I have 10 children and a wife. And because of this responsibility, I must work every day, even if I am sick. That is why I am getting old fast."

Two Sons Died

Loussaint pointed to one of his children, a 13-year-old boy who looked much younger.

"He is too small because he doesn't get enough nourishment," said Loussaint, adding that two other sons have died.

"God knows, I would like to live someplace else," said a 14-year-old village boy, Mark Andrew. "There is nothing here. The life here is too hard."

He completed his elementary education this year at a missionary-run school in the seaside village of 2,000 people but has no means to attend secondary school in Port-au-Prince, the capital, 40 miles away.

'Bored All of the Time'

"I am bored all of the time," he said. "I can read, but we have no books."

He'd like to continue his education or become a taxi driver, he added, but most likely he'll join his two brothers as a fisherman.

Fishing is the major source of income for villagers, but their homemade wooden boats and primitive methods make it difficult for any to prosper.

About two-thirds of Haiti's 6 million people live in villages of mud huts, wooden shacks or tiny concrete houses. Haiti's per-capita income of $310 annually would be a lot of money for some of them. Life expectancy is 48 years, and a third of all children die before age 5, according to the statistics of international organizations.

Isolation, Ignorance

The isolation and ignorance of the villages is a major reason that Haiti has been ruled nearly continuously by dictators since winning its independence from France in 1804, said Marlene Gay, a U.S. Peace Corps associate director who did doctoral research into Haitian village life.

"It isn't any accident. It's a strategy that has been used throughout history to maintain the status quo," said Gay, whose Haitian grandparents and their ancestors lived in villages. "Now, the people are going to want something better, better distribution of the wealth."

But she cited some important changes for villagers in recent years:

- Less isolation, because some villagers have radios and can listen to news broadcast in Creole by the Roman Catholic Church's Radio Soleil and other stations.

- Increasing literacy, as the church has pushed for wider use of Creole, an African-French dialect spoken in the villages while Haiti's ruling class used French as the official language. Illiteracy in the villages had reached 80% or more.

- The work of American missionaries who came to Haiti in recent years, building schools and churches in the villages. Their presence also weakened the influence in many villages of the voodoo priest, who traditionally served as judge, doctor, mayor and social arbiter.

Villagers here said they hope the Feb. 7 flight of President Jean-Claude Duvalier, ending 28 years of Duvalier family rule, will mean better things.

So far, it hasn't.

Few Doctors

"People get sick here and die, and we never know why," said Nicole Severe, a 23-year-old woman expecting her third child. Her first died in infancy; her second is now 2. The nearest doctor is 20 miles away.

Her husband is a village rarity because he earned a university degree in Port-au-Prince and became a teacher. But his school closed this year and the family has had to borrow money to scrape by since losing his $48 monthly salary.

Village people don't often move to the city in search of work.

"There are no jobs there," Nicole Severe said. "Unless you have money, you are worse off. At least here, you know people, you have friends."

No Regular Mealtimes

Some villagers grow corn or beans on small plots of rented land. Most families have no regular mealtimes. If they have fish or their children find bananas or breadfruit, they eat. Many are hungry much of the time.

With few material possessions, some villagers concentrate on religion. Crime here is nearly unheard of, villagers said, and many more people go to church during the evening than to the lone bar.

Alexis Josef, an 81-year-old former farmer, is the oldest person in the village, and he is blind.

"Life used to be easier," he said. "You could find food easier. Everything was cheaper. Life got worse in Haiti. We don't know why."

'God knows, I would like to live someplace else.'

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