I asked Sarah about voodoo today, both to hear more about what it actually is and to get her opinion on it. She and some of her friends here have experienced some things or seen some things that make them think that there may be something to it, but it's also important to distinguish between what might be real and what definitely isn't real. While there may have been some experiences that imply a spiritual world, or at least tell Sarah that we shouldn't discredit voodoo completely, apparently there are also plenty of times when simple real-life stuff gets passed off as voodoo. For example, whenever someone goes to the hospital and is sick with something the doctors have never seen before, or is sick with something they know they won't be able to treat (given their skills or the tools/drugs available), doctors will often tell them or their loved ones that it's not a medical problem. The next place you go if you're sick but it's "not a medical problem" is the voodoo priest.
A voodoo priest has many duties, including healing and other positive things, but he can also supposedly cast evil spells on people, or even cause people to suffer and/or die. When the hoped-for outcome actually comes to pass, whether it was healing your disease or killing your enemy, it means you did a good job of pleasing the spirits... and sometimes, the way you do that, is by making sacrifices. Apparently, if your request is big enough, or difficult enough, or important enough, you might even sacrifice your own child. Sarah didn't know how common or widespread that kind of extreme action is, but... it could happen. I don't know how many Haitians still practice voodoo, but I'm under the (uninformed) impression that it's still a very large percent of the population. Oh, and another interesting tidbit is that the voodoo word for demon or evil spirit sounds almost identical to the Hmong word for demon or evil spirit. Pretty bizarre (honestly, it's probably a coincidence) because the Hmong people come from Laos, Thailand, China... while Haitians originally came from Africa. Go figure?
On the subject of religion, one of the somewhat strange cultural things for me has been that almost every white person I've met is Christian! I know a lot of people come down here on religious missions, but even the people who are down here for aquaponics, midwifery, and orphanages all seem to be "good, God-fearing people." It's a little odd for me just because I've always been used to having friend groups that are a total mix of Christians, Jews, atheists, etc. (The list goes on!) It's not a problem for me, especially because no one has asked if I'm Christian or made sure that I pray or anything like that. I don't feel like I stick out too much, and I have no trouble hanging out with any and all of these people, but it's a new experience for me that at any point, everyone around me might start discussing with each other how they pray to God. There have been a few comments made about how other religions are actually worshiping demons and evil devils (when they think they're worshiping other good gods), but other than the less tolerant people like that, it's been fine. There's a weekly "church on the beach" that all the ex-pats go to, and the long-timers have a weekly bible study, too. I don't want to generalize, but so far I *think* that every white person here from America or Canada is a Christian. Go figure!
The OTHER interesting thing involving spiritual "stuff" that I've been hearing about lately is Marita's story. She told me a lot about the journey that eventually brought her to Haiti and has kept her here doing projects... She talked about a 5-week trance when her spirit was apparently in Haiti before she was physically here, and she said she feels this enormous, evil energy vortex all in and around Haiti that, once released and sent away, will allow peace and unity to save the world (apparently Haiti holds the key). There was also talk of reincarnation, and past lives as either a slave or slave owner, and... I was starting to lose track. But it was very interesting to listen to her life story, and now that she's here, she has a ton of energy to start lots of projects that sound like they'll really benefit Haitians. She's very excited about what she's doing, which makes her fun to talk to!