This trip is more difficult than most because of the in-country travel and accommodations. You may be sleeping under a mosquito net at night, in a dorm-style room with others. Travel in the capitol is okay, but if you go up to the churches in the mountains, be prepared for a five-hour, very jarring car ride. The roads can be terrible in the rural areas – four-wheel drive only. The food will likely be rice and beans, with a little chicken or other meat occasionally.
Haiti is a beautiful country characterized by miles of coastline and a scenic, mountainous interior. Sadly, much of the natural beauty is obstructed by cities with poor infrastructure and massive deforestation because of harmful farming techniques. Port-Au-Prince is especially plagued by overcrowding, and the surrounding ocean waters were negatively affected when tons of debris from the earthquake was dumped into the sea. Still, many of Haiti’s more remote coastlines remain home to beautiful beaches with clear blue waters, and numerous smaller towns and mountainous villages retain much if the land’s natural charm.
As with all Caribbean Islands, the weather in Haiti is typically hot. The winter months of December and January tend to be the mildest, so while it is still hot during the day it can become somewhat cool at night. There are a few remote mountainous regions that actually can be quite cool. Haiti receives a great deal of precipitation, but it is sunny most of the time. Hurricanes and tropical storms strike on occasion, and heavy rainstorms are common during much of the year.
Life for most people in Haiti is simple, and modern conveniences are limited. Most people in urban areas do have electricity, but outages are common, and the vast majority of Haitian families do not have access to running water. Often urban homes have a large underground water tank that becomes a primary source of water for cooking and bathing. In rural areas, people typically drink from wells or natural springs, and sometimes struggle to safe drinking water. Life moves at a slower pace in Haiti, and numerous hours are devoted to simple tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Typical Haitian homes will have multiple generations or extended family living together, and there is a strong sense of community in Haitian neighborhoods.
Poverty is the norm in Haiti, and most people lack adequate access to basic commodities such as food, water, and shelter. The water supply in earthquake affected areas is universally contaminated so people are forced to purchase bottled water or the cheaper bag water. Further, many families displaced from the earthquake still do not have an adequate home. It is evident that the poor economy and political instability remain at the root of Haitian poverty, and until people have adequate opportunity for employment widespread poverty will surely remain. Employment is scarce everywhere in Haiti. In the rural areas, there is a lack of development and in Port-Au-Prince there is severe over-crowing combined with poor infrastructure. In spite of the severe needs, there is a great deal of vitality in the Haitian people, and mission teams are always overwhelmed by the energy and passion of their newfound Haitian friends.
Haitian Creole is the dominant language throughout Haiti. This is primarily French based, but it also borrows from Spanish, English, and African dialects. While it has been put into written form, Creole originated as a spoken language developed by former African slaves and to this day it is primarily a street language. Because of this, French is the business language, and any educated Haitian is expected to fluently read and write in French. Still, many Haitians only speak Creole.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Haiti is 80% Catholic with most remaining Haitians split between the various protestant denominations. This being said, roughly half the population still practices Voodoo, and this maintains a significant place in Haitian society. Tracing all they way back to African religious practices, Voodoo is intricately tied to the Catholic church in Haiti, and Voodoo ceremonies and temples are common throughout the country. Typically, Haitians who practice Voodoo have strong opposition to protestant Christianity.