Open Wound: Life in a Batey

Open Wound: Life in a Batey

On the first day that my fellow student researchers and I returned to Mata los Indios in the Dominican Republic, our trek was pretty muddy. As we squished and squelched our way to the batey, the velcro on my trusty Merrell sandals became so clogged that it wouldn’t function, leaving me with a raw, open blister on the inside of my right ankle. Through cement mixing, dirt sifting, and slogging across Cruz Verde in the rain, keeping it clean and dry was impossible. I tried to go barefoot when inside and to refrain from complaining, but during an even muddier return trip to Mata los Indios, it was painful and dirt-filled. Mata los Indios, a small batey in the rural province of Monte Plata, is less than a mile from the village of Cruz Verde, where we were staying, but a world away economically. It’s hard to imagine that there is something smaller or more vulnerable than a village, but in the Dominican Republic, there is: a batey. A batey is a small company town that was set up for sugar cane workers decades ago. There are hundreds of them throughout the country, near the cane fields and usually owned by either the government or the owner of the fields. There have been times in the last century when workers were imprisoned on the batey until the work was done, and there was a time when all workers suspected of being Haitian were rounded up and murdered en masse. A typical batey cement block structure. Inside it would likely be broken up into several different homes.  Most of the sugar industry left the Dominican...
Hurling in County Clare: Up the Banner!

Hurling in County Clare: Up the Banner!

Our first full day in Ireland turned out to be the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, between County Clare and County Cork. As we drove west from Dublin to Galway, we kept passing cars decked out in blue and yellow flags. As we got to Clare, we started seeing homes with all manner of decorations. Since we were in Clare at the appointed time, our Vagabond guide, Wendy, asked if we’d like to stop into a pub to watch the match. This is a great example of the benefit of a small, personalized tour–they can be nimble in the way a large tour never could. Chatting with strangers in pubs while getting a glimpse of every day Ireland was really our top priority, so we were happy to go with Wendy’s improvisation. Like everywhere in Ireland, people were friendly and welcoming, answering all our questions about the sport. Hurling is like a blend of field hockey and lacrosse.  15 players on as side try to get the ball, or sliotar, through the uprights, either above the crossbar for one point, or below it for a goal, which is three points. They whack the ball with a stick called a hurley that has a bit of a clubbed end, which is scooped on one side. It looks rather like a field hockey stick. Wendy had gone over the basics of play and scoring, but it was interesting to learn more about hurling as a cultural institution.  Played for over 3,000 years, hurling is one of the Gaelic sports, governed by the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association.)  All the players are amateurs (one...
Beers for BARCC

Beers for BARCC

Last year, my wonderful friend Liz joined my team for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) Walk for Change. As a fundraiser, she hosted a party with donated food and drink. The premise was that guests would donate to the BARCC Walk what they would have spent on a night out. The fundraiser was one of those great nights you hope they will all be, drinking pickle-backs and dancing to awesomely bad music. Liz raised a whole bunch of dough, but we realized the only thing holding her back from raising more money was the small size of her apartment. This year, Liz and I were determined to be even more competitive in the team standings. We also smartened up and joined forces with Hillary, who had captained her own team the year before. Lucky for us, Liz started working at Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville running their community events, and Hillary is a veteran of the food service industry. All three of ushad many friends who we knew wouldn’t donate to the BARCC Walk for a variety of reasons, but who would come to a fun event and throw cash in a jar. And so, #BeersforBARCC was born. Aeronaut donated the space free of charge, and Liz, Dillon, and several other Aeronaut bar staff agreed to work the event for no pay and no tips, which is so generous it’s bonkers. While folks would have to pay for the beer due to Massachusetts state law, we wanted them to feel like they were still getting a worthwhile experience in exchange for their donations. So Hillary and Liz got...
Going Local in an Irish Pub in Dingle

Going Local in an Irish Pub in Dingle

From the beginning, the main goal of our family trip to Ireland, aside from great outdoor adventures, was to soak up daily Irish life. The Irish pub experience was a priority, talking to locals, buying rounds and listening to sessions of live music, whether traditional or contemporary. My dad and brother would have hooked themselves up to a Guinness IV drip if that was an option.  Luckily, Vagabond Tours focuses on local, small-town experiences and really allows travelers to direct the priorities of the tour, so we spent every night in one Irish pub or another listening to live music and sampling stout. Perhaps the best, though, happened completely by accident. We were in Dingle, an amazing little seaside town just over the Conner Pass. We started our night at a pub that many had recommended to us, but it didn’t take long to realize that the only Irish folks inside were working the bar or playing the session. It was a nice enough place and the music was great, but we didn’t come to Ireland to hang out with other Irish-Americans. Instead, we headed toward the infamous Dick Mack’s. All night I had been insisting that there’s no way an Irish pub of  such infamy would close early on a weekend, so of course when we arrived at around 10 or 11, the place was shuttered. Our hopes of Dick Mack’s smashed, we walked back toward our hotel, giving up on our plans for an Irish pub for the night. We met up with Kevin and Michelle, my brother and sister-in-law, who had gone ahead to scout seats...
Dune Bashing in Qatar: Getting out of Doha

Dune Bashing in Qatar: Getting out of Doha

“Dune Bashing.” As soon as I heard the term, I know I wanted to go do it. I’ve been in Doha, Qatar since the start of the new year running a conference for work.  As part of an effort to let attendees relax and get to know the country better, our partners organized a caravan of off-road vehicles to take us romping around the desert near the Saudi border.  The ride was actually quite gentle compared to my past experience in the Egyptian Sahara, but it was still thrilling to cruise along the very edge of a dune, and bounce around the desert for a while. At this camp at the edge of the desert, about an hour away from the city of Doha, we took a break while the drivers got to work. They let the air out of all the tires, filling their air was a loud hiss that could be heard over the wind whistling through the sand. We enjoyed tea and huddle for warmth while some friends took camel rides around the tent. The angle was actually even crazier because I was also in a car at an angle, and didn’t have the good sense to use my new camera’s internal level to straighten out the horizon (which also had its own slopes.) A US dollar on the mirror and oil rigs in the background. Eventually we got out, and it was only a matter of time before the participants started going down the dunes. Some locals I talked to said that dune bashing is one of the few forms of local entertainment, especially in...

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