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...

Today, I am Not Proud to be an American

When I was in Tahrir Square and a gun went off, I remember being afraid of the cops.  I instantly knew that the gun was not from a civilian, and it crossed my mind that the scariest thing in the world may just be the feeling of living in a place where you can’t trust the people whose job it is to protect you. Certainly the scariest thing about that day, for me, was knowing that if I were in trouble, no one in uniform was going to help me or anyone else. Last night, I read the moving open letter from Nathan Brown, a member of the UC Davis faculty to  Chancellor Linda Katehi, calling for her resignation.  The chancellor called in cops to break up peaceful protesters, and the cops came wearing full riot gear and beat the defenseless protestors with batons.  A week later, students and faculty came together to protest this brutality, and again the chancellor called in those same cops. A few images stick out in my mind from the videos I’ve been watching, and one of them even made me cry.  A professor holds out her wrists for a zip-tie arrest, and instead a cop grabs her by the hair and drags her to the ground.  After, a young woman hides in the bushes and every cop who passes her jabs her at least once with a baton, but several due it more than that.  When a young man tries to stop them, he is put in a headlock, and goes limp, but is then hit repeatedly with a baton.  While he is...
Protest

Protest

I knew that if there were any demonstrations while I was in Egypt, I was going.  Absolutely, 100%.  So when my friend Sarah, a journalist, got the call to cover a march to the Maspero Building, I was excited. A week and a half prior, 27 people were killed and about 300 were injured.  We started at Tahrir Square, a place where I spent a lot of time in 2009, and a place that became the epicenter of the Egyptian Revolution.  I photographed some demonstrators and signs, and Sarah conducted a few brief interviews. She annotated the entire thing for me, translating a speech here, or pointing out the photo of a martyred blogger there. We came upon a Salafist demonstration.  I was surprised by how many families I saw, and the carnivalesque atmosphere.  People were selling food and painting faces.  I was embarrassed to admit it, and maybe it was just all the years of training from Western media, but when I saw so many people jumping up and down chanting “Allah u Akhbar” it made me nervous.  And the more Sarah told me about the Salafists, the more comfortable I became with that reaction. Vendors are everywhere in Tahrir, hawking food and protest regalia. For a few pounds, this guy will paint your face with the Egyptian flag.  At Sarah’s direction, we (Sarah, myself and her brand new intern Hayden) walked toward the Maspero building.  What was happening at Tahrir was interesting for me to see, but was not newsworthy.  Sheff says there are protests and demonstrations every Friday, and that they’re overusing Tahrir.  It took a lot of...

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