Mata los Indios

Mata los Indios

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Varadero

Picture this: you’ve spent three weeks living in a beautiful foreign country but have barely seen the beaches.  You only have two showers and they’re both always cold, and you’ve been eating arrozcompollo morning noon and night since you’ve been here.  Your mattress is thin, the pillows are stuffed with rags and old cotton batting. But then you get the best news: you’re headed to an all-inclusive resort on the longest uninterrupted beach in the world.  All you can eat food, much of which comes from la Yuma.  All you can drink liquor, but the only one that matters is rum.  The showers are hot, and there’s one for every pair of people. Okay, this place creeped me out. Also among the amenities?  Cubans are bussed in and out every evening, and only if they have proper identification proving that they work on a resort.  This way, there are no pesky hungry people ruining your beach view.  Bingo is conducted in English, French, Spanish and German.  At every meal beef–no matter that outside of these tourist traps is like winning the lottery to find beef from a cow in a Cuban restaurant. “I can’t even say ho-laaa!” the tourists cackle, mostly Canadians and British.  People stumble around at all hours, never leaving the specified resort area.  Never removing their precious plastic bracelets that separate them from the rabble that is Cuba. We only stayed for three days, but for most, this is all they will ever see of Cuba. We stuff our faces, we shower several times a day.  We drink all day long, accomplishing little else.  We cook...
Apres moi, le deluge

Apres moi, le deluge

I awoke last week to a facebook update from Angie: Mata is underwater.  Mata is incomunicado.  My reply: come mierda.  Eat shit.  Sort of the Spanish equivalent of the f-bomb.  For Mata los Indios and other bateyes, a flood, even for a short time, can be devastating.  It means the truck with potable water cannot get through, so people go thirsty or get sick from what few water sources they have near their homes.  It means crops die, so what little subsistence farming they have is easily swept away.  It means no new supplies get through, so commerce stops.  For those who did have the money to buy food, the current supply will run out or rot soon enough.  All that week, I had been working on my project plan, my final paper for the summer 1 classes that I sometimes forget are attached to this trip.  Grades seem like an after thought not because we aren’t learning, but rather because we are so very busy doing it.  We had the option of doing a research paper or some sort of proposal that would concretely help the DR and the populations we saw.  I can easily think of research topics, and love doing that sort of work, but for the first time in my life, a research paper seemed cowardly.  It seems imperative that I at least outline a plan for how to do something, to accomplish some goal toward the alleviation of suffering, even if it is slight. I don’t know if my proposal is good, or big enough, or business-y enough, and the troop of freshmen who...

Batey

Once upon a time, the DR could make a lot of money selling sugar all over the world.  But it needed more workers, so they imported Haitians by the thousands.  But they didn’t ant the Haitians to stick around, so during the dead season they were kicked out.  And on and on it has gone for decades: importing Haitians to do the work Dominicans won’t, and kicking them out as soon as they’ve served their purpose.  They also massacred Haitians by the thousands, in 1937–except for those working on the all-important cane plantations. If you’re born in a batey and your parents don’t have papers, that means you can never become Dominican.  You can never get a high school diploma, even if you attend every class and get straight A’s.  You aren’t entitled to health care, and you can’t own land.  You can be deported at any time for really any reason at all.  It’s likely you can only make money on odd jobs, cane cutting or re-selling clothes, since Dominicans don’t trust Haitians to cook food properly, and you can’t complete the requisite education to be a doctor, lawyer or something other profession.  And with cane wages low and us purchase orders falling fast, even the soul-crushing work that is cane cutting is hard to come by. Living in a batey is another challenge altogether.  You may have electricity, but that certainly wont be all the time.  You may have a toilet that you cant put toilet paper in, the kind that needs a bucket of water to flush.  If you’re lucky.  But you probably just have a...

Luxury and Insult

Sometimes we forget that the totally normal things we do at home can be seen as totally not okay elsewhere.  Before going to Egypt, we were asked not to go running through Cairo.  For one thing, between the smog, the traffic and the craterous sidewalks, it’s quite dangerous.  And for another, it’s insulting.  Some people ignored this advice and ran anyway.  In their mind, no one has the right to tell them not to exercise.  But in the mind of an Egyptian, running is an ostentatious show of wealth.  For hard-working poor people, the idea that you have so much energy and time that you can exert yourself for fun is downright insulting and bizarre. In Benin, students came to me upset about the behavior of an otherwise excellent student.  He was such a nice guy, such a good friend, that they couldn’t believe his parents had raised him, “that way.”  Confused, I figured out they were referring to his smoking.  Like in the Dominican Republic, very few people can afford cigarettes in Benin.  For someone to smoke them often in public would be akin to flashing expensive watches and purses in an American slum. Whenever traveling, there are special considerations that vegetarians need to take to ensure their health and suitable meal options.  It’s important, though, to remember that vegetarianism (while some people firmly believe it has the moral high ground) is a way of being picky.  This means that additional limitations beyond the lack of meat can often be incredibly difficult to honor, and are generally seen as demanding.  The concept of vegetarianism is upsetting for many...

Business Training

It is the expected common practice in the micro-credit industry not to advise client on their enterprises in a direct way.  Every time I learn about MFIs, this is a huge controversy.  The reasoning behind this is that if the business fails and it  was recommended by the MFI, the associate would blame them and quite possibly sever ties.  Further, it is less empowering to the borrower. Unfortunately, whenever I hear these arguments I can’t help but feel that they are cowardly.  After spending time in the markets and bateyes seeing countless Haitians all reselling the same clothes to the same, saturated markets it is hard to believe that MFIs are doing their best to help the poorest the poor if they watch impotently while this continues.  Moreover, isn’t there greater empowerment from learning how to create a successful business and following through, rather than slowly failing in a business that was doomed to fail from the start? While many MFIs boast financial training programs (which donors love) they are largely brief and lackluster.  In the case of Esperanza, the training is for five days, entirely in Spanish (despite the 40% of their borrowers who are Haitian) and also includes the overall orientation to Esperanza, as opposed to just business training and financial literacy. Consider that many of their first-time associates are illiterate, innumerate and have been through very few years of schooling. In my mind, there is a lot of room for training that does not involve direct intervention into the business type or plan of the associate.  For example, numeracy levels could be improved, .  Bookkeeping and...

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