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...
But Things Just Get so Crazy, Living Life Gets Hard to do

But Things Just Get so Crazy, Living Life Gets Hard to do

In honor of Naman’s birthday, this is something I wrote about him while I was in Cuba earlier this summer.  It is inconceivable to me how much harder it is to be here after Naman.  I plan for all the times I will miss him in America.  Graduation, awards ceremonies, memorials, fundraisers, whatever.  But Cuba?  I didn’t expect all of Dominican popular music to follow me here, which I suppose was naïve. I guess I just didn’t count on it.   I didn’t count on him. I never thought Havana could surprise me again.  Or at least, I thought it would continue to surprise me in the same sort of ways it always has.  But instead Havana had something new in store: memories of something old.  Of someone who will never grow old. He was never even here, but now I see him all over the streets of Havana.  I think of him more than the residents of the Real World house, more than last year’s Cuba kids, more than all the Cubans I have left behind.  He’s in the music, the conversations with the people.  The boat rides and palm creations and children’s hand stands.  The silly things the students do, the choppy Spanish and the Harry Potter references.  Accio memories. I suppose in this way, he will never grow old and will never go away.  He will keep traveling the world as I do, as we all do.  He will show up in Ghana and South Africa, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.  He will be there at every Best Buddies race, and every SEI event.  He will be...


In October, we lost someone so magnetic that he’s still pulling us together, even in death.  Someone so funny and kind that at his funeral we laughed (almost) as much as we cried.  Someone so good to the core that he was donating as much time and money as he could, without fanfare or pretense.  Someone who is the only person who would know what to say to during all of these raw times. I met Naman on my trip to the Dominican Republic in May and June of 2011.  He was on my team, Rojo, and immediately became the most distinctive person on the entire trip.  As many have said, everyone felt like he was their best friend on the trip, because he treated everyone like the most important person he had ever met.  As we rumbled in a hot van with too few cracked pleather seats around that wonderful island country, Naman was always there with a song, dance, or imitation to keep our spirits up.  He always took his work seriously, although he never saw it as work. Everyone grieves in their own way.  But for people like us, people who can’t sleep at night because we can’t stop thinking of injustice in the world, people who are no fun at parties because we keep talking about this great new NGO or social business we just learned about, passive or solitary grief is not for us.  We have to do something, we have to organize, mobilize, and funderize.  We have to do this not just because it’s who we are, but also because it’s who Naman...

Return Traveling

I never meant to be a return traveler. The allure of more and more exotic passport stamps is pretty strong. Almost as strong as the allure of new and different countries. But at this point, I sit firmly in the category of a return traveler. I went to France in 2006 and returned in 2010. I went to Egpyt for six weeks in 2009 and returned for a long weekend in 2011. I went to Cuba in 2010 for three months and returned in 2012 for a month. I went to the Dominican Republic in 2011 and went back six weeks later. I have been to Canada and most of my domestic travel spots countless times. It makes sense that I’ve become a return traveler. In many other ways, I am not like the typical traveler, or travel blogger. I prefer my stays to last a month at a minimum. I almost always speak the language. I research the history, culture, and politics heavily and before and during my stay. This is just another way of settling myself deeper into the places I go. One value is that I get to see the changes. Pre- and post-Revolution Egypt look incredibly different, and I loved seeing how the place and people had changed. The progress in Cuba has been amazing, and I’ll be writing about it more later on. With the Republica Domincana, the two trips were close together but that meant everyone remember me. I had the great experience of keeping my promises and seeing Mata during the rainy season we had heard so much about. France is just a second skin,...
The Mirabal Sisters: Revolutionary Wild Women

The Mirabal Sisters: Revolutionary Wild Women

The Mirabal sisters can be felt everywhere in the Dominican Republic. They are on currency and stamps, celebrated in statues and in literature, and the Mariposas (butterflies) seem to float through the very air. At its heart, In the Time of the Butterflies is a book of historical fiction about the four Mirabal sisters of the Dominican Republic. They went up against the dictator Trujillo and each woman became a revolutionary in her own way. This all happened in the 1930s-1960s, at a time when Haitians had been massacred by the 100,000s and anyone (or the family of anyone) who disagreed with Trujillo was subject to jail time, disappearance, loss of property, torture and even death. Cuba’s own Revolution also plays a role in the ideology and hope of the Mirabal sisters. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. It’s how I learned about Apartheid, China’s One Child Policy, and racial reality in the pre-Civil Rights South. In fact, for a long time I thought writing historical fiction was going to be the small way in which I would attempt to save the world. I love that Alvarez shows the Mirabal sisters as women first, even when they couldn’t prioritize their womanhood to themselves. They were sisters and daughters and lovers and mothers and friends. It’s not like they grew up saying how they were going to be martyrs destined for Dominican currency and to be the founding example for the UN’s Day Against Violence Towards Women. They grew up as the Mirabal Sisters, and the capital T in “The” came later. The perspective shifts from one sister to the next throughout time, giving...

What We Won’t Do Abroad

The last thing to be touched by a foreign hand is the hair.” Arian, our ACT liaison mentioned this during one of our pre-departure orientation sessions.  While I don’t think this just applies to foreign countries, as many college students prefer to cut their hair back home over break, she certainly has a point.  I know of very few people who have had their hair done while abroad for a semester or less.  A definite exception is the DR spring break and dialogue crews, which included a bunch of people who had their hair done, but not cut. Nevertheless, few people are willing to get their hair cut abroad.  For some reason, the travelers I know are more likely to get a tattoo or piercing abroad than a hair cut.  Does that seem strange to anyone else?  Of course, a few months after Arian said this, Kathy and I died each other’s hair in the Hotel Metropolitan bathrooms, and a few students had their hair cut.  But it was fewer than 15 of us out of 151, and I feel like an at home dye job is the same no matter where you are in the world, so I don’t really count. Others have rules about dating abroad.  Some won’t enter into a serious relationship, knowing it will likely fail when they return home, while others won’t even casually date.  Some people won’t date other people on their trips, but locals are fine; most of the time I find that the reverse is the case. While in third world countries, many have rules about internet usage, and television tends...

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