Mata los Indios

Mata los Indios

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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...
Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls: Getting a Nose Piercing While Abroad

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls: Getting a Nose Piercing While Abroad

I think my nose piercing arrived in the airport before I did. Apparently my brother was pretty sure it had been around for a while (it hadn’t) and my sister-in-law opted not to say anything since she was pretty sure my brother was wrong. Clearly the smart one, she didn’t want to be the first person to mention it in case neither of my parents had noticed. While in the Dominican Republic, my friend Allegra and I stayed in Santo Domingo instead of going to 27 Waterfalls. It was really our only free day, and a combination of  too much homework, not enough sleep, and no particular inclination toward flinging ourselves off of cliffs made it an easy decision. I have the added bonus of being quite close to blind, and the idea of attempting to hurl myself in a very specific way without being able to see was incredibly uninviting.  So instead, we went for a walk, ate some good pizza, did our homework, got some sleep, and each got a nose piercing.  Happy Dominican Mother’s Day! Allegra was the perfect person to have with me on this adventure. We had each wanted a nose piercing for a long time, but we were also both committed to safety. We made a deal that we would go and check out the equipment, and if either of us felt uncomfortable, we would both just leave. It was nice knowing that neither of us would regret getting a nose piercing since it wasn’t an impulse decision, but we also both knew that it would be worth it to wait if we...

Cover Up

Say it’s for respect, say it’s because of religion, say it’s just a rule and don’t ask questions, say it’s arbitrary and sexist.  Just don’t say we need to wear high necklines and low hems so that we are not sexually harassed.  Don’t do it.  Don’t victim blame, don’t lie.  In harassment-heavy countries like Cuba and Egypt, I have seen anecdotally that the amount of clothing is irrelevant.  Cuban guys say piropos to all women, regardless of clothing and almost regardless of age.  White women get slightly more commentary, but no amount of clothing will make me less of a gringa. In Egypt, it has been found that women believe they get harassed less when they cover up more (more being even more than we do in the West, since it includes the abaya, the hijab and the niqab.)  However, these same women actually self-report higher levels of harassment when they are more covered.  It’s just an instance of intense cognitive dissonance, egged on by years of messaging from men, women, harassers and victims alike claiming, as if in some desperate plea for relief, that if only we could wear the right amount and combination of clothing, they would just leave us the hell alone.  But they don’t.  Women in full abaya and hijab get raped in public.  Women in jeans and modest shirts are assaulted all the time. To say that I can stop (or even stem) harassment by changing my clothes is an indictment of women and men alike.  It says men cannot control themselves and thus need to be prevented from seeing that which entices them...

Field Work

Put on: sneakers: anything flip-floppy will get muddy or you’ll feel the rocks through them as you scramble up hills shorts or a skirt that come to the knee, so you attract as little attention as possible.  Even though the people you interview will be wearing less.  and even though covering up more DOES NOT correlate to less attention.  more on that later. deodorant.  so much deodorant. Leave at home: any flashy jewelry, sine you’re already a big enough target (for…?) revealing clothing, since we’re in a Christian country with a Christian organization and a bus full of gringos is weird enough as it is Get in a van with 14-16 other people, even if it’s only meant for 10-12.  Hope there’s air conditioning as you turn on your ipod and look out the window.  Try not to get sick from the stop and go city traffic, the lack of lanes and the pock-marked country “roads.”  When you get to a batey: Leave your camera and your water bottle.  Children will want them and you probably don’t have enough to share. Bring notebook, pen, and a translator if you can’t do the job for yourself.  Be prepared for conversations across 3-4 languages. Days are long, people are unhappy, and the questions get as tired as you will be by the end of the day. You get covered in dirt and sweat and clothes stick to skin as skin sticks to vinyl and we all stick to each other as we bump along the dirt roads.  This particular survey is hard because most of the people interviewed are no longer...

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...

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