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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...

Happiness and Poverty

People ask all the time if the poorest of the poor are happy.  Actually, they don’t.  ask me if the people of country x are happy, most likely without realizing where they fall on the poverty scale.  I’ve been learning to distinguish between incredibly similar levels of poverty, which at first glance are indistinguishable since they’re all so devastating compared to the America many of us live in.  When we think of poverty, it’s fast food and metal detectors in schools and no health insurance.  Poverty in a batey is no food all day, no high school diploma even if you manage to walk to a school 3 km away and no access to health care. The things we look for to distinguish amongst the levels of poverty: Tin roof vs. cement walls vs. wood How healthy the dogs are (are they pets or a nuisance?) distance in km to a clinic or school presence or absence of power lines, televisions, microwaves, washing machines etc the color of children’s hair, the presence or absence of pits in their teeth, their age as compared to their apparent height and weight distance from the closest city, paved road, or bus stop When we go visit the bateyes (which are current or former sugar plantation barracks, mostly inhabited by people somewhere in nationality limbo between Haitian and Dominican, and largely forgotten by the world) it’s often hard to process.  Kids come running and singing, or sometimes people spit at our feet.  There is an overwhelming sadness to seeing so many grown adults with no work all day and so many caved in...

Sacrifice

Ive been thinking a lot lately about Paul Farmer and sacrifice.  While he continually states he is not the model (and, as Jim Kim says, if he is the model, we’re all screwed) it’s hard not to feel that farmer wants us all to do what he does, and that perhaps we should. And what exactly has PF done?  He’s spent the last few decades founding and running Partners in Health/Zanmi Lasante, treating patients for free in Haiti’s central plateau, drastically cutting into the effects and prevalence of AIDS and TB, raising tons of money and speaking all over the country, and getting his degree in medical anthropology. But he’s also spent them turning into a man the love of his life could never marry, barely spending time with his child and the woman he did eventually marry, often unwittingly slighting his close friend Jim Kim, spending no more than a month or so in any place other than Haiti, flying across the world on a weekly basis or more, running himself ragged and almost dying of the very disease he so often treats. Paul gave up much of his youth, family life, friends and certainly any semblance of a normal medical school career.  Of course, it would be hard to say he should have kept those things and instead let thousands (or more?) die, remain in prison, or catch MDR because he didn’t work tirelessly on a new protocol for treating it. So to what extend does a person need to give up everything in order to help others and succeed at it?  Are you allowed to have...

No Man’s Land

“It’s up to you, and you’re all adults.  But I think it’s a risk not worth taking.  And I’m not going and neither is my daughter.  But it’s up to you.  “ And with that, we tensely left the bus, about 20 of us, and solemnly walked toward the metal gate with soldiers out front. We carried no money, no cameras, and had removed our jewelry.  Many of the girls put on sweaters.  We were the only white people.  We were accompanied by a plainclothes Dominican policemen, but also warned that should the need arise, he had no jurisdiction on the other side of the gate, and could not help us. “I’m seeing a lot of automatic weapons here.” We were entering the no man’s land at the border crossing in Jimaní, a place ungoverned by either the Dominicans or the Haitians.  Instead, inside we found two blue helmets from Peru.  For all intents and purposes, it is a DMZ, although I’ve never heard it formally referred to that way.  We could see the line formed of cement, barbed wire and worn path coming all the way down a mountain ahead of us.  To the left was the DR, and to the right, Haiti.  After the austere warning from our professor, it was no surprise that only nine of us and the Dominican guide ventured past the gate. Inside we found people selling rum, sneakers, juice, watches, bandannas, food, and of course Presidente, the national beer.  Trucks were backed up as we got closer to the border of Haiti itself, marked with barbed wire, cement, and more men with...

But I’m Dominican

After a brief chat with our bus driver about logistics with Esther, I asked his name: Aristidos. Ah! Como el presidente de Ayiti, Aristide … Si, pero (shakes head vigorously) nooooo.  Soy dominicano! It seems no one here wants to be Haitian or even vaguely associated with that 1/3 of the island.  When I was in Mata los Indios in March, kreyol-speaking Haitian-born people were insistent that they were Dominican. Even though we knew they were a majority Haitian community, so few would own up to their native tongue, instead nodding along to Spanish questions they couldn’t understand. I really can’t blame them.  Haitians can’t get papers (or cédulas, the state-issued id cards) which means they cannot get diplomas, they cannot vote, and their children cannot go to school.  And it doesn’t really matter whether they were born here, or their parents were born here.  To be Haitian is to be persona non grata. Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Like this:Like...

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