What will you look forward to tomorrow, the next day, or even your future? In the batey, the opportunity to dream is extremely limited, and may call for not looking forward to anything. A batey is a community where Dominicans and more specifically, Haitians join together to make a life finding job opportunities in order to survive. Surrounded by tons of acres of sugarcane and dry dirt, the batey we visited today was quite a site to see, and almost led me to shed a few tears.
We started out our day playing soccer, volleyball, tag, and just interacting with the kids in the batey. My classmates and I all had a great time connecting with the kids, and showing them the attention they seldom receive. Our great friend from Virginia Tech that lives in the batey, Liz, told us that she’s rarely seen adults and parents talk to and interact with their kids. It’s extremely evident, because the kids all gave us their attention every second we were there, even though we couldn’t fully communicate in either Spanish or Creole with them. They were extremely excited to play and talk with us, and it’s safe to say that it made our day!
Most of the kids in the batey are born into it, which means there isn’t much opportunity for a great future. The kids enter school, and attend school until about the 8th grade. After that, unless your family has the funds to shuttle you back and forth to the city of El Seibo for high school (15 miles away), you automatically become a full-time worker. Gas is about seven dollars a gallon in the country and with the money these families make, it’s nearly impossible to be mobile, making it impossible to send your child to school.
There are two different sides in the batey that are separated according to where you’re from. The two sides have vast differences, and are like night and day when compared to each other. The Dominican side of the batey has electricity, indoor plumbing, and their job opportunities are quite different from that of the Haitian side. The Dominicans work within the community; they are the mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and tractor-trailer drivers for the sugarcane community. The Haitians however, go directly to the field, and work an all day shift chopping sugarcane in the sweltering heat, with limited food and water. Work starts around 4am and goes all the way until 7pm. In addition to the unfair work day, Haitians have no electricity, no indoor plumbing, extremely low wages, and housing that may contain 10 times the amount of people compared to the Dominican side. The Haitians that gather the sugarcane are paid according to the weight of sugarcane they cut. A great day in the field yields about 300 pesos which is close to the maximum they would get paid. A great day means the workers are really moving fast that specific day and 300 pesos amounts to about seven U.S. dollars a day. The workers live in extreme poverty, giving their lives few, if any, comforts.
In the United States, I feel that we take so much for granted. Today helped me realize that we truly do have a privileged life because we have that opportunity to basically get what we want. We take for granted the small things such as clean drinking water. I handed a girl my half-filled jug of water, and she immediately got extremely excited, and worshipped the water by holding the jug above her head as if it were gold. We also take advantage of having shoes to wear. I saw a kid that was about the age of four or five step on a broken glass bottle, and act like it was nothing. While I know these kids are probably used to it, it’s just sad to see these kids walking around and playing in rocks with no shoes. I could make an extremely long list of problems in the batey that we just simply take for granted in the United States. I really wish everyone in the U.S would have the opportunity to see what we witnessed today. I really feel it would humble our nation, and in return, make it a better place.
With all of that being said, I do not want to end this blog with a negative note. I walked away with a couple of positive observations from the batey. The Dominicans we met were tremendously nice people. The host family for Liz had hospitality that was unmatched by most people I’ve ever met. The mother cooked a huge meal, which everyone would agree was the best since we’ve been here. She also kept forcing us to eat more, and everyone left over-stuffed. She was very sweet, and she appeared to be happy with her current situation. She joked around the entire time, and even fed the kids that decided to follow us after playing games. That really opened up a soft spot in my heart for her family, because that was the definition of caring. Overall, the people we met were very friendly. They weren’t shy to approach us and greet us, and that aspect of it made it very comfortable. Today was by far the best experience I’ve ever witnessed.
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