A trip to the West
¨Haitiano or Haitiana¨ was the first question the Dominican police asked my friend Jess when she reported the theft of her cell phone and $1000 pesos($30US) while on vacation at the beach. They automatically assumed a Haitian person was responsible for the crime. The Haitian Dominican experience is often one of great tension that stem from hundreds of years of political instability and fighting between the two countries. Haitians pour into the Dominican Republic looking for job opportunites that don´t exist in Haiti. They often meet harsh discrimination and fight hard labor for menial pay. It is harder for a Haitian to get residency in the DR than it is for a Dominican to get residency in the US, almost impossible. While the woman that stole Jessica´s belongings was in fact a Dominican with a reputation for ripping off tourists, the racism exemplifies the difficulty Haitians have in blending into Dominican society. They have the darkest of the dark skin and most often speak creole, not spanish, but last weekend, I did meet some Haitians who spoke Spanish and had different views on life in the DR.
My friend Sara and I traveled four hours by gua-gua (a large van people pile into) , taxi, bus and motoconcho to the western border the DR shares with Haiti to stay in a town surrounded by rice fields and banana groves. One of the best experiences I´ve had so far was the riding on the back of a motoconcho (motorbike) past the verdant rice fields with desert mountains in the distance. The dusty town of Palo Verde has a population that is roughly 25% Haitian and the rest are lower to middle class Dominicans. Haitians work in the fields alongside Domincians, but their basic relationship is coexistance. Some Dominicans claim Haitians are all machete fighting theives, but others have neighborly relationships. It is easy distinguishing a Dominican concrete or slatboard house from a Haitian hovel of sheet metal and scrap wood. I stayed with a peace corps worker, Molly, who was fluent in Creole and Spanish and was a great help to both Sara and I on our research.
My research project studies nutrition, lifestyle and the relation to chronic disease. Sara is studying the Haitian vs. Dominican experience in the health system and took measurements of weight and height to check for malnutrition. Some Haitian men were quite taken with the scale and weighed themselves one after another to their great amusement. Despite the desert heat and voracious mosquitos our two days in Palo Verde offered us more than just research. I was met with open arms by a band of young Haitian girls and their baby sisters. I was often offered a drink, or even a meal, when I visited a home and I had cherries fresh picked from the abundant cherry trees. I learned more about the peace corps experience from Molly and as much as I respect her and her hard work, I decided that I couldn´t put my life on hold for two years. As she put it, ¨Two years is a long time to be uncomfortable,¨referring to the intense sun and swarms of mosquitos that breed in the rice fields outside her front door.
So we finished our research in Palo Verde and made the long but easy journey back. Just tell a Dominican driver where you want to go and he'll find a way to get you there. I´ve been doing more research in Jarabacoa and more often than not, people are delighted to talk to me. Tomorrow I travel to Santiago and I have one more nutrition program for the students in the CIC program and thier homestay families, but otherwise my time in Jarabacoa is winding down. I´ve had about enough of the heavy Dominican diet and don´t know if I can stomach another meal of mashed plantains and fried salami, but yesterday Frederissa made a heavenly lasagna that was a nice break. Food is often a subject of conversation between students and many people have a list of all the fast food joints they plan on hitting up back in the States. I am looking forward to a nice crisp salad and a cold juicy apple. It´s the simple things in life...