Finally I am moved-in at my permanent site and should be able to write more now that my schedule has slowed down. About a week before I arrived here our APCD (the Peace Corps director of the Health Program) interviewed the health group one last time and gave us a small packet about the communities he had chosen for us to volunteer in for the next two years. Soon after we swore-in as official volunteers, repeating the same speech that the president uses to swear into office. Here are some photos from the ceremony...
The health volunteers
My language class
Health volunteers during the ceremoney
More photos can be found here:
The name of my new community is Casa Colorada. It is a batay in the East of the country, 45 minutes on a motorcycle from the closest city, Hato Mayor. The main form of transportation to and from my site is by motorcycle and the road is not paved, we have dirt with gravel hear and there. The batay communities here have intrigued me from day one. I expressed this interest to our APCD, which is why I think he chose this site for me. The population of these communities is a mix of Dominicans and Haitians and Creole is spoken as well as Spanish. Since Creole shares many similarities with French, I have been interested in learning some Creole as well. Additionally, the racial dynamic between Haitians and Dominicans is incredibly interesting and to have the chance to be in the middle of it sounded like the experience of a lifetime.
What exactly is a batay you ask? A batay is a rural Haitian/Dominican community originally developed to temporarily house Haitian migrant workers during the sugar cane harvest. As these communities were developed to house Haitians only during the harvest, housing and sanitation was not created to withstand long-term use. Nevertheless, Haitians and Dominicans over time began to live in these communities full-time.
One way you can pick out a batay when your moving through the Dominican countryside is by the barrack-style housing. Here in Casa Colorado we have one of these barrack-style houses still here housing a group of families but the rest of the houses are personal family homes. The batays, like mine, still lack proper housing and sanitation and are commonly marginalized due to the high population of Haitians lacking Dominican citizenship papers among other things.
Today, due to internal government issues regarding taxing and exportation, the sugar cane industry has collapsed and what remains are the rusted trucks and machinery in the fields surrounding and in the batay. Small family-owned sugar cane fields still exist but what I’m told is that it is nothing like it was before. When I ask what this community needs, I am constantly told that they need jobs. Unemployment is high.
Even though the situation may sound grim. The people are very pleasant and seem happy. The land is very lush and green and fields of sugar cane and other agriculture like passion fruit, papaya, yucca, plantain and banana and grapefruit trees surround the community. The temperature can get hot but it cools down significantly at night and I’ve actually gotten to put on my sweatshirt a couple of times, which was very nice.
Currently I am conducting a diagnostic of the community by first interviewing every house in the community with a 3 page questionnaire that I developed in training and my first few weeks here. The interviews take about a half hour each but it is a great opportunity to meet and talk with the members of the community and to gain confianza. So far I have done 10 interviews, only 80 more to go! These first 10 have been interesting. I’ve realized already that there is a need for latrines since there are families that are currently using the sugar cane fields as their toilet. Also we need a sports field and youth programming since the youth here have way too much free time.
For more information about batays you can read what Wikipedia has:
Although not complete it gives some more information and some photos regarding batays. If anyone gets a hold of a more complete history please share.