I am terribly sorry that I haven’t yet posted Part 4 to An Eventful Week. This summer was so very busy, as well as the start of the school year, but I have to post that and another post I want to write about my kids and family. But this post, I just have to write now.
A volunteer a few years back named Laura had a great idea. When she saw that we were not getting much of a turn out at our make shift movie theater, held in the school to help to raise rent money, she suggested that we lead members of the batey community to film their very own “soap opera” which we would show once a week. That would get a good turnout, for sure! We began working on the first episode but kept running into sound problems and Laura had to leave without us ever getting very far, although we did form a group that was interested, planned the first episode, and film some. I actually wrote about this in a previous post.
Well, I just was recounted a story of something that happened among a couple that lives in the batey where we have a school and fair trade art shop. This event has “batey soap opera” written all over it. Also, being in law school and writing frequent essays where we are given a fact pattern and then asked to decide what offenses different parties will be charged with, this situation also resembles a “batey fact pattern”.
First, let me talk a little bit about that word batey. What is a batey? Well, here in the Dominican Republic, it is used to describe a housing complex where there are usually a lot of Haitian immigrants, but not always, who usually live by sugar cane plantations, and live really hard lives. The inhabitants of the bateys normally do agriculture work, such as harvest the sugar cane, and throughout history, have had little to no opportunity, such as the government owning the housing and the people not really having much freedom or opportunity to move up in life, and the government denying children born in the DR and growing up in the DR any sort of citizenship. These problems hold true today, and the DR actually just passed a ridiculous law that apparently will attempt to remove the citizenship of Dominicans of Haitian decent for up to 4 generations.. so taking away citizenship from people who already have it! Anyway, I have heard volunteers and visitors refer to the batey where we work in Muñoz as a slum or a refugee camp.
|Rooftop view of the batey. Photo taken by Nicole Salvitti.|
A medical geography class from VT that was doing a study abroad program in Punta Cana has visited us a few times before. Their teacher is on our board of directors. The last time they came in March 2012, we did a census of the batey and they actually created a map as well. The census showed that the batey, which is about the size of a football field, has 172 households and just over 550 people. So just imagine that. We found these very similar statistics when we visited tent cities in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake. One of the biggest problems this batey faces is that over 75% of the households have no toilet – indoor or outdoor. We’ve done some work here, but that’s another story. In this blog post, I want to tell the story of a couple of our artists.
We’ll call them by their initials to protect their identity. M was involved with our artist group ever since it got going. Her partner, J, got involved later on as we began letting some very interested men join. Both have been consistent sellers ever since. I enjoyed observing them as they attended our sessions, and seeing them interact. It gave me much insight into the lives of a couple living in such a situation, and my heart already hurt for them a few times seeing the challenges that they face, while also realizing the love that they have for each other. They have two kids – a 4 year old boy, and a little girl who is about one year old.
M’s mom is someone I visit with frequently. The other day I visited with her for a minute as we came by with some visiting chiropractors. She had a cast on her wrist. I asked what happened and she didn’t fully answer but said, with no explanation or guarantee that she was telling the truth, that she fell. This evening I met with our watchman and maintenance man for the school and art shop and we went over the artists’ pay sheet for this past month, as he was going to go around and pay them. He said that M was waiting for him, and I said that she did not sell this month, but that one of J’s items had sold. He said, “Well I can give it to M because you know J is in prison.” I did not know and was surprised, sad, and inquired.
He told me a story. There was a rumor going around that J was having an affair. Not long ago, two of his sisters had come over from Haiti, with a friend. A rumor had been started that he was having an affair with their friend. Apparently M’s family was taking part in this rumor, and J, outraged, went to M’s family’s little house, which is right along the main street, sided with palm boards and painted pink. I didn’t hear the full details, but I know that J demanded that they tell him who saw him with this woman, and denied the accusations. It ended up in a fight that took place in the house, where J had a stick of some sort, M’s mom’s wrist came out broken, and M’s sister stabbed J in the leg with something. J left the house, and upon hearing this, others encouraged him to return to apologize.
So J returned, his mother apparently went along, to apologize. But M’s stepfather, who was not there during the fight, was enraged, and threw a rock at J. J dodged it, but his mother took a hard hit. So in the end, both men, J, and M’s stepfather, ended up in prison. And both M’s mother and J’s mother ended up injured. M’s stepfather was released by his employer he is fortunate to have, but J remains in prison for his full term of 3 months.
What is the moral of the story? There is a high divorce rate in the US, that is true, and I think anyone would agree that that is sad. Families are meant to last, and when a family breaks up, it takes a strong toll on everyone involved. The Bible says during creation, and Jesus later repeats, “What God has joined together, let no one separate,” (Matthew 19:6). I don’t say this to place judgment on anyone who has gone through a divorce by any means, and I’m sure anyone who has gone through a divorce found it to be a painful experience.
But volunteers have observed and inquired about an even higher turnover of spouses/partners that seems to happen here in the batey. It is not uncommon to see a parent with a child and spouse, but the other parent of the child lives nearby. They had a previous relationship that ended, and now there is a new spouse. Of course this happens in the US, but volunteers have observed it happening much, much more in the batey. Some couples stay together forever, but there is an extremely high rate of splitting up and getting together. I would say from my observations that there is more such turnover in the batey in Muñoz than in the barrio of PadreGranero where we have a school as well. And the difference here is that the batey is on a tourist excursion route and tourists who pass by daily have a huge impact on the community. Prostitution is an even bigger temptation for people living closer to the tourism, and it just destroys families.
When volunteers have mentioned this to me, I share my thoughts that it has a lot to do with the little to no personal space that these families have. Their houses are very small and they rarely have yards, but are connected to other houses with very thin walls, and again, in this one batey the size of a football field, there are 172 households. Then there are two other bateys right nearby. Can you imagine having a natural argument with your spouse and all of the neighbors knowing about it, picking a side, and adding commentary? Can you imagine fetching water from a common tap shared among 10 houses and a rumor starting that you are having an affair because of the way someone observed your conversation with the person who was at the tap in front of you? Stress, stress, and more stress.
I also share my thoughts about the effects of healthy and functional families as compared to unhealthy and dysfunctional families. I think it is fairly common knowledge that if a child has problems at home, it affects his or her learning in the classroom. How can we have strong individuals who can change their futures if the families are constantly undergoing stress? And how can families function healthily without a little private space!?
So what is the solution? Well, there is lots that could be done to change this, but what we are doing is the fair trade art shop. If we can increase art sales, (and a big opportunity here is partnerships with stores in the US who would purchase from us in bulk), then we can provide a steady income to our artists. More income means the potential to live on a larger plot of land with more privacy.
So if this story touches your heart, consider purchasing something from the art shop, or promoting it to an individual or business that you think would be interested. You can also share this story with others you think may want to help. Thank you for caring and supporting. And long live M and J!!!