Today was and early wake up call for us, 6AM they had a long day in store for us! Breakfast was some kind of porridge or grits or something, it was fine, not coarse like an oatmeal. It was sweet, with cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. I liked the flavour, but the texture was a bit of a turn-off. I ate it anyhow, I knew that this morning we were working!
As is the usual routine, we were picked up and went to meet the students and get on the bus. We were all very happy to see there wasn't a cloud in the sky that there was full day of sunshine ahead. We were loaded onto the bus, as I had figured out in my first two days Dominicans like to play music all the time! On the bus, in the homes, everywhere, and always loud (I will never complain to Todd again how loud he has the stereo!). Our Dominican guides are often singing and dancing on the bus to the music that's being played (mainly Meringue and Regatone).
Mioced, singing for us
Cutting the cane
Today we drove back into Consuelo to the first sugar cane plantation and Batay, Vascas. For the first time this week we worked! We spent a few hours in the sugar cane fields helping the Haitians load the sugar cane that had already been cut into the trailer.
Students working hard to help load the cane
These people work so hard! They don't take any breaks (where we did), They work without gloves (we did) they aren't carrying around water bottles (which we do), and there was no food but what cane they ate while they worked. Sugar cane is awkward to carry, they made it look so easy! I could only handle 5-6 pieces of cane at a time, these men handled much more and lifted it up to the person in the trailer without any effort. Being short this was a real challenge for me! I also found walking around on the cut cane, and leaves that litter the ground a balancing act.
Domingo is trimming the cane for us to eat - Domingo grew up on the Batays, worked in the fields, then became a supervisor. Today he's in University studying to be a lawyer. His story is one of hope to see that there is a light to ward off the dark.
During our break we got to try raw sugar cane. The outside "bark" is cut off with a machete and you chew on the exposed cane, once you've chewed on it, you spit out what's left. It tastes just like sucking on a sugar cube, just not as sweet.
Juan Pablo, one of the workers
At this time Mioced introduced a few of us to one of the Haitian workers, Juan Pablo. He's been working on the plantation for many years, and has children still in Haiti. He told us that he makes 12.5 Pesos a day ($0.36 = 1 Peso), no one can live on that little money! (later that day we learnt that we couldn't feed a family of 6 for 100 Pesos). During a week he would load up to 50 trailers of cane. Juan Pablo let us see his hands, from his years of working in the fields, just how callused and scarred they were.
Juan Pablo's Hands
Cane Weigh Station
At the tail end of our break this Haitian man came to get his machete from Domingo. For awhile he stood there and just stared at me, there was no expression on his face and he said nothing. Finally he pointed at my work gloves, gesturing. He was asking for my gloves. It broke my heart to say no (we were not allowed to give away things, the rules).
After another hour of working in the fields loading more cane we were taken to the area where the cane was weighed and loaded into transport trucks to go the refinery. From the weigh station we went to see the living quarters (Batay) where these men and their families live. We were introduced to three women (the men are never around, they're either working somewhere, or they're just not around).
The first woman we were introduced to was Isabelle and her six children. They lived in two rooms in the barrack-style housing. One area she used for for a kitchen where she was cooking a meager serving of beans in a pot over coals. The other room had two beds where she slept in one with half of her kids, and her husband slept in the other with the other half of the family.
The boys interacting with the Batay children
Next we met Rosalie, a grandmother on the Batay. She was better off than Isabelle, she had a home that was three times the size and she owned furniture (where Isabelle had only two beds). While I was waiting for a group of our students to go through Rosalie's house I was so happy to see/watch the boys on the trip start to interact with the children on the Batay, the were running around and giving the little boys piggy-back rides.
Today it was the final house that we visited that was the most disturbing, and sad. The mother we met was Marie, she has no husband, and six children. Her home was one main room with two closet bedrooms, the doors were sheets hanging from the top of the door. She told us how she was not feeling well, that she had a headache. It was then made clear to us that she had a lump in her breast. Wow, this hit me REALLY hard! As I had a breast cancer scare about three years ago, it was the most terrifying month of my life as I went through the diagnosis process. So I understood exactly how she was feeling.
One Marie's Daughter
Val, one of the staff that came with me on the trip asked if we could say a prayer for her. Boy, that was hard, and so emotional. Marie did really appreciate a group of 14 people she just met saying words to God for her (she is another woman who has a very strong faith in God and his plan for her and her family). After the prayer Moiced sang a beautiful song for her, I don't think there was a single dry eye in the house. That was a hard visit. (I later learnt that Marie has general cancer, and that yes she is dying, she refuses to acknowledge this. Dominican Experience and a group of Sisters who organize a co-op in the community do have a plan in place for Marie and her children. We have been assured they will be cared for, places have been made for them in the orphanage we will visit later that week, when the time is ready.)
Our final stop at this Batay was at the co-op, this is where the residents buy what little they can get. There was an activity planned for us here, we were given 200 Pesos, to feed two families one meal (100 Pesos/family). Us adults stepped back and let the students run this activity. They selected per family : rice, beans, salami, and plantains. We were then told we could give this food to two of the three women we visited. The decision was quite easy and unanimous. We sent the food to Isabelle and Maria.
As we headed to the second Batay visit, we stopped and had a pick nick lunch under a big tree in a field. Lunch was made for us, it was ham & cheese buns, bags of chips (I got to try plantain chips, they rock!) and fresh pineapple and cantaloupe, very yummy (there is nothing more amazing than fresh picked fruit). As we ate two different men came upon us (on their way to the Batay), Mioced talked to each of them, and I was so happy to see she made sure they left with some of our leftover food.
The second visit, was not as long as the first. Here we were shown another co-op and talked with the woman who worked there. This co-op project was started up with donations from the Dominican Experience program and is run by a group of Brazilian sisters (this is where our donations went) It was smaller than the first, and did not have as much variety also because it is run by the sisters cigarettes and alcohol are not sold here.
One of the Batay children
Playing with the Batay children
We were then brought to the school yard where a bag of toys (jump ropes, balls, etc) were put out and we played with the children for about half an hour. The kids on the batays play rough, and they don't know how to share... but who would have the patience to share when you're hungry all the time?
The sisters who handle all the donations for the batays
After visiting the batays we had a quick visit to the Sisters who are working to improve the situation of the batays in the area (like I said they're involved in some of the co-op systems). This is where we dropped off our 14 suitcases full of clothes, hats, sandals, and supplies. It was good to actually see where it was going. The sister we met was from Brazil, and she had such a peaceful and serene presence. It was nice to be near her.
Abandoned Sugar Refinery
Before heading back to San Pedro de Macoris we made one last stop in Consuelo, that was the old Sugar Refinery that the got shut down in 1990 when the government decided to publicise the industry. The refinery used to employ thousands from the surrounding towns and batays, from my understanding it really crippled the local economy. Today its a graveyard for sugarcane trailers.
Back at home supper was rice and a stew of sorts, it was a mix of meats. I could recognize sausage, and yucca, I'm not sure what else was in it but it was good.
It was another rough night at reflection (in the same place again). I drew a parallel (although my situation pales in comparison) to my health issues and Marie's. How I was a migraine sufferer and how I was able to sympathize with her headaches, and her breast cancer with my scare. I understood her fears, but what really upset me is that I know I have access to an excellent health care system and she doesn't. She has nothing. I couldn't help but break into tears.
It was an amazing day, it was hard with ups and downs, and exhausting!