More Black Belt Stitching Wizard Stuff

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Dominican Experience 2011 - Day Three Feb 20th

Day three was yet another early start to the day, at this point I don't think I had slept in in over a week!  It was an early day but it looked like to be a good day for me, I was starting to get my voice back!  Not even my cold shower could put a downer on that.

Sugar Cane fields go on for miles and miles!

After a quick breakfast of sandwiches and fruit we met up with the kids and loaded on the bus.  Today we were driving out to the Bateys that surround the areas between San Pedro de Macoris and Consuelo.  First we went to the sugar cane fields surrounding the Batey Vascas.  We got off of the bus sunscreen on, hats and water at hand, it was a sunny, sunny day!

We were split up into two groups and sent to work side by side with the Haitians who were loading the cut cane into the wagons.  We spent about two hours in the fields, it was hot, hard work.  I hope they appreciate the help we give them, as they get some extra hands to help them get the job done faster and we don't take part of their pay.  I wondered this year if the see us as a help or a hindrance.  Each worker makes on average112 Pesos a day (the exchange rage was 37 Pesos / 1 US Dollar). These men work long 12-hour days with no food and little water, often the have a long walk to and from the area they're working in.

Cattle waiting to pull the wagon to the weigh station

We were asked to work in silence to contemplate what the Haitian workers went through every day.

The Haitians made it look easy to collect the cane and pass it up to the men in the wagon, I can assure you it was quite awkward, but I did a better job than last year!

Stacking the cane into the wagon, the Haitians work in teams of about 6 men.  The faster you fill your wagons and get them weighed the more money you can make in a day.

The weigh station, this is where the cane is weighed and loaded into the transport trucks to go to the refinery before landing in our kitchens at home.  Net time you put a little sugar in your coffee or tea, think about how much back breaking labour goes into harvesting that sugar and how little the people get paid.

The poor barrack style housing on the Batey, often families of 5-7 will life in one of the little "rooms" (one window/one door) of the barrack.

 After our visit to the fields we went to the Batey, where the workers and their families live.  There were very few men around, because they were all working in the fields.  In the Dominican Republic Male/Female roles are stereotypical.  Men do the physical work, women stay home take care of the house and family.

As soon as we arrived at the Batey we were surrounded by the children!  They were so happy to see us and be with us.  Right away they were holding hour hands, and wanting piggie back rides!  First we were taken to meet Isabelle and her 4 children, her husband was out working in the fields.  I met Isabelle last year, a very beautiful lady!  I recall last year they had two "rooms" of the barrack but this year they only had one.  I can't imagine a family of six living in such a small space!

Isabelle showing us her home

Isabelle's family's sleeping area and clothing

Maria, telling us about her life and showing us her home

Next we met Maria who has live don the Batey for twenty years.  She has no way to make any money because like I said earlier women work in the home, not doing manual labour.  She cannot get off of the Batey because she doesn't have the legal papers to work in the D.R.  We were told that her first husband left her for another woman.  She then got re-married and he left her as well, this time taking all of her belongings too.  She had so little that her two children had to be taken away because she could not care for them.

Maria, who passed away in January.

We then moved onto a third home, another one I had been to last year.  Last year I met another Maria, here story is here.  Last year we were told she had cancer, I was very sad to find out in January that she had passed away.  Life just baffles me sometimes, how in the space of 11 months someone can just be... gone.  We went to her home and met her older son who now has to go work in the fields instead of school to help support his father and sisters.  His father is 75 years old and still works in the cane fields a few days a week.  He is old and his leg hurts.  We talked about Maria and sang a song for him.  I was glad I could go back and pay my respects.  I don't think there was a dry eye in the room.

Ray, Pedro and Sean singing in memory of Maria.

 Before leaving Vascas we moved onto an exercise for the students they called "Value for Money".  The kids were divided into two groups again, they were each given 100 Pesos (less than 3 US Dollars) and they had to buy food for a family of six.

As this was an exercise for the kids, and I had gone through it last year I took a back seat.  Instead I danced with an adorable little girl.  I also took pictures with these beautiful girls who kept wanting me to take photos.

The young girl is my little dancer

On the table is the food bought by the two different groups

After the food was bought by both groups we went to the one room school house to reflect up on what we had seen so far.  Also to discuss the food purchased, how little they got for their 100 Pesos to feed a family.  We were told about how the children who had been following us had not yet eaten that day.  Maybe they might of had some sugar cane, but even that you just chew it then spit the fibers out, also some untreated water.  The lucky kids get one meal a day.  After this we were done our actives at Batey Vascas.

Here are some other shots from our time at Vascas :

 We left Vascas to go have a pick-nick lunch under a tree not far away but out of sight of the Batey.  We had more sandwiches, fruit and chips.  The Batey kids had followed us, it was hard to sit there and have our lunch, eat our fill as they watched nearby.  I think as we were leaving so it wasn't obvious the leftovers were given to the local kids.  Knowing that they hadn't eaten yet.  After eating we had some fun, we had a little dance off boys vs. girls, it was hilarious!  Soon enough it was time to move onto the next Batey.

Our second stop wasn't that far away, we along the dirt roads snaking through the sugar cane fields.  This visit was at the Batey Euskarduna.  Here we first met Mario, only 20 with a wife and a 4 month old baby.  His leg had been crushed in a motorcycle accident two years ago.  He has gone through multiple surgeries, to fix his leg, after his latest surgery he got a pretty bad infection because he couldn't afford the post-surgical medications.

Next we were taken to a little room being used as a co-op.  This co-op is supplied by a local group of sisters from Brazil.  They get the supplies through donations and these items are sold at a ridiculously low price.  This teaches the people of the value of earning what they have.  This also prevents parasites draining the system if everything was just given for free.

Our last activity of the day was to play with the kids!  The moment we headed into the play yard a large group of kids showed up ready to play with us and the toys we brought! 

I met this young boy who was proudly showing us the fish he had caught and was cleaning.  He was going to have something for dinner that night. 

One of the boys had this "improvised" train of trucks he pulled behind him.  The creativity needed to make a "truck" out of a bottle and some bottle lids is just amazing!  If this child grew up in different circumstances imagine what he could accomplish/create!

The beautiful smiles!

The fantastic hair!

Lots of piggie-back rides

When play time was up we headed into Consuelo.  We were taken to see the abandoned sugar refinery.  Originally the refineries were government owned and run.  Then the government privatized and sold the refineries to companies (many of them American).  This one was shut down, operations moved to another location, and 1,000 local Dominicans lost their jobs.  The closure still affects the local economy to this day.

It was another long and tiring day.

Stay tuned for day 4.


Cath said...

Amazing pictures .
thanks again for sharing this experience .X

Christine said...

Thank you for sharing these pictures and your experiences. I'm always amazed at how these people have so little and yet seem so happy

Lesleyanne said...

Great pictures. Thank you for sharing.

Karen said...

It sounds like a physically and emotionally draining day. It's amazing how little people can live with and still be happy. I work 12 hour shifts, but I sit all day and I can't imagine not eating for the whole shift.

Bette said...

Reading your blog makes me see and feel things that I would not ordinarily be exposed to. Thanks for sharing.

Carol said...

What a fascinating look into your experience and the everyday lives of the Dominican people, Dani... Between helping harvest the sugar cane, giving piggy back rides, and all that dancing, I'm surprised your back is still holding up!

Alice said...

It must be hard to see that poverty. But they sure look like happy people. Beautiful little girls!

Lynn said...

Amazing photos Dani! I know these were long days physically but the emotions would definitely take a toll on you as well.

Lisa said...

What a wonderful account of the day.
DH and I actually got married in the D R 13 years ago this year, and I can vividly remember our trips outside the hotel complex and seeing how hard the lives of most of the people there are, very humbling.
Our best man gave one of the young men his Manchester United football shirt as a gift and you would have thought he'd given him the world...
We had intended to go back for our 10th anniversary, but hadn't figured on having children, so when DD came along that changed our plans, but one day I'd still love to return.