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Day 4: Batey Libertad- Agricultural Tour and DPV

After waking up at an early hour to the lovely chorus of roosters, Camille and I couldn’t locate anyone to give us the keys to the latrine. Therefore, we grappled over the following: to use the bucket or not to use the bucket? At that moment, we didn’t get to decide because we discovered a rooster in our bedroom!

April fools.

But seriously, we ended up using the bucket. Like many other things I’d already begun to discover about the quirks of Batey living, it ain’t that bad, and it’s possibly very liberating. I’d add my morning bucket shower to that list as well; not only was it peaceful and enjoyable (despite the decorative spider webs), but I got squeaky clean without wasting tons of water.

After breakfast, the UD group and Yspaniola volunteers all gathered to head out to La finca (the farm) a short walk opposite of Batey Libertad and across the highway. There we toured the fields and visited the adjacent rice factory.

Camilo, my host brother and a Yspaniola volunteer, along with Dana, the local program manager, primarily led the tour. First we stopped at the beginning of la finca, in front of the rice fields, and here’s some of what we learned:

·       We were visiting during the off-season, where the rice was still growing. There is no need for workers during this time as there is nothing to plant or harvest.

·       The area along the highway has 21 rice factories, hence why this area of the Dominican Republic is known as “the bread basket”.

·       Many Haitians work in the rice field, planting, where they are paid per tarea (large row of rice). Pay is around 500 pesos, or about $10.

·       This job does not include any type of health insurance or benefits, meaning that should a worker who plants barefoot in the mud get cut by a the glass-like shell of a snail, they may be thrust into a serious situation.

·       Dominicans who work on the rice fields often get paid more for doing the easier jobs, such as overseer work.

The rice field

The rice field

Our next stop was the rice factory, directly across from the first rice field we visited. This factory was only one building big, but contained all the machinery necessary to shell, separate, and package various types and qualities of rice. Below are pictures of the factory as well as brief descriptions of the process:

Rice that needs to be de-shelled, done so by the machinery in the background.

Rice that needs to be de-shelled, done so by the machinery in the background.

Area where rice is separated and packaged; short grain rice determined to be insufficient is not wasted but instead sold as food for animals.

Area where rice is separated and packaged; short grain rice determined to be insufficient is not wasted but instead sold as food for animals.

 

Rice packaged and labeled by quality/type.

Rice packaged and labeled by quality/type.

 

The control panel with ALL THE BUTTONS!

The control panel with ALL THE BUTTONS!

We happened to run into the son of the owner of the rice factory, who informed us that they export their rice around the world and keep some in the Dominican Republic as well. They even have a rice exchange with the US! So cool!

Walking along the dirt path with a gorgeous mountain backdrop, we enjoyed seeing the other crops that are grown on la finca, including plantains, bananas, pidgeon peas, and ahí picante (hot peppers). A few brave and foolish souls decided to pick the ahí picante off the vine and eat it together at the same time. Luckily, I managed to catch the before and after moments:

Before the realization that water will not subdue the burning of the deceptive ahí picante.

Before the realization that water will not subdue the burning of the deceptive ahí picante.

At this point I was glad to be the cameraman and not the participant.

At this point I was glad to be the cameraman and not the participant.

 According to the daring Eric Wiscount, who confronted the ahí picante head on, “That was the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten my life.” Ladies and gents, in this battle of man vs. food, ahí picante won (Man vs. Food reference, anyone?).

After returning to Batey Libertad and enjoying a delicious lunch of arroz con pollo, I regrouped under the gazebo area with the volunteers to play cards (namely, the game know as B.S./cheat – I recommend a quick Google search if you’ve never played). While not everyone partook, we did have many spectators, both adults and kids. However, some of the girls were more interested in braiding my hair than watching the game.

I did particularly take a liking to the hair-do of my 7-year-old host sister, Dawenza, who braided my hair in four or five separate plaits. I rocked that style for a good portion of the card game, until an older girl braided my hair neatly into two plaits. Later in the afternoon, my hair was taken over by three young girls. As a testimony to their combined hairstyle, the outcome can be summarized by this exchange between a young girl and myself:

Girl: “¿Cómo te llamas?” (What’s your name?)

 Me: “Me llamo Juli.” (My name is Juli.)

 Girl: “¿Porqué tu cabello es tan feo?” (Why is your hair so ugly?)

Some people may find the honesty horrifying, but I found it hilarious. Letting kids braid my hair is nothing new, and the outcome is always pretty similar. Plus, I really didn’t mind it (well, only until I had to detangle the tiniest of braids using massive amounts of conditioner).

At around 2 o’clock, we gathered for our presentation of Deportes Para La Vida, with Camilo leading the session. Deportes Para La Vida (DPV) is a peer-led program geared towards educating youth about HIV/AIDS through games. The activities that day were appropriate for all ages present, including the younger ones. First we started with an easy, routine warm-up activity to get everyone upbeat and focused. It involved counting fingers and toes in a fast paced, fun fashion. Next, we played another super exciting warm-up game, one that I actually used to do as a theater warm-up. We then dove into the main game, which held the significance of the lesson.

Splitting half and half, two groups lined up facing each other, with each person standing shoulder to shoulder with his hands behind his back. One group was given a tennis ball to pass back and forth during a short song, concealing the ball’s location as best as possible. At the call to stop, the other group had three chances to guess who had the ball. After one round, we added a metaphor to the game; the ball represented AIDS, and whoever ended up with the ball was the person with the hypothetical AIDS. This showed that unlike stereotypes, which base who has AIDS on outward appearances, in actuality, you cannot judge if someone has AIDS by how they look. The only way to know is through a test.

Unfortunately, I was so into DPV that I didn’t even take photos, so instead I’m going to provide you with a picture of the UD group with some of the Yspaniola volunteers under the highway sign for Batey Libertad:

 

An amazing bunch

An amazing bunch

Resource creation and observing in the Learning Center were next up on the list of things to do. During resource creation, we worked on making materials for the teachers and students in the Learning Center, located right in Batey Libertad. In fact, we set up our station right outside the Learning Center. Resources included many many many Spanish flash cards that needed to be cut, organized, and contact papered. I’m just going to say this now: contact paper is evil. Luckily we triumphed and eventually organized an assembly system.

Many (possibly too many) kids were eager to help, so we tried to delegate jobs to them. While this decreased efficiency and tended to cause slight chaos at times, I felt it added to the excitement and it was encouraging to see the kids’ enthusiasm to help.

While some stayed to continue to work on resource creation, I went with three others to observe a class in the Learning Center. The Learning Center is designed to supplement that which the Dominican education system lacks. While typical schools will focus on rote memorization, the Learning Center promotes critical thinking in literature as well as teaches basic math to the younger students. Inside in the back is an area designated as a small library, where students can check out books and attend reading hours.

 

During my observation time, the lesson given by the awesome teacher, Cory, was about making inferences. They incorporated this idea into their weekly readings of abbreviated chapters from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. A large portion of students were raising their hands with confidence. Cory often awarded the class with stars for the impressive amounts of participation. These stars went towards a sticker board that once filled out, indicates that a party will be thrown for the class. Of course, there was a fair share of erasing stars as well, leaving some grumbling at the loss. Good news though: the class ended with a large net positive of stars! Wahoo!

The classroom observation coincided quite well with the educational discussion we had with Cory, Dana, and the volunteers later that evening. After a brief introduction to the goals of the Learning Center, we broke off into groups to discuss education in both the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Paul, who is part of the local team of Yspaniola, was clearly knowledgeable and animated about the subject. He discussed his ideals for education reform in the Dominican Republic and also posed some questions about U.S. education that stumped all of us (Why is the cost of higher education so high? How did it get that way?). Through the conversation, I got a really good feel for just how important the Learning Center is for Batey Libertad. After seeing the success of so many students first hand earlier that day, I felt thankful in that moment for organizations like Yspaniola and the passionate people who make up its team.

To solidify the night, we went to the Play to enjoy a game or two of a game called ¿Quíen Falta? (Who’s missing?). I enjoyed playing with Dawenza, helping her jump from half-tire to tire that lined the road leading along the play, leading into the Batey. We also worked on mastering the hand-clapping game that I call Numbers. A lot of kids would join us to try their hand as Numbers, or play another classic game called Slaps. It was a lovely end to the night under the numerous stars of the Play (and an equally numerous amount of gained mosquito bites). While I couldn’t capture the beautiful night sky, I’ll leave you with the equally breathtaking view of la finca:

 

Cool cats on the agricultural tour hosted by some fantastic Yspaniola volunteers.

Cool cats on the agricultural tour hosted by some fantastic Yspaniola volunteers.

~Juli Beck, 2015

 

Day 3: Dajabón, Batey Libertad

Today we had an early start and went to the border to see the start of an international market day. Every Friday and Monday morning the border is opened and Haitians will rush the border with goods and foods to sell at the market. They will bring in furniture, food, clothes, shoes, or other goods into the Dominican. In return, people will bring the Haitians products that they need, such as ice. The most amazing part was seeing the women carry unbelievably large bags of goods on their heads! I was also surprised by the line of people that were waiting to bribe a guard to get into the country for work. I knew the system was generally corrupted but to see the corruption right before my eyes was a whole different experience.

Next, we entered the chaos of the market. It probably didn’t help that I suffer from a slight case of claustrophobia, but the amount of Haitians bumping into me left and right was a tad overwhelming. However, I did leave with a pair of red shoes that I got to practice my bargaining skills for.

Hotel in Dajabón

Hotel in Dajabón

 

After the market we got right on a bus to head to the Batey. We took a public bus so that we could experience the checkpoints along the way. This bus ride was something I was not mentally prepared for—stop after stop with military personnel asking for your passport is a little nerve racking! As white Americans we were only asked twice, but others with darker skin had to constantly be on guard.

day3image2

Scenic route to Batey

Scenic route to Batey

When we finally arrived at the Batey I was overcome with nerves. Entering such an unknown territory and experience was scary and I did not know what to expect. However, my nerves quickly subsided when I was ambushed by two adorable little girls yelling “Americanos! Montame!” meaning “Carry me!” I did just that, and all of a sudden there was a little girl in my arms wearing my sunglasses with the biggest grin on her face. (I soon realized that this was going to be the new theme of the week—carrying little girls around until they regretfully let you peel them off of you…)

We were then given a tour of the Batey, and later returned to our host families to settle in. Elsa, my host mom, was one of the wealthier members of the Batey. I was fortunate enough to have a closed off room to shower in, a generator for the nights when the Batey operated without electricity, and a latrine that was right behind house. Other host families did not have such resources and lived without many of these amenities.

We then had free time with the volunteers. We went into the “play,” which is a large dirt field where a lot of the kids go to socialize. It was interesting because we started to tell jokes and even though there was a language barrier, it was still easy to relate to and laugh with them. That was the point when I knew that the week would bring exciting new relationships and perspectives.

~Danielle Weber, 2015

 

Day 2: Santiago and Dajabón

~9:30 PM

   

Our group has just returned to the hotel on Day 2 of the University of Delaware Honors Program UDaB trip and I resist the urge to watch the Indiana Jones film playing on our television. Instead, I reflect on the day and am only vaguely aware of the din of vehicle traffic, speeding motorbikes, and honking drivers that remind me that Santiago nightlife is still active. I ignore the impulse to look out my window and start to remember how the day began and our van trip to Dajabón this morning….


 ~9:15 AM

The van awaits us and our destination is Dajabón, a border town between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Thirteen of us crowd into the van and it is close quarters, even with the luggage tied to the roof. I remember taking a piece of chicle, or chewing gum, to ward off motion sickness in case there were bumpy roads or traffic along the way. We all had graham cracker provisions because the trip would take a few hours and would pass by military checkpoints as we neared the border between Haiti and the DR. Once I was situated in the van, my view was restricted to backpacks, fellow passengers, and the bobbing of the tree-shaped air freshener the van driver had wisely affixed to the rearview mirror. Looking out the van window, I was entertained with a picturesque mountain landscape, wide open fields and clear skies.

The view from my window seat. As we drove we saw green pastures and fields give way to a more arid landscape.

The view from my window seat. As we drove we saw green pastures and fields give way to a more arid landscape.

Road trip scenery: the inside of the van as seen from my seat

Road trip scenery: the inside of the van as seen from my seat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometime that afternoon:

After a brief stop in Esperanza to drop off our luggage, we finally reached Dajabón. Once there, we checked into our hotel, put on a preemptive layer of picaridin bug spray to deter the wildlife and headed over to Dona Pura’s for lunch. We collectively devoured a variety of chicken, rice and vegetable dishes, and enjoyed homemade pineapple and orange juices – as well as a drink called “avena” that tasted like Creamsicles! After the long van trip we were all eager to walk around and stretch, so after eating, we walked toward the “old” border.

The whole gang. Dona Pura's meals were so good we returned the next day for lunch.

The whole gang. Dona Pura’s meals were so good we returned the next day for lunch.

 As we walked, we felt the warm tropical heat and stopped to sample ice pops sold by two boys traveling through the streets with their coolers. Upon reaching the arch of the Dominican military station, we had our first view of Haiti peeking through the camouflaged-style painted archway. Passing through the arch and walking out onto the border bridge, we were soon deterred by barbed wire and a padlocked gate.

Our group on the Dominican side of the border with Haiti in the background.

Our group on the Dominican side of the border with Haiti in the background.

 However, it was the view to the sides of the bridge that had the most impact on me. Along the banks of a slow flowing river, groups of women were washing clothes, children were splashing in the water and numerous garments were left on bare dirt and rock to dry. I was struck by the contrast between what I had seen in the DR and what I was now seeing in Haiti. The Haitians appeared to lack resources and basic services while the Dominicans seemed to be more affluent. When the Haitian children and the occasional adult looked up at us, I felt uncomfortable seeing their poverty. Looking back, I realize now that while there was a physical gap between my group on the bridge and the locals below us, the gulf between our experiences and struggles was far wider. As an outsider looking in, I could only imagine what their lives were like and found it difficult to comprehend their struggles. As I watched trash float in the river and animals wade through the same water that people were using to wash their clothing, I was aware of how much I take for granted living in the United States. Furthermore, I began to think about what responsibility the United States and other wealthy nations have to assist struggling countries such as Haiti. 

 To the left and right of the gate we could see Haitian children playing in the water, people swimming, and women washing clothes.

To the left and right of the gate we could see Haitian children playing in the water, people swimming, and women washing clothes.

Seeing the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti also made me begin to question things. Why was the bridge so heavily fortified when the border below was a shallow river with only sparse vegetation? Where did the Haitian people actually live? Why couldn’t these people locate a more desirable water source? I struggled to fathom their daily experiences and despite my pictures and notes from the bridge, later that day I still couldn’t believe what I had seen.

One of the boys who talked to us from the other side of the bridge.

One of the boys who talked to us from the other side of the bridge.

 After the visit to the “old” border bridge, we traveled to the “new” border. This was an entirely different atmosphere, where we saw the bustle of commerce as people crossed the border with their wares in both directions. With the help of our guides, we began to notice the inequities that existed at the border. For instance, on the road deck of the bridge, we saw concrete deposited in rectangular grids. We soon learned that this was a Dominican government directive that these rectangles be filled with bleach to form pools of disinfectant on the bridge’s surface. The rationale behind this was so that when the Haitians came to do business in the Dominican Republic, they would be forced to walk through this bleach – ostensibly to prevent the spread of cholera. Since there is no scientific basis to prevent cholera in this manner, this practice provided insight into the skewed power dynamics on the island. Likewise, as we stood at the border, we actually witnessed Haitians being deported. A pickup truck on the Dominican side of the border slowed as it approached the bridge and then the guards at the border opened the gate and escorted the men out of the truck and towards the gate. I was shocked by the size of the group and how the deportation began and ended in mere moments. This made me think of the articles we had read before the trip and I contemplated if this scene would become more familiar if recent Dominican immigration rulings are enforced.

Now that Day 2 of the trip is over, I realize that this UDaB trip will teach me more about the island, its people, and their history than I ever expected. Having seen first-hand the realities of life for those on the border, I now have a better sense of the struggles they face and the obstacles of their everyday lives. My desire to help and volunteer on the island has been strengthened and I expect that today’s itinerary will be one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Looking back, I am beginning to understand that this border journey will continue to shape my perspective long after I cross the U.S. border and return home.

 

~Tim D’Agostino, 2016

 

Imperfection, Madness, and Alternative Spring Break

Before you being reading this blog post, please take note of the following: I am a UDAB site leader. This organization means a great deal to me. So if you are sick of hearing about the productive/worldly/influential things that people did over break while you were at home watching Netflix or drinking in Florida, I get it. But you should also probably stop reading. Because this will make you vomit.

My freshman year of college, I randomly decided to apply for an alternative spring break trip. By complete chance, I was accepted to the program. The trip wasn’t perfect. We had to get up at 4:45 am and walk through campus with our snack-heavy duffels from Russell to Trabant. Our bus had a broken DVD player and axel, which busted somewhere in rural Virginia, leaving us stranded for four hours. I forgot a bandana and never had a hot shower. As a group we managed to obtain some very awkward tan lines.

It was without a doubt, the second best week of my life. I came back enlightened, inspired, and invigorated. In mid-May, I learned that I would be among the newest class of UDAB site leaders. I was ecstatic.

photo (2)As it turns out, planning an alternative spring break trip requires a great deal more work than participating in one does. My stress levels were almost entirely determined by what was happening with UDAB. If we had a SAS cupcake fundraiser approaching, I was happy. If we were sitting in Perkins for hours on end conducting interviews, I was drained. If I stopped for a single second to remember that I was leading a new trip to one of the most rural and impoverished areas in the country under the direction of lovable but less-than-organized hippies, I was panicked. Two days before the trip I found myself crying in a public bathroom and running on six hours of sleep in two days.

Once again, my trip wasn’t perfect. We got somewhat lost in the back-roads of West Virginia. I unknowingly forced my participants to sleep in a frigid yurt (see Google for description) on the very first night. As it turns out, ticks are fairly common in heavily wooded areas and snow in late March is a possibility. My expectations were so far from reality, it was actually comical.

But it was, without a doubt, the best week of my life, for reasons that cannot be explained in simple words or iPhone photographs. I learned more from my fellow site leader, from my participants, and from our community partner in seven days than I learn over the course of an entire school year. For seven days, I lived life in the most beautiful way. For seven days, I was a part of something larger than myself.

UDAB is a lot of work. It’s a lot of higher-level thinking, advanced planning, organizational jargon, color-coded spreadsheets, and early-weekend-morning activities. Unlike so many things in life however, it’s worth every ounce of work exerted. I have zero regrets about the hours of sleep lost, the personal dishevelment obtained, the countless emails sent, or the quantity of tears shed. Because in the grand scheme of things, these negative aspects were minimal when compared to the reward. UDAB has brought me far more joy than sadness. It’s made my college experience. It’s shown me the best possible version of myself. It’s changed so many lives for the better, and I hope that this year’s participants had an equally incredible experience.

You can vomit now.

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