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.
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.
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