Yesterday I went with the DREAM directors to a preschool graduation. The town was not far from Cabarete. We took a gua-gua, which is a minivan loaded down with local people traveling from small town to small town. They are well used– todays gua-gua had 19 people in it as I travelled home. A man with a live chicken on one side, an old Haitain man on the other. After the gua-gua dropped us off at a gas station, we rode on the back of motos for several minutes. We passed through acres and acres of sugar cane fields. Their tall green stalks covered the landscape, an archaic sugar factory looming in the distance, its rusted smokepipe reaching high. We were in the hilly countryside now, away from the loud and busy tourist towns. The moto drivers whisked us along a dirt road, splashing through shallow rivers and rickety bridges. I was terrified of falling. Finally, we got to the town, if one can call it that. The community is split in thirds. The first community, and the wealthiest, is the Dominican side. Here there are small shops and colorful concrete houses. The Haitains live across the stream. Their community is much smaller. They live crammed in little shacks with tin roofs and walls of driftwood. Six people live in a room we would call a walk-in closet. They cut the sugar-cane, these Haitain men, while their wives or novias care for their many children. Girls sixteen or seventeen have kids, and they treat them in ways we consider rude or harsh. It is normal. But now, as the cane is not yet ripe, the Haitains sit on plastic chairs and talk. We were able to walk through the community, where an old old man, skin black as midnight, told of his voodoo magic, his cures. All around nodded in affirmation. The poverty. Trash, pigs, dirt. The Haitans are here illegaly, and their employers pay them a third of a Dominicans wage. If they complain, they are fired. Simple.
The last community is the Christian. Not long ago, missionaries came to this town offering to build houses for all those who swore a pledge to the Christian faith. The houses are far away from the other two, up half a mile on the hill. Rude houses, one door and two windows, impose from above. The decision of whether or not to test ones faith before building one a house strikes me as absurd, and it became as such. Single mothers begged for homes, and the Christians eventually relented. Then married mothers lied, and the Christians believed. So, it is difficult now for a new home to be built.
As I passed through the Haitian community, a young girl nursed her infant, five months old, a tattered copy of the Bible in her hands. She asked me in Creole if I spoke French. No,I said. She showed me her Bible, written in French but with many photos. La Bib,she says to me, explaining the story of the Crucifixion to me, her fingers tracing the blood which drips down Jesus face.
We walk on to the school. DREAM built the school two years ago with private funding. Now, two Peace Corps volunteers have started, with the help of DREAM and teachers from Puerto Plata, a Montessori school. It is the only Montessori school in the Dominican Republic which is open to all. The others (there are four) charge prices available only foreigners can pay. The school is a single large room, but there are two aluminum buildings, one serving as the library and the others purpose I did not understand. Oops. Anyways, the school was full of children, and their parents eagerly crowded in the back. There were not enough seats, so I sat on the floor as 60 childrens names were called. A parent, sibling, or someone who cares for the child would accompany him or her to the front, where a simple stage was decorated with balloons and colorful papers. The child received a written certificate and a photo of themselves, a rare treat. All were dressed in their best clothes, bright dresses and blouses, flowery skirts. One man caught my eye, dressed in dark green pants and a cream shirt. Few men were there. But this man, easy to smile and sitting alone, popped up when his sons name was called. Gently, he helped him up, carried the certificate back to his seat. His mouth formed the words printed on this single sheet of paper silently, laboriously. He worked at understanding what it said. When he finished, he looked at the photo, smiled, and wiped his eyes. He was crying, and it broke my heart.
I think these schools exist to show parents how to love, as much as they are there to teach the children. They give the parents pride in their kids. They teach community responsibility. They allow for hope to exist, and in a place as poor as I have ever seen in my entire life, three communities which hate each other sort of got along. Not much, and maybe not really anything, but maybe a parent will guard that certificate and remember the day made to celebrate his child. Maybe that will help. In all other respects, I am fine and healthy. I am not sick yet, and I like Cabarete okay. I will be ready to leave Cabarete, as its tourist scene bothers the hell out of me. Work in proper starts Monday–today I travelled to Rio San Juan and went to a mass in town. Rio San Juan is a story for later. I send love to my family and friends, and will write again sometime soon. -tim
posted Saturday June 2007