First Day in a Haitian Batey

Jamie supervises, to the best of her ability, the completion of English-language coloring pages. (Peaskis Abroad/Jacob Bielanski)

“Just make sure you don’t bring anything valuable with you,” Lena told me in her Belgian accent. The next morning, I removed my colorful bead bracelet. It wasn’t worth much monetarily, but had strong personal value.

Lily and I were at the restaurant early, but she had no shoes on. Lena showed up and apologized for being late for our 9 am meeting time. I wasn’t even sure what time it was. “We don’t have an alarm clock since my phone was stolen,” she told me. I didn’t have the heart to inform her that we were only there looking for our “missing” bug spray and were not quite ready ourselves.

Diana, owner of the Sun Camp DR, offered us a ride to the batey. I had not yet been fully inside the village. The neighborhood of Muñoz closest to us is predominately Dominican, whereas the batey (sugar field workers’ village) is almost strictly Haitian.

She dropped us off in front of the community center. This is where the activities happen. The actual building reminded me of my parents storage shed, except more primitive. It’s pieced together with wood, protected by a tin roof and cement floor. Lena opened the door of the shack, which was secured with a padlock. “It’s not much,” she commented, as I stared at the ripped tarps.

Lily, who woke up cranky, was with me. She was sweaty and apprehensive. While I couldn’t process the totality of it, I realized I was extremely uneasy, as was Lily. I thought I was prepared, but it took me beyond my comfort zone. This was truly “underdeveloped,” or as so many like to say, third world. You see the movies and National Geographic specials from a safe distance. When you’re there, it is slightly overwhelming.

“Wilson!” squealed Lena, as the little boy who is typically pants-less arrived. “He’s a handful,” I was warned. He smiled brightly as snot spilled down his face. He was clothed. A few other kids trickled in.

There were no parents in sight, though I saw adults move about the village. Some were wrapped in towels, some were carrying stuff. Children came and went unsupervised. We made lemonade, played games, and drew pictures.

I was in the midst of playing kickball/volleyball with a little boy. He spoke Creole and no Spanish. I spoke English and a little Spanish. Either way, verbal communication was minimal, but he directed me with smiles and movement. Soon, a little girl, no older than three appeared from nowhere. She smiled and walked towards me, arms outstretched. I finished the rest of the game of kickball/volleyball with a child on my hip.

Lily wanted to leave. She was hungry and I wouldn’t let her drink the lemonade (too unsure about the sanitation). I was slightly relieved, though I was finally starting to feel comfortable. We walked to the main road and hailed a publico, the cheap “public” transportation, after stopping to grab a bottle of water (all in Spanish).

This morning, as we prepared to head back, Lily asked me “Mama, why do you like the village so much?”

I tried to explain poverty to her. What these children lack. I reminded her of the earthquake we’d discussed and how some people don’t even have water in their homes. I told her that even if they do have water in their homes, it’s not safe to drink. I told her some of these kids’ parents are so busy they get no attention. I told her they need to learn English or Spanish to be successful. The conversation went back and forth for quite awhile.

“Can I bring Pinky with me?” she asked.

“No, honey, she probably won’t come home with us. Kids will be jealous and they don’t really have toys.”

“They don’t even have toys?” she asked.

“No.”

“I’ll leave Pinky home. I can’t wait to draw them pictures when we get there.”

 

 

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