Keeping the peace

Words by Anna Gronewold
Photos by Andrew Dickinson

We met the mayor of Elias Pina by accident.

The town, about a mile from the Haitian border, hosts an open market every Monday and Friday. From 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. vendors, many from the Haitian border town Belladére, are free to cross into the Dominican Republic without papers.

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The market is a hot whirlwind of Kreyol and Spanish, old and new clothes, empanadas, plantains and knock-off purses. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder business transactions and two enormous speakers blasting Merengue music next to a string of just-killed chickens.

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But the mayor isn’t needed at the market, where Haitians and Dominicans have been trading across the border by necessity for more than 20 years.  If the mayor visits, he comes later in the afternoon, to the line of enormous trucks waiting to carry vendors back to the border before it closes.

On Friday, Andrew, Ben and I were watching 50 people, and their merchandise, cram onto the first truck when the crowd began to shift and squeeze. A dozen angry voices rose above the market noise.

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A Haitian woman was trying to board a truck with her sick 8-month-old baby. They had been visiting the baby’s father in Santo Domingo, she said, and she wanted her child to ride safely in the cab of the truck, rather than piled in the back with the others.

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Taking a later truck was out of the question. The later she arrived at the border, the more likely she would have to bribe a guard to let her cross.

But the driver had no room, passengers were angry at her attempts to violate the first-come-first-serve policy and her uncle wasn’t about to lose his niece’s argument. The shouting match lasted for more than an hour as police, military and complete strangers shoved Andrew’s camera further back from the conflict.

That’s when we met the mayor.

Luis Minier, who has been in office for seven years, strode in with arms raised and voice booming. Two minutes later, a decision was made. The baby would ride in the cab of the first truck for protection, he said. He’s not always called in to resolve conflicts, but the combination of market day, Christmas and a sick transportation supervisor meant chaos.

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And his job is to keep chaos at a minimum.  He all but scoffed at our question of whether Haitians and Dominicans can live in peace. They must, he said. At border towns like Elias Pina, Haitians and Dominicans need one another to survive.

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Day-to-Day: teenage pregnancy in the Dominican Republic

Maribel with her four children and others in the rural area. She first got pregnant at 14 years old.

Every mother I’ve met so far has said she is happy to be pregnant or to have children of her own. All of them were between 14 and 16 years old when they first got pregnant. When asked what they had planned or wanted for their own or their children’s futures, none had a concrete answer. These girls live day-to-day, without regard for the long-term.

Yaiva, 17, and her daughter Ashie, 1

Yaiva, 17, and her daughter Ashie, 1

The Dominican Republic has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Latin America, with almost 30 percent of teenage girls becoming pregnant.

Dariela, 16, 4 months pregnant, and Luz, 17, 6 months pregnant and already has a daughter, Leanny, 1

A maternity counselor I spoke with said these girls are hoping for a way out of their own family’s poverty. They find a boy who promises to feed and shelter them, so they have children as a way to stay with him and have something, or someone, of their own.

Yokaira, 16, her mother Yocasti, 34,  holding her granddaughter Yocarlin Michell Pujos Munoz, 4 months

The grandparents of these new babies usually are indifferent to the situation because they were teenagers as well when they first had children, the counselor said. A cycle of poverty perpetually leaves girls out of school and out of work.

Yabreisiaria is 8 months pregnant. She says she is fifteen, but older women in the neighborhood argue that she is lying and that she is actually 12 or 13.–Anna Reed

“Home is here”

I spent the day yesterday at Hato Nuevo Bateye, a rural slum in the northeast part of the island, interviewing generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent who have lost their citizenship. The people welcomed me, and approached me, anxious to tell me their story. These people are all facing the same issue, but it affects them in many different ways.

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Alicia Bili is a 50-year-old Haitian woman who has lived and raised a family in the Dominican Republic for 25 years, and according to the new law, she and her children don’t belong in this country. “Not having papers is like a disease for me.”

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Yesenia Camilo, a 28-year-old mother of five, was denied a birth certificate for her newborn son, even though she has never lived anywhere else. “We have no family in Haiti, so we have no place to go.”

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Bernadette Pierre, a 50-year-old woman from Haiti, came to the DR to work in 1994. Here, she met her husband, Deriuse Augustine, 48, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. The couple has three children ages 17, 16, and 13. Because the children are half Dominican and half Haitian, they have also lost their citizenship. Without papers, they cannot get IDs, or receive an education. “We have been living here our whole life together and now we have nothing.”

 After hearing these people’s reactions to the new law, I asked them what they loved about this country. They answered, in general, that they love the people here because they treat each other with kindness, and they all have faith in God. When I asked each of them where their home is, they all answered, “home is here.”

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"Not having papers is like a disease for me."

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20131229_Wolfe_Bateye_177– Shelby

A Time For Reflection

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Words by Joseph Moore
Photos by Shelby Wolfe

When we arrived, we were led down a long concrete corridor. Crude doors fashioned from planks of old wood lined both sides of the hallway, barely concealing the small, squalid one-room apartments within. At the end of the corridor an opening brought us into a rectangular courtyard enclosed by tall concrete walls adorned with rusted razor wire. The space was empty save for a few plastic chairs and a washbasin fixed to the wall.

On the other side of the wall, brightly colored parakeets fluttered and chirped inside a makeshift cage. A blue, low-slung tarp shielded a portion of the courtyard from the hot, mid-morning Dominican sun. We arranged the chairs underneath the tarp and fixed the camera to the tripod. Shelby miked-up Isa while I gathered my notes and instructed the onlookers to remain quiet while the camera was recording. Hanoi translated my words into rapid Spanish. I began the interview.

“My name is Isa. I’m 29 years old. I work at Johene and I manufacture bags.”

After the second question I could tell that this was going to be a difficult interview. Isa was soft-spoken, unsure. She frequently glanced at the ground. Her answers were succinct and emotionless. I struggled to extract details from her. She had experienced verbal abuse by managers at the Johene factory – once a manager called her a “cocksucker” – but had never seen or experienced sexual harassment or sexual abuse. I was surprised. My research and conversations with female garment workers at Altagracia informed me that sexual abuse is a frequent occurrence in Dominican Free Trade Zone factories. And Johene, they say, is apparently one of the worst.

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Isa touched on the difficulties of living on less than $1 an hour in a country where a gallon of gas costs $6 and a loaf of bread $3, but it was challenging to get her to describe her situation in detail, with anecdotes to illustrate. When I learned she was not part of the union organizing efforts at Johene, I wondered to myself why we were even interviewing her. I could barely conceal my disappointment. I asked her a few more questions, prodding her to expound on what it’s like being a single mother with two children working 50 hours a week in a Dominican garment factory, but she would not deliver.

I wrapped up the interview after 20 minutes, frustrated that we’d wasted battery life and memory space for very little material.

The rest of the day followed a similar pattern. Stories of verbal abuse and the occasional slap or arm-grab, but nothing extreme and nothing sexual. No sexual harassment? Even Nangely, the Secretary of Women’s Affairs for the union at TOS Dominicana, a factory the makes garments for Haines and Fruit of the Loom, reported no sexual harassment. Had I been misled? Were my previous sources inaccurate or exaggerated?

Our bus weaved in and out of cars on the highway, the lush mountain landscape zipping by in a sun-washed blur. The ride home from Bonao was a time for reflection. I expressed my frustration to Hanoi. “You know,” he said, “I don’t think those women know what ‘sexual harassment’ is.”

He explained that the sexual mistreatment of women is so prevalent in machismo-driven Dominican society that it often goes unnoticed and unremarked, even by the victims. I asked him what these women interpret “sexual harassment” to mean.

“Rape.”

Sitting back in my seat, I felt the full weight of Hanoi’s revelation. I would have to change my approach to these interviews.

La Linea

Words by Anna Gronewold
Photos by Andrew Dickinson

Crossing into a new country is as easy as five steps and avoiding about eight casual checkpoints. For all the concern about illegal immigration from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, the actual divide changes as quickly as the laws surrounding it.

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La Linea, or “The Line,” is a 60+ km stretch of road that divides the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The road itself, blotted with potholes, puddles and donkeys is nobody’s land. “Una linea no existe,” Lilian, one of our translators, told me.

“The actual line doesn’t exist.”

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The two countries, squeezed together on a single island, somehow sit apart. To the east of La Linea, mountains rise, lush and green; to the west the same dusty mountains shrink, barren from deforestation. To the east, the promise of a better life; to the west, slow and fruitless cultivation of land that is mostly rock.

We visited Fanilia Gerneus, a 54-year-old woman who lives in the Haitian border town Los Cacaos. Her husband and five sons slung mud on the sides of their 12-square-meter house while dozens of grandchildren and neighbors watched.

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Fanilia said life is better in in Los Cacaos than in the mountains where she used to live in isolation. But finding food is difficult. Rain is so rare.

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Even with two daughters in Santo Domingo and rumors of a better life just across La Linea, Fanilia won’t leave Haiti.

“I am proud to be Haitian,” she said, trying to avoid Andrew’s instruction to ignore the camera. “If you are from here, you are from here.”

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Stepping into the ring

Yesterday, Cara and I photographed a cockfighting tournament in San Francisco de Macorís with about 40 fights. We were told it would be “beautiful” by a few different Dominicans, and while personally I didn’t find it beautiful, I can understand what they meant.

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We rolled into the parking lot at the coliseum, made up of rocks and pebbles, and walked into the arena. From the outside, I couldn’t guess just how crazy things are going to get inside.

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Before we got to the ring, we walked through a restaurant area. Men drank Presidente beers, ate chicken noodle and shrimp soup and watched the fights on big TVs. Meanwhile about two dozen roosters paced and peered back and forth in cages through a large glass window as men looked up and down at them, taking notes on paper on who to bet on later.

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Through the next door, we were shown the locker room for the roosters, where they get their shanks taped on by the owners. Imagine a mix between a boxing locker room and a NASCAR pit and you’ve pretty much got the idea. The shanks are inspected for size then the roosters are ready to go.

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Finally, we were inside the arena, and everything got much louder. A man came through a door with two cloth sacks, stepped into the ring and hung the sacks from a scale, the roosters have to be in the same weight class (more boxing ties). The fun began.

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The arena erupted in yelling, screaming and the waving of fistfuls of cash. Bets were being made. Men just made eye contact, waved some cash and began to negotiate the bet. I couldn’t understand how anyone was hearing each other or how anyone could take the bets seriously.

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The roosters fought until one died or gave up. That was the easiest way to describe it. The most interesting thing to me, though, was the way the crowd reacted. I’ve photographed just about every sport you can imagine, from football to cricket, and this crowd was so different. The yelling and cheering came in short, 10-second waves, then died down. The tension, however, was always like you’re watching the Bulls in Game 6 of the championship game and Jordan was about the get the ball.

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Every blog deserves a Michael Jordan reference, no matter how bad.

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Stay tuned for more,

-M.

Children of Bateye Palave

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Photos and words by Shelby Wolfe

When I arrived yesterday at Bateye Palave, a slum dominantly inhabited by Haitian migrants just east of the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, children begged me to take their photo. They posed for pictures and laughed when they saw themselves on the small LCD screen of my camera.

One little girl took my hand and guided me to where they play. I watched as the children played on the slide, swing set, and some old tires and I couldn’t help but think of the uncertainty of their futures. These children are just some of the stateless faces that have been affected by the nation’s ruling that put the lives of Dominicans of Haitian descent into limbo.

On Sept. 23, 2013, the Dominican Republic’s court passed a law declaring that children of undocumented Haitian migrants – even those who were born and raised in the Dominican – have been stripped of their citizenship. For decades, Haitians were brought over to the Dominican Republic to cut cane for unlivable wages. Even though sugar cane is not harvested as often today, most of these plantations are still occupied by Haitians, but have become shantytowns known as bateyes (buh-TAYZ).

With this law in place, these people have been denied many basic human rights, as well as a sense of belonging. I hope to learn more throughout our stay about the issue of citizenship and how it affects individuals and their families.

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