Sunday, July 27, 2014

Enjoy Life

Today I visited a Haitian batey and the whole experience was extremely emotional for me. A batey is a sharecropping relationship Haitian immigrants have with sugar cane mills. The labor is so intensive and the wages are so low that no Dominican will do the work. So the sugar cane companies import Haitians live and work on the plantations, are given 4x6 concrete rooms as "houses"and allocated one meal a day. This has been going on for decades, the Haitians work the land in hopes to earn money and in the end they are never able to earn anything.  However, this particular mill was operating for a long time until it was closed about six years ago because it was no longer profitable in the global sugar market. What is left is an extremely isolated batey community with no source of income. What makes matter worse is the people are trapped there because they have no papers to prove their nationality.

My own ignorance assumed I knew poverty, assumed I knew what "no resources" looked like, assumed I was going to be able to emotionally handle the reality of true blight. Well, as my 10th grade Lit. teacher said, "when you assume you make an ASS out of U and ME." She couldn't have been more right.

I had a difficult time entering the batey. I kept thinking, who the f**k am I to come here and impose on these peoples' lives? Why the hell am I here? Why is this so uncomfortable for me? Why are children such incredible humans?

Tricia our host (who has a great relationship with the residents there) saw my discomfort and saw I was becoming increasingly emotional with the whole situation. She quickly prompted me to stay by her, to not worry about anything, but to accept that THIS is life.

I kept questioning why I was feeling so emotional. No one wants to feel shitty, so we reflect on why, and try to change that shitty feeling. Initially, I came up with the bullshit excuse that I didn't like being there, because I felt like a "do gooder" imposing on the lives of people I know so little about. Yet, I wasn't, and Tricia does an excellent job helping the community become self sustaining. It's a dialogical relationship where she asks, "what do you need?" And they then have a voice in the process. It's not a non-profit profiting off exploitation and not actually helping.

Reflecting back, I was crying and emotional, because I am human. The man who was curled in the fetal position on the concrete floor dying of kidney failure is human. The boys who were forced to "volunteer" and build a gym for their "community" by a corrupt non-profit are human. The gym was a ploy to get dollars for the wrong people, nothing more. The teenage girls braiding their hair with their girlfriends are human. The entire community suffering is human, human like me. They are me. I am them.

It hurt to see people who are a part of me suffer in such an unnecessary way. I was ashamed. I was scared. I was sad. I was overwhelmed. In the end my saving grace was the children running around the batey following us in excitement. Playing soccer with us (and beating our asses), making us throw them in the air, making us take pictures of them. It was their pure intentions that helped me cope.

One little girl in particular attached to me greatly. In a moment of my vulnerability she placed her little hand in mine and guided me through her hometown. I felt safe. It was a familiar feeling, holding someone's hand. It felt like home. It felt like family. It only reaffirmed the belief that love will conquer all and we must connect more. We must stop acting like oppression is not "our problem". It is. We all suffer from some sort of oppression.

Towards the end of the visit my little friend and I had a moment. I'd like to share with you.




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