Everything is a Business
The boarder check back into the Resturacion, Dominican Republic from Haiti consist of a military personal, a person from the immigration department, and a women to disinfect the tires of the car. As the bus approaches the checkpoint, we are stopped and asked if everything went well. Then a woman comes up to the bus as starts defecting the tires of the bus as a form of prevention of bring cholera to the Dominican Republic. In 2010, a large earthquake struck the impoverished nation of Haiti and demolished much of the poor Haitian infrastructure. UN peacekeeper came in to keep the peace during the aftermath. However, they brought a new strain a cholera that previously never existed on the Hispaniola. This new diseases cause a health crisis breaks out along with the humanitarian epidemic from the earthquake. Thousands of people died from the devastating earthquake, but the number that died from cholera added to the death tool.
The women you see in the picture above is a government worker that job is to disinfect the tires of any car, motorbike, or any other mode of transportation. You would think that this service would be free as the products used are provided by the national government. Nevertheless, that was not the case when the women came up to the driver and asked him for fifty pesos for disinfecting the wheels of the bus, which is standard protocol. I asked the bus driver, “Why did you have to pay if the government paid for it?” he replied, “Everything is a business here.”.
This form scamming in common on every life in the Dominican Republic as people demand more money to supplement their income as their monthly wage is not sufficient to survive on. This form of scamming a corruption is on many level of Dominican society. I was thought provoking how she abused her power due to the other officials that were around that also thought that it was an acceptable practice. The driver had no other choice than to pay her the fifty pesos that she demanded because of the position that we were in at the boarder. You cannot say no when you are in a position like that. It was not shocking that she asked, as I heard story about this practice prior to this trip. However, it was eye opening to see it happen in real life.
Furthermore, in Santiago de Los Caballeros, there was a private parking lot for customers and employees only. The security guard who was working was letting in other cars that were not customers or workers of that business. I could see from my hotel room that each person that was not suppose to park there did this special handshake passing of money to the security guard for allowed them to park there. This underground business highlights the daily struggle that they average faces having to do what may be consider illegal activity to have a decent living and survive. It is important to see that this underground business happens on various levels on Dominican society.
Is this your shoe?
Little boy walking though Tilori without shoes, is this yours? Or the little girl carrying water for her family, is this your shoe? Who‘s shoes line the market streets?
Among the sewage and heat there are lone shoes along the road in Tilori, Haiti, but they are more than just single shoes. They once belonged to children, forced into a life of squalor because no one knows their story. Their story is this.
Many Haitian people are unable to receive water or basic medical treatment for diseases like cholera. Cholera, an illness that has killed countless Haitians, is curable. With simple treatment like hydration and antibiotics cholera does not have to be deadly. For the Haitian people disease becomes a death sentence as their hospitals are not supplied with proper medicines to cure even the common cold. The homes of these people are made of scraps they have found in the area and their lack of closable windows leaves them open to malaria, chikungunya, and other mosquito-born illness. Their best chance at survival is to leave and cross the border to the Dominican Republic. While this may sound simple, a recent revision to the Dominican constitution makes Haitians unable to become citizens. For a child in Haiti there is hope, but only in the form of schooling. Could the cure to world hunger be in the mind of a young Haitian? Or maybe the founder of world peace? The world will not know of the potential that can be had if no one pays any mind to people at the border. When the world has turned away it is the job of those who can to bring the devastation in Haiti to light. When the catastrophic earthquake happened in 2010 campaigns were funded to get the Haitians help, but then the next disaster happened and the people who need help every day were forgotten. We have not forgotten.
A lost shoe to an outsider is just a shoe, but in reality that shoe could be the only pair that child will ever own. Where is the world now as people eat meat that sat in the sun all day, touched by the hundreds of people that have come from all over Haiti just to try and make some money. That money won’t go to a new pair of shoes for those are gone forever, and a family needs to eat to survive. It is easy to say the world should go in and overhaul the system, but we need to address the simple problems like lack of food and water. No human should go without simply because their government decided they were not worthy.
So to the little girl that stood for pictures in the hot sun is that your shoe?
What does it mean to be Dominican?
There are many layers that construct the Dominican identity; two characteristics of this idea of identity are colour and physical features. Before arriving to the Dominican Republic I was fully aware that I look like the stereotypical Indio (Indian). From the day I landed in Dominican Republic, I have been asked on a daily basis by random people whether I am Dominican. It all started in Punta Cana International Airport with a immigration officer. As I walked up to the immigration officer and handed over my British passport his body language and demeanor changed as if he had figured out how to communicate with me. Travelling from Punta Cana to the Santo Domingo the assumptions that I am Dominican were continuous. For example, in Punta Cana a women me if I am Dominican. When I said no, I could see the confusion and disbelief in her body language as if I were lying to her. I had to explain to her how I had no connection or relation to this nation. This woman continued to question me to make sure that I wasn’t. One of her questions were “Estás seguro que no tienes familiares dominicanas?”, which translates to “Are you sure you don’t have Dominican family members?”. After this mini interview, I asked her why she thought I was Dominican. I wanted to understand what traits she was basing her assumption off. She revealed to be that my Indo (Indian) colour and my European/Indian features is what she based it off. The features she included my hair, lips, nose that looked “Dominican”. Therefore, what makes me or anyone else Dominican? As stated by Alegandro Esteban, a communications professors from PUCMM; there are many factors that contribute to a person being Dominican such as their culture, language, way of life, etc. However, physical appearance a main factor that people use to evaluate a person. Furthermore, he stated that I would never be classified as black because I have my own unique complexion. Morencito claro, which translates to light brown . In the Dominican Republic there are specific names for different complexions from moreno (brown) to rubia (blonde*).
Furthermore, in Santiago de Los Caballeros, two tourist police hand picked me out of the group and starting speaking Spanish to me. These men had no idea if I was Dominican or spoke Spanish. However, they assumed I was because of my colour. It took me back for a minute and I had to digest the experience that I just had. At this point in the trip, I am reevaluating my identity in a way because there are more forces that are challenging my identity. In my case, growing up in the British Virgin Islands has brought me to the crossroad between these two different cultural identities since my father is a native Virgin Islander and my mother is British. There are times where both identities are useful as it makes me a skillful communicator and I can adapt to different audiences. Moreover, I have another identity because I speak Spanish and look Dominican, sufficient for me to pass as having a new identity. This expands my ability to communicate and adapt to another culture as I am already a couple of steps a head. This leaves people like myself stuck between multiple worlds with a hybrid identity created by colonialism, mixed races, multiethnicity, and external influences.
The Hidden Identity of Machismo
Machismo is prevalent throughout all of Latin America and dictates the behavior of the men and women of these countries. This creates a paternalistic society that favors the man, explicitly focusing on masculine pride and masculine power over women. To a person not aware of this, these behaviors are hidden as they walk through the streets of a community or city and see the obvious love for women that men have. Men and women are constantly holding hands, kissing, and showing affection towards each other. Despite this view that most see, machismo has created many different traditions and behaviors affecting women here in the Dominican Republic.
When a child is born, a tradition of name giving is present. Here, the child receives both of the parents’ last name. First, the father’s last name is listed and then the mother’s last name is listed. This shows the consideration of both the mother and the father but also shows the paternal power that is present as the fathers’ last name is listed before the mothers. Along with name giving, this ideal of male superiority is also apparent through many different avenues.
In the Dominican Republic, a woman’s worth is determined by how well she cleans her home. It is not based on how educated she is, her job, or her character as a human being. Women are not expected to enter the work force, and rather are expected to stay home, have a family, and take care of the home as the man goes out and brings home the money to provide for the family. Women also are seen as a constant reflection of the man she is with, evident by her tidy appearance. Characteristics of the ideal Dominican woman include straight, blonde hair, tight clothes, and light skin. When a woman looks like this, she is seen as ideal as she looks more western, and has women all over the country striving to look this way.
Women are also sexually exploited and harmed by men and society alike. ‘Cabanas’ serve as rooms where men can have sexual relations with different women they pick up for a small rate. Not a social taboo, these cabanas are clearly located all around the island for the use of the men here and are lit up to draw attention to them. In this way, men have multiple sexual partners to show their dominance over women and to show their superiority.
Domestic abuse is also a major issue here in the Dominican Republic. The need for dominance over the female is often shown through aggression, physical aggression, on a female. For such a common issue, the government has not done much to help the issue and victims of domestic abuse. If a woman is to report domestic abuse, if she feels safe enough to, the officials say that they do not believe her and that she is lying. In turn, she is sent home to the man that beats her with nothing to protect her except herself.
Cultural ideals for womanhood, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse and the lack of protection are all examples of how the government and machismo work together to create a society that degrades and demotes women. But how did these ideologies come to place? What triggered this machismo that makes one lesser than another? And what caused machismo to be instilled in the ideas of the people and transcend generation after generation to where it is a social norm?
The Effects of Tourism
The Dominican Republic is quickly becoming one of the world’s largest tourist destinations with Punta Cana at the center of this. Lined with beaches people flock to the exclusive resorts to relax and enjoy their vacation. The largest part of the Dominican Republics growing economy is tourism passing agriculture. As the years go on people are visiting other parts of the Dominican republic, although it isn’t as popular as Punta Cana, many are visiting the capitol Santo Domingo and exploring its historical center. Tourism is providing jobs for people so they are getting paid and able to support their families. Businesses selling souvenirs are thriving. But even with all these positive aspects how much is tourism truly benefiting the country and how much is hurting the country?
The beaches of Punta Cana attract people from all over the world looking for a relaxing vacation. These beautiful hotels provide restaurants, excursions, bars, and nightlife. People who arrive at the Punta Cana airport never have to leave the gates, so are they really traveling to a foreign country? Or just an extension of their own? Dominicans don’t even refer to Punta Cana as being a part of their country calling it the Republic of Punta Cana. It brings in millions of dollars every year to the economy that tourists spend but who does that money go to? Those working at the resorts get paid but according to an employee their wage is about 300 to 500 America dollars a month, and rent in the city just outside is over $100. Just outside those gates is a town of workers who don’t have access to clean water. Where is all this money from tourism going?
The city of Santo Domingo is built on the water, lining the water are hotels for these tourists. While many are locally-owned hotels, many are owned by foreign companies including those from the United States. These hotels house tourists from around the country visiting the capitol as well as foreigners. But these hotels that line the streets also pump their waste through pipes directly into the ocean. When you travel to a country, you seek to explore the culture and people, not to contribute to pollution. Inside the city of Santo Domingo the streets are clean, guards are on every corner ensuring nothing bad happens, but where is this information outside of the city?
The Colonial center is also lined with small tourist shops. Stores sell art ranging from ancient Taino symbols to paintings of markets and palm trees. Old coins, t-shirts, and jewelry are also sold in these stores. These businesses make a large profit from the tourists, but that profit stays with them, it doesn’t spread out and help others in the city. It just makes a businessman have more business.
When tourists come to these cities, are they really learning about the country and culture of the people? They are seeing a fabricated version of life. The Dominican Republic is selling a resort vacation and a Spanish colonial town to gain tourism and money, but that won’t change the problems the country faces, and it wont let outsiders see the problems faced by the people of this country.
Sin Jesús, Irá Derecho Al Fuego. No te Pierda.
Worldwide the Dominican Republic is portrayed as a utopian paradise. Within this utopia tourist flock from every corner of the earth to experience the superficial side of the Dominican Republic, however, few venture out to the reality. The reality in which a thriving two tier caste system is highlighted in Punta Cana where security guards and gates separate the two starkly different reality of this nation. Entering a resort in Punta Cana can be compared to a border crossing with a twist. Those who have permission and the means to stay at a luxurious resort have the right of passage to avoid the truth of the essence of this nation. The ride from Punta Cana International Airport keeps tourists within the aesthetically pleasing confinement of the compound. This is done on purpose to promote and reinforce the one story view that was sold to tourists when drawing them to the Dominican Republic. This dangerous, biased perspective of the Dominican Republic allows tourists to ignore the dark reality of what is on the other side of that gate. The gate that serves as an invisible line of where the rich and poor belong. On the other side of that gate, there are people living in unacceptable conditions where basic government services are either minimal or do not exist. Exploring the other side of the gate allows one to see the drastic difference between these two worlds that coexist.
Those who live in dire straights accept their reality to be permanent as there seems to be no break in the cycle. Those who live in these conditions hold religion to be very important to them. In regular Dominican conversation it is common to hear references to God/Jesus and family as many who are impoverished hold these two irremovable ideals to heart. A sign in Santo Domingo read “Sin Jesús, Irá Derecho Al Fuego. No te Pierda”. Translated means “Without Jesus I would go straight into the fire. Don’t lose yourself”. This quote emphasizes certain aspects of Dominican society with specific words that were highlighted in red. Those who are impoverished keep God/Jesus and family close to them to help them get through their hardship or break that glass ceiling that is stopping them from bettering their current predicament. God/Jesus and family are stabilizing figures that average Dominicans can look up to or seek help. This is because they cannot rely on their government, a government that doesn’t seem to care about them. God/Jesus and family will never discriminate against them and will always be there to guide at anytime.
The Dominican attitude of individualism is stressed in the picture above with the word “te” in red. As there are only two main ideals that they can hold on to for security. There is no imminent sense of unity in order to work together for a better future. Yet, without a doubt God/Jesus and family will always be there no matter what. In order to get through life, they need to be able do things themselves because the government is not there for them with regards to providing basic services such as running water and electricity. Nonetheless, the rampant corruption that happens on every level of Dominican bureaucracy and society hinder a proper and function society and democracy. There is an unlimited amount of social and economic programs that could transform this nation. One purpose of government is to control and to make resources accessible to the public. However, mismanagement resources impedes development of nation and individuals.
The Commencement of Life and Death
In the modern world most children are born in maternity wards in hospitals. In Tilori, Haiti, the public hospital was small, understaffed, lacked of medicine, and was unsanitary. By no means does the Haitian government fund this hospital properly. The building that the hospital occupied looked like an abandoned house that serves a community of 17,000 residents. There were members of the group that opted out of touring the hospital, as they did not want to risk contamination or seeing any shocking sights. I was not one of them; I went ahead with the others in the group to see the reality of the medical facility that residences of Tilori had to use. As we walked through we approached a maternity ward. The door opened, we could not believe that we were seeing. The room appeared to be falling apart as the two beds that were slowly rusting away, posters falling of the wall, no running water, and etc. This is room where mother bring newborns into the real world. However, the innocent newborns are unaware of the hardship that they will have to go through in their lives. Furthermore, the ward is not equipped with machines in case of an emergency. It was hard for all of us to comprehend that this is where babies are born. This ward should be a place where a mother feels safe that her baby will be fine. Nonetheless, health standards between the U.S and Haiti are incomparable.
Once we left the maternity ward, we ventured out to a separate building that was for cholera patients. The week before we arrived there were four people that had cholera and two weeks before six people where infected by this disease. It is evident that his is still a major problem in Haiti, but in the western world we turn a blind eye to a disease that was brought by the United Nations after the earthquake in 2010. We went into a room that had wooden walls and wooden beds with holes, in order to put a bucket there in case the patient had to the bathroom. This room emphasized the horrendous conditions that cholera patients had to stay and be treated in. Patients are potentially on deaths doorstep if they are not treated properly. Furthermore, the hospital might not have the right medicines to treat these patients. It is a human disaster.
Moreover, the lack of resources this hospital has to disinfect these rooms where cholera patients are housed has the potential to infect the entire community. This is if the hospital does not have correct supplies, which it does not. The lack of supplies creates a public health crisis in Tilori that is out of their hands with respect to the limited supplies they receive from the national government. It is almost inevitable that cholera will never be eradicated from this town unless certain measures are taken to break the cycle of infection. Long-term solutions are needed in order to improve the general health care in this community. However, these solutions always lead back to the heart of the problem that is funding. Funding that is needed to buy vital resources never makes it to hospitals like the one in Tilori.