Adequate preparation for this trip is something that I now realize was quite impossible. Arriving in the Dominican Republic gave me a feeling that was indescribable, and still is to be honest. As we drove through what I know now was La Romana, I said to myself “Wow, this area is pretty poor”, thinking these areas were actually parts of the Bateyes. Shortly after that bus ride, I learned that La Romana is actually an area that is considered wealthy as compared to the Bateyes. At the time, I didn’t think that was possible, how could La Romana be considered a rich area? Some of the streets were riddled with trash; most people used mopeds as a source of transportation; and many of the stores were small businesses that were empty for the most part. That night we had our first class meeting and further discussed what to expect when we entered the Bateyes the next morning, but nothing could truly prepare me for the experience I was about to have.
As we pulled into Batey 50 on that Wednesday, the bus swarmed with children, and as we walked out one of them jumped into everyone’s arms. As every small Dominican was paired with an American, we began to walk around and tour the small village, seeing the shacks and houses, source of water, garden, school and church. The tour took less than 10 minutes, to give reference to how small the batey actually is. After the tour, we promptly got to work and I was shoveling dirt into a wheel barrel. A young boy came up to me and took the shovel from my hands and began to shovel himself. We began talking, asking each other our name and age (he is 8) and we stuck with each other for the rest of the day. He showed me the school again, introduced me to his brother and taught me how to eat sugarcane. We spent the rest of the day together, working and playing, communicating well despite the language barrier.
Frankie and I spent most of our time together for the duration of my time in Batey 50. On the second day we were sitting down together, with his brother Matire, and I asked him where his parents were. His father, Francis, was working on the house with some of the other members of the batey, while Frankie explained that his mother was sick, in his words, “muerte”, meaning death in Spanish. I was confused, unsure of whether his mother was actually dead/dying, or I was misinterpreting what he was trying to say. The next day I learned that some of the members of the batey believed that his mother might be suffering from AIDs, and that she had been suffering for a few months. It is amazing to me that someone who is so sickly is quietly dealing with the pain in her own home for months without getting any help. It was heartbreaking to learn the deficit in healthcare that people of the bateyes experience regularly. Frankie’s mother was one example that I knew of, but had heard of many others throughout my time in the batey.
After learning about Frankie’s home life, I knew that his mother had not been very involved in his life especially since she had gotten sick. It was nice to encourage Frankie when he got his gifts for Christmas, when he got his shirt on New Years. It became important to me to check on his wellbeing every day, asking him if he had eaten and gave him anything I could. It was amazing to me how quickly I could feel attached to someone I had known for a day or two. I did not expect my goodbye to Frankie and the rest of the people of Batey 50 to be as difficult as it was. The feeling that I had when I left Batey 50 was as indescribable as when I arrived for the first time in the batey. I hope more than anything to be back one day.
“People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou
I will never forget how Batey 50 made me feel.