now, a singularly bizarre fruit, Enron and riots in the
streets, and Humberto's "disappeared" family
DOMINGO, THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - I have spent the weekend
recovering from a bout with some sort of bug that sapped
my energy and tormented my stomach. Fortunately, Cris, one
of the wacky roommates mentioned in Dispatch One, has been
on hand providing kindly medical attention and comic relief.
learning of my ailment yesterday, she slipped into the kitchen
and proceeded to brew up a sweet tea that smelt of lemons
and cinnamon. A few sips and I felt a thousand times better.
Today, as I lounged on the couch recovering my strength,
Cris decided to undertake the download of a bunch of zip
files on the computer. Since the download instructions all
came in English, she took to reading them all aloud as they
would be pronounced in Spanish and demanding translations.
explanations were relatively straightforward through "download,"
"next," "search," "drive"
and the like, until Cris located the file she was after,
at which point the computer demanded to know if she wanted
to "unzip now." When I explained to her what that
meant - granted a more literal translation than the computer
had in mind - her eyes went wide with alarm and she shot
a look at the computer as though it had just goosed her.
In the end, she was delighted with this English lesson,
however, and she spent much of the afternoon downloading
zip files, announcing each step in the process with greater
and greater excitement until she came to the critical moment
at which point she would throw her head back and holler
"UNZIP NOW!" for all the neighborhood to hear.
Despite the fragile state of my stomach, I couldn't stop
shaking with laughter.
was only the latest episode in what is the running circus
of this household.
singularly bizarre fruit
Raquel, and the mystery fruit: not the sweetest,
tastiest nectar to be had on the planet
weekend, Raquel, Cris' partner in all the trouble-making,
turned up cradling a gigantic fruit in her arms that resembled
a de-quilled porcupine. Nobody seemed to be able to identify
what kind of fruit it was and it reeked so badly it was
hard to be in the same room, but Raquel was insistent that
we had to make juice out of the thing. Apparently, whoever
gave it to Raquel had claimed that the juice of this fruit
was simply the sweetest, tastiest nectar to be had on the
planet. So, gamely we ferried the thing into the kitchen
and laid the thing on the counter. We were all a little
frightened of the thing, and when Cris split the thing open
with a knife, we all jumped back. The innards of the thing
were truly revolting and, though it seemed impossible, they
stank even worse than the unopened fruit. We went about
dissecting the thing, which turned out to consist of little
yellow citrus-ish satchels buried in a white, fibrous substance
that looked something like part of a whale's mouth through
which it strains plankton. No seriously, we're talking about
a singularly bizarre fruit here.
some confusion, we decided that you're supposed to eat the
yellow part and, upon fishing out all the satchels out and
deseeding them, we dumped them in the blender. We left it
to Raquel to take the bold step of actually sampling the
resulting yellow sludge. The contortions on her face said
it all: far from the delicious nectar she had been promised,
the fruit juice tasted as awful as the thing smelled. And
to add insult to injury, no matter how much we lathered
our hands with soap afterwards, there was no way to be rid
of the smell. Even the ants, who tend to converge voraciously
on anything smelly that turns up in our kitchen, maintained
a respectful distance.
riotous response to Enron
and Raquel's antics are a welcome break from my work around
here, which has been both fascinating and frustrating. The
frustrating part has been locking horns with government
bureaucracy and trying to track down vanishing clients.
As to the former, I am trying to get my hands on just a
few simple documents but at times it feels as if the entire
Dominican government staff is paid to guard these precious
parchments from outside eyes. The runaround is really quite
up with these documents should prove easier than finding
some of our clients, however. It's hard enough that they
are migrants who are at constant risk of forcible deportation
and are often on the move. But to make matters worse, I
have to contend with riots. Yes, that's right, riots, which
have consumed many of the poorest Dominican neighborhoods
these past two weeks in protest of rolling blackouts.
It seems that the Dominican Republic -- on the clever advice
of the World Bank and the IMF - privatized its electricity
industry a few years back. It will come as little surprise
to Californians that, lo and behold, the private electricity
generators (including one "Smith-Enron") are now
withholding electricity production until contracts - for
more money -- can be renegotiated with the government. And
I'm sure it comes as no surprise to poor Dominicans that,
while in some areas there is power 24 hours a day, impoverished
and marginalized neighborhoods across the country are going
as much as 15 hours a day without electricity. Quite understandably,
many of these people are angry and have taken to violent
rioting to vent their frustrations. There have been several
deaths and quite a few injuries. The problem for me is that
some of our clients live in these areas and unless things
calm down some, I've been told it would be absolutely insane
for me to go. We'll have to see how all of this unfolds
in the coming weeks
Humberto (not his real name), one of the clients in the
Expulsions Case, came by the MUDHA
offices the other day. I'm at a loss to describe the feeling
of meeting a client about whom you have read the most excruciating
details of what is probably the worst thing ever to happen
to him or her.
is Humberto's story:
is Dominican. He was born in the Dominican Republic in 1958.
He lives in a batey community and works driving a motorcycle-taxi
in one of the Dominican Republic's tourist areas. Humberto's
wife, María Inés (not her real name), was
born in Haiti and migrated to the Dominican Republic in
1978. Here, she met Humberto and together they had two daughters,
both born and baptized in the Dominican Republic. The daughters
are now about 10 and 12 years old.
before Christmas time in 1994, María Inés
took the children to visit Humberto's family as Humberto's
mother had just passed away. On their way to Humberto's
family's home, María Inés and the daughters
were captured in a Dominican migration operation and forcibly
expelled to Haiti.
news reached Humberto, he was distraught. He had no way
of knowing where his family was, but he feared the worst.
With MUDHA's help, Humberto tried to ascertain if his family
was imprisoned in the Dominican Republic. No one was able
to locate them.
Ask the Author:
Griffiths has agreed to answer your questions, time
Tim in Santo Domingo.
the next three years, Humberto would make repeated trips
to Haiti, trying to locate his family there. He was unsuccessful.
Humberto also would seek information from Dominican migration
authorities in an effort to find out what they had done
with his family. The authorities had nothing to say. To
this day, Humberto does not even know for sure if his wife
and children are dead or alive.
and I talked about the logistics of yet another attempt
to find his family in Haiti. It seems that he has received
new reports about where they may be. If he can find them,
his wife and children are now entitled to safe passage documents
according to the decision of the Inter-American Court of
Human Rights (see The Expulsions Case).
With such documents, Humberto's family could travel and
reside safely anywhere in Haiti or the Dominican Republic
which means that Humberto and his family may yet be reunited.
Humberto is anxious to go. But there are arrangements to
be made with the government. And I worry about getting his
hopes up. Nothing at this point is a sure thing ...