correspondent Tim Griffiths posing with friends during
a break from a ferocious game of kickball at Batey Altagracia
from the bateys (the old sugar cane labor camps) where Rosa
considers buying a mother
DOMINGO, THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC So far, I have been
able to visit three "batey" communities since
my arrival in the Dominican Republic. The bateys date from
the heyday of the Dominican sugar industry, when the government
recruited laborers from Haiti to work the cane fields and
the refineries. The industry constructed these small company
towns called bateys to house the workers and their families.
of their history, the bateys today are home to the Dominican
Republic's largest concentrations of Haitians and Dominicans
of Haitian descent. Not coincidentally, the bateys are also
among the most marginalized, isolated and impoverished communities
in the Dominican Republic. Over the next few days, I hope
to send a few stories that report on my visits to the bateys
and the people living there. Here is the first one:
Altagracia: Rosa's Dilemma
need to buy a mom," said the woman.
supposed to know what's going on here, but I confess that
this request threw me off completely. We were standing in
a small clearing in Batey Altagracia amid homes cobbled
together out of wood planks, scraps of tin roofing and tree
limbs - a village that is a collage. I had come to Batey
Altagracia to listen to the stories of the residents and
their efforts to obtain nationality documents for themselves,
or for their children. Lico Augustín, a MUDHA
staff member who grew up in Batey Altagracia, recommended
that I speak to Rosa (not her real name), the middle-aged
woman who now stood before me. Her hair was wound in tight
braids around her head and she wore a long colorful sun
dress. Years of constant exposure to the sun gave her skin
an almost leathery look and she seemed elderly before her
time. She also had no teeth, which made me wonder if perhaps
I simply had not understood her correctly.
me, señora, what did you say?"
need to buy a mom," she repeated, "but they're
sorry. I'm not sure I understand. What do you mean you need
to buy a mom?"
what they told me in the office of the civil registry. I
went to get my papers so that I could register my daughter.
She's in the seventh grade. They told me that I had to have
papers from my mother, but my mother died 15 years ago in
Barahona. They told me maybe I could buy a mother."
mean that you would hire someone to pretend she was your
mother, is that it?"
course. But I can't afford it right now. Mothers are very
expensive." Rosa pointed down the path towards some
other dwellings. "Gina has the same problem. Her daughter
is also in seventh grade. I'm not sure what we're going
Ask the Author:
Griffiths has agreed to answer your questions, time
Tim in Santo Domingo.
I don't know what Rosa and Gina are going to do either.
I'm at a loss as to what to tell them. There does exist
an incredibly long, tedious and expensive bureaucratic process
by which they could try to get themselves registered, but
it would require multiple bus rides halfway across the country,
tracking down witnesses and officials (not to mention probably
having to coax them into action with a few extra pesos on
the side) and potentially multiyear waits for the government
to process the documents. Who am I to say that buying a
mother, if Rosa and Gina can somehow scrape together the
cash - and if they can get away with it - is such a bad
Rosa and Gina's daughters are a year away from having to
take the National Exams that would allow them to go on to
high school studies. But without birth certificates, the
two daughters probably will not be allowed to take the exam.
Perhaps they will drop out
and have children
who may very well also go unregistered
and so on
just another set of links in the chain of grinding
poverty and hopeless government bureaucracy.