17 Nov 2001 Journal entry discussion: Peace Corps site selection

In my recent posting of a journal from 17 Nov 2001, there is some context that needs discussing. I am doing my best not to edit or censor my 15-year-ago self, but if someone actually reads any of this, s/he’s going to want to know a little bit about a few things.

I wrote this long list of why Peace Corps wouldn’t work out for me after a couple of really shitty things had happened to me. First off, I had a nasty fight with another trainee during training, and managed in the process to alienate most of the other trainees in my group. Then, I was sent to a site that wasn’t really ready for me, but which was perhaps the most hellish piece-of-crap placement that Peace Corps could have come up with in all of the island.

When I joined Peace Corps, I had some vision of rural third world people. This image was mostly from my time in Mexico. But I had not seen the likes of a the site Peace Corps placed me in. It came as a shock, as it really should come as a shock to anyone who cares about human welfare.

I was placed in a batey, which is a sugarcane cutting settlement owned by the sugarcane processing plant, or ingenio. The land, the concrete barracks and houses, and the people were more-or-less all owned by the sugar company. Many of the residents were immigrants from Haiti, or their direct descendants. These people have been the subject of great abuse in Dominican society for decades, something that the US has not always worked with foreign policy to address. They have no rights, and the sugarcane company is at leisure to pay them little or even nothing for their backbreaking effort. To add insult to injury, the Dominicans of Haitian descent like those in my site are subject to violence, denial of public services, and, most recently, random expulsion from the country.

These very poor people were running around in among concrete barracks. Piles of trash burned. The soil had been stripped down to the white clay subsoil by years of mistreatment. Many of the people didn’t speak Spanish, but Haitian Kreyol.

More or less, Peace Corps had recruited community organizations to be hosts for volunteers. But people as poor and poorly-used as the people in the bateyes were so down-trodden that they did not have their own community organizations. Instead, the school district, along with the company partially responsible for the batey-dwellers’ misery, would foist me upon these unsuspecting people.

So here I was, in the ugliest possible site, having just had a horrible time of training. I am pretty sure it’s not going to work out because these people’s needs are just too great. Moreover, I’m being sent as a representative of outside forces that the community may not want anything to do with. I stick around because I believed that if I quit, I’d be forever useless.

Thanks for reading.