From Santiago, Dominican Republic
Check this menu out!
The food here, for the most part, is not special. The meats are good and the fruit is fresh and abundant. But there is no particular Dominican cuisine. A standard meal for people here is a very large pile of white rice with a bit of sauce on top, some tostones (deep-fried banana patties) and a bit of chicken or pork. You will not be getting any vegetables or salad unless you ask for it. And dont count on that either. I find the boiled cassava root to be a good equivalent for potatoes. It is locally grown and highly productive plant. I see cassava plantations all over the country. It is the third highest source of calories for humans, after rice and corn. 800 million people depend upon it as their first source of food. It is very hardy and drought resistant. I had to learn to pull the fibers out of the fleshy root as I ate it. But it is a nutritious basic food crop.
Call it yucca or cassava or manioc -- it's the #3 food crop in the world
The Haitians appear to be doing most of the field work, like growing yucca here.
Fresh orange juice with ice, several times a day, on the street
My daily juice bar
I have just completed 5 days of riding leisurely from the Samana Peninsula to Santiago. From Nagua I rode inland and immediately found myself pleasantly isolated. No structures or people for many miles. Just swamps and rice fields. I had a 25 mph tail wind and I got blown along like I was flying. This doesnt happen often. I stopped at just about every village to get freshly pressed orange juice with ice. I had to specifically state early on that I did NOT want sugar added to it. If I didnt, they would pour sugar in for me. They would even try to convince me that I should take sugar with my orange/coconut/coffee and even grimace when they saw me drinking things without sugar. The only other place where I have seen such a sugar addiction is Cuba.
Look at the name of this armed, gated community. One could sound it out as 'Pricks-are-in'
I rode my bicycle past this armed, gated community. Look at its name, then sound it out. At least they admit it.
I have not seen one other bicycle tourist and am convinced that I will not any for the rest of the trip either. I can tell by the surprise in peoples’ faces that they are not used to seeing a touring cyclist. My presence on a touring bicycle does draw a lot of questions.
I have been in small villages where virtually all employment is either construction or agriculture. The commercial crops here are rice, sugar, coconuts, and bananas. In every small town I see many men standing around, hoping for day work. Frequently when I ask for directions, they offer to lead me there, for a fee. Anything for income. Another source of income here is remittances from Dominicans living in the US. I have seen statistics stating that up to 15% of the nation is living in the US at any one time.
At the entrance of bars...
The big event that I see in the villages on the weekends is the BIG TOWN DRUNK. The men begin drinking a cheap Brugal rum around noon on Friday in the town square. This goes on non-stop until early Monday morning, when they simply cannot endure anymore. By that time, the town square is covered with bottles, glass, plastic cups, and other debris. The women do complain, but then it happens next week again and again.
The country suffers from a poor education system. Like in Brazil, many people stated to me that the public schools are a failure. The state does not enforce child labor laws. I have met numerous adults who can just barely read and write. In the past I have learned that illiterate people are not dumb. They just cannot read or write. I myself cannot imagine living in that world. As an educator, I find it extremely disturbing to meet young adults who have not gone to school and are functionally illiterate. This is something I would never see in Cuba. The difference in street level education between Cuba and the Dominican Republic is striking.
'No somos racistas. pero' ...the Haitians are trying to take over everything!
The Dominicans are a mixed people. Thirty generations of white, African, and remnant Taino Indian marriage has made for a relatively mixed brown-colored people. There is variation, but not as much as within Cuban or Brazilian populations. So I sat next to several darker-skinned Dominican women in an outdoor restaurant. Across the road was a storefront Haitian church. The Haitians were standing and dancing and singing and really rocking the whole block in Santiago. Almost all the congregants there were dressed in white. Haitians are generally distinct in the DR because they are African black. So I asked one of the Dominican women sitting next to me what she thought of the Haitians. She began her answer with the classic ‘Yo no soy racista pero…’ (I am not a racist but…). And then she proceeded to accuse the Haitians of theft and criminality. She said that they were taking jobs from the Dominicans and that it was time to ‘send them back’.
Send them back? In 1937, the Dominican dictator Raphael Trujillo had a different solution. He felt that the informal Haitian immigration of the west of the DR was becoming a de facto permanent occupation. So he developed the ‘parsley test´. He had his troops hold up sprigs of parsley to suspected Haitians. If they answered perejil, pesi, or persil, Trujillo said that would determine that they wre Haitian. So in five days in October, 1937, Trujillo´s troops executed from 20-30,000 Haitians. Several Dominicans told me that it was time again to drive the Haitians back over the border by whatever means.
What I had noticed about the Haitians in the DR is that they are the ones up at sunrise doing all the hard physical labor. They are hawking home grown foods all day long. It is easy to recognize them by accent, behavior, and appearance. They clearly fill in a niche that many Dominicans do not want to do. Where have we seen this before?
Since the Haitian earthquake there has been a mass border invasion into the DR. I notice it in many ways. Often when riding my bike I would see an abandoned farm building. I would pull my bike over to catch a rest, only to find it occupied with Haitians. It was difficult to find any abandoned structure in the western DR that did not have Haitians occupying it. I am getting a sense that there may be major ethnic conflicts here in the near future.