Posted by: Lydia | May 25, 2010

Batey yo

No, the title of this posting isn’t proof that I’ve finally fallen off a motoconcho and irreparably damaged the Spanish-speaking portion of my brain, leaving both verbs and syntax lying with my self-respect and battered helmet by the side of the road… it’s just the plural form of “Batey” in Kreyol. The article goes after the noun, and to make something plural you don’t change the noun itself, you just use the plural article “yo.” Hence, “Batey yo” means “the Bateys.” Also, verbs don’t conjugate, and you form tenses with particles instead of changing the verb itself. Languages born from the desperate need to communicate with your fellow slaves when all of you speak a different tongue are by nature straight forward, easy to learn, and incredibly culturally and linguistically interesting.

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the Caribbean sugar industry, the Dominican economy, and Haiti, Bateys are the large labor camps where Haitian men came (or were sometimes brought against their will) to live while they toiled in the DR’s cane fields. Despite the decline of the sugar industry and Trujillo’s efforts to exterminate all of the Haitians living in the DR (except, of course, the laborers at particular privately-owned canefields), the Bateys have grown in population size as the laborers put down permanent roots and started families. The majority of the Batey population is still Haitian and Kreyol-speaking, therefore critically underrepresented and underserved yet nevertheless a vital part of this nation’s development process. At this point I would normally launch into a lengthy tirade illuminating the striking similarities in the negative attitudes towards immigrants here and in the United States (yes, I mean you Arizona), but seeing as I am now an employee of the U.S. Govt. and a guest of the Dominican nation, my more pointed criticisms will have to wait a while.

The high concentration of Kreyol speakers in these communities is why last week Matt and I found ourselves several hundred kilometers south of our site in a Batey in the province of Barahona, baking in the horrendous heat of the Southwest and trying to learn yet another language…. Haitian Kreyol. It was decided that we have a significant enough Haitian population here in our community that our service would benefit from a basic knowledge of Kreyol, so we received the privilege to attend the awesomeness that is Kreyol Kamp. Living in a Batey for a week is not exactly like staying at the Hilton Caribé, but we had a great teacher, fantastic bread (they make this crazy good pot-baked bread here called biskwit), and got to experience a gagá (video forthcoming), and apparently you can use it to go into a trance during vudu ceremonies, however in this case it was basically just a Batey get-together on a Thursday afternoon. The instruments are improvised from PCV pipe and aluminum scraps, and I like to think of those long horns with the flared bells as a kind of Hispaniolan alpen-horn, because Haiti is a very mountainous country which I suppose would resemble Switzerland if it were in the subtropics and massive deforestation and colonialism kicked the shit out of it.

Here’s a closeup of the horns:

After the dance, the music troupe piled into a truck and rode off, still tooting and drumming on their awesome DIY instruments, down the dusty road into oblivion like the Flying Dutchmen of gagá bands.

All Wagner references aside, the Batey Peace Corps Experience is much more like what most people imagine when they envision what the living conditions are like for volunteers (especially in comparison to the relative luxury in which Matt and I live here in the Campo). There is one Youth Sector volunteer in this particular campo, and he lives in a concrete shack with no bathroom or running water. The Batey is tremendously overcrowded, trash is everywhere, skin diseases on kids are rampant, and apparently the situation with the school is a “Lord of the Flies” kind of deal (school is in session when the kids feel like it… and there are about 2 or 3 kids to every adult in the Batey so what the kids say, goes). Needless to say, it’s where PCVs belong.

And despite everything, like everywhere in the world, people do more than just survive.

They have awesome hair

They smile and are beautiful

They are shy at dances

And they play with the wild abandon and creativity as only kids with few rules and less money can play



  1. Fascinating and beautiful, thank you dear Sis.
    P.S. I KNOW you mean us, AZ. Sean and I are joining a BIG protest march this Saturday.

  2. Amazing –the world is larger than global economists would have us believe and to think most Americans are just fixated on Dancing With The Stars or American Idol.

    I know my girls are looking forward to visiting you next winter.

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