The hot sun shines brightly in San Pedro as we drive off to visit Doña Lila—a remote and isolated little village, 20 minutes from the Conference Center we enjoy as a home base for this trip. The “batey,” or (former) slave camp, is home to about 50 Dominicans who work in the sugar cane fields that surround it.
Some of Dona Lila’s buildings and dwellings were built well by the cane plantation’s owners years ago, but most have been added since by those who live there. These later buildings are not sturdily constructed out of concrete blocks and other quality construction materials, but out of scrap unwanted sheet metal or other second-rate materials. It is these buildings that most accurately depict the conditions under which the entire community lives.
Those who live here may or may not be despised by the surrounding culture, but they are most assuredly neglected by it. They live in isolation from the rest of the world—I noticed only 2 motorcycles in the entire encampment. The settlement is so deeply buried in the cane fields that it seems likely few people know it exists, much less come to offer help or opportunity.
The people here are quiet folk. They spend time with their families sitting on the front porch, or working with a neighbor on some modest home improvement. They work and provide for their families as best they are able. They ask little of society, and probably expect less. Their expectations may sometimes still be high.
Our group, eagerly anticipating our visit with these people, piles out of the silver Toyota van, only to be dripped on by the Dominican sky. Dr. Dohn remarks, “You can tell we’ve left the coast—it never rains in the tourist areas, it only rains on these people.”
The comment offers insight into the way things work here—but not only here. Much of our country lives in relative sunshine—with opportunities to at least change current circumstances, if not to prosper outright. While my income often doesn’t seem to go far enough for my family, I am aware that, for millions, my income would offer an almost kingly standard of living. Even many here in the Dominican Republic reap the benefits of opportunity or good fortune, and get to bask in its sunshine.
But, here in Dona Lila today, it’s raining. Dr. Dohn’s insightful comment says what some will do anything to avoid saying: that while many of us may be enjoying sunshine, not everyone is. Those whose ships have not yet come in still wait. While many enjoy the sunshine, somewhere it’s raining.