I am finally feeling up to writing about something I haven't quite figured out yet. I've simply decided to state that I don't quite get it. Having reread "The Help" yesterday, the push to say this has reached the limit.
I want to state early that anything I wrote that makes someone seem mean is situational. Literally, other than everything I say here, people are really nice. It's kind of like when your parents have to use their phone voice in the middle of yelling at you.
I live in a house with servants... Sort of.
My Doña raised 9 kids with one husband and the children are now spread throughout the DR, the United States, and Spain.
My Don had a stroke some time ago and needs the assistance of a hired aide. His brother also lives in the house with us.
My family is wealthy and owns a lot of land and animals. The kids are all doing well and have luxuries like iPads, cell phones, and the ability to speak some English. (The visitors, not the constants.)
Also in my house is a little girl about the age of 8. She has lives here for at least three years since her Mom died and she and her four other siblings were split among different families in the country. One of her sisters still lives in this town and comes over about 3 times a week with the woman she lives with. When I ask about her treatment I hear its because she's poor. How can a child be poor? I will explore this thought the rest of my time here.
We also have a woman who comes Monday through Saturday to do the cooking and cleaning for the home. This woman is the maternal grandmother of the little girl who lives here. She is also the niece of my Doña. So the little girl is actually family.
A Haitian man lives here too. He told me he's been in the DR for three years. He takes are if the animals and lives in the shed.
Now that all the background information is there we can jump to the things I don't understand.
1. My Doña calls the girl her hija, so for a while I thought she thought of her like a daughter. I don't think that anymore.
2. Anyone and everyone who ever comes to the house has taken to yelling the little girls name when they need or want anything. Even people from other countries that haven't been here in a few years. Neighbors call from across the road and she goes running. Late at night, early in the morning, anything and everything she is called to do.
3. The nurse aide that was hired to help the Don arrived a day before I did. She and her four year old son sleep in the room with my host parents and she cleans and cooks with the other lady all day, yelling at the little girl the whole time.
4. When we all went to the to the river the little girl was told she could go next time we just didn't have... Surely not space. Maybe she meant room. Maybe she meant the girl had more work to do with lunch.
5. When I went to the capital, and came back, no one was home, because EVERYBODY, including the little girl, went to the river. Why this time? Why the little boy without his mom? I don't always get it.
6. When I went to the beach, the girls and her sister were sitting watching as the car rolled away. The son of the nurse was allowed to go. I think they were going to cry. I felt guilty, but I also wanted to go to the beach. Does that make me an awful person?
7. I'm pretty sure the cleaning ladies job is to walk around with a cigarette in her mouth yelling at her granddaughter and throwing water on things. She intersperses this with ripping off her shoe to hit kids with. (She is an acceptance to the rule I stated at the beginning. I'm pretty sure she is mean all the time.)
All of these leads to what I don't understand. Where is the class line? The little boy, who is unrelated and also poor is treated better than the little girl. Is it simply because he's a boy? I sometimes wonder about why the nurse came to live here so suddenly. I'm pretty sure there is a backstory I am not privy to.
Also, why is the grandmother so awful? Did she get the girl an in at this house and feel responsible for her?
We have running water and toilets in the house, but I've never seen the Haitian man who lives here use them. We have a latrine too, but I don't plan on using it when we have two perfectly good bathrooms. I've never seen him use it, but I wonder if he does. We also have showers, but the little girl and the Haitian man use the cement slab surrounded by car hoods to shower. Do they have to or do they choose to? Is it my thinking that makes these showers the sub standard choice, and would Dominicans who have been showering this was for years not think of it that way?
Are treated awful. By animals, I mean dogs. I was recently told that its been said that you can tell how advanced a society is by how they treat their animals.
The little boy smacked a little piglet who was eating a mango the other day in the back with a big stick. It appears this was just for sport, because he wasn't trying to get the pig to do anything special and the pig wasn't doing anything wrong.
It's a system, all the ladies here smack this kid for seemingly no reason, so he does the same thing to animals.
At the end of the day, these are just observations. No matter how gray the lines seem to me, when I was at the beach and I saw the little boy standing alone at the edge of the water for 20 minutes, I took of my shorts and shirt and walked over to him in my swimsuit. I stuck out my hand and walked with the frightened boy into the water. He laughed and smiled (until he had salt water in his eyes) and I feel like I broke down a wall. If abuse patters start from above its not enough for me to be nice to the dog, I have to find a niche with the boy and his mother too.
I've taken to playing with the little girl when she has some time. We play SkipBo which I brought with me and Travel Blokus (Thank you Linwicks), which is a hit with all the little Dominican kids I know. She and I also read the children's book I have in Spanish together. It has a short story for everyday of the year and she really likes it. She's often called away during the game which makes it last a LOOONG time, but I'm learning or practicing patience.
She's not like Annie. If she's kind of playing and cleaning it seems to be okay. She sings a lot as she washed the dishes after this full house and when asked says she's happy. Maybe she just doesn't know.
I've also learned that only certain people will accept help when asked. If the Haitian man is putting beans or something and I offer help he takes it. If the little girl is washing dishes and I offer to help she takes it. If my doña is washing something and I offer to help she usually says no, the little girl will do it. It the cleaning ladies are cleaning and I offer to hep they say no. I think it's because they see me as either above them economically or incapable of cleaning properly. Neither is 100% true. Kids and Haitian workers just see that something needs done and another hand makes things faster. They aren't phased by the idea that I am a rich American who can pay her way into this family and shouldn't have I lift a finger.
They let me wash my own laundry though...
Also, I wonder where I fit on the list with different people. Mostly, I wonder what my doña thinks. She buys me things to make me happy like fried pig skin and washing soap, but she doesn't make the cleaning ladies wash my clothing. Who am I in this rainbow of class?