Saturday, July 14, 2007

Collective Parenting

On Monday, equipped with my power suit and high heel shoes, I walked along the uneven roads of Swetes Village and up Roman Hill to wait across the street from All Saints Roman Catholic Church for a bus to take me to town where I was to begin my work at the Directorate of Gender Affairs. There, at the bus stop, stood two older ladies. Being a good Antiguan, I said, “Good Morning” so that they could see that I have manners. If not, I probably would not have heard the end of it. “Good Morning,” they replied in unison in the Antiguan sing-song I have missed. “Oh, she so pretty and nice,” one of the ladies said to the other. I smiled humbly after hearing the compliment.

Then, the same lady turned to me and said out of nowhere, “Listen, you pretty, and dem men dem gon follow after you. Don’t let dem a spoil you. All dem a want is sex, and then when dem a get it, dem a turn dem back pon you.” I smiled and nodded at her advice, saying that I was focused on my studies, not on men. Soon, afterwards, the bus arrived and I wished my two new friends a lovely day as I closed the bus’s door shut. When I got into the bus, praying that it was going to take me to where I was trying to go, I started to reflect on what the nice older lady had said me.

Of course, I have heard that very same thing from my Antiguan mother—let your man wait because after he gets sex, he’ll leave you. Believe me, that idea has been engrained in my head. However, what I enjoyed most about the women’s schooling me on the ways of men was that it seemed that in Antigua, raising children is everyone’s job. Even on Thursday when I was taking the bus home from town, the lady next me kindly told me, “You musn’t bite your nails.” I replied, “You’re right. It’s a bad habit. Thank you.” Her comment and the one of my older lady friends caused me to think about my students in the Bronx, who would never want to hear anything from anyone else because “that ain’t they mother to be telling them what to do.”

Unfortunately, in the United States, everything is so individualistic. No one likes to be told what to do. No one wants to hear how she should raise her children. No one wants to get involved in any one else’s business. In contrast, in Antigua, everyone is in your business. The island is small, and the villages are even smaller. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone has a role in raising all children. The idea of a collective parent evokes the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and indeed it does.

Parenting should be collective. Children are our present and our future, and for us to only care about our own children and not our neighbor’s children is to do a disservice to our society, as we would probably all like productive individuals living among us. When issues of education and public health and of abuse and discrimination against children come up, we should all get involved. We should all fight the fight because we would want the best for our children and thus should want the best for other children no matter which part of the world they reside.

Did I plan to come to Antigua? Did I plan to go to Dominican Republic, for that matter? No, I did not, but something moved me to these destinations. In fact, I had a conversation with a friend this week and told her that it was the need for humanity that moved me, that brought me to these places away from family and friends. It was the injustice, the inequality, and the poverty that made me come here and go to Santo Domingo. I felt that little me could do something, could make some sort of difference, but as a collective unit, we could all make a bigger difference. We should all be walking activists, fighting for all children as we would fight for our very own.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Full circle: a visit to Santo Domingo and a new journey in Antigua

I walked through the very same streets in Santo Domingo and saw poverty right where I left it a year ago. Orphaned children who shine shoes instead of attending school hung around on Calle Independencia, waiting for business. Street hustlers yelled broken English to tourists to buy their made-only-in-the-Dominican-Republic-goods.

The same Dominican faces and their unfortunate conditions mixed with curious, naive tourist families and foreign men with their caramel-colored-by-the-hour-escorts welcomed me as I walked briskly on El Conde. Illusions of change and progress with the broken down roads in la capital for the construction of the metro still leave the poor, abandoned and suffering. Not much has changed, sadly.

My visit to the maternity hospital reminded me of the hurt and pain I felt each day I worked there. There is a new door by the entrance that separates the waiting room from the upstairs patients' rooms, but the waiting room in the adolescent unit still fills to capacity with young-mothers-to-be. There are still little resources, so little that during my hour's visit, I found myself playing pharmacists again, distributing medicine and instructions to take them to pregnant teens like I had done every day last year.

The purpose of my trip to Dominican Republic was to gather information from successful non-government agencies who work with and support sex workers. Prostitution in the Dominican Republic is legal. Of course, that is not to say that it is easy being a sex worker. Female sex workers experience police brutality on a daily basis and put themselves at all types of risks daily. Some sex workers never make it home alive.

During my first day there, I interviewed a sex worker, who has been doing sex work for twenty years. From her, I learned about the reality and the life of someone who is involved in commercial sex work. On my second day in the country, I had a meeting with three NGOs that work in that area and that have been successful in the work that they do with sex workers. From my meeting with the gracious representatives from their organizations, I learned about commercial sex work from the institutional perspective.

The rest of my short trip in the Dominican Republic was focused on my catching up with friends who became family and exploring parts of Santo Domingo that I had not discovered before. Right now, I am in Puerto Rico en route to Antigua, where I will be working with the government in their Directorate of Gender Affairs office. I will start a project I proposed that will be focused on the Dominican sex workers in the country so that Antigua could provide them with better support and sexual and reproductive health services. I still do not know what to expect, but I am excited to be doing this work for the marginalized in Antigua.