A journal of narrative writing.
How to See the Batey
Page 2

My friend! My friend! the hawkers will cry, following you for several steps before cursing and turning to someone else.


Eat at an English-speaking restaurant. Let's call it The Captain's Inn. Old men will gather there to smoke cigars and play cards. They will not interact with you while you eat a late-breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage. Your girlfriend will leave to use the bathroom, but when she returns, she'll look shell-shocked.

Did you see the computer? she'll say.

Yeah. This place is also an Internet café.

No, but did you look at the monitor?

She'll lead you to a table laden with computers. One of the computers will present a slide-show of local photographs — a screen-saver of partying guests, drinking and laughing and toasting the photographer. Then one photo will blink onto the screen: A woman, wearing only a tank-top, her legs spread out to reveal a hairy crotch. She is passed out, lying on a settee, surrounded by liquor bottles. You will not believe your eyes. You'll wonder what kind of place this is. Even there though are rooms available — because this English-speaking restaurant is also a hotel recommended in your guidebook — decide to abstain.


You will discover a little hotel, hidden by a tall row of palm fronds and a prim iron gate. The owner will be an older Hungarian woman with bronzed, leathery skin and a dandelion of bleached hair. Her smile will stretch her muscled cheeks, and she will offer you a small room — one bed, two fans, slatted windows, a private porch, a bathroom and stand-up shower — for the equivalent of $30 per night. She'll offer the private pool as well, which is dug into the hotel's hidden inner court.

This is amenable to you? she will say. The Hungarian woman — Alma — will crackle with prime sexuality. She will remind you of game-show assistants and brothel mistresses and "Hot Lips" from M*A*S*H. Her eyes will twinkle hallucinogenically. Even your girlfriend will later confide that Alma is hot.

Decide to explore the town. Your girlfriend, exhausted, will flop onto the bed and take a nap. You will hit the street, scouting for cheap beach blankets and suntan lotion and sandals. Take a few paces down the empty block before you are startled by a man riding a motorcycle. He will sneak up next to you and shout: Hey, man, are you American?

Si, you'll say, even though he speaks English and you mean yes.

You want some cocaine? he'll whisper, rubbing his nostril with a dusty thumb for full effect.

Pause for second before saying, Uh, no, thank you.

Okay! he'll say, and he'll motor away without a fuss.

Learn about the batey. According to locals, it means a Haitian neighborhood, and your hotel will be located smack-dab in the middle of one. Apparently this is not a good thing. Locals will speak of the Batay in hushed tones, because it signifies poverty and pickpocketing and men on motorcycles offering baggies of cocaine. Haitians are not well liked here. You will realize how close Sosua is to the Haitian-Dominican border — a straight line that bisects the island. Only a short drive away, the mountains of Hispaniola divide French from Spanish, Black from Hispanic, poverty from desperate poverty. You will realize how many of these black men sauntering down the street may be Haitian, and how they are viewed with suspicion, mocked for their Francophone dialects, kept from jobs. Realize that batey basically means ghetto. Shrug your shoulders. Ah, well. You're already here.

When a black man — probably Haitian — wearing a fashionable white button-down shirt approaches you on the street and asks you for a favor, do not respond.

Even when he insists, Please, I am not one of these men!

Even when he follows you a few steps, pleading: You do not have to pay anything! No money! Only come this way! For my commission!

If you relent, he will guide you to a large, whitewashed hotel. You will be greeted at the lobby desk by a beautiful woman in a purple suit-jacket, and you will have to pick up some paperwork, asking generic questions about your stay. The purple-suited woman will lead you into a sleek stone room sharded with bright sunshine. She will introduce you to Mrs. Tethersham, a largish woman with a silver crew-cut and a bulky build. You and your girlfriend and Mrs. Tethersham will sit down together and she will ask you some questions about your stay, especially where you are staying.

At the hotel down the street, your girlfriend will say. We wanted something cheap.

You're fond of it, then? she will say in her thick Scottish accent.

Very much so, you will say.

After a pause, she'll lean back and smile wanly. Do you know what this is about? When you shake your heads, she'll sigh and say bluntly: This is a timeshare meeting.

Oh! you'll exclaim.

Yes, she'll reply. And I presume this isn't the right time for you.

No! you'll exclaim together, chuckling weirdly.

Mrs. Tethersham will be polite, asking you what you've done in the area, what you have planned, what you've enjoyed about Sosua, but her sales pitch is clearly doomed, so she'll wish you good luck and have fun and within five minutes you'll be back on the street, and the man who asked you a favor will be loitering outside. He will look at you with a relieved and apologetic look. He will thank you, because just by agreeing to enter, you have won him wages today.

At the recommendation of English-speaking locals, visit The Brittania, an English pub situated on Sosua's main street. When you arrive, notice the raucous group of Britons gathered in the corner. They will appear wildly intoxicated as they lean back in their plastic chairs, spewing cigar smoke and laughter into the air.

Hello, dears! one woman will call.

This will startle you, but only for a second. Your eyes will fall on the countenance of Mrs. Tethersham, who is beat-red with drunkenness.

Are ye enjoying your stay?

Very much! you and your girlfriend will say in unison.

Splendid! I'm a bit tipsy myself!

Muffle your laughter, even though she's too drunk to even notice, really.

Avoid the hookers. When you run home for more cash, which you've carefully stored beneath the mattress, just in case, you will be stopped in the street by a skinny young woman, taller than you, and haloed with thick black hair. She will jingle her bracelets and smile brutally, her unblinking eyes stripping you of everything. She will step forward and grab your elbow, trying to pull you into the palpitating dance club to your left.

Impulsively say, No, gracias, my girlfriend, so that her friends can laugh and you can push past them and sprint away as they continue to laugh at your receding, sweat-stained back.

When you stumble past the hookers again, they will laugh once more, because this time you are stumbling back to the hotel, arm-in-arm with your girlfriend. Turn to her and say, These are the girls I was talking about. Your girlfriend will split her sides, even as the hookers are cackling, because it's really all so ridiculous. For once in your life, take this moment to find prostitution funny, only because, in general, when you really think about it, this is the most tragic kind of desperation. Relish this one instance where your blonde girlfriend shoulders past the women who would, in a moment's notice, fuck your brains out in an alley for a small wad of cash, and everybody here knows it.

Drink copiously. Drink buckets of iced pony bottles. Drink Coca-Cola mixed with Dominican rum. Drink forty-ounce bottles of El Presidente malt liquor, which is stockpiled at the corner store for piddling prices. Drink on the veranda and at open-air tables. Drink in the swimming pool and on the stairs. Drink in the hotel room, at the bar, over dinner, after dinner. Drink while you play pool. Feel drowsy and dizzy and order more. Feel the swampy sickness in your stomach. Swim a little and then drink on the beach. Drink because it's Spring Break. Drink because you're anxious. Drink away the memory of ice-encrusted Pittsburgh. Drink because there's nothing else to do. You will find that there isn't much else to do. The hawkers close their shops at 4 p.m. and dissipate into scores of bars and restaurants. The clubs open early, and their walled gates hide the laughing, dancing throngs within. Drink because you really haven't even been dating your girlfriend very long, and this is roughly how you met, talking at the Tiki Lounge in the Southside of Pittsburgh, back when you were both lost and damaged and lonely.

Drink until you can smell the liquor sweating from your pores. Drink until you're stumbling along the cracked sidewalk, catching your foot in a storm-drain, fumbling with your keys, forgetting which pocket contains your wallet.

Drink until it's terrifying to return to the hotel, but you have to, because there is nowhere else to go, and even when the streets are dark and the cicadas chatter eerily in the street-lamps, you will have to swallow your fear and walk your girlfriend along the crooked avenue. Promise yourself that if anything happens, even if a man with a gun jumps out of the alley and demands money, you will give your life for your girlfriend. Drowsy and drunk, this is an easy promise to make, but resolve to make this promise again, tomorrow morning, when you're sober and have considered what that would mean.