Friday, September 24, 2010

Seeing a Dominican Winter Baseball League Game and Traveling the DR in General

So a friend of the Dominican Baseball Guy sent this question to the Dominican Baseball Guy's Facebook page:
I'd hate to be so American about it, but you think it's cool to go there by myself and check out the game or it's better to go with someone from there? Es peligroso is my question. I'm used to PR but you hear how you gotta be careful wandering around DR especially by yourself. Just asking.
The Dominican Baseball Guy answered briefly on the facebook page, but I feel obliged to answer in a longer post here.

For those of you that do not habla espanol, "peligroso" is dangerous.  So to start, it is definetly a valid question, complicated issue.  Simplest answer is, if you take registered cabs to and from the games, you should not have any problems.  The stadiums are well run and secure, and the registered cab companies all leave their cab number at your hotel and they are legit operations.

In general, I would not leave the major tourist areas/resorts without speaking decent Spanish and being an experienced traveler.  It can certainly be "peligroso" and whatever the above poster has heard is probably true.  Most of the country has metal bars on their homes and businesses, and law enforcement is not very efficient, especially outside the capital city or the more developed southern coast.

was there for about 3 months of the Dominican Winter Baseball League and had 2-3 incidents in which I definitely felt unsafe.  I was living by myself in a small apartment for about 2 months, and everyone kept telling me that I shouldn't live by myself, that people are watching you.  Then one night a group of 20 or so people were drinking and playing loud music in the street outside my apartment, and some of them were actually inside the gate of the apartment.  They had set up shop on the street and made a fire in an old tire, and they were stopping cars and motorcycles and just harassing people.  I got super nervous because I realized that they could easily come into my apartment and do whatever they wanted if they had seen me by myself before.  If I was able to get a hold of the police (which wasn't even really a possiblity), there is no way they would have gotten there in any sort of timely manner.  Anyway, after several hours of these guys holding court in the street and playing loud music and stopping cars and whatnot, they moved on and never came to my door or anything.  The point is the police do nothing in a situation such as this, where a group is disturbing the whole neighborhood, and stopping people trying to pass on the street.

A similar situation occured a week or so later.  There was a strike going on in San Francisco de Macoris and the public transportation was not running.  People had put up road blocks to stop the public transportation and the strike was over the usual lack of public services, mainly electricity.  In many parts of the country people are lucky to get 10-12 hours of electricity, and this was the case throughout San Francisco de Macoris, except within a few block radius in the very center of town.  So, during this strike, I was with some friends I had met that worked for the team and were fans of the team at a bar drinking one night.  We left and they were taking me home on a motorcycle, and close to my apartment some guys came out of nowhere and blocked the road.  Most of them had bandanas on their face and their were several guns.  Our other friends were watching us to make sure I made it to the apartment, and when they saw this they rushed to our defense.  There was some pushing and they were trying to grab my bag, but in the end my friends were known in town and had some clout with these guys, and explained that I was with them and a journalist, not working for the police or the FBI.  

I spent the night with a friend named Roberto that night in a tiny house on the outskirts of town, and ended up moving in with him after this incident.  He lived in a shanty town on the edge of San Francisco de Macoris that did not have running water or sewage, but I definitely felt safer with him.  Everyone within several miles pretty much knew I was a friend of Roberto.  The people in this neighborhood were dirt poor, but they were not a criminal element.  Roberto lived with his wife, and several family members lived in a sort of compound around his house.  They treated me like family.  We ate and played baseball or other games most days, and I got little work done.  Roberto and others did introduce me to contacts periodically that became a great help my masters research project.  But I felt safe because Roberto and his family took me in.

So those are the incidents in which I felt unsafe in my few months in San Francisco de Macoris.  For the most part I was not very worried about security, but I was mindful of my surroundings.  Daytime in most parts of the city there is no reason to be worried at all.  I do not want to scare people from going.  Most Dominicans are hard working and honest people, and there are many foreigners throughout the country.

But I also want people to be aware that it is a very rough, poverty stricken country, with little law enforcement, especially at night.  There is a large portion of the country that is underemployed, and these people will take advantage of every opportunity they have.  I would say it is generally "soft crimes," people overcharging for a fake tour or people expecting a payment just for information.  But the unemployed population is looking to take advantage of any chance to make money, legal or otherwise.

As, I said complicated issue.  I am white as can be, but do speak good Spanish, and I was writing an anthropology thesis, so was interviewing and hanging out with average fans and workers.  I am also an experienced traveler and feel I carry myself well when in an unfamiliar situation.  

So, don't be scared to go see a game, but be aware of your surroundings when traveling the DR.

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