Why I ain't Gonna Bump No Mo' in the Dominican Republic.
Until you do right by me, everything you think about is going to crumble...
Celie in The Color Purple
Don't you just hate to kick a country when it's down?
Me neither. At least not in this instance.
A decade before the recent tragic, unexplained deaths of tourists had people crossing the Dominican Republic off its list of vacation destinations, I'd already vowed to never again sink my toes into the country's velvety white sands.
Did I have a horrible time those seven to 10 times I went? Were the pina colodas watered down?
Nope and nope. I had as much fun as the law allows every time I went there, sometimes more fun than the law allows. Doing the Bump and the Macarena until the sun came up was the rule.
No, my personal boycott was imposed after I discovered - from reading and from a wonderful Haitian housekeeper named Eunice - that the country was trying to expel the Haitians living and working there.
Some might call expelling them "enlightened" compared to what the Dominican government had done previously to rid itself of Haitians: in 1937, President Trujillo oversaw the massacre of between 10,000 and 30,000 Haitians in what became known - to the extent that it is known at all - as the Parsley Massacre.
Look it up.
Eric Johnson of Winston Salem is calling off his planned vacation in the D.R., but it has nothing to do with solidarity with the persecuted Haitians. He said he had already started making down payments on a September vacation to the Dominican Republic when he heard about the mysterious tourist deaths and illnesses.
So what did he do?
"I stopped paying," he said. "I'm going somewhere else. Still in the Caribbean, but not the D.R."
Was he able to get his money back?
"Haven't tried. I'd only put down $200, but I don't care if it was two thousand. What's the use of going somewhere on vacation where you might die - or if you're scared to eat the food or drink the liquor?" (Some people reported falling ill after drinking booze from the resorts' mini-bars.)
It's probably a good thing Johnson hasn't tried to get his moolah back: nobody I know who has changed their plans has received a refund.
A pal of mine doesn't want one, though. His wife and he began paying earlier this year for the Steve Harvey Sand and Soul Festival in October. The festival's organizers announced Thursday that they are moving it from the Punta Cana Hard Rock Resort, where at least two tourists have died of as-yet unknown causes. They have not said where they're moving it to, though.
That didn't matter to my pal. He was going anyway, and when I asked about the presumed risk, he said "I could stay right here in Durham and get hit by a car or something."
Great attitude, because life is too short to live scared.
For Bettyna Belly Abney, life is too short to spend time or money in the D.R.
"Absolutely not," she said when I asked if she's ever vacationed there.
"Because I'm Haitian, and I don't like their politics. I feel that my money is valuable... so I don't waste my money or my time in the Dominican Republic when there are so many other islands that have beauty and I can endorse their politics. I am well-received in other islands, so why would I go there?"
Belly Abney, a senior assistant Durham County attorney who was born in Miami but raised in Haiti, insisted that she has nothing against the people of the D.R. - "I have family who are Dominican," she said - "so it's not Dominican culture, Dominican people, that I have a problem with. It's the Dominican politics and anyone who endorses it."
Among the policies Haitians detest, she said, is one that requires you to trace your citizenship back through five generations.
"If you have any of your relatives who are from Haiti, then you are no longer Dominican," she said. "They are revoking the citizenship of people who were born and raised there."
When I mentioned plans to write about the D.R. and Haiti, one friend asked if I were going to imply that the mysterious deaths were the result of a Haitian curse for a century of mistreatment.
That thought hadn't even entered my brain, but now that I think of it - Celie's warning to Mister in The Color Purple seems like something the D.R. should heed. Tourism brought in more than $7 billion in 2017, and the last thing the country needs is for thousands of deep-pocketed tourists to do as I did - scratch it off their list.
Thousands of Haitians have been killed in the Dominican Republic, Belly Abney said, but equally bad is the fact that "they tried to kill the Haitian spirit.
"That," she said, "is not happening."
Listen, Dominican government: Until y'all do right by the Haitians living in your country - you'll never get another penny of my money.
Or of anyone else's with a social conscience.
A previous edition of thesaundersreport.com misspelled the name of Durham County senior attorney Bettyna Belly Abney. We regret the error... The Ed.