Checkpoints Slow Travel In Dominican Republic Border Town

Communications Officer Sara Fajardo is traveling in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, reporting on CRS programs and sharing her experiences with us.

Leaving Haiti I handed my passport to the same border guard who had taken down my info when I entered the country. He wrote my name, the date, my nationality, and passport number in an old fashioned ledger and checked the box for departure. Exiting Haiti, unlike every other country I’ve ever been to South of the U.S. was absolutely free.

Once again in the Dominican Republic Rosalba signaled two motorcycles to drive us to the bus station. Still not a fan of teetering on the back of a bike without a helmet, I clung on so tightly to the driver, that Rosalba joked I must have left claw marks. We drove through the city of Dajabón at a staggering 10-15 mph before we finally arrived at the bus station with cars heading towards our next destination of Mao.

The Bachata music was blaring. People piled on with voluminous bags overflowing with freshly purchased goods from the bi-national market. I pulled the green curtains closed hoping to catch up on some much needed sleep during the two-hour bus ride ahead of us.

Our car pulled out at 10:05 a.m. at 10:10 we stopped at a military checkpoint. A guard dressed in fatigues came out. Another soldier, who looked little older than a boy, waited outside holding a rifle almost half his size. Rosalba told me they were looking for contraband and checking the documents of foreign nationals. I reached for my backpack ready to pull out my passport and she laughed. “They won’t check you. They are looking for undocumented Haitians.”

As if on cue the driver called out, “there is a Haitian on board. He’s in the back. He has his papers.” The driver’s declaration proved unnecessary; the guard had headed straight for “el Haitiano” as soon as he climbed on board. Rosalba whispered to me, “they usually only look over the paperwork of those who are dark skinned.”

Everything was in order, we pulled out. A song was blasting about losing the love of a good woman. I watched the crucifix hanging from the rearview window sway back and forth. I settled in, ready for some sleep. At 10:12, we were stopped again. This time a man dressed in a light blue and red striped polo shirt climbed aboard. He had a gun sticking out from his waistband. Once again he ignored every other passenger and headed straight for el Haitiano.

On the radio, Elvis Martinez was now singing about a woman who wouldn’t commit.

At 10:31 we were stopped again. The military checkpoint was a white plastic chair in front of a lottery kiosk. The guards were dressed informally. El Haitiano had stopped putting away his documents and had them ready to hand over.

At 10:46 it was a yellow barricade in the middle of the street that stopped us. An old merengue song, an ode to baseball filled the bus. The guard’s attire: an olive green jacket with the insignia G-2.

Realizing sleep was impossible, I began to try and predict what kind of song would be playing the next time we were stopped, new love or lost love, and whether the guards would be dressed informally or in state-issued uniforms.

At 11:30 it was a white and turquoise Daihatsu truck in the middle of the street that brought our engine to an idle. The guards didn’t bother climbing aboard. They simply waved us on.

In total we were stopped ten times that day. Rosalba was surprised about how low the number was, “it’s usually 19-20 times we are stopped on these trips,” she told me. The military checks are part of the routine of traveling through the Dominican Republic. El Haitiano was resigned to it. No one else seemed bothered by it. That was just life along the border.

– Sara Fajardo

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