Note: To protect the privacy of the individuals, their names and certain locations have been changed. Their story remains true and unaltered.
The boat swayed and buckled as it attempted to pierce through the choppy waves of the Atlantic ocean. We were roughly 10 miles from shore, but it seemed like we had been at sea for days. The strong waves had slowed us down to a crawl, but it didn’t seem to faze the captain. Instead of intently steering the boat, I glanced back to find him playing with an old marine radio.
“¡Mierda! I don’t ever get this radio to play music! Come on!” he shouted at the inanimate object with disdain as he slapped its sides. Defeated, he sank back in his seat and shook his head slowly.
“¿Si, por que no?”
The young deckhand clambered up the ladder from the lower deck. Thinking we had come up on something, the young man had a pair of ancient binoculars the size of bricks in his hands. Not wasting a moment, he started scanning the horizon for what he apparently thought was a trophy fish.
The captain and I both stared at him and then back at each other and after a moment of silence – we both started laughing hysterically. Chauncey slowly lowered his binoculars from his eyes and shook his head as he smiled.
“No, Chauncey…¡Cerveza, chico!” the captain exclaimed as he pulled a 40 oz bottle of malt liquor from underneath the steering console. He chuckled as he opened the bottle, took a big gulp, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and passed the ice-cold bottle to me. I took a deep pull from the dripping bottle and chuckled to myself.
“Pour mes nouveaux amis!” (French:For my new friends!)
Captain Andre Saint-George and I only met a couple of hours ago on the beach near Punta Cana. I had been wandering around taking pictures of the local fisherman bringing in their morning catch, when I took a picture of the captain. After showing him the images, he proposed a trade – my pictures for some fishing to which I gladly obliged. He mentioned to me that between clients, his sons and other families go fishing for themselves and that he would be happy to have me onboard.
Andre and his sons were originally from Haiti. Leaving his wife and daughters behind, he snuck into the Dominican Republic looking for work and money to send back to his family. He had not seen them in more than 15 years, fearing that if he were to go back, he may not be able to come back to the Dominican Republic or his job.
“I would like to send to her nice pictures of me. My face, my life here, our boys – our boys have grown into men. Me? I want to show her I am the same man – Only very strong now!”
I promised him that I would take the best pictures I possibly could – he nodded his head, smiled, and turned his eyes to the horizon.
We spent the next few hours chatting about our lives, families, religion, and of course the income gap between the rich and the poor in our respective countries.
“Tourism, it is like a parasite. It sucks the life blood out of the country, but kill the parasite, you might kill yourself too! Many of my brothers and sisters of the Dominicana work for rich men that buy the land here. They cut down the beautiful trees and put the big buildings for the foreigners to come see, but that is not the Dominicana. The real Dominican Republic is felt in the poor – it is the man working for a few dollars a day in the sugar cane fields, it is the little boy selling chewing gum on the beach, and it is the little girl walking around the streets asking the foreigners for money.”
I could sense the real passion in his voice and the gesture of his hands as he spoke to me. We remained quiet for about an hour or so, peering out into the sea and passing the bottle of malt liquor back and forth.
“You know what this man told me once? This very rich man, bought the boat for the day – only him. He wanted the boat to himself. My boys and I worked hard all day, he gave us many nice compliments. You are the best fisherman I have seen! He would tell us. At the end of the day, the fish did not bite. We did not catch anything. At the end of the day, we said sorry to him, but I asked that he tip the boys at least for their hard work.”
The captain paused and looked down at the console. I held a gulp of malt liquor in my throat, unable to swallow it from the tense silence.
“He told me what for? You and your boys are the most miserable fisherman I have ever seen. You are a disgrace. How can you call yourself a fisherman?”
Chauncey turned to me and nodded his head.
“I am the busboy of the sea, men like me usually do not own the boats we work. Tips and a chance for fish for our families. It is not like sport fishing in America, if it was…I would be a rich man.” he said pointing his index finger into his chest.
I felt a deep pain in my chest and a swelling amount of anger brewing within me. I stayed quiet for the rest of the trip, still in disbelief that people could lack so much compassion towards such hardworking people.
As threw my bag into the skiff, the captain put his hand on my shoulder and apologized to me and to the deckhands in the skiff for not catching anything for their families. The men all took off their hats and one by one shook his hand – I did the same.
He smiled and helped me into the boat.
“Happy life and good fishing my good friend!”