I have decided that I am going to write three posts regarding my trip to the Dominican Republic. As I have written in a previous post, I have never experienced poverty like I have there. I have never experienced suffering, hurt, anger, frustration, and pain before like I have seen on the faces of those who live each and every day there. I can only sit and thank God for the many blessings I have been given and very rarely appreciate. This post will include my interaction with two people I have met. Each of their stories will include their picture, which I took. As you look at these pictures, I hope you to look at their faces and study the lines on their foreheads. Notice how they look and the smiles on their faces. I can honestly say that my heart was broken for these people because they have no hope of a brighter future – at least from our perspective. This will not be one of those type of commercials you see on TV – the commercials that try and get you to support a child, though I believe for those who are able, they should because it will bring you a sense of joy – this is not meant to hit that bone in your body. These are two stories about two people I met and my thoughts and my experiences after meeting them. Take this journey with me and experience these stories along with me. My challenge for us is to process these things and pray that God will show us something extraordinary through these voices from behind the walls of tourism. This is where our story begins.
The first woman I want you to meet is a woman who is in her mid forties. She is dark skinned and a little heavy set. When I met her, she was scrubbing a white, plastic chair with what appeared to be muddy water. When I asked her why she was scrubbing the chair, she just looked at me and smiled. In Spanish, she told me that it was almost time for dinner and she wanted her kids to sit on clean chairs. All the while, she continued to scrub the chair as if it was a fine piece of silver to be displayed. To see this woman’s devotion for something that we would consider cheap really hit me hard. To this woman, these two chairs represented something in her life that was important – a place for her two kids to sit at the dinner table. To us, they are simply another set of outdoor furniture that we collect and forget about almost immediately when we walk in the door. We would never really take the time to scrub them clean. Why would we waste our time doing something like that? If it breaks, it is no big deal. We can just reach in our pockets and buy another one without even blinking an eye. This woman couldn’t do that though. She could only afford these two so she really wanted to keep them nice and clean. I guess when you don’t have much, what you do have is more valuable to you. That was really significant to me. I guess the only logical question I have to ask myself now is what am I going to do about it? Am I going to continue to treat my “cheap stuff” as cheap stuff or am I going to take responsibility for the things I own – expensive or cheap? Am I going to value the things I buy or will I just continue to accumulate more crap? I never said this would be an easy task or easy answers in response. To not ask these questions would be like slapping this woman in the face for her efforts. She wants the best for her children – what mother wouldn’t?
In the same town, in the same place, I met a guy who had just worked 11 hours and made 400 pesos (about 7.75 for the day). He was only 40 or so but he looked at least 60 due to the amount of physical labor he had endured. He always smiled though. His smile was endearing to me. I couldn’t believe a man who worked so hard to make a living, and made so little would smile. I guess that is the catch 22 for this man and others who live in this village. Without the job, you have no home but you make so little you can never get ahead and better yourself or your community. We sat and talked for a little. He was hot. So was I. Since he had arrived home, he felt comfortable to take off his shirt and sit on his stoop. After I told him where I was from, he jumped up and ran to show me an orange thermos some American visitor threw out his window when he drove past their town. The only problem with the thermos was that it had a small crack, which didn’t cause any leaks, down the side of it. He told me it was a blessing in disguise. Since he works so many hours, he hoped that he would find something to carry with him to work so he could enjoy a nice cool drink of water. Then, while walking home from work, he saw the Americans throw it out the window and he ran up to look it over. He saw it as a gift. I saw it as a waste. I had several thoughts running through my mind. I was happy and angry. I was happy because this man had something he could use yet angry that Americans would throw things out the window like that. I was glad to enjoy this man’s company for a while.
I think meeting these two people really helped me understand a lot about myself and a lot about the people of the Dominican. I can’t think of a better way to explain what I have been processing in my mind. I have learned to love these people despite the many things that would deter people from building a relationship with them. I have learned to pray through their pain and smile along with them. I have also learned how to be thankful for the things I have been given. I know I have never taken what I have for granted deliberately. I have just learned to say thank you a little more often than I had before. I guess being in a place like this – the second most impoverished area in the world – does that. It would be a shame to lose that feeling and that gratitude I have learned to hold on to and grasp firmly. So the pictures will remain for me a reminder of what I have. I hope the faces of these two people give a small picture of what I am still processing and applying in my life. Thank you for reading.