If you're interested in pictures of my adventures, scroll to the very bottom of the page and enjoy the slideshow! I will update the slide show as regularly as my schedule allows, so you may see new photos or repeats depending upon when you view it! There is also a "View All" option which will take you to my PhotoBucket account. There you can view pictures up close and see all the photos at once! Feel free to send me questions on any that spark your curiosity!

Saturday, December 11, 2010


For the past two months, my schedule has limited my free time to write. Aside from finishing my academic pursuits and our projects in the campos, I have filled my time with trips to the coasts and city excursions. I have truly come to love this country and the culture that exists within it. While I wish I could have written more of my experiences, I am preparing to leave with incredible memories. I hope to write more in the future of my time here, of both the goodness and the injustice I have witnessed. But for now, I leave reminiscing through a wind of memories that fall and melt into my senses like the snow I will soon find myself surrounded by back home:

My days
They have been filled
To the brim
With a beauty and an ugliness
That emanate from within
Of which do I choose to remember the best?
I think of them equally.
I believe that’s the test.


I spent my nights running through the streets with the children of Bacumi. And when I say running, I mean it to be true. I felt like Peter Pan leading his Lost Boys as we raced past the houses of wood and tin, escaping into the forest with the moon overhead. I remember playing Tablero under a single dim streetlight, the children’s hands racing to make all of my moves for me and cheering when I won through their doing. I remember entering their homes, several a night, to meet their families who smiled at me humbly and offered me fruit. I remember learning bachata by candlelight as the kids fought to twirl and push me in every direction. I remember laughing; laughing so hard that a bit of my soul seemed to escape into the air and unite with the sounds of steel guitars and the scent of something burning in the distance. But there is a sting in my heart when I see certain things too, when I know part of humanity lives the way I have observed here, and when I realize that almost everything in my life has been but a luxury. And it burns when things that I have only imagined to be true in the prisons of poverty turn real right before my eyes.

I feel this burning when I see Laura, an eight-year-old holding her infant brother whom she cares for while her mother is bedridden and her father is absent. I see her in her doorway every night, illuminated by candlelight. I know she wants to play like a child, but a more mature role is demanded of her because of circumstance. And so there she is smiling at me from the wooden stoop with her dark, coffee-colored irises, of whose depths attempt to hide her desire to be free.

I feel this burning too when I watch all of the teen mothers picking up their children in the street, some with a child on the way, some with a husband they were married off to at as early as twelve, and some who struggle to feed themselves without an income as single-mothers.

But I feel it most when I wonder if Laura will end up like them, with a baby always in her arms.


I sense a throbbing creeping into my soul when I see the children of Bacumi jump into the irrigation ditch to swim and bathe in. It hits me harder when I learn later that all of the eye problems I have seen in the community are a result of using this pesticide-containing water. I am unable to count on two hands the number of muscular and vision problems I have seen within the community's population.

I sense the throbbing again when I walk into a shack with one room, a dirt floor, and no latrine or place to bathe. It pulls at me when I learn six men live here, all brothers and a father. And that they share the one mattress I see and the rusty chair in the corner. There is literally nothing else in the home.

But I sense it most when I watch the hundreds of insects crawling out of the wounds of the children I hold. When I see the stems growing from their warts that have been left untreated for years. When I see that only a few of them have shoes and that most of them show up in the same dirty outfit everyday to play. Or when I watch them devour the fruit I sneak to them because they have had little else to eat today.


And I would argue that a part of me even breaks sometimes, such as when I watch a family shutter as their termite-infested home literally collapses before our eyes in our attempts to repair the structure. Can you imagine not knowing where you will sleep tonight? Can you picture watching the destruction of the one thing in this world you have to call your own?

Yet above all, it stings most to see the reality of my little sister’s life, my little Linmarit. She lives with a couple in their 70s. She is three, very intelligent, and in the mornings, she sits in my suitcase and babbles Spanish phrases in her tiny voice, murmuring “¿Hermanita?” at the end of every sentence to make sure I am listening. Her caretakers (and my campo parents) like to joke that she will leave with me in that suitcase, as she often asks if she can come home with me. For a few days, I wonder why my sister is looked after here. Soon I learn that her mother is a prostitute on the coast who visits on the weekends. A few days later, I meet her mother and sadly witness her physically abuse my little Linmarit.

It’s no wonder she sits in my suitcase. If only I could provide her a permanent escape.


And so you can see, I have seen a lot of ugly here in my experiences. I have lived everyday with my eyes wide and awake, trying to visually absorb everything in front of me. I have seen so much. And why do I speak of some of the worst of it? Why not write of the best, of my fondest memories? Why not describe to you all of the goodness I have shared, of the generosity I have come to know as part of the human condition through this experience, or of the many projects we have taken part in to improve the lives of people here?

Because having seen all that I have, I believe I have the responsibility to tell you about some of the worst to help us imagine together some things that we may never have imagined before.

Jesuit Michael J. Himes once wrote, “The cause of opposition or lack of interest may often be the inability even to imagine how the world looks and feels like to someone else.”

But now I can imagine how it might feel to that someone else: to Laura, to Linmarit, and to the other children of Bacumi. It has sparked a burning, a throbbing, an interest in me to know and do more on an entirely new scale.

And in some small way, by writing of these inequalities that exist among populations in poverty, I hope I can help you imagine and gain an interest too. Positive change can be made in the smallest of ways. You do not have to travel abroad and experience what I did to do something. Reach out, gain awareness, and learn about a new need that exists in your community.

But above all, please: IMAGINE.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dicen que el agua da vida, y yo les creo

Have you ever heard the rain? Have you ever seen them dance?
When the rain pours upon the roof of tin, the little ones begin to prance.
Have you ever seen them laughing as the water hits their face?
With a lack of running water, rain is needed in this place.
Have you ever heard the rain? Have you ever seen them dance?
I have seen them, I have danced there, I have held their hands:


They say that water brings life, and I believe them.

In the campos, rain is something special. It sets a rhythm to life all its own. Upon waking up in the morning, the people of Gajo tell me whether it is going to rain. They know this earth, these skies, and this air. They have lived here all of their lives, some for generations, and their weather wisdom never fails. But as the lightening hisses across the sky, it sets an electric energy in the souls that inhabit this mountainside. This rain means that later, they will be able to wash their clothes, dirty from a day in the fields. This rain means that they can have tea tonight during their dominoes game, the scents of the storm tickling the spices of the drink. This rain means that they can take a shower, standing on a rocky ledge behind their house with a bucket and a dried up, yellow bit of soap. You can see why this rain can set a soul aglow, can light a fire within someone; an irony as its properties normally extinguish flame.

In the mountains, the best part of the storm is the beginning. You can be standing anywhere- at the house of your family, near the ledge overlooking a valley, near the tank above the community- and you can hear it start. It whispers far away and when you look out, the trees murmur to each other as the rain bounces from one to the next. Soon the storm is getting close- you can see it touch the trees just a few feet away and a low mumble strokes the leaves nearest you. Now it is upon you, patting the ground below your feet as it moves on to meet the forest behind your back, and leaves you sometimes sprinkled and other times soaked.

But the noises are not solely in the trees. The houses, every one, have tin roofs. Inside, families cheer as the first drops spatter upon the metal. You look up, as this new sound enters your mind and allows you to process the moment. Sometimes the tin is only lightly brushed and the storm passes with a hush. Other times, the rain is loud, foreboding, and generous as water from the gutters spills into the collecting buckets your family will use later. The cheers continue and you might run outside with your little cousin to splash each other near the plastic pails. Maybe you will stand outside and just open your mouth to take in the current converging from the sky. Or you may simply nod with a smile at your family, a tinge of shame behind your eyes knowing how you take water for granted in your home country. But no matter what you do, the power of the rain is undeniable. In the dances, in the cheers, in the smiles it is true: This celebration for rain is unlike any other.

They say that water brings life, and I believe them.

When we started the job of building an aqueduct in Gajo la Yuca, we were there with the motivation to satisfy a need. We came in with few expectations, ready to dig, to pour concrete, to cut pipes, to pickax the soft earth away. And yet, we found there was so much more to this project than the tangible.

The project itself sounded simple: build an aqueduct for a community with no running water. But just what did something to this scale require? There were many people necessary to the aqueduct’s success: an engineer, local handymen, and ILAC coordinators and directors. However, the most important people, as any of us in Encuentro will tell you, were the men, women, and children of the community who worked alongside us. As we dug trenches, tore out piping, laid the tank foundation, and connected the homes to the new system, our Dominican brothers and sisters of Gajo la Yuca worked right alongside us. This created a powerful dynamic of motivation. Watching the excitement grow throughout the week as we came closer and closer to finishing the aqueduct was extraordinary.

There were moments of laughter, some because of the communication barrier. At one point, I accidentally told my grandmother I was a dog. Never have I seen a stranger look on someone’s face, except perhaps mine later, when my mother asked me in all seriousness if I really was one.

There was other humor too. I learned some is universal and requires no language, such as when my two-year-old cousin ran into the family’s pet goat during a temper tantrum. Scared tremendously, a roar of laughter ensued as we attempted to calm her down in her fit of confusion.

As a unit, we shared moments of frustration too. One morning, while transporting sand, everyone in our assembly line kept slipping down the mountain mud. It was not long before everyone was angry- at the mud, at the person next to them who handed the bucket too slow, even at the bug that had just flown into their eye. Within a matter of minutes, the job was done and suddenly, the accomplishment of the task was all that mattered. Unexpectedly, the group fell to silence as we realized we had lost sight for a moment of our purpose.

Yet, most inspiring was the sizzle of anticipation in every ounce of teamwork the project required. Men left their day jobs to dig with us, the children crowded around and held tools for the men gluing pipes, and young people who grew up in Gajo even came from nearby cities to contribute in any way possible.

And at the end of the week, there it stood: A tank atop a mountain with pipes stretching over 2.5 km into the community that would provide running water to dozens of homes. It really appeared a thing of beauty, with a loveliness all its own. Now, the people of Gajo will have water often, and not just when it rains.

But something tells me that every time those faucets turn on, someone will dance a little, another will giggle, and the sound of the water reaching through the faucet from the pipes below will provide the same exhilaration as that of the rain on the tin roof.

They say that water brings life, and I believe them.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Una introducción a Gajo la Yuca

After a two hour bus ride and an hour truck trip up a winding, muddy road blasting bachata in true Dominican fashion, the camioneta stops and I realize: This. Is. It. I open the door and my feet hit the ground with a hiss of uncertainty. I have been waiting for this moment since I first heard of this opportunity five years ago: The Campos.

This semester, Encuentro Dominicano chose to help serve the people of Gajo la Yuca, which is a rural farming community located in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. Our mission? To live with the people in solidarity, to further explore Dominican life and culture, and to build an aqueduct to provide the people of Gajo with running water.

Walking up to Juana’s house, (the cooperadora), I smile as one of the men in the community steps in to help me with my suitcase. From the moment his dry, callused hands grasp the navy blue handle of the bag, I get the feeling that bringing water to these people is not going to be a great enough gift for all that they are about to teach me.

As their families whisk some of my group away, I try to remain patient. Where are my parents? Will they have little kids? Which house is theirs? Will this be super awkward as my Spanish is minimal?

An older man in the group of Dominicans that swarm Juana’s taps me on the shoulder and points to a box of dominoes.

“¿ Jugar?” I ask.

“Si.” he smiles crookedly, several of his teeth absent from his genuine grin.

As we move up the road to a flat spot under the trees, a group of the men and other Encuentro students join us. Intense rounds of dominoes ensue, losers switching in and out of the plastic chairs that surround the wooden table. I soon learn that these plastic sillas, are scattered throughout the community. Upon entering any home, one is instantly offered a place to sit in the thrones of red, white, or green. I observe this truth as another signature of Dominican hospitality.

Back in the domino game, each man is focused, some give me hints, and others laugh at the obvious mistakes we gringos make as we throw down the black and white pieces in a game they have played almost since birth. Watching their hands firmly strike down the pieces strategically and with a whisper of conviction, I notice each man has a signature way of planting his dominoes upon the wooden table. Some toss the pieces and watch as they skid into place, others slam them down with an almost violent confidence, and a few are so quick, it is as if they knew what piece to play before the game ever began.

Soon, I hear my name being called from Juana’s down the street. Abruptly standing, my excitement ensues as I patter down the path to meet the family I have been waiting for. Climbing the rocky steps to enter Juana’s, I am met with the eyes of my mother, Victoria.

As she strings a fast phrase of Spanish my way, I reply, “¡Mi espanol es muy malo!”

She laughs. “¡Vamos a mi casa!” she says.

“Ah-hah!!” I return with a smile, “¡Yo entiendo!”

I understand. And something tells me Victoria and I are going to get along just fine.

As I climb into my father Ramon’s truck, I wonder how far away my family lives, as everyone else walked away with their families for the night. A few hills later and down a flat path, I am met with the wooden walls and concrete floor of the pink and blue place I come to call home. Inside, Victoria first wants to show me one of the few photos she has: of her and Ramon’s wedding day. Married at 19 and 22 respectively, Victoria and Ramon have been together 22 years and their pride in this outweighs any other.

“I married my best friend.” Victoria admits in Spanish as she pulls out two other photos, of her daughters Yamili and Karina, who I meet later in the week.

Yet, as my time in the campos continues, I learn that not all are as happy as my parents. With the machismo attitude that envelops the men of the country, infidelity is not uncommon in the marriages of the Dominican people. Furthermore, in the reality of the campos, I would argue that not all women are free to choose their husbands. Sometimes, such decisions are made between families and lack the American norm of one’s pursuit of love. One woman I met had been married at 12 to a man more than double her age and birthed her first child at 14. I struggle to believe that she consciously and rationally pursued such a life for herself, living in a small home that has been in her husband’s family for over 80 years. As she cares for her 2-year-old son at the age of 16, she seems to me still a child herself.

Back with Victoria and Ramon, it is time for evening tea. As we walk down the hill to the home of Ramon’s parents, I meet Ramon’s brother and his wife. Their two children, Alvin and Aslyn, run by me in pursuit of a large beetle. As I find a plastic chair to sit at near the kitchen, Victoria hands me a teacup brimming with a golden liquid. Taking my first sip, my taste buds water from the spices and heat of the tea. The drink reminds me of Christmas; mixed with ginger, various leaves, and the names of roots I cannot now recall. Throughout the week, it becomes customary for us to have this tea every night, and I can see Victoria’s delight each time I express its deliciousness. It becomes almost a part of her, a warmth she can share with a small, foreign, white girl who struggles to communicate in broken Spanish. Thinking back now, it is a familiar taste, a speck of glitter than shines among the treasures I found in my experiences at campo.

Walking back up the hill one telenovela and twelve domino games later, my parents lead me to my room. Victoria hums the Christian song she famously teaches me a few days later as she hangs my mosquitero and wishes me sweet dreams. I lay down, ignoring the spiders and cockroaches that skitter on the floor before I crawl into bed. Closing my eyes, I feel the rhythm of a bachata beat playing in the distance. This. Is. It. I am here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Muchas Gracias

While I do experience a great many difficult things here, there is also much fun to be had. Every week, I am met with the smiles of the orphans at Hogar Luby and let me tell you, these kids know whaz up! We have brought bubbles for them to chase, markers and paper for art time, and a ball to play catch with. My desk at ILAC is decorated with their scribbles from days past and we plan to take pictures with them soon, which I will add to the slide show. Slowly, I am beginning to get to know several of them well: Luis likes to go on secret missions where we hide from other kids and review the colors of dinosaur stickers, Tommy likes to babble about what’s on television while sitting in my lap, Joshua likes to try and play catch with a chair (this is always interesting), Dabo enjoys climbing me…and the cribs, and the walls, and the gate…

I could not have chosen a more rewarding place to spend my time. Every week, the children teach me more about a level of human communication that I never knew existed. I am starting to understand the group dynamics- who is bossy, who is a bully, who is the caring one, etc. and it has been fascinating to do so in a non-verbal environment.

Our Communidad Diez has also discovered fun outside of our service sites and class work. We have explored several fun venues over the past few weeks, and last weekend, they planned a birthday gathering for me as my 21st will occur while we are constructing an aqueduct in a nearby campos over a 10-day period. I was surprised that a community of people I have known for such a short time were willing to make a night so special for me- I can’t thank them enough for the planning and pesos they were willing to spend for my memorable birthday night. From the live band that sang me happy birthday three times (most of which we didn’t totally understand), to the fun crowd dancing the night away, to blasting Waka Waka in Elfi’s taxi all the way home, we had an amazing time!

I am incredibly blessed to be in this country living the life that I am and to all those supporting me back home and my Communidad Diez, thank you! I love receiving your questions and comments! And thanks for reading! :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Santo Domingo

Living in Santiago the past few weeks, our experiences have been limited to the city life here and the beach scene a few hours away. Our horizons were broadened over the past few days as we spent time in the capital city of the Dominican Republic: Santo Domingo.

Entering the most heavily populated city of the Dominican Republic, we immediately noticed the similarities Santo Domingo shares with Santiago. The streets are cluttered with debris- it clogs the sewers, piles the corners, and I watch as a woman finishes a pastry and throws the wrapper to her feet before walking to catch a guagua. In a developing country where poverty is vast, proper waste disposal is of minor concern to most residents. Public trashcans are a rare sight and unfortunately, this provides a breeding ground for disease through the rat population that feeds on the waste. After seeing the creatures scurry around ILAC and the city, I no longer questioned why there were so many public warnings for Leptospirosis, a health issue I would never have to worry about in the streets of my homeland.

Also similar to Santiago is the bustling street life of the inner city. Peddlers and the craziness of public transportation overwhelm the streets. The smell of propane that most taxis and guaguas run on (as opposed to gasoline) sometimes makes it difficult to breathe as the thick, dirty exhaust sputters into the air.

As we moved to the historical district that we planned to stay in, it suddenly became quieter. The streets became narrower, the buildings were of nicer quality, and litter was minimal. Over the next few days, we witnessed the sights most foreigners see when they encounter the Dominican Republic: the tourist zones. We spent our time visiting the shops of Conde street, where larimar and amber jewelry are sold, Haitian art is plentiful, and other handmade trinkets are available through barter. Unlike anywhere else we had been in the country, it was assumed we spoke no Spanish and most street vendors catered to our interests in smiling English.

Touring the streets with our Dominican English-speaking guide, we learned to connect what we have been learning in our EDP class with the historical content of the area. Many of the original architecture remains (or has been restored) including Christopher Columbus’ home, the famous Cathedral, and several court and governor buildings that were the first constructed in all of the Americas. The old original entrance to the city stands as well, along with parts of the huge wall that used to surround Santo Domingo in its entirety.  The beauty of such aged constructions brought me into a realm of antiquities. Days of pirates, explorers, and slavery overwhelmed my imagination with the life that once existed here. Was that Jack Sparrow sailing in before making his way to nearby Tortuga? Alas, such fictions plagued me as I attempted to connect all that was before me with something familiar.

At night, we spent our time relaxing in the beautiful plaza near the gate of the city. We dined at an expensive Italian restaurant under the stars and for a moment, became lost in the glamour of tourism. Enjoying my pasta, I found myself people-watching. The crowd around us was posh- men in suits with cigars, women in classy fashions with champagne flutes in hand. The breath and bubbliness of the atmosphere was alluring, exciting. Glancing around, I found my eyes rest on the doors to the entrance. As they opened, an older white man with a young, beautiful Dominican woman waltzed in. With his hand situated on her waist in a possessive manner and a nervous glimmer in her eye, I was suddenly faced with an ugly reality of tourism here: prostitution.

Currently the Dominican Republic is third in the world for sex tourism (behind Amsterdam and Thailand). While most women are looking for a permanent escape to a country outside of their own, others are available for a mere 300 pesos a night, which is roughly $9.00 US dollars.

As I became fixated on analyzing the body language of the pair to justify my intuition, a few people at my table pointed out similar couples in the room. Looking around, we noticed several men of American and European descent with attractive Dominican women.

Before the original couple I had noticed sat down, I caught the eyes of the young woman. At that moment, I was sure of my suspicions. There was some sort of understanding in the fact that we were both women. I could see it in behind her iris: a pain secret to her that I would never know simply because I was fortunate enough to be born in another country. Could I fault her for her desperation to survive? Never. And as a woman myself, a part of me hurt for her; a part knowing that while she remained chained to such a lifestyle, I was free in my country to vote, to have an education, to further myself in ways she never could. Part of me wanted to hug her, as if that would provide any comfort to a woman entangled in intimacies to subsist. I looked away, somewhat ashamed to be a human being.

Later that night, we watched a live meringue and bachata show in the plaza. Different groups performed in costume, coming out into the audience and pulling us out to dance with them as the band played on the stage.  We checked out the local night scene, bought some ice cream, and eventually made our way back to the hostel to sleep.

As I laid my head to rest, I said a small prayer of thanks that I was sleeping here alone; that I wasn’t forced into the company of a stranger as a source of income in a country where women’s rights do not exist as they do in my own. I prayed that the woman I had seen would someday be free of the hard choices she had to make in present time. But as my thoughts crossed over in my mind and I began to drift to sleep, I realized that woman, like so many other people I have seen here, was not one I would soon forget. Her pain will occupy a place in my heart for some time, for as I awoke the next morning to visit the haunted lighthouse of Santo Domingo, I knew she was waking up somewhere too. And that somewhere was a place I wished no woman had to call her reality.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Algunos de Mis Experiencias Reciente

Waking up at ILAC each morning always starts similarly: First, there are the roosters. Before the sun rises, the cocks begin their cacophony of calls well up until the time that our cascade of different alarms begin chiming. From 5:15 a.m. for our early morning runners until close to 8:00 a.m. for our sleepyheads of the group, the chirps and buzzes of our watches and battery-operated devices ring like a smooth, symphonic waterfall flowing from one room to another over our open ceilings (and sometimes back again for the snooze button can be quite popular after a night of listening to dogs fighting in the allies or loud motorcycles racing by). Soon afterward, life on the streets begins: a loud bachata playing in the cars that speed by, the Spanish chatter of neighbors catching up, a child crying out in the cinder-block shack next to us, and then, our beloved breakfast bell.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, after a meal of bread, cheese, and Dominican coffee, we're off to our service sites. Let me update you a bit on some of my experiences and observations this past week:

Catching our first guagua of the day all by ourselves, Cody, Kellie, and I squish between the Licey locals for the 20 peso ride into the city. As the guagua races past the motorcycles and taxis of the road, the wind from the open van door hits me with a tinge of excitement. This is our first time venturing into Santiago by ourselves and I am looking forward to the possibility of playing with the boy in the green shirt again.

As we communicate with the cobrador as to where we'll be getting off, I watch the movement of the merchants that crowd the Santiago streets. Here, the Dominicans have the spirit of a true hustler. From bottled water, to pirated movies, to phone chargers, to stolen goods, to the popular apple popsicles from the men in neon green, the street vendors come right up to the guagua windows at the stoplights attempting to find their next sale. Darting through traffic, pushing their carted goods along the street sides, or calling from the sidewalks to gain the attention of onlookers, it is clear there is a component of desperation mixed with the hardworking attitude I've observed in the Dominican people. Some I will see working shifts from dawn until dusk. Some will claim a corner for sales; others will move throughout the day attempting to follow the crowds. Some will take "No gracias" for an answer; others will continue trying to earn your second glance at their product until you are out of sight. Yet all share a common goal: to make enough money to keep living in the urban poverty that plagues this city.

Passing through the landscapes of both Licey and Santiago, I am reminded here of something well noted by many of our Encuentro group in regards to urban poverty. Neighborhood separation does not exist here. One moment, we may pass a beautifully built colonial style home with gates and a night guard, and their neighbor will have a home made of cinder-blocks, trash, and barbed wire. The disparity between the wealthy and those in poverty is thus visually overt.

How does the wealthy man with his trendy watch and BMW feel looking down into a shanty from his second story window? How does the pregnant woman scrubbing her concrete walls feel looking up to see a home six times the size of her own only a few feet from her front door? I may never know for sure, but the blatant honesty of the rich and poor in their choice for home construction is something that sparks my curiosity. Partly, I believe this is because in the country I come from, such impoverished individuals are banned to the ghettos, the projects, and the barrios, out of sight of those who wish to have no association with their poverty.

As we approach the bridge where we exit the guagua and walk a few blocks to Hogar Luby, I am reminded again from the stares I receive that I am an outsider here. Sometimes it is easy to forget that the Dominican people find me so visually different as I become caught up in cultural comparisons to the life I knew in the States. Still, no matter where we travel, there are whistles, hisses, and shouts of "Gringo!" and "Americano!" It sometimes feels daunting to be recognized so verbally in a place that is already unfamiliar to me in its mere existence alone. As one woman in our group, Christine, described it, "Sometimes I just want a mask." Hearing her comment, there are times I wish we could blend in and avoid the extra attention. Simultaneously, I am thankful to be learning what it feels like to be the minority and I can't help wondering: If everyone knew this feeling, would they hold prejudices against groups outside of their own?

Jumping up the steps into Hogar Luby for the morning, I am greeted by several of the children. Some howl and grunt, others poke at me excitedly, a few readily jump into my arms and wish to be held. Walking upstairs (which is where the youngest children are kept) I am met by a girl who loves to lead people around. Each of the children have activities specific to them that they enjoy: some want to play peek-a-boo over and over again, some wish for a piggy-back ride every time I walk into a room and communicate this by trying to climb me, and others simply want to sit on my lap and watch Spanish Barney wiggle around on the television in the corner. However, this particular girl loves to hold my hand and walk around the entire building each time I visit Hogar Luby- no final destination in mind, just an attempt to have me to herself for a little while.

As she leads me around, we walk into one of the rooms where the children sleep. Each room is similar- there are large, white, metal cribs or beds with high rails. Each is set against the wall. Some of them contain children (sometimes for a day's entirety) and others are empty as the munchkins who occupy them are presently running around. Pulling me around the corner, she stops and drops my hand to run away. Confused for a moment as to why she chose to run off, I look down and see my little friend in green from last week, a boy I later learn is named Luis. Smiling up at me, Luis tugs at my jeans and attempts to stand up with his rickety knees. Grasping at me to lift him, I can't resist, and he is soon situated on my hip as we walk towards the room with the television. As I hold up his twisted neck to watch the show, he grabs at a cottonseed that has blown in through the window. Tossing it up and watching it fall a few times, I find myself fascinated by his attention to the wispy seed. Pushing it back and forth at each other, I find us both giggling. Still, this quiet moment of entertainment is one of few in a place where the ratio of workers to children is low. Soon, several others are in the room vying for my attention and I wander around to be with each individually, leaving Luis to play with his new toy for a bit.

As I give airplane and pony rides, I quickly become aware of a disturbing feature of Hogar Luby: While each child has different verbal and mobility issues, most express communication to each other solely through violence. This week, there was one child who literally just walked around biting everyone in sight- it was like Twilight on steroids status. It was my conclusion that he was trying to seek recognition from someone, just like the children who hit, kick, and strike each other with toys and chairs. Yet, the fact that some of these children are defenseless to such actions (and that the workers do not discipline except by yelling or hitting the children) made it difficult to get this particular boy to stop.

Later, a smaller boy attempts to throw a chair at me and I catch it. As I go to gently set it down next to him, he flinches as if he believes I planned to strike him with the chair. I cringe at his response. Did the other children, the workers, or both bring about his immediate reaction of defense and fear? Regardless, to see how quickly he responded in this manner breaks my heart. It is difficult to watch these children abuse each other with physical and emotional scars. Furthermore, it is challenging to know that such abuse is forming who they become, whether they remain at Hogar Luby forever or are adopted.

Another fascinating factor of the social interactive abilities of the children at Hogar Luby rests in the defense they attempt to provide me from their peers. For example, at one point, I was holding Luis and carrying him to the window to look outside. It was not long before another child was crawling up my back and trying to look out too. When he realized I couldn't help him climb up me, he began hitting me. Before I even had the chance to respond, Luis had already turned around and was kicking the other child away from me. While this was not a reaction I promoted, it was interesting to see that Luis felt responsible for protecting me while I held him. I also wondered if he could have had a more selfish motive, as if he wanted to ensure he was the only child I was paying attention to. While I'll never know Luis' true motive behind his reaction, his response was remarkable to witness.

Leaving Hogar Luby drenched in sweat, my t-shirt stretched out and twisted as a testament to my playing with the children, and my back sore from providing pony rides, I found myself left with a single feeling of peace. In any other situation, I might have been miserable with my eyeliner running down my face, my shirt soaked in drool, and a bite mark on my left arm (from one of my new little vampire friends). But there is something different about being here, and to me, nothing seemed to matter but the smiles I saw all morning and the air that hit my face as I sat again near the open door of the guagua, our driver honking and laughing with el cobrador all the way back to ILAC.

DR Photos