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:
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.