It rained during the night. Not a gentle drizzle, but a thundering downpour that hammered off metal roofs and woke me from a dead, sticky sleep. Since there is no glass or screens on the window, some of our team woke up wet. I would have imagined it would be cooler today having gotten so much moisture out of the atmosphere. Wrong. As soon as I am awake and moving, I am sweating.
I am delighted to find farina for breakfast. It is flavored with vanilla bean and, topped with a spoonful of cane sugar, it is the best breakfast I have eaten since our arrival.
Our first stop of the day takes us out to a poor village to conduct a service with children in an open air building of cement walls and a steel roof. The children are waiting for us when the bus pulls up. They cheer.
We do all the usual things with them--dancing,singing, there is the usual repeating of chants and cheers. I am starting to look at some of our blue-eyed blond Hillcrest students and wondering if some of them have undisclosed Latino blood in them. They are moving in ways I didn't know Norwegian bodies could move.
It comes to our attention that some of the children who've been sitting here all morning haven't had anything to eat all day. A couple of us walk perhaps 100 yards past very modest shacks to a "store" that is a ramshackle building with bars on the large open window/counter. A woman sells us two sacks of small square loaves of bread and a napkin full of some kind of buttery spread. We also purchase a five gallon jug of water, 6 envelopes of sweetened drink mix and a large bag of ice.
After our service, we feed all the children and mommies and babies buttered bread and pear-flavored Kool-aid. As we are handing out our meager lunch, I ask two of the students how it feels to feed Jesus. They look at me as if they haven't heard me quite right. It IS hot, after all, and we are all increasingly saying heat-induced silly things. "The least of these--that's who we are feeding right now. Jesus said when we do that, we are feeing HIM. Plus," I continue, "Anyone who offers a cup of cold water to a child, is really blessing God." I am humbled by this revelation from my own mouth.
Following the food, it is all games. The sidewalk chalk comes out and the kids start drawing on the cement floor of the church. Others take off with the boys to play soccer in the dirt street. Out come the bottles of bubbles and the children chase them, laughing. Of course there is the ever-popular nail painting stations and temporary tattoo "shops." All the kids are chewing bubble gum or sucking suckers by now and clearly having the time of their lives.
I notice a dog slinking along the edges of our group. It is hard to feel sorry for all the dogs in the D.R.. They are everywhere; sleeping on the sidewalks, trotting along the streets importantly as if taking themselves for walks. Where do they belong? Who feeds them? I always wonder. But there are so many children with nothing. I watch them eat and wish I could bring them a truckload of fruit.
But, I can't stop seeing this particular dog. She is brown, nondescript, neither big nor small. What is most noticeable is how thin she is. I can see all her ribs. And she is a nursing mother. Her teats hand low and she watches every hand that moves to every mouth, hoping someone will drop something. I pull a granola bar out of my pack and toss her a chunk. She swallows it immediately. I throw another, thinking of puppies that will demand all she has when she returns. Jesus loved the faith of a woman once who said, "Even dogs get crumbs from the children's table." It was a small, even foolish thing to do. I didn't care. This is a harsh place, and even dogs suffer the curse of a broken world.
Before lunch, we make a stop at Jumbo. I must tell you about Jumbo. Jumbo is the closest place to anything American we have seen in the D.R.. It is where we go to exchange our "real" money for the stuff that looks like it belongs in a Monopoly game. Last night we bought pizza from a street vendor for 25. To us, it felt like a quarter and--where else can you get pizza so cheap? In actuality it was probably like 45 cents, which is still awfully cheap. Here at Jumbo, it is a kind of reverse shock. I wanted to buy a fan but it looked like the price was $1800. Of course, that was pesos. But I am terrible at mathing, so I did not splurge for a fan, something I regret pretty much every waking moment.
While I am telling stories, I want to tell you about one other interesting feature of the D.R.. It is called the "bano." And it is the toilet. Toilets, in particular, and bathrooms, in general, are not high on the list of cushy comforts in this country. Some people don't bother with them at all and relieve themselves on the street right in front of God and the whole world. Our team makes a concerted effort to know where a bano is no matter where we are because, well, sometimes you don't need one until you NEED one.
The good news here is that most liquid waste the body needs to eliminate is released as sweat, regardless of HOW much you drink. But there is, nevertheless, those pesky moments when a bano is not optional. Sometimes banos are hidden in narrow passageways between shacks. They may have dirt floors, doors that won't shut, and no lights or windows. There is generally no seat and no flushing. Be certain you will never find any paper. I am thinking Depends might not be a bad idea in the D.R..
I would be remiss if I did not mention our translators to you. They lead us around all day and help us communicate. And they locate the banos. Sometimes our American slang challenges their powers to translate, but they are truly remarkable. Our favorites are Joshua, a 20 year old cellist who has his own photography studio and does translating on the side. Then there is Byron, who usually bring his mini-me, 11 year old Little Byron, along with him--a favorite of our whole group.
And then there is firey Clara, who is as loud and she is little. A single mother of four, she has led Hillcrest for several consecutive years and works hard to make sure we know at least a few songs in Spanish. We would be lost without our precious translators. I am trying to adopt Joshua. I'll let you know how that goes.
This afternoon, we are back at a new church that has a real ceiling with FANS. I am writing this note from the back of the room at an actual DESK. Everyone's backpacks are piled around me and I am the designated Guard of Belongings. The teens are dancing up front with the kids as I type. The music is deafening, the laughter raucous, and sweat is literally dripping off my face and soaking my shirt. Many flies are competing for my attention.
The packs I am guarding are filled with treats and trinkets for the kids. The children are so excited for every little thing. Victoria compared handing them gifts to feeding the guess on Lake Alice: There is never enough. You give one kid a toy and he immediately returns with all his siblings, cousins and friends, and, at some point, you are forced to hold up your empty hands and tell them,"No mas." No more. Then they are just content to have YOU. You look at their sweet faces and imploring eyes, and you wish you could give them the world. It is hard to know you are returning home to SO MUCH.