Bucket-Shower Baptisms

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

With the gentle eyes of hindsight, these past two weeks may very well have been a dream. But as I thumb through my smutty journal and study my crude, daily recordings, I am firmly reminded that they were full of rocky ups and downs.  Somewhere in between frigid bucket-showers, raw blisters, and the endless supply of hugs, I was taught something more about myself, hard-work, and friendship. But that is old news; that is to be expected with each new, uncomfortable experience. What remains now is to attempt to share, though in much less a poetic manner than that of Thoreau, an average day in our dear campo:

6:37 am: Wake up gracefully to the sun shinning through the curtain. JUST KIDDING: the roosters have been “heralding the day” since 4:00 am. I untangle my way out of my pink mosquito net, try to journal down some morning thoughts en español, braid my hair, and then all that’s left is to throw on my muddy hiking boots (since I was clever/lazy enough to sleep in my work clothes.)

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Buenos días! Es un día glorioso.

7:30 am: Enter Olga, always with a piping hot cup of mega-sugary coffee and a cozy, back-rubbing hug. Did I mention that my campo mom is an angel?

8:00(ish) am: Gather up the crew and wade through four rivers (yep, you bet we named them all) to get to breakfast. Discuss in depth the events of the night before, i.e. who won at dominos, who got offered the most food, and who bonded with a new friend over our weird American music.

9:00 am: I finish dunking my last piece of bread in the breakfast hot chocolate and hop into the bed of the community truck– the guagua. We try not to bruise our tailbones on the way to one of the worksites: the tank, digging, or tubing. Let the games begin!

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NB: when given the opportunity to ride in the bed of a truck, always say yes.

11:00 am: After a few hot hours of working on and off, the kiddos come by during their recreo.  They insist on singing us a new song that they learned, and I find myself fighting back tears because children are just so beautiful. Especially these ones. Always holding our hands, they fawn “mi hermana” before scampering back to la escuela.

12:15 pm: Lunch break, gracias a Dios! We all traverse back to the meeting place, a small patio surrounded by chickens, dogs, and mud. Before we carry on, we bow our heads to sing “Bendigamos, al Señor…” Never mind that we still don’t know the tune of the third line. 😉

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1:00 pm: Although uncomfortably hot in our jeans, we recline and some manage to nod off while leaning back on their plastic chairs. After washing my hands and face in the outside spigot, I daydream and watch the still, bright green montañas.

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2:00 pm: And it’s back to work; some sigh and some sing. By this time, much of the community has joined in the fun and we progress quickly despite the lack of palas y picos, our tools. I have a newfound appreciation for loose, light dirt.

3:00 pm: One of the local madres brings out grape and orange soda. Although never a huge pop drinker, I don’t think I’ve had a more refreshing beverage in my life– ¡Ah, muchas gracias! By this time, almost every able-bodied adult is trying to contribute in some way to the construction of their aqueduct. Some even dig with their bare hands.

5:00 pm: And finally, the aqueduct is another day’s work closer to completion! Our sore feet drag us back home over the rivers and through the woods to wash up before dinner.

5:30 pm: I arrive at my front porch to find my family reclining in plastic chairs and chatting up a storm.  They gleefully greet me and insist that I sit down to cool off and relax before I take a shower. I always open up with, “Ay Dios! Fue un día glorioso.”

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6:00(ish) pm: After another rousing prayer concluding with the beautiful “Oh-h Padre Nuestro,” we dig into the abundance of plantains, salami, yuca, and salad spread before us. I have a new appreciation for ketchup and hot sauce, as they are somehow able to make all the above taste like a gourmet meal (or maybe that’s the hungry tummy talking.) We thank the cooks profusely, and some of us girls get a free cooking lesson from one of the older women. Nevertheless, I am still convinced that those wrinkled, brown hands work nothing short of a miracle when it comes to the challenge of raw food and open flame.

7:00 pm: More members of the community roll around, and we engage in cards and friendly banter while the elders avidly matchmake the eligible young men and women (but c’mon, what a great story that would be!)

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8:30(ish) pm: The River Crew gets a ride back home in the guagua and we arrive to find a gaggle of our neighbors hanging at the local colmado. The party starts as the bachata music is turned up and the dominos are brought out. Quieres bailar?

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10:00 pm: Although my sister was with me, I decide to scamper home at a decent hour in order to pass some time with the adults in my family. We watch baseball and do our best (necesito practicar español más) to discuss adult things. Somehow, the conversation frequently turns toward the importance of education (surely they knew the kiddos were listening awake in their beds), and I don’t mind at all since I have a lot to say on the subject.

11:30 pm: It has been a long, long day for us all, but I know that my family will patiently keep me company until I explicitly yawn and declare that I would like to sleep soon. We hug, scuffle back under our mosquito nets, and I turn off the light after recording the new Spanish words of the day. While thoughts of home drift to me in the dark, I catch the whispered Ave Marias of my abuela and am reminded to dar gracias a Dios for my day. And now it’s time to rest. Hasta mañana, mi familia de ángeles– si Dios quiere 🙂

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Dive Right In

“Lean into discomfort,” is a great phrase that has been echoed many times here. While well-intended and assuredly well-received, it dawned on me that I’ve just never been one to inch into the water. If I’m going to get my feet wet, I might as well go all the way, as quickly as possible, and with feigned bravery written on my face. I recently had the pleasure of receiving a lovely letter in the mail, which contained a lucky little reminder: I have no doubt in your ability to dive right in. So do it! Lately, I have been the tiniest bit guilty of complacency and choosing comfort over the uncertainty of adventure. That is not how a courageous women would travel through life, especially when she is studying abroad in the Dominican Republic. Who am I not to open up and try new things (even if that means somewhat regretting that cachú-doused street food)? Luckily the Man Upstairs knows precisely how to nudge us in the right direction, and in less than three days, the Comunidad will embark on our first campo immersion. I’m not going to smooth over my uneasiness and act like spending 10 days in a mountain village with no Internet, no running water, and no English-speakers doesn’t freak me out. In fact, the mere thought makes me want to wrap myself up in a tidy burrito of cleanliness, familiarity and good Internet access. But like the rest of my tough companions, I’m just going to take it into stride. It’s actually pretty funny the way things work out.  Recently, I was surprised to find myself suffering the pangs of deeply missing my grandparents and the crazy hooligans I call my siblings, but it turns out that my host family includes an abuelita, Olga, and two niños, ages 12 and 8. ¡Qué linda! Not only that, but there’s a tree-climbing, swamp-exploring, and bug-catching little girl inside of me that I would love to get in touch with again. Here’s to rediscovering simple ways to be joyful. Here’s to discovering new ways to be thankful. And on that happy note, an admirable poem:

Inexorable Deities

By: Edgar Lee Masters

Deities!
Inexorable revealers,
Give me strength to endure
The gifts of the Muses,
Daughters of Memory.
When the sky is blue as Minerva’s eyes
Let me stand unshaken;
When the sea sings to the rising sun
Let me be unafraid;
When the meadow lark falls like a meteor
Through the light of afternoon,
An unloosened fountain of rapture,
Keep my heart from spilling
Its vital power;
When at the dawn
The dim souls of crocuses hear the calls
Of waking birds,
Give me to live but master the loveliness.
Keep my eyes unharmed from splendors
Unveiled by you,
And my ears at peace
Filled no less with the music
Of Passion and Pain, growth and change.
But O ye sacred and terrible powers,
Reckless of my mortality,
Strengthen me to behold a face,
To know the spirit of a beloved one
Yet to endure, yet to dare!