June 11, 2009
Greetings from Los Patos! We arrived on Monday afternoon, ate black beans and rice and then headed to the river for a refreshing dip. The river water is nippy, but nice. The water comes down from the mountains, winds around a bend and then feeds into the sea. It is the local supply for drinking/cooking water, the local watering hole and, for those who need it, a bathtub. I would say that most of the people in the town need it for a bathtub. They also use the river water to fill up large buckets in order to have water to flush their toilets.
Our first morning here, Arelis and I got up at 6am and walked about a half mile down the beach to the place where the river meets the sea to bathe. As we prepped for the day, Arelis was telling me how she, her mom and dad and eight siblings would walk down the mountain each day. Then she proceeded to show me how she would splash and frolic around in the water. It was comical to watch her as she did this.
I wish I'd brought my camera along for the walk. The early morning provided many beautiful moments to capture. The pictures on the blog are from another morning and the morning wasn't quite as lovely. We walked past as the pescaderos (fishermen) were prepping the boats for the day. Later as we drove to Barahona, we saw boats scattered about the sparkling water. Quite picturesque. We also walked past a pig and a burro grazing and a rooster strutting and chickens doing their chicken thing. The river, in the early morning light peeking behind a cloud, was just breathtaking.
I can see how happy Arelis is to be back here. She does not get here often. She has only been here three times in the last seven years. I've been lucky enough to have been on two of those trips. Many of her brothers still live here. Her father, who is 83, is still here. Her grandmother is still here. Cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and old friends still make their homes in typical Dominican wooden shacks. We went to Grandpa's Mountain yesterday. On the way up, we stopped to see Arelis' abuela (grandmother). She was walking to her house when we arrived. At 121 years of age, she walks hunched over now, a wirey little thing. She was wearing a green bandana on her head, a square of white cloth with frayed edges tied around her shoulders and a little nightgown. Underneath her nightgown, I caught a glimpse of the roughly done hand-stitching of the homemade white sheath she wore beneath. It would not surprise me in the least if she stitched it herself. She lives in a wooden house painted pink. Ten years ago, she was still living on her own up on the mountain in a little shack with no running water or any other amenities. Water would still have to be carried up the mountain. Cooking would have been over an open fire. Talk about a tough old bird! I should be so lucky to be in as good a shape when I'm my seventies.
The trip up Grandpa's Mountain was a delight. The whole mountain is owned by Job's (Hobe's) grandpa. Two of his sons tend to the land now. One son, René, is building a new home not quite midway up. Homes are now built of cinder block. Sometimes they are given a stucco finish, sometimes the gray blocks are left exposed. He will have two bedrooms, a bath, living room, and kitchen. All the rooms are small. When you picture these rooms, you cannot picture them as typical to our rooms. The kitchen will have a small gas stove and maybe a sink. Counter space is a rarity. There will be no refrigerator because there is no electricity. Food that needs to be kept cold is not commonly stored and people tend to buy what they need on a daily basis.
We spent several hours on the mountain. Arelis and Pedrito took a hike higher up. We all hiked around the shack where Arelis lived as a child. We gathered mangoes, limes and bananas to take back to the house. We drank fresh coconut milk and ate the white flesh of the coconut meat inside. These are not the brown coconuts and hardened coconut we find in the grocery stores in the states. These are the green coconuts taken straight from the tree. They use a machete to slice off the top to make a hole the size of a silver dollar. You drink the milk from that. Then you slice open the whole coconut to reach the meat inside. A piece of the green shell is shaved from the side and this is used to scrape the meat from the coconut so you can eat it. It's like an all-inclusive take-out wrapped up in one neat little package. Just bring your own machete!
René is 57 years old and is long and lean. He is in amazing shape from the hard work he does daily and was quite tickled when I told him that Job and Jairo were getting fat back in the states. He laughed when I asked him to make a muscle pose for a picture.
Every time I come here, I am reminded of how cushy I have it at home and how much I take for granted every single day. These people here have so much less than we have, yet many are thriving and are happy. Still, there are many who go hungry.