Today was a very intense journey. So I’ll start with something light.
My bra dried overnight. I told you yesterday we have begun to wash needed article of clothing in the cold showers. This was such an item. And to my surprise, it dried. Which is a miracle in and of itself given the deluge of rain last night.
The smell of chickens wafted through our dorm all night. The wind and the fans dropped the temperature but not the dew point overnight.
Every thing remains a mild level of wet this morning, despite the bright sun.
Primping in the AM has become easier. I’ve stripped away all that has become obviously nonessential. Focus on just The basics. Face. Teeth. Hairband. Deodorant. Clothes. Done. Easy to do while here, of course.
We join together for worship, coffee and breakfast. We take a short fifteen minutes to digest and then gather our work gloves and water bottles and head back to the vocationalhigh school for more painting. It’s a national holiday today – “Something Catholic” a villager tells us. So no school for us.
Painting the school starts out with enthusiasm and missing parts. Who has a ladder that is stable? Where is the water to wash brushes? Anyone find me a stirring stick for the paint? A teammate retrieved a scrap of wood from the pile abutting the front porch, one without rusty nails.
Do we paint the ceiling first? Yes. Wait – the rollers don’t fit the sticks. A minute or two trying all permutations of 16 rollers and seven sticks. Where’s the tape? Young Ishmael, out of school on his holiday day, shows us how to tape the roller to the pole. It works beautifully. A child will lead them.
A rain of fine white paint falls on us in the 6 x 12 room where we are all painting- ceiling, walls, ledges. One teammate cuts the corners in, to avoid any paint over. We discuss the afternoon schedule which includes more painting and then a 4:30 distribution of 20 bags food in the village to 20 different households. We all pause talking for a moment- everyone of us women to a tee, including Pumpa, are realizing the fatal flaw in this plan. A mile walk to town, stopping at twenty chosen homes to deliver and pray. Starting at 4:30pm, we won’t be back until 9pm. Or later! And we will be interrupting people during their dinner.
Pumpa speaks first. “I don’t think that is a good time”, she says in her straightforwardway into the silence. We all burst out in agreement at once, our chatter heralding our relief. We elect Pumpa to tell our leader volunteer. She laughs and says she must ask Argenis first. We agree a 3pm start is better. Or maybe even right after lunch.
It’s resolved then. We continue painting, satisfied that our gift of organization is being used to the benefit of all.
I go to wash some rollers, but we cannot find the end to the hose, pieced together from actual hoses and some lengths of plastic piping. First we climb the temporary slanted boards to the second floor, using paint poles as our support, hosting our bodies up an awkwardly and brilliantly angled scrap of wood. We find the hose end but it looks to be set up for the cement man. We shlog back down the temporary boards. Ishmael disconnects the hose at a point near some rocks in the deconstructed yard outsidetheschools first floor. Richard is tying the coupling of the hose to the faucet up the steps and along the cement path of the high school buildings. It’s the wrong size and doesn’t stay secured. He uses a rubber band type material. Everthing here is Gerry rigged.I have a keen sense of deja vu, my friends and I as a gang of children in the back field creatingmakeshift tools and homespaces to play amongst.That’s the sense I get here.
He turns on the spigot and we have water. I settle in on. The newly poured (and cured) cementside walk and find a naturally inclined stone near my feet to roll the rollers against as I rinse the white from it’s fuzz.The water poolsquickly in the clay and turns a milk bluewhite from the paints.
A break from this and
a quick FaceTime with my son in Brooklyn NY. He seems a world away. He is a world away. And yet technology makes it so close. I love technology. It’s expanded our world. God drives innovation to connect his people and breathes life into the gifts of us all.
I return to paint more walls inside the vocational school – a turquoise blue. 12 women in one room yielding brushes and rollers in blues and whites. Music from America- country, Sinatra, Rock. Pumpa and Ishmael join us in painting bringing our number to 14 in the room. Our male teammate retreats to paint the front porch ceiling. Smart man.
We go to wash brushes once again. Pumpa is seated by our makeshift wash hole. The spigot is detached once more. I hike up to the tin church and find Richard. He brings helpers and re -attaches it in seconds. Again we have water. Life.
God attaches our hose of life giving water- Jesus. When we neglect the connection through which Jesus flows and our connection becomes detached he is always there to help us reconnect. He is always responsive like that. What a comforting thought!
I settle in next to Pumpa. We speak nothing, but we share this moment, cleaning, rinse, resolving. It’s a beautiful snapshot. I will bank this as a memory that brings me peace.
There is a quiet contentedness to these people of the Dominican. A silent firm presence in the moment. Neither marked as good nor bad. Just- present. I’m trying to tap into this and brush off my American activity – constantly doing or preparing to do, my need to talk or fill air, my internal voice of judgment and direction. Because it is in this space I believe God waits for me. Maybe that is the peace that Pumpa is feeling as we sit silently working side by side in this wash pit.
Children play in and around the unfinished building. They play in our makeshift water hole now filled with paint. They play on the pile of discarded wood. Climbing up the makeshift boards to lean over the second floor wall.
This was our childhood. Not an adult around. Entertaining ourselves with things that were probably 90% dangerous for us. The adult in me wants to shout warnings. The child in me rejoices in their play. I let them be.
The clock turns to noon and we begin to clean up until the afternoon A teammate and I walk back to the compound. She directs me to the water trough, a location that has excellent water pressure (in low supply here) and where she washed her hair before. We scrub and scrub our hands and arms, the blue and white dots of paint melting into streams of colored water swirling down the drain. We talk about teams and collaboration; personalities and how God uses us to help others in their struggles. Divinely created, a use for each of our flaws.
We wander wearily into the dining hall, trying desperately to keep the thought of afternoon labor at bay. Let us enjoy this hour of rest, as God directs.
We notice a towel on the floor at the door threshold. The poor staff is trying to keep their beautiful tile floor clean. We diligently wipe or remove our shoes. We slump onto benches. Others from the church and school file in. Soon there are children chanting, music playing, people jabbering in Spanish and English. This community draws together and nourishes strength in each body, in the way they each require.
After lunch we lounge. In Italy and Spain and Latin American countries the tradition of rest after a mid day meal is common. We have come to appreciate why. We also appreciate the fluidity of decision making and plans. Maybe, maybe not. We change our mind mid stream and no one is fazed in the least. It’s acceptable. I appreciate that.
We decide to rearrange the afternoon and head out to deliver food in the village earlier. So a rest until 2:30 is ideal. A teammate offers to wash my hair in the trough out in the yard. I eagerly accept and head off to our dorm for shampoo and towels.
She meets me downstairs. I’m ridiculously excited about the prospect of clean hair. It’s not been washed since Friday.
We head over and some of the villagers are on picnic tables in the shade. They speak to her in Spanish “you’re doing a hair salon” and we laugh.
Honestly, time could have stood still and I would not have noticed. The cool water against my scalp and the shampoo massage was delicious. We chatted while she washed and laughed at – really nothing. Comfortable in our shared female spirit. Again, a memory awoken from dna of ancestry, female bonding over common activities. The spirit of sharing. God created us to be together. Isolation is the devils playground.
Freshly washed and feeling revived I head up to rest until it’s time to pack the truck and head into the village.
We lose track of time and soon Pumpa is in the doorway admonishing us to come, hurry, we are ready. It’s 3:15.
Here’s where it gets hard.
The van gets packed with 15 bags. Ishmael, Johan, Pumpa, Jonathon, Joshua, Willi, Annalisa, Yara, little Neomi, brilliant Rose, and half a dozen more from the church and school join us. The van follows behind and we walk. Yara, Richards wife has the list of families we will bless this afternoon. It’s clear as we enter town Yara is the unofficial mayor. The majority of staff here at the school grew up here, went away to college, and came back. They love this village. They love the people. They know them all.
We stop at our first house. There are many of us, so only half our group moves forward with the staff. Our teammate who speaks Spanish translates. The family receives us well. We pray over them and they thank us. We move on.
The next house is a bit of a challenge, but we are currently unaware. As we follow Johan and Yara into a yard it’s clear we are not at the chosenhome yet. We pass close to some sheds and houses. Then we cross into someone’s front yard (no bigger than a two by four foot patch) and walk along their small house close enough to lean against it. Then we turn left and walk over a knoll. A tiny field is to our right and a cow stands tied to a tree.
We are still not there.
Then we turn left again and suddenly our line of people comes to a halt. As I move closer to the bottle neck I see that we must climb over a fence board in a narrow passage that is lined with barbed wire. We make our way slowly. When we are through we walk again through someone’s postage stamp yard and more barbed wire, this time its laying on the ground.
Suddenly we are in an alcove of trees. And sheds- leaning, twisted, battened together with aluminum and knotted boards, tin and plastic. The ground is red dirt. As I look up we are approaching a circle of plastic chairs in which sit and stand women. Wizened faces, multi colors of hair and clothing. And smiles. And poverty. An older woman approaches in a bra and a tartan plaid longer skirt, held together at the zipper with a safety pin. She wears a small necklace with a pendant that I cannot make out. Her salt and pepper hair is twisted into multiple knots. Curiosity turns to smiles when she sees the staff, with whom she is familiar.
Yara greats them with hugs. We step forward as a group- our team, school staff, and church folks- and our teammate translates again, asking names of those women in the chairs, seeking info and connection. For me, the air is deeply silent.
More women from this alcove come toward the gathering. Listening, watching, pulling at their hair and shuffling their feet in a rhythm to music no one can hear. Our teammate who translates is such a blessing. She bridges our gaps, our deficits in this foreign place. And more importantly, for the people we are here to serve, she is the salve. She soothes their wariness and smooths the way for the Holy Spirit to work in all of us to serve without obstacle. She is a true blessing.
We pray and deliver three bags here. Then we turn and make our way back through the barbed wire, fence posts, postage stamp yards, and the cow.
On the street we walk some more. Yara calls greetings to people every thirty paces. Our group has grown, as we gather people along the way who join us in our journey and makes the street clogged with our numbers. Mini bikes maneuver in and out of us as we move forward.
Cars beep for us to part. Our van follows behind. A bus (a bus!) heads toward us and we split to move around it.
Then we stop and pull another bag. This time one of the school staff who I have seen frequently, leads us down a narrow path from the road. We are now about 25 people strong at least. As we get to the end of this tiny footpath we cross into a small yard.
There a woman approaches wearing a clean johnny coat. Here movements telegraph a deep illness. Cerebral palsy? Muscular Dystrophy? Tourettes? Johan tells us no one is home at this house except this woman making her way, and he seems to move to lead us back. We stand firm. She will be blessed with food and prayer.
The woman makes her way slowly to the small porch that serves as the entry to this tiny house. When I think she will stop and turn around toward us, she turns but continues in an awkward slow pirouette. Her head arches to the ceiling of the porch. Her arms are wracked at angles unfamiliar to many. She is saying something. Johan says “She says thank you”. I whisper to my teammate “Please pray for healing”. My throat closes. The woman pirouettes slowly again, unable to control her body’s movements. We pray harder. It seems to go on and on.
And then it ends. And we recess from the front yard. I turn and the school staff member who led us here is crying. As is her friend. My heart lurches in my chest and I reach out, pulling her into a hug. She hugs fiercely back.
We all walk silently back down the narrow path. I feel- I feel- I just feel.
When we reach the road I am desperate for prayer as a group. This we didn’t do before we stepped off on this journey today. Our hunan nature in this is so evident and raw.
The group forms in a close cluster, almost without encouragement. And we pray. I pray out loud. I am not the words. They are just there. I cannot keep the tears inside. We shout amen. And I am broken.
It is close to 5:30 and we have so many more to serve. A decision is made to break into two groups and this allows us to finish by 6pm. Dinner is delayed because the staff is with us, but no one cares. We have felt God move in us today. We have felt the Holy Spirit lead our steps and use our voices. We have experienced Jesus in our presence. The great “I am” has made himself known. We can never be the same.