Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ex Pat October

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main...                                   (John Donne)

Celebrating our third month abroad today and it feels as if a lifetime has passed. We have a new appreciation for the geography of Santo Domingo, protected by its cliffs, its bay and its height above water since the visit with Hurricane Matthew (September 28).  Living abroad reminds me daily of how insignificant I am, and a hurricane speeds up that feeling like the double fast foward button on a remote. Days before it struck, we were partying on the Malacon and planning Marc's trip for a conference in Guadalajara, Mexico.  At the time, I embraced the independence but that week brought me closer to my reliance on the communities of Santo Domingo. 

I reacted like everyone else and stocked up on groceries. Here in Santo Domingo there are many supermercados but if you are traveling by bike, the best fresh fruits and vegetable variety is at Bravo. Organic produce is truly organic and inexpensive; the farm region where they grow basil, watercress, cilantro is hours from here in Jarabacoa. 

Of course I overload my totes. And of course my keys sit on a hook at home as I stare at my locked yellow bike in front of the store. Walking the mile back without taking a shopping cart is not an option. I didn't even consider that it could be interpreted as stealing. Pretending its a workout I jog pushing it down side streets and the main road, avoiding the city sidewalk that are as gnarly as a class 4 dirt road. I'm running alongside motobikes and cars and cut thru a passage between two buildings carrying the shopping cart over piles of debris. Only then did I look over my shoulder to check for muggers. Only then did I see two men following me. I heaved that grocery cart and began striding deliberately up the stairs to the main road. I hoisted over the median and booked it to my street afforded a second look. It was just one man now. In a pink shirt. In a uniform from Bravo. 

My vision is blurred from sweat and from steam and of course I don't have my phone for translation. I open my gate and he follows me. In rapid Spanish he begins talking to me and the doorman. I'm trying to say that I'm sorry, I did not steal and that the cart will be returned. And I have not a clue as to what he is saying. Una momento- I race up to the apartment to drop the groceries, grab the bike key, my passport, my phone. I try to translate an apology or explanation as he begins to pull the cart from me and out the door. He is talking at me so rapidly, I can not keep up- I thought he mentioned his manager? I'm thinking I'll be pulled into an office for questioning, possibly the police. Will Marc forgive me for being arrested a day after his departure? Will Kata be ok staying with the neighbors a bit longer? I try to explain that I will push the cart back. And that I will prove that I left my bike locked. I will unlock it and I'm sorry, lo siento, so sorry. 
Mr. Bravo won't share the pushing of the shopping cart. For awhile we walk and sort of fight over who gets to push it. Even as I contemplate my crime I can't put up with his machismo. Finally, giving up and walk ahead, and then something in me just says run. So I did. I ran all the way back to Bravo, unlock my bike and take off on a different side road. I decided to leave the scene of my perceived crime. Sure- I had guilt and regrets but I couldn't bear the thought of Marc having to intervene with police on my behalf or being banned from the best grocery store in the city.

It turns out, the mercados hire men to push grocery carts home for people for a few pesos.  I hadn't stolen a cart, I had stolen a job and avoided a tip. Mr. Bravo wasn't lecturing me, he was telling me to let him do his job. I have sheepishly returned to shopping at Bravo but I improved my Spanish  and my listening. And I tip the grocery baggers, thank the cashiers and I wear my bike lock key as a necklace. 

If a clod be washed away by the sea  
Europe is the less.... (Donne)

I am a clod. Seriously, I spend many days evaluating my day in which I'm a big chunk of dirt that coulda, woulda shoulda done things differently. When Matthew hit the apartment and shook all the windows, the rain poured in through light fixtures and cracks in the doors, I was humbled yet it really was nothing compared to what others experience. Still, I felt the weight of karma and the need to be a better person. We had clear sky, bright sun for a day. Was this the eye of hurricane?  Intense heat propelled me to bike with Kata to the pool and find other kids. We were there only 20 minutes when rain poured down in heavy sheets. It ended so we hurried home only to find our pathway underwater. I sped ahead of Kata, down the hill and rode waist high through the water to the other side of the road. It was thrilling to spin in waters over the top tube but nerve wracking when I realized that Kata was standing forlornly still on the other side. My options- ride back with her on an unknown route or power thru and get home quickly. I left my bike and waded back towards Kata. The water, as quick as it came, was subsiding. It was no longer thigh high but knee deep. And the Dominicans in cars, notoriously known for driving dangerously, braked to let me gather her onto my back as I pushed her bike back through the street to safety.  We rode the rest of the way home unimpeded. When I pause to consider the street garbage that accumulates daily, along with the sickly animals and carcasses, and the various feces, the plastics and molded foods, I no longer find pleasure in adventure. We retreated to our home, rinsed with bleach and showered forever. The winds and rains Of Matthew were once again upon us with an accumulated force. Kata and I snuggled all night in the hopeful safety of our concrete walls and marveled at the forces of nature. The three days without school, the need to restock water or find friends brought us to the streets and the colmada. I had to interact in Spanish, I waded through more waters. I discovered what it feels like to sweat in the rain. 

As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind.... (Donne)

Santo Domingo sits high on a promontory and my flooding was nothing compared to the buckled roads and swamped houses that the city workers contend with. Our cook was able to convey that her home flooded and that she needed to build a flood wall for future protection. She is a single mom and was unable to travel to us for a few days. Through out the storm, Kata and I gave sandwiches to our guards and began saving pesos for our cook. Our school is amazing at rallying for organizations and non profits. One of the new teachers is married to a UN emergency response nurse. She was on a plane within the week and headed to Haiti. Her husband worked with student clubs to organize fundraising efforts and the response was extremely positive. For a moment, it seemed that all was well in the world I know. But back in Vermont, families of the Mad River Valley were thrust into grief. In a single moment, a single senseless car chase by a man in a stolen vehicle, cost the lives  of 5 teens. Anyone could've been hit by that reckless man who stole a police car, drove backwards on the interstate smashing into oncoming vehicles. His penance, should be a constant repentance. How fragile life is. How quickly my hubris is gone. I'm now more worried than wondering,  looking with more worry and awareness of loss. I guard Kata closer. We are wearing helmets once more. Tragedy pulls at my heart longing for home. 

The rains and the sea slowly wash away sorrow. I found hope and redemption in a volunteer day with my school club Es Posibla Una Sonrisa helping children coping with poverty, AIDS and just being a kid. Sincerity rushes back in me like a wave and I am finding my place- involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee....      (Donne)

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