March 22, 2003
Porto Fino Pizzeria
San Pedro de Macorís
Our trip has been successful, so far. College students are a joy to be around. They laugh, learn, and teach me on these international journeys we make together. I am only a learning guide on this fascinating trip they call education. Bringing fourteen college students here to the Dominican Republic to accomplish a research project offers great satisfaction for me. I can only guess what they are thinking. We walk along the ocean boardwalk here in San Pedro and one of the students says, “Pizza sounds good.” I am utterly convinced that college can eat more pizza than any other food. “Up ahead,” I say, “there’s a little pizza place called Porto Fino. We can have some there, drink a soda, and rest our feet.” No one says anything, but I know what they’re thinking. I am the only guy who needs to rest his feet.
Kim is a quiet person. She seems private, but very kind. My mom would say, “She’s so sweet.” I concur. She has a bright smile that radiates across her petite face. She seems content no matter the situation. She never asks for more, seeks to exert her way, argue for a change, or even express a difference in opinion or attitude. She is quiet, contented Kim.
I order sodas for everyone and ask about their pizza preferences. We sit outside under a big shade tree. The evening sea breeze gently brushes our faces, reminding us that we are in another place and another country. We sit quietly, each turned inside, pondering our own thoughts and impressions.
We settle on an order. Honestly, I have never had pizza with corn on it, but I am ready to try about anything. That’s my nature. I will push the envelope. In another life, I am the explorer. I guess that is why I love cultural study and research so much. I love to explore.
I see Kim’s eyes looking over and beyond my shoulder. She sees something out beyond the parameter of the outdoor restaurant. What or whom has captivated her attention. I wonder if a dark, swarthy Dominican stands there in the shadows smiling at her. Our Ohio University girls are quit the rage here on this island. I decide not to look, though. I don’t want to be rude and, really, this is none of my business. If she wants to flirt with a Dominican, who am I to stand in her way. Students have rights, you know.
The pizza comes and the waitress serves up the slices to each of us. Kim remains distracted and I smile broadly at her, thinking about all of the times in the many other countries where some of my students have fallen in love. She’s not eating. A sure sign, I think, that she is smitten.
Somewhere between my first and second slice of pizza with sausage, cheese, and corn, I notice her tears. There doesn’t seem to be anything in her eye. She doesn’t seem to be hurt in any way. Yet, she is near sobbing. I have definitely missed something. Mandy, her best friend, sits beside me and so in my low and very concerned voice I whisper, “What’s wrong with Kim?” Mandy looks at me and then looks across the table at Kim, pauses, and then says, “She is sad because of the boys over there.” Oh, boy, I thought. More than one. I muster all my manly, macho, protective power and turn around to exercise my professorial duties in protecting one of my students. I’m ready to ward off the wolves!
Turning with certain purpose, I stop in place. I am frozen. Several young boys, maybe five in all, stand by the waist high wall, out on the sidewalk, eyes darting back and forth. They ask for pizza remnants. They are begging for pizza scraps. They are hungry and want any leftovers anyone will offer.
Now, I get it. Sweet little Kim has not been checking out the guys, but rather, sensing a cultural need. She quickly recognized the plight of the boys, processed the need, and responded with her emotions. She felt a touch deep inside her human heart. The boys are hungry. They have no resources to buy the pizza and so they resort to begging for scraps so that they too might enjoy a Friday evening on the seacoast of the Dominican Republic. Kim is broken hearted.
All of us are sobered by the moment. We lost our appetites. Almost immediately, without any instructions or prompting from me, the students began piling up the uneaten slices of pizza in order to give to the boys. Kim continued to cry. I decide that teaching lessons in my Ohio University classroom about poverty, economic development, cultural differences, marginalization, and so forth, fail so miserably compared to this real life experience for these dedicated students on this warm, breezy night in the Dominican Republic.
I teach my students that Folknography is all about listening to the voice of the people. Tonight, Kim cried. She not only heard the voice of the poor and disenfranchised; she saw their hunger too. I am not the teacher tonight. I too am a student learning how to give up my slice of life to a world that so desperately needs some justice.