Monday, March 24, 2003
City of San Pedro de Marcorís
Today I begin the work I came here to do. The area that I visited for a short time two days ago is where the rest of my team and I will be doing a survey for the medical missionaries serving this area. I am helping them to better understand the medical needs of the people, such as what types of diseases their children must face as they grow up, and how often members of the family receive medical attention. The questionnaire is only eleven questions long, but will provide the doctors here with vital information and statistics that will allow them to meet the needs of the people.
We leave our current residence and travel in Dr. Dohn’s van a few blocks to the clinic in the middle of our survey area. Right now I am a bit apprehensive about how well I am going to do today. Insecure is a good word to describe how I feel about the whole situation. I am usually not one to want to go door to door to people’s houses, especially when I cannot even speak their language. I am not sure at all what to expect. How are the people going to react to me? How will I handle the language barrier that is going to be between all one I have to talk to and myself? Am I going to be able to cover the area I have been assigned to survey?
I am partnered with a local high school student who is to help me conduct the survey. I find out right away that he speaks very little, if any, English. We leave the clinic and begin our work a couple blocks away. We walk door to door and both of us take turns reading the survey in Spanish. My partner is very helpful and leads me through some of the longer words that I cannot properly pronounce in Spanish. As we walk between houses, he and I try to cross our language barrier by using different gestures or other words we think the other might be able to understand. Usually we are successful in at least getting the general idea of what we are try to get across, at least that is how I felt about most of what was said. He might have a different perspective, but all seems to go well.
At one house there are at least ten children running around and playing so I ask if I can take a picture of them. When I take out my camera the children become very excited. The all give some of the biggest smiles I have ever seen and their joy is impossible to miss even though they might not be able to tell me in words how happy they are. They all cheer and laugh with glee; even their mothers are excited to be included in the picture when I ask them to join in. Just taking a simple picture is enough to brighten their day, and their smiles are enough to brighten my entire week. I am sure I will not forget these faces and I will cherish the pictures that come from this day. I already have so many memories from these past few days, but today is sure to double what I have already experienced.
When I look down the streets where I am working it seems like a strange site to my American eyes. I see nicely decorated and expensive homes on the same block as deteriorated shacks and garbage heaps. In this place, the wealthier people do not separate themselves from the very poor. The very wealthy have their home by the beach on the other side of town, but those closer to a middle class are still here in this area. No street or line separates the two. They are all mingled together throughout several blocks. The streets here are still dirt and, of course, there are no side walks, but evidently that doesn’t seem to bother them much. I wouldn’t be possible to separate the good area from the bad area here like I can do back in the US. There are no projects or row houses separated from the gated community, or the trailer park separated from the country club. It is all in one place.
As I enter each home, the people are very kind and open. At almost every house my partner and I are invited in to sit down. I now realize that the wariness I had at the beginning of the day was uncalled for. Several of the homes do not look like they are large enough for us to enter and sit, even though some of them house up to ten people. If there is not room the people gladly do whatever they can to make enough room for us and to make us comfortable. Here at one home the lady we are interviewing realized that there would not be enough room inside her home so she takes chairs from inside and brings them out to us. In a worst part of our area, a lady in a half completed two-story home brings chairs all the way from upstairs down to us for us to sit.
Finally, I notice that in a couple homes before the people allow us to sit they make sure the seats are wiped clean. They take a damp towel and clean off any debris or marks from the chairs. The areas around the houses are covered with garbage. The homes are usually taken care of much better, but are still dirty from what enters from the outside. However, when we enter they make sure that the chair we are going to sit in is clean. If they have nothing else here in this country, it can be assured that they do have good hospitality.
Something else I notice in many of the homes are the images of Christ. Dozens of them have at least one painting of Jesus hanging up on the walls inside. There are stickers and signs referring to Jesus and God all over the outside and inside of many houses. The crucifix is another common Christian artifact the people like to display. They wear them around their necks, and hang them on the walls of their homes, and place them in their businesses. The tremendous influence of Christianity and especially the Roman Catholic Church can be seen almost everywhere.
One last thing does not really surprise me, but I find very intriguing. There is great evidence here that American culture has influenced this island. Popular products from the US are in every home that I have entered. From Barbie and TeleTubbies, to the NBA and MLB, to Coca-Cola and Burger King, the great power to the north has once again moved in to make money and promote commercialism and the capitalist spirit. The people here wear clothing imprinted with American slogans, brand names, and popular sayings that they don’t even understand. I become painfully aware that people from the US have been here many times before me in order to do business, promote their products, and seeking advantages. I just came here to listen to the voice of the people!