Poorest of the poor
Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity welcome guest blogger Amanda Zamora who reflects on a recent mission to the Dominican Republic. Amanda, sister of our Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora, is a social media/engagement editor for the Washington Post.
The first and last face I really registered in Guayajayuco belongs to a woman whose name I never learned. She was a seemingly homeless Haitian woman who toted an infant on her arm all day and taught her elder son “Wilson” to beg of the Americans with charm or demand, depending on the circumstance.
Everywhere there is a hierarchy — a social order. This place is no exception. The Dominicans pass on the hardest work to the Haitians at lower wages. Orphans are taken in, or not. Soldiers monitor the roads for illegal immigrants. The children in Guayajayuco antagonize Wilson, the Haitian woman’s son, and he antagonizes them. “We don’t like him,” they complain. He is dark-skinned, needy and sometimes angry. His mother yells at him, urging him to serve the Americans in hopes that he’ll be paid. He is the first to ask for leftovers after lunch. The first to ask for seconds when candy is distributed. But he is also the first in line for a game of soccer. And the first one to offer his help toward the end of the week, even when his mother isn’t there. He doesn’t expect anything in return.
On Friday morning, the missionaries made a pile of clothes worn throughout the week to be donated to the locals. Sweaty t-shirts, paint-splattered shorts and cement-crusted tennis shoes (we also donated brand new supplies, toys, etc) were sorted and stacked. We invited the Haitian woman to have first pick. She squatted nervously, her tattered sandals hardly containing her swollen ankles and feet. She picked up a pair of flats, but they didn’t fit. We encouraged her to keep trying. She awkwardly picked up a larger pair of tennis shoes, pink and black Nike running shoes that would surely hold up better than her sandals had. They fit! Her face expressed all the appreciation necessary.
The logic of love
I could go on and on about my experience. It was certainly the hardest I’ve worked and the poorest I’ve ever felt. I slept on concrete in the company of numerous critters (at least two tarantulas, two odd-looking frogs, one cockroach and a host of mosquitos by my count), used outhouses and bathed with cups and buckets. But it was also the happiest I’ve been.
Just being able to completely reboot for a week, to gain perspective on what really matters in life and to feel closer to the Gospel than I can possibly articulate — was life changing. I hope and pray that I am able to hold onto this experience, to remember that it doesn’t take a trip to a third-world country to encounter the living poor and the body of Christ wherever I go.
Our patrons for the trip were St. Francis, of course, and blessed Teresa of Calcutta. On the bus ride back to Santo Domingo, I read Mother Teresa’s book of quotes and so many jumped out at me (especially the workaholic, privileged American me). But the quote that seemed to sum up the Haitian mother, Wilson, the children and all the locals who fed us and worked with us all week was short and sweet:
The less we have, the more we give. Seems absurd, but it’s the logic of love.