Working in la Lomas
On Monday, our group piled into a flatbed truck with gallons and gallons of paint, brushes, rollers, shovels, picks, suitcases, items to donate … basically a lot of stuff in addition to 18 people bouncing together over 20 miles of rough mountain roads. A trip that might take 30 minutes on paved roads took 2 hours instead. We arrived in Guayajayuco to find a wide, open field where a plaza might otherwise be. At least two goats tethered to stakes munched nonchalantly on blades of grass, not taking much notice of our group. A handful of Dominican boys wandered to see who’d just arrived as we awaited our next instructions (what would we be doing? where would we be sleeping? when would we eat?).
This shady spot would become our primary gathering place for the rest of the week, where we would eat, rest and exercise our Spanish (and sometimes patience) with the local children. This is where the jovenes play baseball, dominoes, jump rope, marbles, and all sorts of games that have no name because they’re devised with bits of trash and don’t involve texting or game consoles. It’s where cows pass through to pasture, where chickens and ducks wander, and where goats are tethered lawn mowers. “Do the goats ever get hit during baseball games?” I asked Claudio in my newfound Spanish. He chuckled. “Sometimes.”
Our work began in earnest with the scraping and prepping of the Guayajayuco church (more of a chapel), which we’d repaint a bright blue. For three days, we painted. Each hour brought a passing glance or the occasional child visitor. I asked them all their names and what they liked to study and would they like to paint. They warmed up again. Aleuri and Valentín wrote their names in my notebook after I took their picture. Aleuri — I think he was 11 years old — showed up by himself for mass the next day at 6:30 a.m.
We took turns at different work sites. On Tuesday, a group of us moved on to mix cement at a chapel being built a few kilometers away. It’s like making bread. We took rough sand and folded fine cement into a mound on the ground next to the tiny chapel. Then we formed a well in the center of the mixture and poured the water in, slowly incorporating the two until a sloppy cement could be poured into our “mold” — two sheets of plywood nailed around the perimeter of the church.
The engineer Mercede (anyone born on the feast of la Virgen de la Mercedes is named as such, whether boy or girl) encouraged me to lay down my shovel several hours into the job. “This work is too hard for a woman,” he said. “But I’ve been working all day!” I replied, confused and thinking, “If he thinks this is man’s work, he’s picked the wrong group of missionaries.” The women far outnumbered the men, and the work was the work. In the end, we repainted three chapels and constructed the walls for a fourth — with a lot of help from local volunteers and curious children whose instinct to be of service is notable and appreciated, given how children in the West are so accustomed to being waited on hand and foot.
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