Sawdust - My Family Travels

“Hola chico/chiquita! Como te llama?” I say the words hesitantly, and my tongue feels like it is covered with sawdust as I speak the few Spanish words I know.

To say that I am loud would be an understatement. I am the sound of the freight train that passes by your window at night. I am the obnoxious music that your child plays, speakers blasting, bass thumping. Cliche sayings are sometimes true, and is true when they say that you can hear me from a mile away.

â–º  Finalist 2012 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

Not being able to communicate with my new friends has been so frustrating. There are so many things I want to know — have they ever read a book that made them cry, have they ever squirted milk out of their nose, have they ever loved someone? But all I can manage are smiles, often. And gestures. Lots of gestures.

But I love them regardless. And I know they love me. I can tell from the way they hold my hand as we walk down the streets, how they challenge me to rap battles, how they keep trying to talk to me and don’t give up. I have given my heart to this country, its culture, its people and its laughter. Who would have picked a depressed, angry girl to go on this trip, to open up to the people who care for her, to give love more than she had in her heart? To enter into community again, to be transparent? My heart trills inside of me at the thought of those sticky, swollen days where we feasted on mangos and had nothing but everything. The dirty feet that begged to be cleaned, a child with a nose that needed to be wiped. Cathedrals with ornate carvings, palm trees that eclipsed us with their shade. Lots of lawn chairs and loud Spanish being called out to friendly neighbors as they bathed in the sun soaked heat. Can you picture it? The barbed wire that surrounded soccer fields where laughing children played? Music booming from every house you went to that somehow entrapped you in its beat as well? A tongue and a people so beautiful and eloquent, poised in a way a middle-class American could never imagine?

Such are the days that you spend in La Vega, Dominican Republic. Breathtaking, perilous hikes up the side of a mountain with 500 people who don't speak the same language as you. Peeling off sugar canes with machetes to taste its sweet insides. The sense of community, of oneness. Of being human.

I can't imagine not going back. I couldn't imagine it then. Which is why, the summer before I graduate high school, I am going back to that place I have felt homesick for this whole year – a place where I spent only a few short days. I knew I couldn't make it again without experiencing that scent of a new country, of people packed together, of dusky, sweet summer days when technology is forgotten. But the trip is not about me – it's never been about me. I want to go for the kids. For the people who have no one to speak for them. To nurture and have fun with them. To giggle with the teenage girls about crushes and paint each other fingernails. I want to get out of myself. I want to make someone smile, to have them look back and say that the summer of 2012 was the summer when they first knew that someone truly cared for them.

I'm going back, and this time it won't just be sawdust that escapes from my mouth.

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