On an oppressively hot day in mid-July, armed with hundreds of hastily assembled ham sandwiches and bundles of clothes, I climbed on a bus and rode with thirty other students through the dusty switchbacks of Juan Dolio. In forty-five minutes we’d pitched ourselves from the lofty suites of Los Marlines into the reeking garbage pit on the edge of town. There, some two hundred impoverished Dominicans had built rows of scrap metal shanties and crude hitchracks for their grungy mules.
It was somewhere around noon when we unloaded from the bus. Many of the younger students, including myself, lingered near the front of the bus with the local children; the ones who came to greet us were young, none of them older than five years old, as the rest of the children were busy searching through the refuse heaps for unopened cans and shabby tools. For a moment one young girl, no older than three, clasped my hand without a word. Robed in a soiled white dress and shoes, she was an oblique heiress to the vestiges of the better-off, to endless spires of unwitting charity. She squeezed my hand gently, but never met my eyes.
The next minute, the missionaries had pulled the coolers and the duffel bags from the back of the bus and began hauling them towards the stooped church just beyond the path, and my hand was empty. The brutish men and village heads stormed the holy garrison with grisly shouts and meaty fists raised, seizing sandwiches and donations impetuously. Near the walls of the church old, hulking mothers would loose their children like hounds to weave through the crowd and bring back as many bags of food and clothes as they could carry. I saw the girl in the white dress snap and tear her way through the rabble and snag seven sealed baggies full of lank ham and bread. Within ten minutes, the provisions were gone and the church was abandoned.
The raw destitution of Juan Dolio is not their virtue, and it is certainly not my testimony. It’s a cancer that corrodes and corrupts, biting bit by bit at the trivial things that make us human, until suddenly there is nothing left but flesh and bone, maw and fang.
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