Finally I understand the word “community.” My epiphany came during the big bonfire and live music celebration that our neighboring community, called Mocan Campana, held as the close to their week-long children’s camp. Community is not a thing, or a location or a closed group of people. It’s a verb. It’s alive. It’s talking (maybe a little too much…) and it’s together whether they like it or not. I feel as though the word community in the US is a totally different animal. We are able to choose our “communities.” You might have your church community, your school community, your tennis community, your karate community, a community of people of your nationality, your kid’s community, the community you were born in and the community you are now, but none of those compare to these communities. They didn’t choose to be a community they LIVE their community. Yes, they live it. It’s a verb for them and it resonates like their music every night being played from one hilltop or another. They are all family in many senses of the word and they are stuck with each other whether they like it or not!
If only we could learn from them, and them from us. We (generalizing about Americans) like efficiency and tangible deliverables, which is good in moderation. On the other hand the tempo here is so laid back that not much gets accomplished on a daily basis besides a lot of visiting with the neighbors. However, Mocan, the community next to my community (which is called San Jose Adentro) has got it going on! Interestingly San Jose Adentro and Mocan have a rivalry because I think both are jealous of the other. San Jose Adentro has Ruben/Project Hearts as well as an American dentist and the Christian Medical Missions (CMM) school so we have lots of opportunities and important people (as they see it). On the otherhand Mocan is poorer and smaller than San Jose Adentro but what they lack in resources they make up for in community organization. They are the only community I have seen here in Baitoa that has organized themselves without any outside influence. They have a “junta de vecinos” which is like a community committee, and a sign announcing their community. Not only that but they have many leaders, young and old, in their community that are moving and working together! It’s amazing really. If I were in their situation I don’t know that I could be so motivated. But they are and it is amazing.
They organized a group of local missionaries to come for the week to give a children’s camp. They organized a collection to help fund this camp and planned activities from morning until late at night, including the parents and other members of the community at night to rally them to support and nurture their children. Franni, Project Hearts new media relations assistant, is only 16 yet such a leader in his community already! He walks all the way from Mocan most days to the CMM school where my neighbor Ellen teaches English and Computer classes and where I have begun to teach my teen health group classes. Because of his dedication to his studies and his incredible responsibility we’ve been able to offer him a small position to work with us on media relations because we are desperate to get the word out about Project Hearts. He is receiving a small stipend for a few hours of work a week but I know he is going to go way beyond his hours and what is expected of him. He and his cousin Yordi (who against many odds will be starting medical school in the fall at the public University) were the ones that invited me to come to their camp and help/participate in the festivities and since then I have fallen in love with their community and have so much admiration for these guys and what they are doing.
San Jose Adentro and the other communities of Baitoa have much to learn from Mocan, and I hope that I can continue to cultivate my relationships that I’ve begun to form in that community and that they may serve as an inspiration, not a source of jealousy, to the rest of Baitoa.
Because their communities are so closely knit here I finally feel like I’m slowly chipping away at that protective exterior in San Jose Adentro and Baitoa in general. To be honest it hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be. All the other places I’ve lived I didn’t feel like such an outsider. But here it is so tangible! I know I will never be IN the community, but I’m slowly easing my way closer and gaining their trust. No one will ever forget I have blonde hair and blue eyes and that my accent’s a little funny. But sometimes they remember that I’m a normal person like them trying to survive here. I give them a few laughs when I make mistakes with my Spanish, attempt to dance merengue and bachata, or when I crash on my motorcycle. But moments like tonight- when they make sure that I feel comfortable, ask me to dance, and that our conversations finally move beyond “Hola como estas” - help me to understand community. I felt it as we clapped our hands, swayed our hips, and raised our voices. There’s nothing like the beat of the Dominican community in your veins!
Here is a video from the bonfire/fiesta tonight. You can't see most of the people there as it was too dark and most of them were sitting around me. It was so great to see the community to come together like this!
And here's another video!