In La Victoria the electrical wires dangle from above, tangled, like a bird’s nest that got whipped and shredded by years of hurricane force winds. Everywhere in this town I look, bundles of them are attached to nothing I can decipher but wound so tightly and randomly that to untangle them would be a daunting, if impossible task. Where are they supposed to go? Where did they begin? If I touch a low hanging one, will I get shocked? It seems as if no plan has been made here, but as a whim arises or a need presents itself, another is added. From my very American sensibilities where order and process reign, I cannot tell, I can only see that somehow these wires have power and supply electricity, be it ever so sporadically to this town.
Out in the campo, just 10 minutes further, there are not as many wires, maybe one or two running into a tin roof, the occasional light shines out in the dark barrio. Electricity has not made it this far it seems. Here is where the women are, the ones we have come to love as sisters. So many of them. A mess actually of personalities and opinions and needs and baggage. White, toothy smiles in a sea of dark black espresso faces. Round mounds of mother flesh. Chairs in tight circles with opinions and voices. Arguments that go so far back, they have etched grooves and lines into faces. Alliances and agreements. Live wires. Bound tightly.
Occasionally, we will ask about a woman who lives a little further out, with the brood of children, in the cinder block house without the roof, why doesn’t she come around? Or the lady without the teeth who walks with the mule out in the back roads on the way into town? Maybe she could come to one of our meetings with plastic chairs in the circle, dust getting kicked up by a naked baby running around. A look or a scowl will tell us that she is not welcome, maybe she’s done something unpopular or offensive. This we understand, it doesn’t need to be explained to us, this crosses our cultural barriers.
But we come for everyone, the young Haitian refugee, pregnant again, who can’t speak the same language and has been beaten so badly by her old man caretaker that she has lost her hearing. We come for the proud matriarch who sits and judges the others in the circle and her neighbor who is promiscuous with a bad reputation. We come for the hardworking mom, babies on each hip, who wants to bring order to this little band of women, knowing they need each other for survival. We come for the drunken old man who clicks his tongue at us as we walk by and brings us bottles of coca cola while his own children go hungry. We come for his children, to see them and tell them they matter.
We keep coming back, we, this bundle of American women who have fallen in love with the people of the Dominican Republic. Bound tightly together, needing each other for support. We bring our own poverty, our messes, even if we have tried to leave them at home. We, who know what it is like to be the one who is not welcome in the circle and we who have been the women not welcoming others into the circle. We wind around each others hearts and stories and brokenness and beauty. We bring our extravagance to this impoverished country. We leave richer than when we came. We’ve become tangled into the web of the beautiful story that is being written over years with these people.