I’ve had a few “small world” moments since landing on this island, moments where I remember that there is one sky above all of us and what I do under it effects the other people simultaneously sharing the space beneath it.
Last week I was walking through a bateye in the morning hours, greeting the community as they were waking up to the day. An elderly woman came to the door of her makeshift home.
She waves and says hello.
I return the gesture.
She was wearing a brightly colored electric blue shirt that I recognized immediately. It came from a camp near my hometown, a camp that I grew up going to as a kid, a camp that I worked at throughout my college years. Someone had donated it to a local charity in the Akron area and it somehow it made its way to a bateye in la romana where a woman was wearing it at her doorway on the morning that I happened to walk by.
Part of the reason that I came to DR in the first place was to shrink my own world, to make it smaller so that I could holistically understand it.
I came to understand the culture of the transplanted New Yorkers that I love so deeply.
Understanding the respect that a society, that this society, has for dance, for hospitality, for appearance, for religion, for art, for leisure, for family, for sport, and for patria helps me to comprehensively understand the dynamic in my neighborhood and in my school and in my classroom.
School is not in session here. It’s summer, so kids are everywhere. I imagine them being my students. I see the younger kids and wonder if they’ll end up in my classroom one day. I see the older ones and imagine my students in the future, returning home for a summer with their families. I watch everything, seeing the connections between what happens on the streets on the southeast coast of DR with what happens on the corner of 182nd and wadsworth in New York.
And it all came together again last night. I was at a birthday party of the husband of the cousin of a friend. Family. Kids and adults and friends. A little boy, maybe in the third-grade, was sharply dressed and sporting a Mohawk. His grandmother called him over and reprimanded him for not pulling his pants up when they slip below his waste. He was respectful and obedient, pulling them up immediately and motioning that he understood the consequences of exposing his backside.
I understood, too, because the sign for decapitation (using the hand to slit your own throat) is apparently universal.
I watched this little boy return to the middle of the room to practice his dance moves.
The kid had skills. Serious, serious skills.
I pointed him out to Blad, the friend who invited me to the party.
“That kid is good. Really good.”
“That’s my nephew. He lives in New York. He’s just here for vacation.”
“Blad, that kid lives in New York? The city? The same one that I live in? And you didn’t introduce me? You didn’t tell me?
Blad, no bueno. Call him over. I want to talk to him.”
I spent the next few minutes getting to know Bhenny. His English was broken, probably as much as my Spanish, but we were able to talk about his school in the Bronx, and mine, in The Heights, before he was called away by the bachata in the background.
I watched him the rest of the night, running through the house, jumping on his uncles, teasing his cousins, and keeping his pants around his waste. He was the realization that my connection with this community isn’t imagined and that what I’m doing here is only going to help me understand what I do at home.
Bhenny, like the woman in what could have been my old tee shirt, was a reminder that everything is connected. That everything we do matters. That we are all tied to one another. And that it is, in fact, a small world.