these kids riding ‘lord boards’ come the closest, i think, to visually representing how i wish i could always feel.
check bottom turn to release / powerslide @2:19 - 2:26.
A Little Bit Of EverythingDominican Republic
The minute the job wrapped in Bavaro i rented a car and lit out for Sosua. 150 miles away should be no problem, hell, im from Texas. The roads in the Dominican Republic are a bit different i found out right quick but the rest is mostly the same. It doesn’t really matter where i go anymore. I just keep becoming, regardless of where im going, if that makes sense. For example…
An hour into what would be a 7 hour drive i ran across some sugar cane workers resting for a moment, laying down in the felled cane, carving with machetes, smoking cigarettes. They let me join in and it was just another of many times that i regretted my lack of education and language skills. I think these guys mostly spoke Creole so i was really in the dark. In the end though, the common ground was me pulling out a swiped bottle of champagne from the resort i had been working at. Their excitement at this was beyond what i expected and if you haven’t seen the image of that moment, which i posted a few days back, you oughtta. Close to bliss. As i drove off i praised myself for always stopping to visit with people and realized all of the brief but meaningful moments of connection i have experienced as a result. I also couldnt help but think about what need and want does to people. Most everywhere i’ve been in DR and in other similar countries, i am viewed by most as someone who has something that they want. In some places this kind of expectation would be the worst kind of etiquette but in places where it is common for everyday needs to be unmet, it only makes sense. Another reminder that some of us live pretty charmed lives and dont even know it.
When i got to Sosua about 7 hours later i realized yet again that i had walked blindly into something and my odds of finding a story weren’t so great. But the story was this. In 1938, the Evian Conference was held to discuss the mass exodus of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany persecution. Of all 32 countries present, only 1 offered to open its doors to a substantial amount of Jewish people. That country was the Dominican Republic. One of the lingering questions in the wake of the Holocaust are why more people didn’t help. Many believe that silence is akin to consent or even worse, participation. I wanted to find a story of one of the original Jewish settlers and hoped that in their personal story, a reminder of the importance of looking beyond nationality and race could be found. I thought this could be especially useful in the wake of recent events which are likely to refire the immigration debate and contribute to the flawed ideas of Us and Them.
The universe has a sense of humor for sure. Almost EVERYONE i spoke with upon my arrival said that there was one lady who would be perfect to talk to. One of the original settlers and very vocal. Unfortunately, she died about 2 weeks ago. Without making her life about me, my intentions and the project, hearing this over and over again was a discouraging blow. It ultimately became a reminder however of the importance and urgency of gathering these stories while the Survivors are still with us. As i drove around searching i met another family, the Katz family, and their son Emil Katz García was especially gracious and helpful to me, even though my presence was an interruption to the business they run and the monday morning whirlwind. They referred me to a man named Herman Strauss.
While killing time and waiting and hoping for Herman to be available, i drove around and visited the Sosua Synagogue/Museum as well as the Jewish cemetery. I was greeted at the first place with a wall of photographs of the first children born in the new settlement of Sosua. These children who otherwise wouldn’t have ever been born. I imagined their parents and the 1,100 or so original settlers finding themselves on a near tropical island after living all of their lives in Eastern Europe. What was that assimilation process like? I really wanted to know. At the cemetery, i was reminded again of my tardiness when i was greeted with a mound of fresh dirt. At this point i asked myself again why i volunteered myself to be gone away from my children for a few more days just for this. To have my whole trip here hinged upon a guy named Herman who may or may not even agree to meet with me. The car rental, the gas money, seemingly small but truthfully, my bank account is too. I’ve put all the money i have into the pursuit of this project and im down to 3 digits here. So i drove around and reckoned about all of that and lost faith and found it again and did all of that stuff i do everytime im hunting and searching.
Finally, Herman’s secretary said for me to come see him at 4. I used up the last hour watching kids play baseball a few block away. I watched a few of them after they would get a good hit and how they would look at me out of the corner of their eyes to see if i saw. Been reading a lot about Mister Rogers lately too and studying why we say and do the things we do, especially on social media. We want to be seen. See me. It is beyond deep seated how much each one of us to want to be appreciated and encouraged. One of the problems though is that we are often so busy trying to earn and find that appreciation from others that we dont give it out enough. I know that has become my situation. I mean damn, i used to drive 3 hours to get dirt from someones hometown and put it in a baby food jar and give it to them for their birthday. Now i just like their comments on facebook most of the time. In my quest to be great/highlight the greatness of others, i have lost depth where interpersonal relationships are concerned. When i was in Sosua i somehow got reminded of that and how it’s not the end of the world, but truthfully if i leave here today, i haven’t always been the friend and father and brother i want to be. It’s funny the things you realize when you’re just killing time and watching kids play ball.
At Herman’s office i sat and waited. I read somewhere that he is the wealthiest man in Sosua and was wondering what would greet me in his office. I walked in, we shook hands and i sat down. He asked me if i thought that this Survivor Project was a good thing. I told him that i did, i had been receiving positive responses from people about the value of these stories and then he interrupted me and said, “I’m not so sure that it’s a good thing.” He said that people just need to forget about what happened. I told him more than the war and the atrocity i was focusing on the personal stories and the strength of the Jewish people and some of the ability to overcome that i’ve witnessed. He said he couldn’t really look at the Holocaust and see strength so at that point i just let him talk. He wouldn’t let me record but the two most memorable things he told me was that for him, the Dominican Republic had become and would always be home. When i asked him what he thought about the other countries not being willing to help, he said that the Dominican Republic just did “the human thing,” but that people couldn’t be expected to do “the human thing” and that our history has always shown us to be selfish, apathetic and even cruel. We talked for a few more minutes and he wished me well, also telling me that if i found myself there again, we could perhaps meet again and then he might share some stories with me about the history of the Sosua Jews.
From there i headed back. This time i took the Ruta Panoramica, a 60 km stretch of road through mountainous villages. Truly one of the most beautiful places i have seen. I took video with my iPhone over the steering wheel and addressed it to Lyric, telling her what i was seeing in each curve of the road. I kept thinking and wishing that one day i would find myself on that road again and have my babies with me. Along the drive i also met a man named Joseph. He was raking up brush and burning it, doing all he could to keep his stretch of the road clean and he had one of those faces that you can’t forget. Gentleness, simplicity and you want to believe it’s one that’s owner possesses the wisdom of the world. He could be the town drunk though. You never really know. Either way i wonder what he’s doing right now. I have been blessed to meet a lot of people and have had some pretty sacred and intimate moments of connection with them in my small life. But it always ends. I always miss them when im gone and wish i wasn’t just some guy that passed through their lives with questions and jokes and and cigarettes and sometimes a camera. But i am. And in the end there’s only one life each of us can live. I’d still rather stare at their eyes and love on them for those few short minutes though than to not stop at all.
I got back to Punta Cana in the middle of the night and slept in my car ouside the rental place. In the morning i went in, got square with them and then hitched a ride to the airport. It was there that i found some difficulty, getting bumped off of two flights because i was flying standby. I got all bummed out and as the post a few days ago attest to, a cat came out of nowhere and sat on my lap. That got a million or so likes but i dont know, it’s just another successful moment that either means something or doesn’t. It’s just a cat in an airport but for a minute or two it was more than that for me. Anyway, the cat left and they said i couldn’t sleep at the airport and all of a sudden i realized my credit card was frozen. All my money was gone so there i was looking real smart. The next 6 hours saw me sitting on the side of a highway in the wilderness. Of note is that the only people who stopped to check on me were natives. No tourists or Americans stopped. Yet there were these two girls riding one scooter that stopped and after they laughed at me they asked how they could help. I said that best case scenario i needed food and water and maybe a safe place to sleep. One of them pulled out a bag full of salami, cheese and plantains. The other gave me a sweaty 50 peso bill out of her front pocket. I didn’t want to take it because i knew to her it was more money than it was to me. But i did. And yet again, i see that often the people with the least give the most. I love and hate that about humanity in the same breath.
I’ll spare you the rest. I obviously made it through the night and made it home. Found some sidewalk talk in my front yard that made it all worth it. The only real difficulty on the road was within. At last count it wasn’t too bad and it wasn’t too good, it was just another experience i had. And like always, i find myself sitting here in my chair trying to synthesize purpose and happiness in what i ended up with. For now that’s this…
There will always be people with less and their efforts to fulfill their needs in desperation can’t be judged by those who aren’t desperate. And sometimes a bottle of champagne is more than just a bottle of champagne.
If you are traveling to foreign countries with close to zero language skills, no back up plans and limited finances, you are probably idealistic to a fault and have to accept with a smile any manifestations of those faults.
The people around us mean everything. In their absence we learn and relearn this but the hope is that we don’t have to lose or damage those relationships to realize we value them.
Cats are tough enough and are likely guided by whatever forces govern this universe into people’s lives to provide comfort when they need it. Unless you are Hampton Mills, an allergic sissy. Then they are not so good.
There will always be people in true need whose cries for “the human thing” go unanswered. But there too will always be rare countries, groups and people like my friend Bill Holston working to create refuge for those in true need to find the freedom and opportunity that we often take for granted.
And finally the whole just going for it idea. I would rather be sitting here knowing it didn’t quite pan out than sitting here wondering if it might have. Certainty isn’t necessary to be free but it doesn’t hurt much either.
That’s all i got. I thought i’d never stop typing. Happy to be home though and happy to know a little more. Hope i take these new and old ideas and do something good with them. Holler at yall later on now.