Faceless Poverty

The basal levels of poverty in the Dominican Republic never cease to cause me heartache.  I see so much here that I try to capture with photography.  But some, some are far too distressing to capture.  And far too invasive for the subject.  Yesterday I had one such event pass before my eyes.

I was leaving an appointment in one of the more affluent areas of the Capital City of Santo Domingo.  Waiting for my ride I sat on a step in front of a restaurant.  A woman of perhaps 60 years dressed in a cotton dress and wrapped in crocheted shawls walked by.  She was more white than black and had minimal pigment to her skin.  I point this out because most people think of poverty here only affecting the darker skinned people or the Haitian migrants.  Poverty does not recognize the colour of a person’s skin.  As the faceless dolls of the Dominican Republic depict the mix of races, poverty follows suit.

I say she was 60, but she could have been much older as age here seems to either leave people untouched or she could have been 40 looking like 60 as poverty can make them age.  She had long hair that had lost it’s luster and hung loose though pinned back.  She clearly took pride in her appearance.  I’ve seen her a few times before in the neighbourhood and always thought her to look a little elegant, a little shabby chic!

With tears brimming in my eyes I watched she squatted with her back to me in front of a medium sized mesh garbage can.  Systematically she removed the trash placing it all upright on the ground in front of her.  One by one she emptied the meager contents of the cups into one cup.  And one by one she emptied the contents of the sandwich containers into one container.  She returned the empties to the trash and proceeded to have her lunch from the garbage bin.

She must have sensed that I was watching her, or that others were watching her as well.  For she turned and looked at us all a moment.  That brief moment of eye-to-eye connection broke my heart.  There was no sadness, nor accusation, nor hostility in her eyes.  They were a little blank.  She did what she had to do to survive.  I wish I had had the time, with the lack of shock, in order to think clearly.  If I ever do see her again, I will buy her a meal.

I wondered as I watched her sip her concoction and eat, how many diseases she had or could have from the unsanitary aspects.  How many parasites ravaged her from her intestines outward to her skin.  I wondered how long before she exemplified the photo I used for the Feature Image of this post.  I thought, I could easily end up in the same situation.

The tears brimmed and rolled over spilling down my cheeks in soundless fury.  My ride picked me up and observant as always queried with a raised brow.  I motioned in her direction.  He understood all too well, sighed and patted my hand.  We drove off in mutual silence, leaving, with a burning image in my mind.

This is the country I love and that tourists never see.



Listen to the palms…

~Loca Gringa

© Loca Gringa and https://locagringa.wordpress.com


14 responses to “Faceless Poverty

  1. So filled with sadness but at least you have written it so beautifully! And so true, “Poverty does not recognize the colour of a person’s skin.”

  2. My dear Gringa,

    I was in the DR for a short time in 1998, drove from Puerto Plata to Santo Domingo, Barahona Peninsula etc. to see the reality of poverty.
    I live in Central America now and things are no different here.
    So much of it stems from lack of opportunity, education, employment, health care…
    The sheer freedom of choice which those of us from the first world take for granted.
    I often wonder if we lived in these countries as exchange students from an early age, year after year, perhaps with enough first hand experience we’d develop the empathy to eliminate poverty.
    Thanks for doing what you’re doing in your corner of the world.
    Many are trying. I have faith that the tide is turning
    In a positive direction for all of humanity.

    • I agree, I too believe that the tide is turning. Albeit, too slow for my liking. I find this country to be so unique, it is a throwback in many ways to the Canada of 50 or more years ago, and on the flip-side so much more cutting edge technologically.

      The individual I wrote on, I’ve been wondering, “does she have family,” or “is she mentally ill,” and countless other meanderings in my mind.

      I remember, myself as a youth, I never thought that I would ever go to university. It wasn’t encouraged. When I learned that it was a possibility, that opened a whole new world. I had no idea what questions to ask in order to achieve that goal. There was no internet in the day so research on your own was pointless, much like here if you have no money for an internet cafe.

      I think it’s our job, to educate people in life’s possibilities, to guide them in what questions to ask. And to try to help in any and every way possible.

      If we can prevent one person from this same fate, we’ve improved their world.

  3. Heartbreaking to watch, and a second time to write it all down in such detail. The loss of dignity for her in having to scoop together other people’s crumbs….The question for me is always WHY – when there is enough in the world for everyone, it just doesn’t get around to everyone.

    • There is so much abundance here as there is everywhere else. But, nothing is done for nothing. For example, a papaya growing in the wild, not for market, is unattainable to those in the city. In many ways, campo is so much better than city life. Though unlike Canada, I don’t see too many veggie gardens for self sustainability. Yes produce is cheap here, but, it might as well be a million dollars for a papaya if you don’t even have a peso!

  4. Your honest and touching description of this poor woman bestowed upon her a level of dignity that can only come from a compassionate heart. Bless you for sharing this fleeting moment with a world that often moves too fast to take notice. – Mike

    • Thank you Mike. It brings our own mortality close to mind. The “what if’s” if you are alone with no family in a country where there is really no social system to speak of. Or … the forgotten people 😦

    • This is not unique to DR. Even in Canada I’ve seen derelicts pick up cigarette butts in the street to “fix” their addiction, and I don’t doubt for a moment that some of the garbage pickers there were doing it for food. Humanity … has lost its humanity.

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