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…
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