So many faces once unknown. I tried to memorize all 40 of your names in the first half hour after meeting you, curious which handful I would remember for decades to come. So many faces, and now just as many goodbyes. Well, less one- a saving grace I was just too stubborn to part with. We were a motley family, and we needed each other to get through the trials, but by the end, we were a family like any other. Any one who says that these 27 months flew by in the blink of an eye is a liar. Habladores! They were long, challenging, and lonesome at points for all of us, but for most of us, it was all worth it.
The goodbyes just kind of snuck up on me. Most of them resembled any of the other hundreds of goodbyes I’ve said over the past two years- casual although we might not see each other for the next four months. Some of you I almost never talked to. Some of you I didn’t even realize were gone until two weeks too late. Some of us were about as compatible as the neighbors’ chickens and my pack of sadistic mutts. It doesn’t matter because we have all laughed together. I’m proud to have been part of this adventure with you- grateful to have known you.
Other goodbyes were more bizarre. Out of no where, a car engine was running. A door was open. And two years of friendship were crowned with a quick hug, a handful of words, but mostly silence. There was only thing that made it distinguishable from the slew of goodbyes brought on by two years of comings and goings-
I know our paths will cross again, but will we ever light a bonfire by the beach, saturating the night with a rapturous bachata. Will we sing that familiar psalm of Presidente and palms? Maybe one day. This was our home, and where do reunions happen if not at home?
But I’m still here, and my cell phone has never been more useless.
It doesn’t matter- the only reason I’ll be here this next month is because I knew I’d be so busy that I wouldn’t have time to feel alone. Six more students from my old university, who I need to teach how to bucket flush a toilet, how to feel good wearing tight red pants, and how to build a new intake structure in Corozo.
I had envisioned that moment of triumph and thanks since before arriving to this country. Microphone in hand, hundreds of familiar faces before me, and with nothing but words, I needed to honor them, to make them tear up with joy, and to thank them. How can mere words compliment the good faith of a community and the reckless optimism of a few dreamers. How can words describe how grateful I am to have been given a home in this community? There was nothing else left to do but speak. I told them that they couldn’t measure their enormity of their victory by counting the kilometers of pipeline they slaved over, nor the tens of thousands of dollars spent by half a dozen institutions, not even by the year and a half they spent wearing their uniforms of sweat laced mud. They will see it in twenty years through the unbelieving eyes of their grandchildren.
I told them:
“A day will come in 20 years, when this dirt road will have pavement, when all the houses are made of cinder block, when the moments that we’ve spent without electricity and water will seem like an almost forgotten dream, and an old woman will speak with her granddaughter on the porch of her house. She will speak of a time when she had to carry water by bucket on top of her head from the distant spring up to her house so that her family didn’t go thirsty. She will tell of the moments when she fell in the mud and had to go begin her journey again. And the granddaughter will listen with interest, but doubtful eyes, and she will say that it’s not possible that a life like that is possible- because water flows from her tap.
And the woman’s husband will appear in the door and will say that yes, life was hard in those times. He will remember a morning 20 years ago when he was climbing the mountain in Tres Bocas with a long pipe upon his shoulder, and a pick axe in his hand. He will remember each drop of sweat that fell from his brow while digging the ditches on this distant mountain all the way to his house. 11 kilometers of ditches, and a year and a half wearing his rubber work boots, foot by foot fighting, rock by rock, believing in the dream that was running water in the house. And the granddaughter will say that it’s not possible that they did all of that work by hand. But water will still flow from the tap.
And an old American will arrive on a motorcycle, that still doesn’t know how to drive one, and still knows nothing. And he will see the streets, and the houses, and the people transformed- only the mountains will remain tall and proud, beautiful. And like a son who has spent too much time out of the house, he will ask himself where the years went. And he will see the place, and the people, that gave him so much confidence in himself, so much friendship to value for his life, and so much love when he needed it most. And he will remember this place where he grew to know a foreign world, a strange language where the people say “poi favoi” (nobody seemed to understand this joke- “Why did he just say please- weird gringos…”), where he learned that he was a “palomo” that weren’t good for nothing”, Where he learned about all types of strange creatures that should belong in a horror film, not in his house, like tarantulas and centipedes, and the cockroaches that, in this country, know how to fly. And he will remember an impossible goal, of giving water to 230 houses, a goal so big that at times he thought he wasn’t possible of achieving it. But he’ll realize 20 years later, that the water still flows from the tap.
Progress is coming to our communities, and we know that its here because we invited it here, with our unity, and faith. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for an unforgettable adventure. For living and learning from you all, I have gained a priceless treasure, and I will never forget it.”
Soon after, we cut the ribbon. I launched a geyser of water into the air from the hose, and people cheered. Most of my best friends were there to celebrate with me, even my college roommate of four years, Jimmy, was able to attend. I devoured a greedy portion of stewed goat, pork, rice, beans, potato salad, vegetable salad, and yucca. Then a nine person meregue band from El Corozo plugged in their equipment, got on stage, and played until the sun went down. Halfway though the dance party, the band, with whom I had provided gainful employment, tricked Kati and I into merengueing in front of a few hundred people alone for the entirety of a 5 minute song called, “Vamos a Hablar Ingles”. Emilio and Tona joined in for the last two minutes. While waiting for the band to resolve their technical difficulties at the start, I may have danced the Macarena to amuse a few children. Nobody seemed to understand that my strange American dancing was actually supposed to be a joke.
The next few weeks were whirlwind of adventures which culminated in a trip to the “Dirty, Dirty South” with Kati to see four foot long Rhinoceros Iguanas crawling amidst desert cacti, and Bahia de Las Aguilas, a deserted beach fairly close to Haiti. It’s a place with an almost imaginary, beautiful atmosphere, where poets and philosophers lose sight of the dimensions that confine most of us to our physical bodies. They write until they’ve flattened themselves into two dimensions, and all thats ever found of them is a piece of paper on the sand. For the first two hours, we only had to share our five kilometers of white sand and turquoise dreams with three other people. The only problem was that the guard on the beach didn’t have the wifi password, and I couldn’t buy a McFlurry anywhere. We had to settle for a picnic and conversation, with two bottles of home brewed honey mead. Rough life.
So many good things. But now the best ones back home. And I’ll be there soon.