Tim and I were away for a week to the Dominican Republic for our annual ‘just us’ holiday. After the past number of months where anger and fear and hate made way for the deaths of many in the summer shootings, the mass shootings, the Nice tragedy, Paris, Brexit, the hate crimes, bigotry, the police and people at what often feels like war, and of course the outcome of the US election results, I have to admit that this year, more than most I was excited to be leaving. No newspapers, no news, no social media… sounded like bliss to me!
I of course hopped on that plane with dreams of tropical sand between my toes, hot sun on my shoulders, warm breezes in my hair, rest for my soul. What I was met with was not what I anticipated, but it was what I really needed. It was a wake up call.
We arrived to rain… rain that only broke for a brief time each day, we had one partly sunny day but other than that, it rained. Now, rain here is one thing but rain there is something entirely different. It was a downpour, and before we knew it the whole area was flooded. The flood waters grew, receded, grew again. Every morning we heard stories from staff and other guests about homes lost, a school, mudslides, overflowing rivers, roads that had become too waterlogged to drive on. Yet, we were always met with smiling faces, people who came early each morning to work after being up all night trying to save their families’ home, tired, but content. One of our waitresses was pregnant, she came to work with a cheerful smile and yet she had spent the entire night awake trying to keep their home secure, and her work clothes clean so that she wouldn’t miss a day of work and much needed money. We saw people coming together to rebuild. We found out that the president had come to help the clean up efforts. There were no guests complaining about the weather, the soaked floors, the rivers running past our rooms, the constant feeling of wet clothes as you ran from your room to the dining room, from the dining room to the cabana. It was a taste of what the world should be, and yet isn’t.
We learned that the average wage there is roughly 200 a month, yet a home is about 400-500 a month. Yet, these contented people work together, they help each other, they feed each other, they rebuild together, they don’t have time to sit behind computers bellowing at their neighbours about politics, they haven’t got the energy to hate a person who has more, or less, than they do. They are in this together. They epitomized community. It was beautiful. As we drove through the city, as we watched from high above in a cable car going up the mountain, I became very ashamed. I was ashamed at how our wealth, our freedom, our way of life, our technology have been used to hurt, to hate, to waste time on tearing down rather than building up. We consider ourselves first world, yet this third world poverty proved to me that the problem isn’t economics, it’s us. We need to re calibrate, we need to re think, we need to be better.
I didn’t get the sunny tropical holiday I had planned, my skin isn’t the shade of brown I was going for when I got on that plane a week ago, but my heart is softer, my mind more open. It wasn’t what I was hoping for, but it was what I needed. I found rest, in the knowledge that these immigrants from poor countries that the world loves to hate, could actually teach us a whole lot about what it means to really love your neighbour, to feed the poor, to give sacrificially, to work together for a better tomorrow.