On December 1st, around the world, people unite to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, support those living with the virus or illness, and commemorate the lives lost.

Except, in Bananas, we celebrated on December 2nd because in the madrugada of World AIDs Day, Chicho died. Chicho had been sick for a while and I truly believe it was his time and I’m glad that he’s no longer suffering. After I got back from a morning run I headed over to pay my respects to Chicho and his family. “Te acompaño en tus sentimientos,” I mumbled clumsily to weeping women. Then I stood in front of Chicho’s coffin which supported by two feeble looking chairs. The coffin was a lovely blue and I would’ve taken pictures had I not feared looking crass. I tried to meditate on life and loved ones but I just kept staring at the ill-fitting lid. Were they going to bury him without it being able to close? It would be hard for me to see the coffin of a loved one slightly open, imagining the dirt and bugs seeping in. Then I reminded myself that he was dead though and it’d only happen eventually. Then I realized I had been standing there a long time so I made the sign of the cross so that people would think I’d been Catholic-praying or something and left.

Ana was gone to attend a mass for a family member who had died (Yeah, deaths don’t happen in threes, but rather sixes. Besides Chicho there were five more deaths in the surrounding towns. Pretty bleak, but I think that just comes with gentrifying territory.), so I had the house to myself. I was pretty wild and decided to finish my book, a collection of short stories entitled Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr. I highly recommend it (especially Afterworld (especially if you have epilepsy (especially if your name is Carson McFadden))).

I spent the morning hanging out with my project partner’s 21-year-old daughter who wants to be a police officer and her half-sister, a young mother. Then I watched the sun set on the roof of the house next door with my 16-year-old neighbor. In a lot of ways she’s more ‘my age’ than the women my age just given the fact she doesn’t have a 7-year-old or a husband to cook for. That being said I feel like I’ve started to make friends with women of all diff      erent ages, from 16 to 60something.

That night I went back to Chicho’s for the velorio. Candles decorated the yard – not sure if it was done for effect or because the electricity was out – which was full of people. Given that it was Sunday night, a lot of people were drunk. But apparently Chicho caused a lot of problemas when he was alive so the drunk fighting could just be seen as a way of honoring him. After a couple of hours I headed home, planning on reading for a while in bed, and got called out on being lame for going to bed at 10 by some 70-year-olds. Cool.

The next morning I headed over to visit Siomara and her new baby Rosanny. I couldn’t tear myself away for hours: she was lovely. After about an hour it hit me that we had been chatting in Spanish and that I wasn’t conscious of it. It just felt like conversation. It was relaxing! And my brain didn’t feel like it was working overload.

Back to babies: Babies are the great leveler. Everyone loves babies here, even the most macho of men. Women hanging out are always keeping a wary eye on the group of kids tumbling around nearby. Lives here simply revolve around children. Since being here and meeting so many women my age who are already mothers I’ve begun to realize how terrifyingly POSSIBLE it is to have children. If I wanted to, I could just find some campo husband and grow a real life person inside my own body with impossibly small FINGERNAILS (how can a fingernail ever be so tiny and perfect).

It was chatting with this 21-year-old health promoter, mother of two, who wants to go to university and be a nurse that I made me feel very blessed that we can create life, and that our lives are connected, and that we can love another more than we love ourselves. It reminded me of what the young mother had confided in me that morning: Sometimes, she told me, I cry when my daughter hurts herself falling down. And then words my dad said to me a long time ago came tumbling forward. He had taken me to the doctor to get a shot when I was a baby and he cried at my being in pain. I remember I’d laughed when he told me that, Daaad! I was a baby! All babies do is cry! But this young mother reminded me how shared our emotions are. We fool ourselves into thinking we are isolated as we experience things, but it’s a lie.  I feel lucky to share in that kind of love.

Then I visited my friend and she made me a snack that ruined my lunch but was so incredibly delicious. If any of you ever need drunk-food or something for the day after drinking you should do what the Dominicans do and eat fried plantains and fried salami. It is out of this world. I will ruin anyone’s health that comes to visit and make them this food.

Then finally the kids got out of school and a random assortment of kids, teenagers, and women, the majority wearing red, met up and we marched around shouting things like ‘Dile sí a la vida y no al SIDA!’

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(I don’t know why sometimes the sizes of the pictures are different and I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THAT NONSENSE, so deal.)

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Then we headed to the discoteca because Nuris convinced the men somehow to let us use the space. The kids melted candles outside and arranged them into the shape of ribbons. I gave some basic information about HIV/AIDS, we served salty crackers and a hot sweet ginger drink, and put on episodes of Me Toca a Mi (My Turn), the PCDR Spanish-language soap opera that volunteers wrote, filmed, and edited. It covers safe sex, STIs, teenage pregnancy, sexual orientation – all things Escojo. We couldn’t get the sound to work so I brought over my laptop because I have digital copies of the episodes so we hooked that up to the speakers. So we were listening to my computer through the speakers but watching the DVD on the TV. That means we had to perfectly time the two versions of the same episode so that the words went with the moving mouths. I don’t know if that sounds easy but let me just tell you, it wasn’t. I was relieved after 3 episodes when Nuris decided we should give the men back their drinking grounds. All in all it was lovely. It made me realize that I can do a lot of things and not have everything as organized as I’d like but that people will still fill the room (especially when there’s a bad soap opera on) and get a lot of it.

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