Humble me

It’s good to remember that God is up there watching us, directing our puny lives. I too often allow my head to grow the size of a mid-size blimp and start to float away without even realizing it. This ability to drift has taken me away from reality innumerable times in my life – this thing that us positivists call confidence; this thing us realists call pride. Now, don’t get me wrong, God has enabled me and carried me through a great number of trials, tribulations and experiences throughout my life, and thank the Lord for that. But too often I take the credit. Too often I come away with thoughts of invincibility, that I can do all. But, you know, the reality is I can’t.

My project partner, or better yet “former” project partner, in my community of Las Barreras is nearly blind. He places his face about 3 inches from the piece of paper that he wants to read. He looks the wrong way when you point something out to him. He stumbles and falls all over the place when he walks through town (and everyone laughs at him of course). Since he was a boy he has had problems with his eyes. His parents took him a good 5 hours away to Barahona and got him glasses which helped some. He stopped wearing them soon after. He has, however, managed to be the most successful coffee, pigeon pea and kidney bean farmer in the community despite his inability to see his own feet clearly.

Per the opening statements, I like to dream big, and I like to think my dreams have the ability to become reality. Not long after arriving in Las Barreras, perhaps a year ago, I told myself that I would keep my eyes open for an opportunity to help this man, Melanio, to see again. He was my community-dubbed project partner, he always helped with work and supported my efforts, and he deserved to at least visit a decent ophthalmologist. A recent run-in with Peace Corps doctors gave me ample time to build rapport and talk up my fellow “campesino” with the bad eyes. After 5 days in the capital, the doctors and I parted ways with a promise from one doctor that she would see what she could do for his eyesight. A month and another visit to the capital later, I was finally able to see the doc again and asked to cash in the favor. After one phone call and some sweet talking she had somehow convinced the best ophthalmologist in the country to schedule Melanio an appointment for Wednesday morning, two days later, with a promise to operate if necessary; all free of charge. A miracle by all means, I was told that I was to do everything possible to bring this man to the capital some 40 hours later, because one cannot expect such an offer to come again. She’s a pretty intense woman, so I knew that I HAD to make this happen. Now or never.

I got on a bus headed for my site with my heart beating hard. I was nervous. And stressed. I knew people hated traveling on last minute notice, especially this man. But I was determined. I had no doubt that I could make this all happen. And I was pretty proud that I had been able to orchestrate it all. In my mind it was already done: Arrive to Los Rios. Sleep. Leave for Las Barreras early. Grab Melanio. Come down in the afternoon. Leave at 3am for the capital. Arrive at the clinic at 8am. Change a man’s life forever. Piece of cake.

The venture started out very well. On my way back to Los Ríos someone from my community called me, thus enabling me to send word to Melanio that he needed to prepare himself to come down with me the following day. It would have been otherwise impossible to communicate w/ anyone in my village since there is no phone signal. I came up with the morning truck and arrived at Melanio’s house around 10am, where I filled in the details surrounding the message that he had been sent. It was simple: capital tomorrow, back the next day; I’d pay for all the food and transport. He said no. The perfect miracle had its first hiccup. No worries, I thought, he just needs some convincing. Talked to him about the rarity of the opportunity and how there was no way he was staying. I told him to prepare himself and that I would be back in 2 hours. I read what seemed like a quiet yet compliant face and I left.

Rain. It’s the rainy season now. Rains every day at 1 or 2 or 3pm… sometimes earlier. And sometimes it doesn’t stop until its dark. This has really put a damper on our project plans. Lack of foresight and funds arriving late have put the latrine project and reforestation project in a tight spot, with the water project looking to be in the same spot once funds arrive. We are basically out of materials for all these projects and pending another miracle no trucks are going to be entering Las Barreras any time soon. Animal power, here we come. Just three days after the start of the rainy season, the resupply of materials for the latrine project showed up and had to leave 50 rebar, 50 bags of cement and an assortment of other materials a 45 minute walk away from the community. Dry ravines became raging rivers on two occasions this past week washing large rocks and sediment onto the road up to 5 ft thick in places. Yep. Impassible.

It rained that day too. I left Melanio’s and as I was leaving my house to grab him and go on our way it started to rain. Hard. “Crap.” I thought. If it kept raining like this we couldn’t go anywhere. But I couldn’t give up so easily. “I’m going to make this happen. I HAVE to.” So I put on my rain pants, my rain coat and my boots. “I’ll give it an hour to stop.” I sat nervously, hoping and praying for the rain to stop so that I could take this man to his destiny in the capital. Sure enough, an hour and a half later the rain stopped and the sun came out immediately. Perfect.

I strolled up to his house two hours late but still on time by Dominican standards. The truck that was going down still had not left so there was still time. I got to his house and to my surprise he was nowhere to be found. “Where is he?” “Los Pinos. He said he doesn’t want to go.” “I’m going there to look for him. He has to go. I’m not giving him a choice.” I was pretty sure of myself. I found him about 15 minutes down the road, walking back toward his home. I told him I was ready to go and he said it was getting late and now there was no time. I explained that there was still plenty of time and again explained the importance of the trip and how he might have the chance to see again. He said no yet again and this is when I really started to give it to him. I figured it was better that he go because of shame or guilt than not go at all. I don’t think I’d been angry with someone like that in a long time. I told him how much he meant to me; how I had gone through so much trouble to find him this opportunity. I told that if he respected me he needed to go, that if not for himself he ought to go for ME. I told him that if he walked away from this opportunity he would never get another chance. He would probably never see again. He instead said simply that he wasn’t going and started walking home.

I knew there was nothing more I could do. I hadn’t felt so hopeless in a long time. I think that amidst the yelling and frustration and emotion I even began to feel like it was more important to me than to him that he go. Like I had something big a stake here too. Something to gain. Maybe it was my pride, but it was so strange. I broke down. I felt like I was responsible for letting Melanio down. I’d let the Peace Corps doctor down. I let myself down.

I stormed past Melanio and back to my house, filled with anger and with tears in my eyes; utterly confused. I sat in my house for a while and decided I better call and cancel the appointment before the rains come again. I called the Peace Corps doctor to explain and apologize and beg for forgiveness for wasting this giant favor. I explained what had happened, and to my surprise, her response was this: “make him promise you that he will think about it, and I’ll try and see if we can set up another appointment.”

Grace. We don’t deserve another chance. But God gives it to us. Time and time again. Thank God. Who am I to decide when and where God will provide miracles? Who am I to dictate God’s will? Who am I to move his fingers? I cannot. Why had I been so upset? Probably because I thought that the decision Melanio made this last Tuesday would be final, dictating how the rest of his life might be lived. And it may be so, but I owe God more than to place all of that power in my own hands. My pride doesn’t allow for God’s timing. It doesn’t allow for any alternate solutions. Nor does it understand the depth of the situation. I may never know why Melanio refused to go with me that day. But I can hope that God provides another opportunity. And another. And another. Lord help me depend on you.

Please pray also for the rains and difficulties in Barreras right now. Let the destruction be an opportunity for the people to learn the importance of reforesting the hillside and motivate the people to mobilize and work together so that we can move all the necessary materials from Los Pinos to Las Barreras.

God bless.

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