92 degrees, yet it felt like 115. Sweat saturated my face and back. Drink water. Group leaders plastered into my brain that drinking water should become religious. But it’s warm. How is lukewarm water suppose to make you feel better? I slowly drifted into a different mindset. No. Come back. Remember why you are here.
The Dominican Republic is far from anything I’ve experienced. The continuous noise of honking swerving mopeds raced the streets. Skyscraping landfills slowly burned and let off a sour odor. Little children roamed the streets scouring for food, and old torn down huts, citizens called homes, overwhelmed the city. Wow. I’m lucky. I’m living the American Dream.
Stepping off the bus at Batey 22, a village next to the sugar cane fields, a rush of hot, stuffy air blew into my face. The first thing Hal and I noticed were two twin boys lounging under a lush mango tree, staring.
Hal whispered to me, “Let’s go talk to them.”
Nervous to get rejected I hesitantly agreed. Approaching them my first impression was that they were small. Malnourished. They had tiny bodies. The boy on the left was fitted in a tight purple tank top and oversized ripped jeans. His arms were scrawny, legs were skinny, and his face was slim. His tank top was fitted so tightly to his body that every rib and bone poked out. The boy on the right dressed solely in blue cotton mid thigh shorts and gray crocs. His shoulder blades stuck out, his bony legs looked skinny enough to snap. They both looked to be about four years old.
I cautiously squatted down to eye level, looked at the twin on the left and fearfully asked, “Como Se Llama?”
“Louis,” he whispered under his breath as he fiddled with his toes.
How can I make this boy feel wanted and important? Acting from my initial instinct without hesitation, I jumped up, grabbed Louis under his arms and propped him up on my hip. Expecting him to start crying or stare at me with a face of utter terror, he proved me wrong. He touched my head. Stroked my hair. Felt my face. A small grin formed on his face and Louis wrapped his arms around my neck tight and did not let go. All he wanted was attention. The love and attention he received from me were all he needed. He didn’t need materialistic items to be happy, but solely love and affection. Humbling.
The next day we returned to the same batey. Louis and his brother Leonide had been on my mind all night. Today I didn’t care about having to drink room temperature water, or how scorching hot the sun was, I wanted to be back with Louis and Leonide. Rushing off the bus the atmosphere uplifted me. The families were astonished to have us back, but where were the twins? The mango tree was empty. No Louis. No Leonide.
“Let’s check if they are in their house,” I nervously said to Hal.
Knocking on the door, sweat dripped from my pores. My hands were clammy, and my knees began to feel weak. My heart pounded against my chest. I couldn’t stop cracking my knuckles. Will they remember us? Will they think we are complete strangers?
The door slowly began to crackle, and it flung open.
“Hola” I spoke in my broken Spanish accent.
Immediately after the word left my lips, I experienced another rush of anxiety. Have I disrespected them? Is it culturally correct to go knocking on locals doors?
Suddenly my heart melted. My eyes were glossy, and my anxious body was put to ease. For a moment the blazing sun disappeared, the salty taste in my mouth disintegrated, and the lingering aroma of dog crap and moldy mangoes vanished. Two tiny bodies turned. Frantically speaking in Creole with smiles so big I questioned them, Louis and Leonide sprinted toward the door. Louis fitted in the same baggy purple shirt and ripped jeans, and Leonide in the blue, cotton mid thigh shorts and crocs. The next thing I knew I was embraced by two of God’s most precious gifts. All the worries in my world were masked by two little boys who changed my outlook on life.
Louis and Leonide changed my perspective; they taught me many valuable lessons. Their contagious laugh taught me to appreciate all that I have. They taught me that no matter how poor the circumstances I can be happy. They taught me to be grateful. They live off rice, beans, mangoes, and dirty unfiltered water; but, they were the happiest kids I’ve ever met from only receiving an hour of attention. Looking back on my experience, I feel guilty for complaining about not having cold water, not having AC at night, or even complaining about being tired. Most of all, these boys humbled me. I may never see Louis and Leonide again, but the memory of having them hold me tight will be a moment that stays with me forever.