Carlos, son of Derrumbado
The 16 years old, born, raised and educated in the mountain range, remains a source of amazement even after 3 weeks. He spends every spare moment with us when he is not back home picking coffee beans, gandules, or bananas. He displays surprising skills and knowledge for his age, though brought up in incredible poverty. We visited his parents, a physical feat in itself, walking up and down mountain slopes so acute the mules well-honed footing would slide in many places (no, we were not riding the mule). The “encampment” (365 a year) of three “shanties” was nestled in a most charming end-of-the-path nook of tropical-like forest. The so-called “buildings” cried out the difference of the surrounding beauty. Carlos, the youngest of 8 or 9 children (the number changes every now and then: we blame the discrepancy on our limited Spanish). His oldest brother's appearance could double as his grandfather”s. Many locals, especially the young, walk barefoot, saving their sole pair of footwear for school or special occasions. Most of the adult men walk barefoot in rubber boots, all day, every day. Women mostly wear flip-flops. And the temperature soars in the 30's every day. Most homesteads (no sarcasm intended) are comprised of living quarters (usually two small rooms) a separate makeshift “something” to cook in and an old style “biffy”. Today, one the volunteers had to go into a dirt floor home to fetch supplies: one bedroom had a double-sized bed touching all three walls and was constructed of poles collected in the forest, tied with baler-type twice, including the springs, on which lay a 2 or 3 inch thick mattress filled with “something”, a shocking site to a Canadian who might be embarrassed to house animals in such quarters. One can find such living conditions at every home along the way. As many others, Carlos' place is isolated from the “beaten path”. Everything is carried in or out or hauled by mule, sometimes so heavily laden you would think it abuse. And yet, it negotiates the mountains as if “t'was nothing”. These people of the mountains are physically very strong, their daily struggles keeping them fit and displaying enviable muscular endurance. Not much obesity here. 'Petite' Dominga, Carlos' sister, mother of Yesi and Yose (4 and 5 year old), fetches water on foot, once or twice a day, some half kilometer away, down a fairly sharp incline, and returns with the three gallon jug on her head and a gallon jug in each hand. She neither hurries nor shows any sign of fatigue and walks so gracefully you would think her going to a dance. I went to help her with the 3 gallon jug one day: I developed quite the admiration for her and have not offered to repeat the experience.
Carlos and his friend Junio showed up as we arrived on location in Derrumbado and became instant favorites, along with many others. Carlos is a people-person, outgoing, well-spoken, very smart, musically talented, as hard working as you could ever expect a 16 year old to be and displays obvious leadership skills. Carlos and Junio relish in entertaining us every nite around the campfire, The two show up with wheelbarrows full of dry wood for the campfire and as nightfall settles in, find local items to drum on or shake and on and beat local tunes. They sing local favorites but also make some up, many of which express appreciation of our presence, some teasing, others wishing our stay never end. One can feel their talent as their drumming improves from nite to nite. They are quick understudies and give promise of a future that could be filled with great accomplishments, given the opportunity. One wonders about Carlos and Junio 50 years down the path of life. Would higher education be a favor?
No question they have the smarts, but how much harm could the sophistication, negative influences and norms of our so-called “modern world” inflict on them, their family and Derrumbado? And yet, what
about equal opportunity and the future?
Their world is mine for 5 weeks. I pray I am blessed with enough clarity to fully appreciate the gifts of Derrumbado, of Carlos, of Junio, and all the other unspoiled wonderful human beings which make up this moment of my life. When I leave, I will have known acceptance, down to earth joy, unencumbered freedom where the only expectation is that you be your respected self.