Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Old Lady on Calle Winston Churchill

February 28, 2006

The left side of her dirt-stained, flower-patterned dress hangs down from her shoulder, exposing her aged bosom. Her soles are as black as the burning asphalt she walks on each day to beg passers-by for money. With desperation and vulnerability written on the wrinkles of her face, she sticks her hands out in front of her the same way church-goers do to receive the body of Christ on Sundays.

I stand on the sidewalk, waiting for the stencil of the walking man to fill with green light so that I could continue on my way home. I do not ignore her like I have been trained to do on New York City’s MTA trains when people beg for money. I do not pretend to be fast asleep or absorbed in an uninteresting book—desperate attempts to be excused from not noticing or not acknowledging panhandlers. But, there is simply no escaping the pobreza in the Dominican Republic.

It shouts at you each day when you run into parentless boys, equipped with tin cans and shoe polish. They roam the streets each day in search for someone’s shoes to shine when they themselves do not know what wearing shoes is like. Pobreza whispers in your ear when you read about the exploited boys and girls who have no choice but to be the sexual outlets for oversexed men and women, Dominicanos and foreigners alike.

Then, there are the people who scavenge through garbage heaps in richer neighborhoods, making someone else’s trash their treasure, reminding me of the “bottom-feeders” who “check the air for the fall of excess / of too much, flecks of extra, / from the higher-up folks in the sky” in Gary Snyder’s "Walking The New York Bedrock Alive in the Sea of Information." Pobreza haunts this country.

And now, the light turns green, and I have to leave this old woman who captured my attention during my two-minute wait to cross the street. Though, I wonder if she too would rather be on a journey to some casita she could call home instead of spending her days on Calle Winston Churchill, making a living off of other people’s pocket change.