Juan Luis Guerra’s quintessential song is “Ojala Que Llueva Cafe En El Campo,” a song that comes across more as a incantation that the poor and hopefully at the least have coffee somehow fall from the sky to bless them, as if to say that G_d might bless them with their basic necessities to relieve them from their hunger, strife, and sorrow. Riddled with metaphors and as passionate as any song you’ll hear, it’s a reminder of how simple his people’s needs really are. In our own little way, we can be that “cafe” for someone else, not necessarily saving the children, but giving them what they need as well as we can.
On the first night that I landed in Dominican Republic, in the village my mother comes from, I almost immediately found myself teaching math, in a town in need of someone who understands how to turn “improper” fractions into mixed numbers, and how to divide. It’s scary that, even on my vacation, I’m put in the precarious position of trying to tutor a student on 2 years of math in 2 hours. The 16-year-old had a test the next day, and she didn’t really understand anything her teacher was talking about. Of course, that’s where I get to show off and make students wish they got excited about math the way I do. (ed note: Please don’t get it twisted. For goodness sakes, this is strictly PG if not G.)
Granted, a couple of things are at work here. First off, the environment she’s been raised in isn’t the best. The emphasis on education in the neighborhood is, to put it politely, disparate, seldom, and limited. There are a few residents of the hood who’ve done great things like try out for the Olympics and gone to Argentina and Spain (I’m proud to call them family), but most of the people in my neighborhood beyond that. There’s also the utter destruction of their streets, the filth that emanates from the lack of sewage and garbage transport, the violence and rape that’s occured and increased over the last 6-7 years, and what seems like an unresponsive government only concerned with getting their faces painted all over buildings and not reaching back to their supporters.
There was also her attitude. Her voice went from sweet to rancid in seconds, calling out her friends and passersby all types of names that I wasn’t too fond of. When I’m in an educational mind frame, I can’t help but roll my eyes when I’m cursing. Her friend, whose 2 years younger but who looks 10 years older, quit school (or was asked to leave) because of a prank she pulled on a teacher. Her own voice seemed to echo a naiveté about the consequences of her actions, and what most of my friends here deem as unacceptable (having a family really early) seems to be her destiny from the hints she dropped about herself.
Yet, the one slice of hope, and that’s when the next day, the girl I taught told me she definitely passed her math exam, and that excited me a bit. I also knew I couldn’t be there for the rest of her educational career to see her through “la universidad.” However, I did find something out about my little cousin Wanda that I would have never known.
She likes math.
And she’s proficient.
Once I found out, my brother and I decided we’d sponsor her to come to the States, that is, if her grades remained at the excellent level they’re at. I put down a nice down payment, and all they needed to do was make sure she’d do what she needed. Not to say that the conditions here are the greatest, but I also find that the most successful people out of Dominican Republic have traveled to other places besides the other side of their country. They can follow the examples of Juan Luis Guerra, Aventura, Julia Alvarez, Junot Diaz, Amelia Vega, Felix Sanchez, and the myriad of underrated athletes, politicians, historians, writers, beauty pageant contestants, and television personalities that may come from their neighborhoods.
But more than anything, they can come back to their neighborhoods and be the coffee that awakens the people in their neighborhoods.
Ojala que llueva cafe …
jose, who’s taken some of the lessons from over there and applied them to his mindset here …