Ojala Que Llueva Cafe En El Campo (Hope That It Rains Coffee In The Field)

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose20 Comments

Kids In Front of School In Rain

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.

A lot.

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 …

Comments 20

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  2. I really needed to read this today… I’ve been toying around with the idea of going down there for a while, get out of the city, stay with the fam, and teach locally.

    your post really spoke to me. I’m ready to move forward with this idea now… thanks!

  3. Love that CD, and that song. All the songs on that CD are great–I think that’s the one with the guy who tries to get a US visa. I dealt with INS to get my wife both a green card and citizenship, and that was just what it was like.

    I think that’s also the one with the song about the fighting bird that caused the guy to lose everything. I don’t usually listen to that sort of music, but JLG really transcends style.

  4. Hey Jose! Great post. . . your cousin reminds me of many of the kids in my school – located in the heart of “South (pronounced Souf) Memphis” – they don’t see much more than their neighborhood either. . . there are other ways, too. . .

    I love the thought of being the “coffee that awakens people in their neighborhood” –

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    @Jaded: it was just me tutoring for one student. I was really on vacation and threw myself in it for a few minutes. OK, maybe a couple of hours. I love teaching any ol way; you’re sure to find that out soon.

    @ NYCEd: like I said before, you’ve earned points just for knowing and listening to JLGuerra. Many props!

    @Alisha, I need me some coffee as we speak.

    @Hugh, love the ending mantra in your comment.

  6. Going “back home” always reminds me of how fortunate I have been. When I see the socio-economic disparity that exisits in Latin America, it really causes quite a mixed set of emotions. As a child, I dealt with it by playing with my cousins and the neighborhood kids and always leaving them a few gifts. As a teenager, I dealt with it by dressing “low key” so that I could better blend with my cousins even though I was fully developed and much taller than them, especially the girls. As an adult, I deal with it by speaking to my cousins and their children about the choices that people make and have sponsored a few to obtain abetter education. Many of my female cousins did not finish high school, had babies and/or got married and depend solely on their husbands. Their options were limited and they do not want the same for their children, especially their daughters. A handful of the cousins (1st and 2nd generation) are going to high school and some are in college.

    I have always found it interesting how “Americans/Gringos” react to the poverty in Latin America. There is the pity look, the OMG-shock look, the “let me save you” look, the “looking down” look, and the I don’t see anything look. But more than anything, I am in disbelief that the poverty in the USA does not cause such a strong reaction. We don’t have to travel far to see the same conditions which you described Jose. It’s just that there is a tendency to disguise the poverty in this country, some places hide it more than others and it exists.

    As always, a great post!!

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  8. Thank goodness there are people like you and your brother in this world. Thanks for sharing your post. I’ve been to the Dominican Republic and thought it was a beautiful place with wonderfully friendly people. I can’t remember the town we went to but we went to the Jumbo store and I loved it! This brought back a bunch of good memories.

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  10. Interesting post. Sensitive and well-written — it makes me see coffee in a whole new light. Cheers! I hope it rains coffee in el campo.

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  12. Jose, more great music would be the entire “Siembra” album from Willie Colón and Ruben Blades. You’ve got “Plástico”, “Pedro Navaja” and “Siembra” as well as a couple of real sweet ballads. When the album came out in the late seventies, the music rocked out the doors of every shop in any Latino area all over the world. Together with JLG’s Grandes Éxitos, it remained a part of my classroom soundtrack till I retired. ?

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  13. Beautiful melody with an even greater message. Has definitely withstood the test of time. We just saw JLG in concert and I believe he was in his most emotional state during this song’s performance. What a talent!

  14. I feel very lucky to have found this post via Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell’s musicuentos.com blog. We are closing a unit on water scarcity in Latin America and the subjunctive, and your post is great for showing another side – one closer to home – for my students who sometimes struggle with the empathy piece.

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