Myra sits alone in the back room, head between her legs, silently crying. The living room is filled with the sobs of those who have just had their hearts ripped out and stepped on; asking god why in desperation filled shouts. The tears are of pain and suffering, not only for the loss of a young life, but for a life time of injustice and heartbreak.
I enter the barracone, and see Lucy standing alone, confused and scared. The women are crying so hard they are convulsing; stamping their feet and screaming at the top of their lungs “Dios mio! Porque? Porque?”. There is no answer to their questions. Lucy is on the verge of tears, fearful of what surrounds her. “Sara” she whispers, her little eyes tearing up. As I pick her up, she clings to my body as if her life depends on it. I step outside, into the dim light of the day. The clouds have covered the sun and it looks like rain.
Lucy looks around and see’s her cousin holding a purple bouncy ball. “Sara, esa la pelota de la nina”. Yes, I say. That is the baby’s ball. Lucy doesn’t know, her baby sister of nearly 6 months has passed away. I hold Lucy until she falls asleep in my arms. It’s all I can do. I wish I could do more.
The screaming stops but the tears do not. Myra is left alone in her prison. Head between her legs, her tears pooling on the dirt floor. The community begins the process of setting up the vela. Colmados bring over coffee and bread, chairs and tarps are set up. Neighbors sit and chat. The sound of dominos hitting plastic tables fills the air. Beautiful pink flowers are gathered and set around the lifeless body of the little girl. A neighbor donates her wood table to so a coffin can be made. Coffins are expensive, she says, especially the small ones. The baby’s father hammers away late into the night, making the most beautiful coffin for his little angel. The community leader donates nails; I contribute white paint left over from when I painted my house months earlier. Everyone is heartbroken, looking for any way to make the pain a little less.
The next night I walk over to Myra’s trudging through the mud. Velas are to last nine days. Nine days of sitting and supporting the survivors of the dearly departed. I walk in and find her alone. Sitting in shame. People have been talking all day, blaming her under their breaths for the death of the girl. She should have never laid her on the bed on her back. How careless, they say. Such a shame, she was peeling bananas while her baby was dying in the next room. What kind of life is one living, where they can loose something so precious in the time it takes to peel an unripe banana? I am angered that Myra is alone, but I understand. She has no money to buy coffee and bread to offer the mourners, so the mourners will not come.
I sit next to Myra, at a loss for what to say. I am sorry won’t do. So I say nothing. I just sit in silence with her. Rubbing her back as she cries. I cry with her. We sit and look at each other, two young women, sitting together in silence. Feeling the weight of loss. “I just want to hold my baby,” she whispers. “I know you do” I reply, fighting back the tears. We sit, long into the night; the silence comforts us as we cry. Cry for the loss of the precious girl, cry for the cruel randomness of the world, cry for reasons that not even we are aware of.
Tomorrow, life for Myra will resume. She still has Lucy to care for. Unemployed and with out any sort of documentation her life is not easy nor will it ever be. I stare at her dirt floor and feel helpless. Her baby never even legally existed. Born in a tin shack in the middle of a January night and died in a dirt floor barrack on a July afternoon. There was never even a record that this human being graced the world with her presence. The only reminders that she ever existed are some pictures, a hollow grave and our memories of her heart-warming smile.
I hold Myra’s hand and tell her she should get some sleep. I offer to sleep with her if she would like, but she declines. I will bring coffee in the morning then, I say. She get’s up and goes to the bed. The very bed that her daughter took her last breathes in. It is raining outside and the roof is leaking, slowly turning the dirt floor to mud. I shake my head and feel guilty for the hardships I will never have to face in my life. “Sarita…” she says timidly, “will you help me get a birth certificate for Lucy? I want her to have a better life,” she says. I tell her I will try, but it will not be easy. She gives me a smile and sends me on my way.
In the Dominican Republic, children of mothers of Haitian descent are denied birth certificates and are therefore stateless. Every human being has a right to a name and a nation, but in the DR that right is being denied to thousands. Lucy and her dear sister Esmerelda are only two of the many. The Dominican Republic has also retroactively taken away the citizenship of thousands of Dominican citizens who could potentially be “Haitian”, which is against international law. Their bases for denying these individuals their rights are that they are “too dark” or their names are “too Haitian”. Please contact me if you would like more information on this abuse of human rights.
Myra and Lucy still live in the barrack behind mine and they come over every day to chat. I am sealing our leaky roofs next week but Myra’s floor is still of dirt.