This I Believe

Maggie - State College, Pennsylvania
Entered on December 4, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I believe in silence…

I wish I knew where I was going, cramped like a forgotten crumb under a dusty rug, as I shovel pass a wild eyed and chaotic city—the buzz of a distinct culture trying to break my senses. Vendors insulate the sidewalks with homegrown smells of sweet and oily plantains, while melodic echoes of drums and chimes have my head bopping to Meringue. I had hoped this is where I would be staying in the Dominican Republic, learning, but the silence wasn’t there as the miniscule red bus I was riding pushed me over lush spans of achingly green hilltops littered with dark faces highlighted against brilliant and hopeful white chiclet-like teeth. I am beginning to hear myself for the first time as I settle my wandering thoughts back into my head and slowly let the name roll gently around the quiet in my head. Banica. Has the world ever heard of her?

Five hours away from nothing. I finally pull up to a pavilion where the electricity will be out indefinitely. I don’t mind settling into the simple vacant rooms and quickly wrap the mosquito net around my bed as I tuck my thoughts back into the frenzied and lively city I had passed earlier. I ached to be back there, to hear anything besides nothing, a curious nothing.

A week of building commences, the reason for which I am in this forsaken place in the first place. I pack water to fight the hideously hot day, which is already forming beads of saline on my forehead. Riding in the bed of a pickup truck, I take in my first morning sight of her—Banica. She is nothing like the city. Her mountains whisper something from their high peaks, “Los Campos,” a local utters to me as he points to the highest points of her where the poorest of poor live. I shiver every time I think about its villagers attacking our truck for food bags, their lives in my very hands. I gaze towards little children scraping along thatched homes in yards of packed dirt while military police line her walls–protecting their homeland, their pride. Standing on the riverbank near the middle of town, a raging river separates the border between the Dominicans and Haitians. Two warring peoples. I am stunned into humility. I find myself straddling the very thick line of chaos itself; the middle of my own world, where silence has little space–a place so ready for attention that I think if I wait any longer she might die.

I found myself slowly letting go of the ache for America in return for the sustenance of the natives. I let myself fall deeper into this magical silence, where actions were valued more than words, community was truly shared, and life was incalculable. Silence, I began to believe, wasn’t so much the act of quietness, but more the lesson of listening to the existence of yourself in places you forget to mind.