Don't get me wrong, I enjoy going to church, but when you are a gringo that only comprehends 40% of a good sermon, it is difficult and disappointing. So I take advantage of recorded sermons from a week ago that I can access from our church's website, and I try to shift gears and not work on the project that consumes my time Mondays thru Saturdays. This was Stacy's and my schedule, and Sundays were a day that we could be together all day and she would not be passing time in our small home by herself. We would often take an afternoon bike ride and quickly find ourselves in the beautiful farming areas outside of town. She is now back in the States enjoying time with family, so this gringo has decided to use Sundays for spiritual growth and real bodily exercise.
So I've come to really enjoy Sunday mornings and taking a 1-1/2 hour bike on the small dirt back roads that wind their way through the fields and farms outside of San Juan. It is a workout - I try and push myself as hard as I can trying to keep my body in some sort of healthy state.
But this past Sunday as I was pushing myself, I couldn't help but realize where I was and the beauty and reality of this place. It is stunningly beautiful - the backdrop is a range of high mountains often with scattered puffs of clouds filling valleys, the vast rice fields offering the richest color greens you will ever see and these texture-filled fields decorated with scattered royal palms, cabbage palms, and coconut palms standing alone or in small groups bringing a certain level of class to the scene. It would be hard-pressed to find a golf course or country club that has a more beautiful landscape - God has a much bigger landscaping budget.
Horses, cattle, goats and other critters wander the roads and fields looking for that perfect meal. The occasional momma horse and pony always stop and stare as I pass - the best are the cattle that all but talk to me as I pass looking ever so intently at this odd creature passing by, I can imagine what type of deep voice and accent they might have.
While having to skirt the puddles that often fill the width of the road, mango and avocado trees are sporadically growing along the road and it is fun to stop and collect a few when in the right season - at times there are dozens just laying on the ground.
The government installed a very complex irrigation system, and many of the roads follow these concrete canals or the natural smaller streams that provide an abundance of water to the area. It is a peaceful place and as I work further east the fields change from rich, cultivated fields to rolling pastures that are more arid with tough-looking trees scattered about with cactus fences defining the property lines of the fields. The trees and cactus give the appearance that a rain shower once or twice a year is all that they need.
As I was chugging my way up hills and then enjoying ripping down the other side with as much speed as I could make, it occured to me that among this beauty are people living quiet lives in the most basic of homes - single room, dirt floors, tin or palm sided walls and roofing that could only partially keep rain out and certainly not keep anything from crawling or walking into these homes. Behind the home sits an outhouse and a smaller shed that is the kitchen. Smoke is often billowing out from the kitchen as the fire is started that will cook todays rice and other food. Dominicans don't eat leftovers - you'd need a refrigerator in order to do that.
There are usually a couple of wires that have been direct-wired to the main lines (no meter) and are precariously stretched across the road and often supported in the "y" of long tree limbs standing erect and acting as power poles. When there is electricity (off typically 6-8 hours a day), the wires allow a light bulb or two to illuminate the space and perhaps a radio and a way to charge your cell phone - because the option of regular phones has never been an option. TV,no.
During my ride the occupants are usually sitting outside under a tree, chatting with one another or apparently just contemplating - I think a lot of contemplation goes on here. Richard Rohr could find a lot of people to discuss the benefits of contemplation with. You will often see a lady sweeping the dirt inside and around the outside of their home maintaining to the best of her ability. Often I get an excited call from a child as I pass by, and many "holas" and "bien dia" from people walking the road.
There are very few cars, I bet on a typical ride I pass less than 5 on the road. Motos and motorcycles are more common, and the majority have at least two people on them. You see, very few people own a moto, and even fewer own a car. Motoconchos (motorcycle taxis) are the way to get around if you don't want to walk. It is fun to often see two motos driving side-by-side carrying on a conversation - you can't do that in cars. And the best is seeing who typically is an older lady sitting side-saddle on the back with her feet crossed - no worries as her taxi driver zips her to her destination.
A very stark image is that of a mom carrying a 5 gallon bucket and perhaps an old one gallon plastic cooking oil container, and her small 5 year old daughter also carrying a plastic bottle - filled with water for the day. I often see them as I cross a river at one point of my ride or more often they are returning from one of the manually operated wells that you will find wherever there is a small collection of homes. These wells are also gathering places where people are often just sitting and chatting in the shade - a modern day scene that has continued for centuries. Imagine the number of incredible or difficult discussions that might have taken place at wells around the world over the centuries - including the teachings of Jesus. But passing these people on their way or returning from getting the most basic of needs ... water, is always noticed - it is always a slap in my face - what is your reality, Ken.
I love to say hola to the farmers I pass - they are tough, weathered, rugged old guys with a two foot machete always either in-hand or hanging from their belt. They have worked life, not all life, life. They will hand-hoe entire fields or work all day in the mud diverting water so it equally floods the entire rice field. Wonderful and kind. The stories they could tell. The life they have lived.
And so, as I wound my way through this life, this part of creation, I was hit with the fact that I need to remember this , it needs to be with me the rest of my days so when I am back in a modern world full of abundance, comforts and false needs, I can look back and remember the days I spent in the real world - where people simply live and survive day to day. Ahh, we in our modern society and country have no idea of what life is really like. I want to be reminded.