I went on a trip to bring back a piece of the South.
I went with my favorite chofer from the foundation--Pablo, the one that has three daughters and a bakery. We picked up the production company crew as the sun began tinting the sky pink above the parking ramp of the foundation: a stout director in glasses and Chuck Taylors and his lanky assistant whose tanned face bristled with stubble.
We held moral forums in the truck as we climbed slowly into the hills of Azua. Me, proclaiming my love for bachata as it floated from the radio and Pablo, responding with the biblical wisdom of late fatherhood “ I used to dance every weekend when I was young and when I was with a girl who really know what she was doing, phew, we looked like professionals. But I left all that behind for god. The church, it never fails me.” And the director pointing out “I think the biggest problem in this country is that no one has any moderation…”
We picked up Yennis as a crossroads. Her moto zoomed to a stop in front of our truck and she relaxed her hold on the driver’s waist, hopping off her perch on the back, her hooded sweatshirt cinched tightly around her sunglasses. Once in the truck I asked “Yennis, how much of your job would you say you spend on a moto?” “I’d say about 90%” she replied quite casually. As an employee of the foundation who was familiar with each rural pocket of the mountains, she was to serve as our local guide to the vivero of Guyuyal.
Pablo expertly threaded the truck through the mountain curves. “At least the desert looks nice now,” he remarked, “all green and decorated with butterflies, when you come here in February it looks like a different place, everything scorched and dry.” We wound up and up and up revealing impossibly wide, green vistas of arroyos and palms, clusters of animals and thatches of farms.
The dirt road leveled off as we entered the tiny pueblo of Guyuyal and we slowed to drive through a grassy space between two houses -- the vivero opened in front of us. I stepped out of the truck and spotted Yennis on the small patio of the seed shack where she was already eating a bowl of boiled platano and onions she had taken from one of the women. I envied the comfort she felt among them, something I didn’t know I’d ever achieve as a gringa from the capital.
Yennis pointed out Priscilla, the woman we had been sent to see. She had a beautiful, round face that’s coffee color contrasted with the colorful combination of clothing she wore to work in the earth: bright blue fleece pants and yellow striped shirt, with a well worn crocheted hat pulled down over her hair. As I seated myself on a bench in the warm, silent air next to Priscilla life slowed down around me; the camera crew hadn’t noticed, they were bustling about, checking their equipment in the slanted morning sun. I wanted to know her. I tried to think of what to say—something that would let her know I wanted more than the video, how truly I wanted to hear her experience; I began quietly “I’m a Peace Corps volunteer working with an adult literacy program and—Yennis saw me trying to speak and kicked Priscilla playfully, signaling at me with pursed lips. We all laughed and eased as Pricilla turned her body toward me to listen… “and if it’s possible we’d like to hear your story in hopes that it will inspire other people to join in the literacy effort, giving more people a chance to participate in a program.” “What we know, we’ll gladly tell you,” she offered me graciously.
The director led Priscilla through a series of activities to capture on camera, kneeling down between the rows, weeding and arranging the dirt around the tiny infant plants, always reminding her to smile and not look at the camera as the light from the reflector held by the assistant shone on her face. Acknowledging the ridiculous requests for artificial behavior, I tried to make her laugh by rolling my eyes.
Yennis brought me a cucumber she had picked, warm from the sun which she told me to eat cascara and all, and after a moment’s hesitation about its cleanliness, I bit into it, crunching as I watched the production unfold.
The director set up the shot for the interview portion, positioning the other laborers in the background as the assistant threaded the microphone through Priscilla’s shirt. The director led me to stand next to the lens of the camera about five feet away. “Now,” he projected across to Priscilla who stood with her hands crossed in front of her, clasped around a notebook, “I want to you to talk right to Natasha. I grinned broadly, attempting to ease her nerves. “Pretend like you’re talking to your best friend in the world and telling her how you really feel about literacy.” He nodded at me to begin reading the interview questions I had prepared. I unfolded the paper and carefully annunciated each word “Do you feel there is a difference in the person you were before literacy and the person you are today?” I waited expectantly. “Yes, I feel like a very different person,” she started. She elaborated on how she had a new appreciation for the education of her children, how she felt more confident about going to the colmado because now she knew how to read a receipt and how she is motivated to continue learning. My heart swelled as I nodded and tried to return her smile as brilliantly as she shone.
We finished the questions and the crew gathered their equipment. As we walked through the black earth I thanked Priscilla and she thanked us for coming. I pulled her into a hug and she gripped my waist, her small frame coming up only to my chest.
We resumed our seats in the truck for the ride back to the city. Well, what do you think Natasha,” the director asked as Pablo steered us over the gravel path, “did you like how it turned out? Do you think we got what we came for?”
“Yes, I think it went quite well”