After almost 15 years of having left my native Dominican Republic, I have decided to share my thoughts and my "drafts of inspiration" again.
Sometimes my texts will be in Spanish and sometimes in Dutch; but mostly they will be published in English: a reflection of the reality I live everyday, where choosing only one language to express myself is simply impossible (Spring, 2009).
It was summer 1984 in the Dominican Republic, when my mum signed me up for a course to learn how to type. Her argument was that I should invest in this skill, as in two years time I'd be in college and I'd be able to type my own papers. The cool catch was: the course took place at the university campus and I loved the idea to combine it with sitting at my mum's lectures. It made me feel like a sophomore.
Back then, electric typewriters were a luxury. I learned typing on one of those bulky, clumsy mechanic machines. I still remember how I loved the sound they made as we hit the keys. That clack-clack symphony of 30 typists in training, all chasing each other with a crescendo speed. As if we were playing the piano in allegro, then in prestissimo, something that I always dreamed of learning. But my modest parents couldn't afford it for me during that time .
My favourite part was the fastest-typist competition: we had to reproduce a piece of text under three minutes. I always ended amongst the top three. My next level was the blind-typing challenge: the fastest 'blind' typist with least mistakes was the best. I also beat that one.
I liked it so much, that I fantasised with becoming a stenographer in court cases. Later on, not only I had temp jobs as a secretary, but I had the chance to type on an electric Olivetti. It made me feel extra important!
When I started college, I typed my own essays and I even earned some money transcribing manuscripts for others. By that time, computers were new to education and Wordperfect was THE THING to learn!
Now I seldom use a pen. And when I see people typing with two or four fingers, I always recall my mum's gift. Like she said when I was a kid, and didn't get the piano I asked for Christmas:
"We cannot afford a piano, but we can offer you the best education".
Years went by and writing became my instrument of expression. Tonight, like piano to poetry, the hushed typing on my high-tech keyboard blends with my hasty words' melody. I close my eyes, running after the wonderful inspiration that made this memory possible.
When I married my ex-husband, we opted for a very informal,
non-religious, absolutely intimate Dutch wedding. We were short of
money, so we decided to prepare all the finger food ourselves. After
all, we only had 10 guests.
It was the night before the ceremony, when we were avidly preparing our
wedding version of our improvised movie-night tapas, that I realised
that we didn't have a wedding cake! It was nearly 10pm, and the
supermarket was about to close.
Before rushing to the supermarket, I decided to make a quick call to my
mum in the Dominican Republic so that she could take me through the
ingredients of the recipe. She used to bake wedding cakes for a living
when I was a child, and I used to feel thrilled to be allowed to help
(But honestly, in a case like this, who would you call if not mum?)
But mum was not home and I had to be quick, otherwise I was doomed to
have a 'cakeless' wedding. So I ran to the supermarket and I got all the
ingredients that came to my mind as I recalled the many times mum and I baked
I intuitively mixed the eggs, the flour, the butter, the sugar, the
cocoa... and by midnight I had a perfectly shaped and neatly scooped
steamy marble cake. In the same memory flow as in the supermarket, I
also managed to prepare a cream with rum. I let the cake cool before I
poured a generous amount of 'crema borracha' over it. It was winter and
the cool drafts of the night crawling into the kitchen would keep it
fresh until the next day, so I left it outside.
Back in the house after the ceremony: that unmissable moment where the
bride and the groom cut the cake and they bite that first little piece
of married sweetness they carefully put in each others' mouth.
I don't remember if we kissed, but the cake tasted heavenly.
In all the times my mum supervised my baking (a habit that stayed on
until my teens, long after she had stopped baking for a living), I never
managed to bake a cake as soft in texture and balanced in sweetness as
Traveling was expensive, so my mum and my family could not attend my
wedding. But that cake, THAT cake! had MUM written in every sliced
Bereft of hope, the good old wind abandoned.
The sand was sad, the mermaids were silent.
They hid with the waves under the rough reefs.
A pale reflection of the distant moon
prayed and sobbed, begging the sea not to sink.
I'll die for you! a young sailboat mumbled.
I offer you my life! an old sailor screamed.
Since when are you a coward? A twirl asked.
With tired, weeping eyes, the sea curled in fear.
His tears were thick, his body was trembling.
'The ocean never rests', he remembered;
and feebly he walked towards ailing shores.
Today it's been two years. It was nearly midnight on January 12th 2010.My older brother had posted a few messages on Facebook, announcing that the earth was rattling pretty badly in the Dominican Republic and the rest of our island.A few hours later, I became aware that a terrible earthquake had taken place in the poorest country of the Western hemisphere.It was impossible to read and watch the news about Haiti without feeling devastated. Almost paralysed of sorrow and horror, I called my parents back home.
“Ay mi hija, it is indescribable, so terribly sad.If you can, send some money, we’ll find a way to help.There is not much more you can do just now”.My parents said over the phone when I broke in tears.
My immense urge to give was greater than anything at that moment. I regretted living so far away. I wished that instead of being a teacher, I was a doctor, a nurse, a rescuer or a wealthy person so I could do something for Haiti. Still sobbing, I asked myself:“What can you do for Haiti?Think!You can’t just sit and cry!”
By inwardly repeating this question, the few things I have learned in Buddhism revealed to me: that clinging to our own sorrow or anger paralyses us from acting positively; that any problem or difficulty is an opportunity to practice loving kindness and compassion; and, as I once heard the Dalai Lama say: that one should never, under any circumstance, lose hope. With these thoughts in my mind and reassuring myself that when I wake up I’d be calmer and more able to find an answer, I eventually fell asleep.
At the crack of dawn, I started to post messages on Facebook.I was asking my network to donate money for Haiti, with the simple reasoning that whatever I could collect would surpass what I alone could give. "If I can give hundred euros, maybe I can triple that. I'd be more than happy with five hundred" I said to myself.
The response was overwhelming. An incredible domino effect followed:after that fateful night, what started as a tear of powerlessness, anger and sorrow, turned into an unstoppable wave of donations that lasted for about 8 weeks. People started to drop money in my bank account, in my mailbox, in my hands. Friends of friends started to donate and ask money on my behalf. Students and colleagues knocked on my office door with an envelope in their hands. Every extra cent was another update on my Facebook status, and a personal tag on the logo that symbolised this campaign (see picture). The donations were channeled through two Dominican-based emergency operations:Helping Hand Haiti (www.helpinghandhaiti.com), set by my good friend Olivier Flambert and IBG Fund, a charity set by the Baptist Church, to which my mum and older brother belong. Contrary to the negative media messages regarding the slow reach of foreign aid, these small donations were used inmediately and reached the victims directly. I could provide donors with visual evidence of how their money was being used by posting photographs of the emergency actions on my Facebook page. These constant updates contributed greatly to the credibility of my efforts. Before I knew how much more I was to collect, I had given birth to the I♥HAITI campaign.
I honestly never felt so humble in my life.I learned that being a teacher was indeed the right profession to help Haiti: 95% of the donations came from my network of students, colleagues and alumni from The Hague University. Without their trust and genuine giving, the nearly 59,000 euros (yes, fifty-nine thousand!) collected would not have been possible.I also learned that my students can become my heroes and inspiration. One of my heroines in this effort is my friend and ex-student, Lubomira Kirilova. She replicated the campaign at the European Patent Office in The Hague. Her trust & selfless dedication resulted in collecting more than 50,000 euros. With a result like that, who dares regret being a teacher?
I also learned another valuable lesson:choosing a spiritual path is not merely a question of faith, but of genuine practice of the heart.Regardless of belief and vocation, we need to think humanly and act in harmony with our principles and with the planet.With an increasingly interconnected world, every single action we take, every message we send out, every gesture we make can transgress borders and create a powerful human viral effect. As long as we act together for the cause of love and compassion for others, we can welcome the beautiful future we all can create. We only need to live day-by-day guided by our faith and by our innate capacity to give unconditionally, never abandoning our principles, our values and our ideals.