It’s about time I posted another entry, since I told a number of people I would soon write about the team’s trip a few Sundays ago to the western part of the country. It was interesting, beautiful, touching, and, at times, crazy and out of control. (Here’s a brief press release about the trip and the visit to the orphanage, which I described in the previous post.)
We left the camp around 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18th. Making the trip were all of the players, about 60 of them, some of the Dominican and visiting American coaches, Abel Guerra, Ani Sanchez (the general manager of the baseball camp), four Americans from the USAID section of the Embassy and a busload of press people. Quite a big deal.
Our destination was a small village near San Juan de la Maguana, in the western part of the Dominican Republic, close to the Haitian border, an area that would take about 5 hours to reach.
We stopped for gas just outside of Boca Chica, which didn’t sit too well with a few people. Why didn’t the drivers gas up before the trip? Abel got a bit upset when one of the coaches on the bus carrying the players let the gang off the bus to get snacks. Getting them back on took a while and was a bit like herding cats.
We stopped in Santo Domingo to pick up a few more of the coaches, and then we were off to the hinterlands, four hours away. We passed through some very beautiful country along the way, transitioning from seaside to mountains.
Below is a photo of the mountains near our final destination, countryside that is representative of much of what we passed through.
On the way, most of the several players who rode with us on the “adult bus,” as one wag put it, slept. However, they’re real camera hams, as you can tell from this shot taken after they finished snoozing.
We finally reached San Juan and the end of our journey, I thought. Nope. We still had quite a few kilometers to go, eventually traveling to the small village of El Cercado, where the food warehouse of “Food For the Poor” (FFP) is located. FFP is a religious organization (as far as I can determine) that provides food, housing and other necessities to “the poorest of the poor,” according to their website.
From Cercado, we traveled about 20 more kilometers to the small, mountainous village whose bridge to the outside world had been washed away by the flooding caused by the torrential rains of Tropical Storm Noel. Poverty-stricken in the best of times, this isolation from the rest of the country is only increasing their hardship.
At the FFP warehouse, we had been joined by a deuce-and-a-half truck loaded with large bags of rice. The team’s job was to transfer the rice to a couple of smaller trucks waiting on the other side of the small stream where the bridge had disappeared in the flood. Here’s part of the crowd that had gathered there.
The players and coaches formed a human chain and passed the food over to the other trucks.
At the time, in my mind, I questioned why the big truck couldn’t have just brought the rice to the village, rather than going through this laborious process. Part of the reason could have to do with the publicity that was generated, but the terrain at the stream crossing was fairly steep and confining, and there was another larger river farther down the road, though it was shallow and flat. Perhaps the heavily laden deuce-and-a-half would have mired in the river bed.
At any rate, the rice was transferred and brought to the distribution point just on the far side of the larger river, where it was handed out to the villagers. That sounds a lot more tranquil than the reality of the situation. The trucks were mobbed, literally almost overrun by hungry people. There was no organized system in place for giving out the food–just lug it over the side of the trucks to the outstretched hands. A few of us commented on the process and lack of organization, but I later overheard a few of the FFP honchos saying that they had tried other methods, but nothing else had worked. So, chaos ruled. At times I feared for the safety of those in the trucks and for the numerous children milling around the area, but I didn’t notice any calamities or injuries. I can barely imagine what the scene must be like in places such as Darfur, where thousands of hungry people are camped, waiting for food. Below is one scene of the chaos.
At last, all the food was gone. Many folks were pleading for more, but there was none. I hope that family, friends and neighbors helped out those who were unfortunate enough to not have received anything. This sweet, older lady got hers, though.
We arrived at the camp about 8:30 that night after an uneventful return trip. Everyone was tired but satisfied with the effort. Let’s hope, however, that efforts like this are unnecessary in the future.
Happy Birthday to me today! More later.