There is an eerie vibe to a dim-lit capital city. There are sounds of motos, distant sirens, and vigilant dogs, but the neighborhood is dark and indiscernible. Random dull light bulbs powered by generators (read: rigged car batteries) cast exaggerated and misshapen shadows that command both the corners and stretches of streets. There is a rare chill in the air, and my skin tingles with goose bumps rather than beads of sweat. My ears feel large, compensating for my eyes and alert in the stillness. As I write, the moon is by far the brightest and most loyal source of light around. She glows impressively, taunting those of us without luz by illuminating the edges of even the farthest rainclouds that sit plump and squat out on the horizon of the Caribbean. We haven’t had running water or electricity for more than 24 hours.
One whole day really is no time at all, and though this happens frequently, I almost scoff at myself for appearing so dramatic. There are plenty of communities in the DR and beyond that have yet to see an electrical wire installed. Campesinos go MONTHS without seeing a single droplet of water reach their pipes. But often, those people have buckets. And neighbors. Even better, neighbors with buckets. I could buy a bucket and deliberately start storing water like I did nearly every day in the campo, but I haven’t. I attribute this avoidance mostly to laziness (and the fact that I left all of my buckets with my neighbors when I moved to the capital), but the human components of my being regrettably do not want to admit that I indeed should adhere to this ritual once again.
I live in the capital city of a middle-income country. Over 3 million people live in the metropolitan area of Santo Domingo. Amid the vibrant smiles and picturesque landscapes found across the Dominican Republic, there are innumerable pockets of poverty. However, to those who choose to turn a blind eye or are not willing to wander far, they are nonexistent and irrelevant.
By no means am I living in poverty, but some people around me certainly are. Illiteracy, teen pregnancy, unemployment, poor waste management, corruption – all issues that are as real as they are rampant. My feelings of annoyance, bafflement, and compliance in reference to my water situation clash with an ever-present privilege that I guiltily experience but have learned to leverage as an American white woman. Whether it is in capital cities or on the outskirts of the most spectacular beaches, lacking amenities are frustrating but the truly impoverished loom right next door, desperate and taciturn. I do try to not over look this reality – the persistent existence of poverty and the fact that many just turn a blind eye to it. So tonight in the chilly darkness, my dogmatism regarding frequent water shortages when others around me face truly dire circumstances is exaggerated but disappointing all the same.
The 193 Member States of the United Nations have agreed upon 17 Sustainable Development Goals to follow-up with the 8 Millennium Goals from 2000 in the spirit of addressing persisting issues with poverty worldwide. I encourage you to read more about them here. Though it is an ambitious agenda, will it be enough? What are the measures we are actually taking to make our neighbors happier, our cities healthier, and future generations safer? How do we make these concerns urgent, obvious, tangible for those that sleep soundly, apathetic and oblivious to their shared responsibility in these matters?
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Then, in an auspicious glimmer of either sympathy or inspiration, the neighborhood erupts in cheers as the luz has arrived once again, melting the city’s shadows down to bits of darkness that seem small next to the true richness of this bright world.