Every day is a new day. Every moment I find hope. Every second I am strong. I have lived on this Bateye, in the Dominican Republic for my entire life. I have watched as men work aimlessly at the sugar cane plantation making only enough money to barely survive. I was born HIV positive and my children are cursed with the same dreadful disease. Regardless, every day we wake up strong and hopeful. We do not give up.
My lifestyle is simplicity. I am not wealthy. Looking at my house from afar you perceive it as garbage, the exact replica of what you threw out last Tuesday. Come closer. You see the rust on the tin pieces that collage together to make our roof. You notice the piece of moulded ply wood placed in front of the entrance to unify a door. Next you glance at the windows. I see your eyes widen. The square shape is familiar but there is nothing but air blocking life’s creations of creatures and weather from entering. The walls are made of soggy cardboard, weakened wood and dirt covered rocks.
Now, as you come inside all you’re disgust, pity and shamefulness is erased as soon as you see my seven children. Their eyes filled with happiness and hope. They see the beauty in life as they sit on the dirt floor. They believe in their dreams as the fleas corrupt their bodies. This one room you’re standing in is our house, our life and our home. We eat, we sleep and we bathe in this room. The flies are starting to swarm you; this is because your scent is different than ours. You showered with soap this morning and then when you finished perfecting your appearance you applied makeup and body spray. You are clean and accepted in society because of your image. This is what makes you and I different. My family does not own a mirror; we accept each other for who we are every moment of everyday. We don’t need materials to make us who we are, we need each other.
Finally you notice the one double bed shoved into the corner. Your head is cocked to the side as you’re recounting the number of people that live in this house. You were right the first time, eight. We share one double bed between all of us. We never complain because our neighbours don’t have a bed to sleep on. You see, life isn’t about luxury or money. It’s about people and love. Our family would not change if you changed our surroundings. It is not the quality of the roof you have, it’s about who is under the roof with you.
I can understand you when you criticize me. I may not speak your language but I can feel your words piercing through me as if I do. You think I should have provided a better life for my family and I understand your anger. You judge me for making the choice to live here but there was no option to choose. It was this life or none. Labelling me as selfish for having children when I already had been diagnosed with HIV, is hurtful. I deserve to love and to find happiness just like you. I will never judge you, for I have found meaning in my life and what you see before me: my kids, my house, my neighbours, my life, is my reason for breathing. From your perspective, I wouldn’t expect you to choose this lifestyle when you have a quality roof, a warm bed and home cooked meal waiting for you at home. I do expect you to understand that we are not poor, we have formed a love that is worth millions and we have faith flowing swiftly like the wind. Nothing can replace what we feel.
Now I see your sympathy turn to jealousy. My family may be poor materialistically but we are rich in hope and strength when it comes to living. We believe in the beauty of the world, where as you believe in the beauty in the mirror. Open your eyes a little wider, take one last glance around the room, from the dirt floors to the charcoaled pans and over to the ripped clothing draped on a string. Close them, one last time. Smell the mould, the disease and the expired food. Finally, release your heart, be open to love and faith. Let the simplicity of life overrule the living conditions. Once you have successfully felt real life, the surroundings do not control you, they drive you. They make you stronger.