During one game of stick caps I realized there was a particular sound drifting on the breeze that explained the aroma ever present since arriving at this particular location. When I needed a break from pitching caps I turned to Maria and pointed back behind the houses while making pig sounds in my throat. I figured a noise like that would transcend any language barrier, and she caught it immediately and grabbed me by the arm and took me back for show and tell. The show part worked out really well, but the tell part was lost on me, though I smiled a lot and kept saying, "Si." I was delighted to see three litters of little piggies in various stages of development, doing what piggies do in their mud havens. I pantomimed eating and pointed to the pigs, asking if they were going to be using these pigs for food, and received confirmation from Maria and her little friend. While my camera was out snapping photos of the pigs, they wanted some photos in that setting that included them so I happily obliged.
We took turns posing and shooting, but just before I was about to suggest another angle a woman came rushing up and grabbed me by the arm, gesturing for me to go with her. She drew her hand across her neck twice in an unmistakable sign of death, and I willingly followed her to what I was sure would be another adventure. She was going to take me to see a pig being butchered, and while I didn't relish the thought of observing such a grisly business, I am a realist so I might as well put my eyeballs where my mouth is all too willing to go and watch the part of the bacon that happens between the pig and the supermarket. Those BLT's might never taste the same again, but I was a guest and this dear lady was trying to share something with me that seemed to be very important to her, judging by how urgently she was leading me through a maze of small dwellings. Imagine my surprise when we stepped inside an open door and there lay an old woman on a bare mattress, covered only by a sheet, apparently dead. God gave me the grace to switch gears immediately from thoughts of bacon to thoughts of sorrow and grief in this home. There was only one thing I could possibly do that would be of any value to this woman and her family, and that was to share her sadness and pray for God to provide comfort and strength. I immediately expressed my sorrow to her for her loss, and as I reached to embrace her she threw herself into my arms as if I were a life preserver thrown to a drowning person in an open sea. I prayed for her and for her family, asking God to bring comfort and to meet all their needs, while she cried on my shoulder and petted my arms and back in an emotional display of painful loss. The two little girls who had come along were sitting in chairs just watching, showing no emotion and saying nothing. Was the old woman in the bed their grandmother? Or were these children in this room with me simply because of the openness of the culture and the door? After the prayer I simply stood and looked at the woman in the bed, with my arm around the waist of the lady who had brought me here, hoping that my quiet show of respect would be understood and received as the love it was meant to convey.
On a zigzagging path around these buildings . . .
to this door where death lay in wait or had already come.
In the Dominican Republic it is common to bury the dead within 24 hours. Due to the tropical climate and the cultural belief in not embalming, this is a necessity for dealing with the rapid deterioration of a body. I didn't have the opportunity to see a rural cemetery where the poor lay their loved ones to rest, but the cemetery in Jarabacoa was unlike any I have ever seen. My guess is that these above ground crypts are primarily owned by wealthier residents, judging by how elaborate many of them seem to be. The poor in this town would most likely rent or borrow a burial space for a period of seven years, after which the family would either collect the bones and move them to a different location, or they would have the option of buying a permanent site.
Perhaps the old woman in the bed hadn't yet breathed her last. It's impossible for me to be sure since we were unable to communicate with words. But whether death had already claimed her, or whether her final heartbeats were still in countdown, I can only hope that she knew Jesus before she took her last breath.