During my time in the Dominican Republic with Creighton’s Summer Program, I had not only the most remarkable summer of my life, but also the best birthday on record. The program, which sends health sciences students and professionals to the country to work with the ILAC (Institute for Latin American Concern) Center in setting up Medical Clinics in six Campos (or rural Dominican communities) for five weeks. I had the distinct privilege to be asked to participate as a student nurse and it was certainly one of the best decisions I have made in my young life. While in our Campo, La Penita, we all stayed with families. My parents were Eva and Elhadio and their personalities could not have been more night and day. Eva could be the star of her own telenovela with her strong, dramatic personality and just overall zest for life, while Elhadio is a quiet, grounded man who is content to sit in amusement at his wife’s never ceasing antics.There are many unforgettable stories from my time there, but the instance that best exemplifies the outstanding generosity, hospitality, and kindness of these people is my 22nd birthday gift from my Dominican mother.
A few days before my birthday I was running home quickly after dinner to let my family know that there was a Baile (or dance) that night. I promptly went to go and change from my sweaty clinic clothes into something mildly less grimy when Eva asked me if I had anything to wear to the dance. I replied (in less than perfect Spanish) that I was looking and would love it if she could help me find something. She came in and I held up a plain green tank top I had worn a few days before. Instead of commenting yes or no she immediately swatted the shirt out of my hands and rattled off a series of staccato Spanish words while exiting the room. I stood rooted to the spot trying to think back at the awkward Spanish I had spat out and seriously wondering if I had said something insulting. Before I had too much time to evaluate my circumstances, Eva was back with a dainty floral gift bag in her hands. She handed it to me and told me it was for my birthday. While thinking it was incredibly sweet, unnecessary, and unexpected of her to be giving me any kind of present when her and her family had so willingly opened their hearts and home to me, I opened my gift and pulled out the most bright and bedazzled shirt I had ever seen in my life. As ridiculous as my life seemed in that moment all I could manage to do was cry and tell her how it was the best present I had ever received and I could not wait to wear it. The first statement I met with my whole heart, never in my life had I experienced such unselfish love. My mother, who’s family is in a state of poverty even by Dominican standards, found the time and the resources to buy me a gift and I am still overwhelmed by this action. My second statement, that I could not wait to wear it, pulled me back to the realization that I would in fact be wearing this shirt to our community dance that night and there would be no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I quickly changed into my new garment and did a a quick fashion show for my parents. I felt ridiculous but they were so pleased and I was so caught up in the joy of the moment that there was no need to care.
To me, this is a perfect example of the human condition at its absolute best. Being willing to give of ourselves, our time, and our resources when it seems as though we have nothing to give. Generosity is a necessary talent that I feel we often times miss in our American culture and not something that I will too quickly forget after this simple, but profound experience.