day four in the dominican republic: the boy from nowhere


On our fourth day in the DR, the team climbed onto the same small bus that had taken us to El Cercado the day before.   We drove 90 minutes northwest into the mountains to a province called Elias Pina that borders Haiti. There was a one-room church that let us use their building for our clinic.  A family that lived next door to the church let us use their front room as our temporary pharmacy.

Once the team had set up the clinic, I loaded up my backpack with medical supplies and headed into the barrio with Chris and Pastor Enal to make home visits for people who couldn't make it to the clinic.

First, we visited an 80-year-old woman with high blood pressure.  Even though she was on a medication for her hypertension, her blood pressure was significantly elevated, so I prescribed her a second medication, and Chris offered to drop it off that afternoon.  We left her home and, as we were hiking a steep trail that led farther into the barrio, we met a young couple on the trail.  The wife was holding a tiny infant.  Pastor Enal began a conversation with them.

The husband, a 27-year-old man from the Dominican Republic, said he'd fallen in love with his wife, a 19-year-old woman from Haiti.  She'd given birth to their son 4 days ago at a clinic in the DR.  However, they'd encountered a problem.  Because the boy's mother wasn't a citizen of the DR, officials had refused to give the boy a birth certificate.  The couple had walked to Haiti that morning, and officials there had also refused to give the child a birth certificate -- because the boy's father was not a Haitian citizen, and because the boy had been born in the DR instead of Haiti.

"What happens now?" I whispered to Chris.

She shrugged.  "The father is saying his son is from nowhere.  He doesn't count."


The father invited us to their home -- a one-room shed he'd built from wood scraps, yellowed posters and corrugated tin.  A large piece of fabric separated the main room from the bedroom.  In the main room, there was a small hibachi-sized grill on the floor, where there were three charred ears of corn.  The husband ducked into the bedroom and returned with a bent folding chair and two buckets, which he overturned to serve as chairs.  The metal folding chair was dusty -- and the husband retrieved a pair of his own pants from the bedroom and laid them over the seat so Pastor Enal wouldn't get dust on his clothes.

The mother retreated to  the bedroom to breastfeed the baby.  Pastor Enal, Chris and I sat in the front room with the father, who explained more of their situation, and expressed his frustration that they weren't able to get documents to prove that his son even existed.  The father pointed out the front door to a goat that was feeding on grass nearby, and he said something quickly in Spanish.

Chris leaned over to translate for me.  "He said he bought the goat the day his son was born -- so at least his son would have something."

I examined the father, and diagnosed him with a skin infection.  He asked if I would examine his wife and child as well.  I quickly nodded, and he led me behind the curtain to the bedroom, where his wife sat on a sunken mattress breastfeeding her son.  I took her vitals and examined her.  And then I examined her son, whose sleepy eyelids were drooping as he suckled contently.

Regardless of country, income, ethnicity or language, the love parents have for their children is universal.  It requires no translation or documentation.  Parents love their children, and want the best for them.

I smiled as I told the man that his wife and child were perfectly healthy -- and I promised to return with cream for his rash, and vitamins for his wife.

When the wife finished breastfeeding, I asked if I could hold her son, and she gently handed him to me.  As I stood there, whispering a blessing over the Boy from Nowhere, I wondered how many more people in the world were like this little boy -- citizens of nowhere, who didn't have proof of existence, let alone citizenship.  And I thought about how ridiculous human beings get about boundaries and borders,

who we let in and who we shut out,

when really, this world was created as a place for all of us to live.

To love.

To belong.