Over the past couple months a few factors have created the perfect storm of drama between several of the youth I work with and myself. The first, being the river clean ups that I have supported, participated in and helped organize with the local government and community. The youth are insistent that they will not work with the local government because they believe everything the local government does is for political gain, which may be true, but the local government is in control of nearly all of the available resources and therefore, in order to create progress (the recent summer camp was almost completely funded by the local government) I have been actively working with a few groups that they do not support. The second, because Escojo (HIV/AIDS education) participation has been growing rapidly on a national level, there is less funding for the desired activities in the group and the youth are taking the lack of financial support personally. Third, as the youth become adults (many of them graduated this year) several of them have moved or attempted to move to larger cities with colleges and better job markets. Most of them where unsuccessful and returned frustrated, however, in the migration we lost one of our key members who helped us break some of the tension. Over the past month we had gotten to the point of being “strictly business” instead of hanging out and being buddies like before. I am just as stubborn as any 18-year-old machismo Dominican Youth and therefore we cut out the weekly English classes and Domino/Uno sessions. I was bummed to have the situation get so ugly that Dominoes was almost completely cut out of my life.
The weeks passed and over the weekend last week I ran into the key youth that had moved away. He was back in town because his dad had died that morning; he told me that the funeral would be 8 days later (this last Sunday). Despite being on “strictly business” terms with the kids I felt that the funeral was an activity bigger than our drama. I made it clear to the boys that I would be going with them to the funeral and we all went together. I learned quickly that Dominican funerals where not like American funerals. There was a huge crowd outside the boy’s father’s house and they were playing Dominoes and having a good time. There were no speeches given and it was more a time to remember the dead by sitting outside their house and being happy (there was also an altar inside if you wanted to pay your respects), the longer I sat there the more sense it made. There was food provided for everyone at noon (the funeral was from 10 to 4) and everyone was in good spirits. It ended up being the opportunity that the youth and I needed to reconnect; we made plans for starting the English class back up and the tension between the youth and I has started to dissipate. Also, the man who died had 20 kids. I wouldn’t have believed it but they were all there (or at least I lost count after 12 or 13).