From the Road: A Life Of Polio, Dominican Republic
Finding myself in the Dominican Republic one summer a few years ago, I was on the beach one morning in the small town of Don Julio , when I saw someone coming towards me out of the corner of my eye. Not wanting to stare, I immediately noticed the man moving towards me was walking only on his hands and scooting himself along the hot sand in the morning sun. Seeing as he was approaching me, I knew I was going to need to summon what little Spanish I knew and take a look at what he was selling, which happened to be pirated DVD’s.
Taking a look at the DVD’s I didn’t want to be rude but was more interested about this man and his life story than the cheap DVD’s of movies I had never heard of. After talking for a few minutes, through broken Spanglish, he opened up quite a bit and told the story of how he was only 4 years old when he developed a fever which turned out to be polio. His name was Celine Montero.
Asking if I could follow him home and photograph his daily journey, he happily allowed me to see how he lives his life and the struggles he faces on a daily basis. We made our way to the main road and flagged down the local bus driver who knew Celine quite well and was excited to welcome me as a guest on the afternoon bus ride into town. A larger smile than I had ever seen, and the generosity of a friend you’ve known your entire life, Celine welcomed me into his home, introduced me to his family members and was proud, excited and beaming to show off pictures of his four daughters, the oldest of which he was saving up money for to send her to college.
He thought once about getting a $9,000 surgery in Cuba which could possibly allow him to walk again but he immediately put his family first and, being the most able and hard working in his family, continued to support not only his children, but many of his brothers and sister and his elderly parents by selling those CD’s on the beach.
Welcomed into his home, I sat with him and his family, ate the food of his people, listened to his countries music and couldn’t help but smile as I realized how lucky I was to find Celine on the beach and be welcomed into his life, family, community and to be able to tell his story for years to come.
Now, after nearly 18 years later, he still works on his hands and knees selling the music of his country and living his life to support his family, no matter how hard he has to work to do it. Its amazing what a lesson in humility can teach you and that we all have struggles, we all have triumphs and we all just want to be happy.
Safe travels, Jeff