Words by Anna Gronewold
Photos by Andrew Dickinson
Sunday’s final interview was difficult. Ten-year-old Berlinda speaks in one-word whispers, and her answers were masked by motorcycles and crying neighbors. We were driving back to our hotel in dark silence.
“So what do you all think about birth control in China?”
That was Tito, our translator, friend, driver and Renaissance man. He’s our fixer, the journalistic term for an in-country contact who helps you navigate your new surroundings. The rest of the hour we spent laughing as we discussed contraceptives, Tito’s dancing mishaps and a story about a man who woke up at his own funeral, ran outside and was hit by a car.
“Many people say it is true,” Tito assured us.
Every day we discover more about Tito. He likes to wear the hood of his “winter” coat to keep the Dominican sun off his head (Old Red Riding Hood, he calls it). He plays recorder, teaches himself snippets of Japanese and spends hours winning online chess at the Internet café while we process the day’s work.
What I’ve learned from Tito, though, isn’t from the dozens of anecdotes he shares throughout the day.
It’s when he sneaks 100 pesos to a woman in Los Cacaos and shows her sons how to reinforce their mud walls with weeds. It’s watching his newfound mission to find a talking doll for Berlinda, just because she mentioned it in our interview. It’s sitting on a curb in Elias Pina as he tears the top off a Styrofoam container, fills it with bottled water and sets it in front of a donkey in the market.
I’m overwhelmed when the world is not how it should be, when children are hungry and people are hateful. But when Tito sees something wrong, he does whatever he can, as soon as he can.
“I believe there are still very honest people in this world,” Tito said. “For that, it is worth fighting to keep those values alive.”
We met a woman in the Elias Pina market who buys 200 pesos worth of sweet potatoes each day. She needs to resell it all for 250 pesos, but that day hadn’t sold anything.
“That is sad. This is all very sad,” Tito said softly. “I think you cannot be completely happy after you see these things. But there are happy moments, and you must find the happy moments.”
So Tito drinks his coffee mixed with orange juice, because he likes it. He tells us why Superman is a sham and the people of Metropolis are stupid. He shares candy every road trip, and laughs when we call three wrong telephone numbers for the same woman.
Tito fell into a river climbing a mountain near El Cercado. He didn’t get out, but rearranged the boulder path that just failed him.
“It’s for the next person.”