This is a repost of a piece I wrote after vacationing in the Dominican Republic. It’s been a good while since this was posted, but interestingly, two followers asked me about it within the last week or so. Both mentioned how it’s nice to be reminded that a kindness offered to another doesn’t have to be grand to have meaning. Sometimes a small effort can still make a big difference.
The tropical sun was intense, but from the shade we sipped Pina Coladas and stared at the blue Caribbean. A vacation in the Dominican Republic! We staked claim to our favorite cabana and by afternoon were chatting with beachside neighbors. Diane in the next cabana knew a lot about the area and in the balmy breeze we compared notes on favorite restaurants as we enjoyed the beach.
The next hot day while eating lusciously ripe strawberries I caught sight of the trio working in the sun. We’d noticed the daily routine of these three whose job it was, apparently, to clear the beach each day of seaweed washed up during the night. They were a motley band in ragged clothes. Locals in need of work I supposed, and hard work it was. Each day they scoured the beach, raking and hauling debris. An older worker lagged behind. The effort it took to push a loaded wheelbarrow through soft sand slowed him down. He usually raked alone, stopping often to wipe sandy sweat from his face. He has to be thirsty I thought, as I sipped ice-cold coconut water.
On the following morning, just as I devoured a heaping bowl of chilled watermelon, I saw the old raker man diligently working over the beach. Mere yards from chattering sunbathers, clattering dishes filled with tropical delights, and Mimosas clanking toasts to vacations, this old barefoot man in torn pants worked silently. Unnoticed. Head down as he worked, I waited for him to look up.
He looked up. I waved.
Puzzled, he stared at me and returned to his work. He has to be hot I thought, as the waiter served our Pina Coladas.
I took a sip of mine. It tasted like guilt.
“How much do you think he’s paid?” I asked Francisco and nodded towards the raker. Before he could answer I heard a groan from the next cabana.
“Well, don’t you give him money.” Diane yelled. “He’ll get lazy. Anyway he’ll never even thank you.” With that, she told the waiter to hand her a magazine, brush away the sand stuck to her back, and bring lunch to the cabana so she wouldn’t have to get up.
Judging me over her magazine, Diane said nothing.
“That’s hard work he’s doing.” I continued with Francisco.
“Well, don’t tell him.” Diane yelled again. “He’ll whine about having to do it and he’ll never even thank you for noticing.” With that, she told us she was staying on vacation an extra week because she was sick and tired of the rigors of her job.
Staring at me over her vacation calendar, Diane said nothing.
I watched the raker struggle with another load of seaweed. He sometimes tripped and fell as he shoved the heavy load down the beach. The ceviche and slices of fruit the waiter set down in front of me looked nice, but I couldn’t eat them.
Days passed and I continued to wave to the raker each morning. He eventually waved back and towards the end of our vacation he even waved first. I never saw interaction of any kind between him and anyone else on the beach. Was this man invisible?
“Is it ok to give him some money?” I asked Francisco. I’d hesitated to do so, less from Diane’s comments and more for fear I would offend the man.
“It could be a tip. How much would a little cash mean to him?” I continued.
“It would mean the world.” Francisco responded.
Diane yelled to us. “Well, he’ll become a beggar if you give him money. Like I said, he’d never even thank you!”
On the morning of our final day I saw the raker as usual, head down, combing the sand. I’d still not given him a tip and I was sorry about that. I mentioned my regret to Francisco, but it was our last day on the beach and I had no cash with me.
“I have cash!” Francisco said, and instantly rifled through his bag to see what he might find.
As the raker’s work brought him nearer the cabana, he and I waved. This time Francisco stood too and motioned the man to come over. Clearly perplexed by this new routine the raker slowly left his wheelbarrow and approached us. We quickly realized he spoke absolutely no English but in an awkward conversation consisting at various points of Spanish and then French, we learned he was Haitian and had come to the Dominican Republic in search of work. He was in the middle of a rough and miserable time.
Francisco held cash towards the raker and pointed at me. “He wants to thank you for working so hard to keep the beach clean.”
The raker stared at the cash. I waited for him to smile. Instead, he stepped back and threw his hands over his head. Oh no. We’d insulted him.
He looked back and forth at us, his eyes filling with tears as he stepped forward to shake our hands. He shook our hands for several minutes before even touching the money which he took very slowly from Francisco’s hand. He spoke rapidly the entire time. I don’t know what his mouth said but his face said thank you. He wiped his tears and returned to the wheelbarrow. We sat back down fighting tears of our own.
“Well, now you’ve done it.” Diane yelled over the heaping plate of lobster on her lap. Butter dripped from her chin. “He’ll be back. He’ll be back ten times today begging for more! Did he even say thank you?”
I just shrugged my shoulders at her. I was sure the man was thankful but I had no idea what he said.
With a disapproving look, Diane said nothing.
Francisco and I returned to our Pina Coladas. I sipped mine, a bit tastier now, and watched for the raker. If he did return for more I just hoped Diane wouldn’t notice. It was the end of the day before she got the chance to say she told us so.
“I knew it!” Diane yelled.
I looked in the direction of the half-eaten drumstick she pointed down the beach and saw the raker running towards our cabana.
“He’s going to ask for more and never even say thanks. Not once.” Diane said smugly.
The raker stopped in front of us and leaned down. Knowing he knew no English we waited for him to say something, anything. From the next cabana, Diane waited too.
The raker leaned down so that we were face to face. He was clearly concentrating as his lips slowly began to move. “Thank you.” he said in English.
Before we could respond, he smiled and ran back down the beach.
Diane said nothing.
Stuart M. Perkins
96 responses to “Raker Man!”
This story is my introduction to your blog. Literally the first thing I read after coming here. I LOVE your writing style, and obviously, the story was incredible. Is it true or did you make it up. Although I suppose if you made it up it might still be true. What I meant was: Did it happen to you?
Anyway, thank you.
Thanks! No, definitely all true like the other posts. That’s my whole premise – that there are just so many “story-worthy” moments in all of our lives. We just need to be aware, write then down, and share them! Thanks again for the comment and compliment!
What a good post. Just goes to show that a little kindness can mean the world to someone and showing appreciation for the hard work of others, no matter how apparently “menial” the job is, is important. I hope Diane took something away from this experience too.
A really lovely story, I enjoyed reading.
This story made my morning 🙂
Thank you for sending a like to my story! Means a lot to me!
Gorgeous. I lived in the D.R. in 1999 and was amazed by the incredible work ethic and pride of the Dominicans, but even more so by the Haitians who came across the border in search of work. The level of poverty they lived in was something I had never even fathomed in my privileged American existence (and I *thought* I grew up poor). And yet they demonstrated hospitality and generosity to me that was unparalleled by anything I had experienced in the states. Thank you for sharing this lovely story and bringing all the memories back to wash over me. ❤️❤️
Exactly. They live and work (and manage to smile and be friendly) in conditions most of us couldn’t take for an hour. How cool that you lived there for a time! Thanks for the great comment.
Great story. I don’t think I like Diane though! 🙂
Reblogged this on Face Painting for World Peace and commented:
Every once in a while, you read something you like so much you to HAVE to share it. Hats off to the blog Storyshucker for this wonderful post.
I thank you for that….
Gratitude doesn’t have a language barrier and a smile doesn’t require a translator. Kindness and generosity speak louder from our actions than from our voices – in any language.
Thank you for sharing. 😊
I agree with you! Thanks.
I am reminded of reading the Question For Every Situation. ‘What would love do now?’ 💝✨
Hey Stuart! This was such a great article. It was so nice you guys went with your gut and did such an admirable thing. I wonder if it depends on the country you go to because in all parts of Africa specifically Madagascar we were met with beggars right off the plane. Again – great article.
Thanks! Yes I’ve traveled and had the same experience as you but this was not at all the case. I understand what you’re talking about though! Thank you for the compliment!
I work with a Ministry called ‘Hearts & Hands for Haiti’. I’ve been going to Haiti for well over 20 years. The Haitians are generally a poor, impoverished people, but a beautiful, hardworking and kind people. Your story blessed me. Thank you!
Thanks for that!