This morning, very early, I looked out my kitchen window to see the Almond Lady walking toward her work for the day. She is dressed, in the typical manner for Dominican older women, in a dark mid-calf skirt, simple blouse top, and flip-flops. She is carrying an empty, rice gunny sack, or two, and a white pail, formerly filled with paint or margarine or other staple sold in the stores and thrown out in the garbage. She walks with a purpose; she is on her way to work for the day, picking up almonds that have fallen from the trees in the empty lots and those which are on the side of the road. The empty gunny sack she will position in one spot, then she will walk backwards a certain distance and in a stooped position she will fill the pail with the almonds that she picks up. When the pail is full she walks back to the sack and empties her pail. She repeats this until the area is cleaned. She will then walk forward a similar distance and continue to stoop and pick up until the pail is full and she can empty it into the sack. This work will continue all through the day. She tries to position the sack in the shade so she can sit every now and then and she also tries to work in the shade when she can. Sometimes she will have a helper, usually another older woman, and always someone on a motorcycle will pass by later to carry the full sacks back home. It is the season for this work right now, so I will see this woman every day for awhile.
She is one of the workers I see so often, engaged in what I call “naturally occurring work”. Her work will provide income for her family; it will provide food, clothes and some contribution to shelter. And it will also initiate work for others, the almond nut hullers and cleaners, roasters, candy-makers, bottlers, and sellers. She is not alone.
Later in the day an old man will pass by pushing a wheelbarrow. He stops at the entrance to our parking lot, goes into a corner where we deposit empty bottles and carries them to his wheelbarrow. If you pass him on the street, he always has a smile and calls out, "Mi amiga". Sometimes you will see him on his return path and he may have added a 3-legged plastic chair to his load or other item he has spotted in the garbage which he thinks he can put to good use.
Every day the coconut man walks through the neighborhood selling his coconut water. The coconuts he has collected from the tops of the coconut palms with the help of another member of his family. He carries his product in a wheelbarrow and he is accompanied by his small son who is learning early in life what his Dad's work is all about. He has many regular customers on his route; they wait eagerly to hail him from the houses or apartments and wait for him to slice the top off a coconut and deliver it to them. Many are well prepared and have him fill the bottles or jugs they have ready. On the street he may sell to passersby, or the waiting taxi drivers, and on the beach he sells to the restaurants. I have no idea have many times a day he comes through the community but I see him at all hours. He has a business that supports his extended family.
Another tall proud man wheels a wheelbarrow through the streets from time to time. His load appears to be spare parts, garbage items and huge sacks of bottles. He does not pass daily so I suspect he warehouses these items somewhere until he has enough to carry out of the community. He may be a casual or part-time worker in one of the apartment buildings or restaurants. This establishes him as a moonlighter I guess.
This naturally occurring work is not officially recorded or identified as "work" and of course is never included as part of the country's GDP. It is demonstration of the strength of the common people here, and their creative skills to make work for themselves through marginal but honest activities.