Abdul Raful [A.K.A. Nicolás Dumit Estévez]
Religion was something that Abdul was born into. Yes, this was the feeble baby boy who, due to lactose intolerance, almost died of dysentery twice, and who a curandero ridded of the evil eye that was placed on him by God knows who. The curse could be evinced in the dissimilar length of one of the boy’s legs. Another indication corroborating the situation was the eye halfway shut that the baby displayed. The story goes that the curandero who saved him eventually set himself on fire. Despite this, Abdul would grow up to be a precocious boy who attended a Jehovah’s Witnesses school where the welcoming woman principal had a thin moustache. While Abdul never practiced them, he was introduced to some of the beliefs surrounding this religious group. Yet, deep inside, Abdul wanted to follow his mother’s path and to study under the supervision of the Catholic nuns in the old convent downtown, near Santiago’s food market. This was an area of the city full of truckloads of green plantains, sacks of red Dominican beans, peddler’s songs, and sex workers searching for clients around the warehouses. At home, Abdul would be given free reign to build an altar in his bedroom, and to practice tending to the needs of the oracle. The pesos that Abdul received as gifts from his Lebanese uncles and cousins would be spent buying Catholic chromolithographs in the Calle del Sol, the main thoroughfare in Santiago. Saint Anne, Saint Claire, and la Dolorosa were all his roommates. At altars similar to Abdul’s, but bigger in size, and more nuanced theologically speaking, the clairvoyant women that his mother visited to learn of her future there on her Caribbean Island, predicted that the boy had a metreza: a female loa. Abdul would hear this message again and again from different people, and he would always find a way to dismiss it from his thoughts. The responsibility of pledging to the spirits for life was not an undertaking that he was ready to assume at the tender age of seven. Instead, upon turning sixteen, Abdul would enroll in medical school not knowing that what he was actually seeking was to learn how to put into action the compassion that he saw in some of the vignettes depicting the lives of his holy companions. There was for example, the scene in which St. Martin of Porres cared for an array of living creatures, including a mouse and cat. Abdul ultimately left medical school to study art, again unaware of the underlying purpose; what he was actually searching for was to find a sanctioned space in society where he could enact old rituals and try out new ones. In art school, he would learn about performance art and he embraced it, thinking he could use this tool to access Spirit when needed, without having to commit full-time. Later on in life, he would go to the seminary. That is when, no longer a young man, he realized that he had trekked thousands of miles, through many continents and islands for more than forty years, while in fact his intention was none other than to somehow regain entry into the bedroom of his childhood. There he would resume his experiments with mystery at the foot of the altar by his bed, next to the sky-blue Princess telephone that he used to keep in touch with other mortals beings just like him. Only now, he was not seven, but almost forty-nine, his old house had been sold, and the blue Princess device was gone for good.
Bronx, NY, winter of 2015