Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ten Days to Go - and How to Mop (or Not)

There are 10 days to go to election day so by the time I write my next blog I will either be the First Lady of Guayacanes and life will changed dramatically, or I won’t be and life will continue in the mountains.

In the meantime I get on with looking after the animals – we have 10 new baby chicks which I have managed to keep alive so far – and working to try and raise campaign money.

I had a visitor a week or so ago, Heather who I have known for years since she lived near Juan Dolio working in the bateys – the sugar cane areas where the Haitian workers and their families live.

She used to come and see us at the weekends for a hot shower, a swim and an Indian curry. She was back in the DR for a week bringing a group of school children to volunteer in the batey and Danilo took a day off from campaigning to bring her up to me. The only problem was that the house was filthy as I have no time to clean and since the neighbour’s chickens keep flying into our garden only to be terminated by the dogs, it is less stress all round for me not to let the dogs outside – which means more mess.

I happened to mention to a neighbour, Angela, that I needed to clean and she said she would come and help, as only a Dominican would. I still had loads of work to do, so my plan was to get the work finished and then clean, especially as I found out that Danilo would pick Heather up at 10pm rather than the agreed 10am – Domininican time.

Angela arrived at 8.30 and told me to leave her to get on with it and she would start upstairs. She explained she would firstly get rid of the dirt and then mop as the floor had to be clean before you mopped. Whatever – all I know is that Dominican mopping leaves floors pristine clean compared to my English mopping. All you need is a mop and a bucket of water with disinfectant and bleach. No fancy squeezy thingies.

So I just carried on working. An hour or so later I saw water pouring into the dog house, then down all the windows, then down the stairs. I went to investigate and Angela said you got the dirt out with water, not with a brush. You just poured water everywhere then swept it outside. The only problem was that all of our ways outside have steps on them to stop the water coming in, and by the time she had finished upstairs and down, we had around 500 gallons of water in the house on the floor and no way of getting it straight out. She pointed out that that was ridiculous that there was no way of sweeping the water out and how on earth did I mop. I explained I mopped the English way and she pointed out that was why the house was not very clean lol.

I suggested the fire brigade, but she told me they didn’t suck water, they squirted it, and anyway they never had any (we could have filled up the truck), so the final solution was 8 hours of mopping, squeezing and using everything we could to get rid of the bloody water. By the time that Heather arrived at midnight, the house was pristine. She brought Chivirico with her too which was an extra bonus

It was lovely to see her but then back to election fever.

Danilo has meetings all this week and is working non stop talking to people - old and young.

On Saturday 7 (unless moved which would not surprise me), he has his closing event which is really important as it will show how much support he has – he still thinks he is well in the lead as long as we can find enough money to get people to the polls on the Sunday. I remember the one six years ago as if it was yesterday (with my nose making an appearance).

There have been a few election hiccups in that having spent millions on scanning machines so that the ballot papers are scanned and then the results announced automatically, no one believes the machines will work so it has now been agreed that the presidential count will also be done manually. So far the votes for senator, deputies and mayors will rely on the machine which is causing great trepidation. I did suggest to Danilo that the people in the election offices should count the votes as they put them into the machine but apparently that is not allowed - they have to put them in without looking at who was market on the ballot paper - which is adding even more doubt to the process.

Should he win, Danilo has decided my job will be as International Adviser – which is a non paid position lol. I will need to work with foreigners to try and help the municipality but I will be looking for ways for people to help themselves.  He is going to reopen a closed down college and I will be looking for volunteers to come and run programs to help the local people especially the youth, to learn at least the beginnings of a trade such as plumbing, mechanics, electrical, computing, anything technical. The positions will be unpaid (lol) but if anyone wants to come from overseas they can stay free with us with free food. After a short training period I want to see if I can then set up apprenticeships with local businesses so that people get jobs and businesses get help and both with the advantage of first world expert training. Maybe I can also work with the government training college Infotep which has a branch in San Pedro.

It will all be very exciting and I can’t wait to get started – just have to wait 10 days to see and cash to get people to the voting station to raise. Watch this space as they say.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How to vote in the Dominican Republic

This will be a long post, as voting in the DR isn’t quite as easy as getting a piece of paper and marking an x in the box. Not by a long way.

The first stage is that you have to be registered to vote. Unlike in some other countries where you receive a letter at the address where you live which you have to send back and then you are added to the electoral roll, where you actually live here has nothing to do with where you vote.

Every adult Dominican has a cedula or identity card which also doubles as a voting card. This is normally issued in the place where you lived when you were 18 and applied for your first cedula and it actually has on it the place you have to vote. When it comes to voting day you either have to return to the address on your cedula to vote, or you change your address. However, the first (of dozens) of voting scams is for the candidate in a particular area to ask all his or her friends or relatives to change the address on their cedulas so they can vote for them.

The new biometric cedula

Unfortunately, when you change address, you obviously have to give an address to the Electoral Office and most just say the High Street in whatever place. It became obvious by the middle of last year that the High Street in certain towns, Pedernales in the south west for example, had been invaded by hundreds of people and in fact most lived in one house, 100, High Street which was a two bedroom house with over 100 people moving in! So by around the middle of last year no one was allowed to change their address on their cedulas to put a stop to that.

The electoral roll is called the padron and has all the names from cedulas. It has apparently been cross referenced against death certificates so should have no dead people on it – but it will of course have all those who died and whose deaths were not registered and all of those who are living abroad, unless they changed their address at the time. This year there are 7,065,817 registered on the padrón and for the first time people will be voting for the president of the country, the senator for the province (32 of those), the deputies for each province (depends on size of province as to how many) and the mayors of each municipality along with the councilors for each municipality. Previously the voting for president happened separately.

So, how will it work on voting day?

There are voting stations around the country, usually but not always situated in local schools. Each voting station has what is called a mesa (table) and this is staffed by local people who are a selection from each party so they can keep an eye on the others for any funny business – which often happens. Each of the candidates will be working flat out to get their supporters to the voting stations as many do not have transport. Buses are rented (each has to have a security guard to stop the opposition voters getting a free ride), motorbikes zoom around picking people up as do cars. Many voters have to be encouraged to come and vote - usually financially. It is a dramatic scramble all day long getting everyone to the relevant voting station – even harder in rural areas with a lack of transport.

However, previously, as this was going on, the opposition would do everything to stop their rivals getting to vote. The easiest way was to buy their cedula as without that they could not vote. The price goes up as the day goes on and it becomes clear who might be in the lead. Canny Dominicans would get a new cedula before voting day came around, with replacements issued free of charge, saying they had lost theirs, so they had one to sell on the day. The price to sell a cedula can be US$100 or more which for most is a lot of money. Once sold not only could that person not vote but the person who bought it could use the cedula and pretend it was them and vote for the person they supported. Once a person entered the voting station, they would hand over the cedula and it would just be checked against the padron without looking too closely at the owner of the cedula.

This year the Electoral Court stopped issuing replacement cedulas months ago so that stopped that ruse, and even better, the new cedulas are biometric and have the owner’s finger print, so no more trying to pretend to be someone else. However, cedulas will still be bought to stop people from voting - it is a choice, you vote for the person you want who may may your life better over the four year term or you gain around US$100 immediately - a simple choice for many.

Once the voter arrives at the voting station it is time to vote, and it is anything but simple. There are three boletas or voting forms. One for the president, one for senators and deputies and one for mayor. Each has a photo of the person to help those who can’t read but every single party is represented and given all the alliances this year you not only mark your cross on who you want as president but also the party they are allied to.

Here is the one for President

This is the actual boleta and has now gone to print. As you can see the same face appears time and time again - President Danilo Medina is in many boxes as is the opposition candidate Luis Abinader. This is because each box is a different party and only a few have their own presidential candidate. So you choose your party and the candidate - but they must be in the same box.

Here the sample for Senators and Deputies

This isn't ready to print yet as they are still discussing who will stand in some areas. As you can see it is much more complicated.

And here the sample for mayors and councilors.

My husband, Danilo will be in box number 19 as that the the party number, PLR and as you can see on the president one, the PLR is also supporting Danilo Medina as president also in box number 19. So on the face of it, the electorate just have to remember the number 19 - which is my birth date so not too hard.

Now, you have to be careful where you mark your X as if it is in the wrong place the vote is null. The vote is also null if the ballot paper is written on, or has a stain on it, if it isn’t signed and stamped, if there are too many crosses or if the voting intention is unclear. All that needs to happen is one of the officials at the table spills a bit of coffee on each one and Bob’s your Uncle – not valid.

Previously, once the voting station was closed, the staff manually counted the votes and filled in what were called Actas, which were then transmitted to the Central Electoral Court. Here is an Acta.

Of course at this stage if their maths was dodgy then anything could happen and everything was hand written, usually in pencil. As you can see from this one below, crossings out and changing figures was very common, When husband Danilo ran last time there were 75 people registered to vote in one particular area, but 81 people voted – even dead people and six unknown people who weren't on the padron.

This time, when people go into vote they have to first use a machine to check their fingerprint and that brings up a copy of their cedula so the person at the desk can check they are the right person. (Yay).

They then complete the ballot papers and those are scanned into a machine and the data kept centrally so all being well, this time there should be much less opportunity for fraud.(Double yay).

The Central Electoral Court says that all the results should be available by midnight. Before you ask, the machines all have back up batteries for when the electricity goes out as with all this technology that could be a disaster.

I must admit this is a major improvement on the previous system and my Danilo is busy running hundreds of training sessions to teach people how to vote. I am sure there will be all sorts of shenanigans as usual, but there should be less. All I know is that on May 15 I will be sitting here in the mountains with bated breath, and maybe a little bottle of rum, waiting for the results.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Cats and Belinda

Life is not getting any easier at the moment unfortunately.

Having depressed you all with the stories of the unfortunate chickens, this blog continues with the cats.

I have had up to 12 cats at one stage but we are now down to only three. The others have departed this life through a whole series of unfortunate and some violent ends over the past 15 years. Some were barbecued for supper by Haitians, one fell down a well, some have died of cancer, one was shot with a 12 bore shotgun as the man did not like him playing with his chickens, one was run over, some were ripped to bits by the dogs, several were poisoned and a few went out one day and never returned so their end is unknown.

Of the three left, Zebedee is the least trouble. He is 14 years old now, son of Matilda and was one of a pair of twins – Zebedee 1 and Zebedee 2. They were inseparable, but number 1 went out a year or so ago and never came back. Zebedee spends his day on the bits of the balcony which are still standing or toasting himself on the satellite TV box when it is switched on.

Zebedee 1

His mother, Matilda is still with us, aged 15 having survived moves all around the country but she is now suffering from the feline equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease. She forgets where she is when she wakes up and emits a blood curdling howl until you explain to her that all is OK. This happens every couple of hours or so, 24 hours a day. She eats her lunch then forgets she has eaten it, and wants food five minutes later. Her latest trick is to sleep on top of the kitchen cupboards, near the ceiling, safe from the boisterous puppies, and then she rolls over and falls off. Somehow she always manages to land on her feet so far.

Matilda with her best mate Belinda

The third member of the feline clan is Mariposa, a tiny grey cat, who is three. She was a happy little bunny until a month ago when she was chased by puppy Grita Mucho into the woods and high up a tree. Now she refuses to leave upstairs and has to be fed there. She has managed to get outside sometimes as you hear a thump out on the dodgy balcony and realize she has jumped out of a bedroom window, but then she has to run the gauntlet of the puppies to get back upstairs again. Danilo put a tree trunk up against the upstairs balcony for her to use but she seems as unimpressed with his attempt at a cat escape mechanism as I was.

Mariposa sleeping in the egg bowl on top of the eggs

The one dog the cats all adore is Belinda, the Great Dane, but that is no more.

I knew she had some sort of heart condition as a couple of weeks ago her heart was beating very fast all of the time, she looked to be losing weight even though eating well and her breathing was fast and labored. Google advised me that it was probably congestive heart failure, common in Danes even though she was only four years old, and suggested a diuretic to get rid of the fluid buildup in her lungs. She had been on the tablets for three days and was perfectly fine. Eating well, leaping over the furniture, playing with the puppies, barking at the neighbours and anything which moved outside. Yesterday afternoon, around 4 ish, she was playing with the puppies as usual, fell over, screamed and was dead. It was over in seconds. I tried CPR but to no avail and kept looking at her to see if maybe she had just fainted - but no.

Belinda helping clean the dishes

I then had to decide what to do with a 130 pound dead Great Dane in the middle of my living room. I called one of my neighbours on the phone and she answered but wasn’t home and told me to go and find her husband – he is the one who used to have the brain tumour. I called Danilo although I don’t know what I expected him to do, and understandably he said go for help to bury her. I locked the other dogs up as no neighbour comes near the house when they are loose and went for help. Two of the neighbours offered to come and help and said as they were elderly they would need a third pair of hands, so off I went to find a third, Berto, who took a little persuading but agreed to come. As I went to find him I noticed ex brain tumour man legging it on his motorbike. When I went back to the two elderly men, one had left, also on his motorbike and the other one, who doesn’t have many teeth, said he had to leave to go to church or something. I bgged him to stay and he shouted Berto who appeared and I took them round to the back of the house with the wheelbarrow. We would have to get Belinda down 10 steps and then wheel her about 800 metres to the dip in the garden which is the animal cemetery.

Problem one was the wheelbarrow had a puncture and was useless. Problem two is they refused to touch her and I wasn’t strong enough to lift her. I offered to try and put her in a few large empty dog food bags, thick plastic and they said no they couldn’t even touch her through plastic and they needed a rope. I had no idea where we had a rope,  so off they went into the garden and came back with palm leaves which they made into a rope, got me to put it around her head with like a long lead, and then they dragged her. They dragged her out of the living room, bounced her carefully down the steps and then dragged her through her adored garden all the way to the dip further down - the two of them walking ahead and Belinda being pulled behind them. They returned quickly and said they had left her there but not actually buried her, so I steeled myself for the task later as there was no way I felt like doing it straight away.

Belinda checking out her territory (before the balcony collapsed)

Danilo had called the boys – my stepsons, unbeknown to me and they turned up about 30 minutes later and went and buried her properly which I was very relieved about.

Belinda looking after Meg's pups

She was a fabulous dog and well loved and I thank her for not putting me through days, weeks or even months of watching her deteriorate as her heart became worse. The house is deadly quiet, I am not sure how long it will take the puppies to start wreaking havoc again mind – at the moment they have been silent since she died.

A major tea towel thief
I was often one to say, “I don’t know what I will do if anything happens to xyz cat or dog,” but now I know. It is very sad but I have learned that I can cope alone if a dog has a heart attack and dies in front of me, it will not always be in an antiseptic vet’s office and you will not always have anyone with you.  I can cope if I am alone and have to deal with the situation, and if I did not have help as I did this time, I know that I can make a rope out of palm leaves and drag a dog through the garden to their grave. You think "I can't," then you realise "I can," and then you can say "and I did".

Belinda had friends from all over the world, several have been sending me pictures of her and messages which I am also very grateful for.  And Danilo, in his Dominican way, said last night, it is past. It is finished, no need to be sad any more. Dominicans have this amazing way of just keeping on trucking.

Talking about Danilo, 42 days to go and the JCE site have fixed their second hand! He is still doing well and a recent online poll put him well in the lead. 

They spelled his name wrong - hope that doesn't happen this time around, but here is praying he gets the same results on the day, And now he has Belinda rooting for him from on high which I know is bound to help.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Pets and Politics

Another month has flown by, although nothing particularly interesting has happened.

I am more or less alone in the campo although Danilo pops home when he can take a break from campaigning. The Central Electoral Office website has a timer ticking down the time left to the elections, and I stare at it watching the seconds going down. As I write this it says 57 days, 13 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. It can’t go fast enough. Having said that it is now stuck and as I was finishing this blog post the bloody thing hasn't moved lol. Goodness, even the elections will be on Dominican time.

Life was becoming pretty stressful with the animals, as I had the mother hen Coja and her baby chicks under the balcony but the stupid chicks kept escaping through the chicken wire and then they couldn’t get back in. So every time I heard frantic cheeping I had to run outside to get them back in, without letting the dogs out in the process. Even worse was when they escaped from under the balcony and went next door into the dog run. Then I had to distract the dogs, close the dog run so they couldn’t murder the chick and then put it back.

The other issue was the escaping puppies, and it did not matter how many times I blocked up holes in the fence, the little buggers always found a way of digging under the fence, ripping my repairs apart or Grita Mucho would simply jump over.  On one of his visits home, Danilo said he would help me to fix the fence so he cut down half a tree and left me with the machete to chop it into fencing. The machete lies where he left it. Apart from the pups escaping, which was always stressful waiting for them to come back, the neighbour’s chickens kept flying into our garden – obviously on suicide missions as none make it out alive.

So as you can imagine, I am sitting at my lap top trying to work and every few minutes running outside to rescue chicks or screaming my head off waving a broom as dogs pull chickens to bits.

Hence I implemented a stress reduction strategy. First I let the mother hen and chicks roam free in the garden and at night they went all by themselves into the cellar to sleep. Sorted.

Then I stopped the dogs going out and had them inside, letting them go out every hour or so for a 5 minute run and pee break. Sorted.  The only problem is that they are bored so there is lots of charging around the house and climbing over furniture.

I tried keeping them in the dog pen but that just results in major howling sessions and Grita can climb over the fence and escape. Should change her name to Houdini. She also needs to stay in at night now, to stop her escaping and has a nasty habit of picking up whatever she can find and throwing it off the upstairs balcony which means every morning is a trek around the garden to pick up knickers, cushions and other assorted items. At least she doesn’t chew them which is more than can be said for her destructive brother, Sweepy who to date has destroyed one television remote control, two phone chargers, around 10 packets of cigarettes, roll upon roll of toilet paper, a few books, some bars of soap, January to March of my diary, a roll of sellotape, umpteen electricity bills and seven cushions. He is currently working his way through the rattan furniture.

And my hen and chicks plan went perfectly for a few days until the chicks started disappearing one by one. There are now none left. I think the culprit is probably Sukin's cat who comes into our house at night to eat any cat food he can find, as he now has no home, but is obviously hungry. Still I have no proof, so he is innocent until proved guilty although the neighbours are losing chickens too and I know it isn't my dogs as they are all inside.

So, not long to go until life gets back to normal although at the moment I have no idea what normal will be. Danilo is confident he will win – but then he was last time, and he says this time is different. He is top of the polls so all we have to do is keep him there which means I have to be in major fund raising mode.  The guy in second place is with the PRM which is a new party, split off from the old opposition party and the current mayor is in third place. The party Danilo is now with, PLR have agreed to support the current president, Danilo Medina which is good news so we are keeping everything crossed. More posters have been done,

Not sure it looks like him mind, seems to have stretched his head a little.

Fifty seven days until May 15th, doesn't seem that long really.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Teach me to keep my mouth shut

I had just finished blogging a couple of days ago saying how quiet it was. Idiot. I pressed published and all hell broke loose.

Danilo put all of the hens and roosters in houses at the front of the house to make it easier for me to feed them and less chance of the puppies murdering them. However one black hen, called Coja (lame) as she limps was sitting on eggs in the wood next to the house. Every two days at 10 am precisely she comes to the back door to be fed and watered and then scuttles back into the woods. This day she did not turn up.

I finished blogging and all of the dogs went onto the precarious balcony and were barking at something. I assumed there was a cow in the garden and really was not looking forward to herding it and its mates but when I looked everywhere, there was no sign of any cows. In the end I went out to investigate and there were 10 chicks just in front of the balcony and Coja inside.

The balcony has a wrap around dog house that starts at the front of the house and goes all the way round. We boarded it up at the back and cut a hole in the wire and use it as an extra hen house.

Coja sensibly wanted the chicks inside but as it has a concrete step at the bottom, the chicks couldnt get up to get through the wire. I got some celery and laid a trail for Coja to get her outside, through the opening which there is now, and put a bread board there as a ramp for the chicks. Slowly one or two started to go in. I went back inside and heard cheeping and one stupid chick had somehow made it onto the dog side of the run. Dash into dog run and rescue said chick and went back outside to put in inside the run. Coja was in the far corner with a couple of chicks, so I scooped the others up and put them in with her. I could still hear cheeping and lo and behold, Sweepy the puppy is in the garden with a chick in his mouth. Run over and rescue chick who looks pretty badly injured and put it back in the run with mum.

There are eight black and brown chicks and two yellow ones, and it was one of the yellow ones Sweepy had got at. The problem is it can't walk now and flaps its wings to try and get a little momentum which works unless it is stuck behind a wooden pillar. When it can't get to mum it cheeps at the top of its voice, so I have to run outside and rescue it. Given that I cannot get into the hen house I have devised a series of handy scoops to scoop it up and then deposit it where mother hen is. One is a margarine tub on a piece of string so I can put the chick in the tub and then lower it down on top of mum and jiggle till it falls out. I can only use that thought if the chick is close to the fence and I can get my hand in. If not I use useful chick scooping tool number two, which is a kitchen sieve taped to a broom handle so I scoop it in that and then transfer to the margarine tub.

I am pleased to announce that chick is still alive and now appears to have one leg working so is even getting around better.

In the meantime Sweepy continues to be a pain, escaping hourly from the garden and looking hungrily at the chicks. Given his mum is brown and his dad white I have no idea why he looks like a black German Shepherd and  at five months old he is bigger than both of them and the most disobedient dog I have ever known. I really cannot believe how he could be so cute as a little pup and now such a monster who has a total mind of his own and adores eating chickens.

Now time to head off to the colmado up the road. I laugh every time I walk up there as I pass this place...

An elderly man used to live in a wooden house here, which was built on top of the concrete base you see. He died and as is normal he left his house and possessions to his kids. But he didn't own the land, so they just came with a flat bed truck, took the house down, plank by plank and off they went. At least they ended up with a house!

Monday, February 1, 2016

A successful launch

Danilo's launch as candidate for mayor for Guayacanes with his new party, the PRL went well. Apparently there were over 3,000 people there which is almost everyone who lives in the municipality.

He was even emblazed across women's chests.

And Bavarotty sang.

He actually does sing opera - well sort of opera, but I don't think Pavarotti has anything to worry about. I don't have a video of him at the launch but here he is along with the obligatory female boobs and buttock shaking and him crotch clutching. If it doesn't work embedded you can watch him here.

The latest polls give Danilo over 80% so if he can keep it up he may even win and while he is away being famous, I stay at home and look after the animals. Well, I don't do a particularly good job as I seem to lose a few chickens each time he is away. This time one of the neighbour's fighting cockerels escaped and got into our back garden and fought with our nice tame cockerel. This happened at around 6.30 in the morning so I ran outside and yelled for the neighbour to come and get his rooster, which he did. He also picked up our rooster and tried to hand it to me covered in blood. I don't do holding roosters and especially not when covered in blood. Also I have no idea how to cure them, so I told him to keep hold of it and make it better. He first said it was dying, then it was fine, just appeared to have lost its eyes. In the event he had lost only one eye and recovered.

Apart from that little incident it was actually quite a quiet time, and Danilo came back for a while to do the jobs which needed doing such as to fix the water pump (he had to call a man to fix it) and mend the fence so the puppies could not escape (puppies took 5 minutes to escape again).

I also had an American visitor who came for a couple of days which was lovely, and she came laden down with dried mushrooms, Indian spices and dog treats and toys.

The blog is now being translated into Spanish a couple of days after the English version has been posted so if you want to read it in Spanish you can do so here. The same person who translates the blog is also translating the book into Spanish which is very exciting, and really wierd to read it in Spanish. One chapter done so far and ten to go.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The crazy life goes on

Ooops sorry again for taking so long. Usual excuse too busy. Plenty to update you with so prepare for a long read, with few photographs as my camera has decided not to work any more. Hopefully a new memory card will do the trick.

The run up to Christmas was crazy busy with work and Danilo up and down to the south coast campaigning. We thought we might actually cancel Christmas due to a shortage of funds but a kind donor provided the cash so I did the usual British Christmas lunch and the kids turned up. I didn't bother putting  up the tree as the three puppies are at that full on destructive stage, so it would have lasted five minutes.

One of my favourite pastimes is sitting on the balcony with my morning coffee but that pleasure has been taken away from me, as the usual superb Dominican workmanship was short lived.

Not only are the floor boards breaking but so is the balustrade.

It is seriously wobbly and so needs to be replaced - I assume with concrete but not sure when that will happen.

Christmas came and went, and then I had two lots of visitors, both from overseas with their Dominican partners. Not only is it nice to speak in English for a while but the visitors always come laden with goodies, so my chocolate supply has been restocked for a while.

Chivirico decided that he did not want any presents this year from Santa but that he wanted to play Santa and instead of having a sack for him, he wanted to hand gifts out to poor children on Kings' Day which is January 6, the day children traditionally receive their gifts here. We had some lovely donations and off he set to hand out gifts.

Don't think I am being creative here, I just can't get the pictures to go where I want them to!

So, back to politics which is having a major impact on my life as Danilo is having to spend more time campaigning than he is here. Now I have no problems at all being on my own, but it has its challenges.

Firstly the car. My beloved jeep.

I don't know if you remember but it broke down around six months ago. They said the pistons broke but it has taken me ages to save up the cash to fix it.  The piston broke as beloved husband drove in in second gear for miles - as he can only use first and second in a manual car. He can't do the jiggly bit to put it into third. So the local mechanic says RD$30,000 to fix which is a fortune, around U$700 and which we don't have. The jeep sits there for four months as I try to save the money and meanwhile I walk. Everywhere. No taxis or motoconchos here. Then Danilo announces he has a mechanic to fix it and off it goes but it appears this mechanic couldn't fix it as he was born after jeep was built. So Danilo finds a man who actually works with Mitsubishi engines - perfect he thinks. The jeep returned on Christmas Eve with Saya (number one dwendy) who went to pay the final amount which was more than I would have paid locally. I checked everything as have learned to trust no mechanic. Windscreen wipers. No only do they not work, which they didn't when the car went in, there are no wipers anymore! Exhaust had to be soldered - wasn't, was tied on with wire. Coil appears to have disappeared and has been replaced with hand made one! White smoke pouring out of the back as it appears the mechanic didn't know it was a petrol engine and put diesel in it. And for the icing on the cake, a new oil filter was fitted, but no oil was replaced. Saya drove it over 150 miles with no oil. I filled it up with oil but there are still clouds of white smoke and I have been told that it is fine, the smoke will go, and I don't need windscreen wipers as there isn't much rain.

So I sort of have transport but I daren't go far in case the lack of oil caused serious damage, nor on main roads as the white smoke continues to pour out of the back.

And then there was the earthquake. I was sitting at my desk working and it sounded like a train was coming. The dogs all ran in, and I went to run out to see why there was a train coming as there are no trains here, and I promptly fell over as the floor was moving. Then, all the windows shook, bottles flew off the kitchen counters and once I made it outside I was met with a massive dust cloud. My first and I hope my last earthquake. It was only a 4.6 but the epicentre was not far from me, around 10 miles northwest.

As I mentioned in the last blog, Danilo is now candidate for the PRL party, which also supports Danilo Medina to be president again. This is his new poster.

He planned a major launch for the new campaign and I was a bit surprised to get the poster for that.

Yes it involved some sort of concert with the main artist being none other than Bavarotty, and yes he does sing sort of opera amongst rapping.

The launch was a success, with three quarters of the electorate turning out for it so so far so good. Apologies again for the delay, must do better,