Sunday, August 7, 2016

Motherless in the Mountains

Doesn't quite have the same ring as Sleepless in Seattle but hey ho.

It is amazing how many children here are brought up without their mothers. I cannot imagine life without my mother, and we talk every day on Skype.

Danilo was brought up without his mother, she found another man and his father took Danilo and his older brother Biembo to live in the mountains above Barahona. Danilo was aged 4. It is tradition in this country that if parents split up, the boys usually go with the father and the girls with the mother. However, if the father has the boys and he finds another woman, she often does not want another woman's child so they go to the father's parents - as in the case of Chivirico being brought up by his grandparents since his mother left when he was a few weeks old.

Chivirico and his grandmother

And Danilo's first two sons were also left by their mother when the youngest was 3 weeks old, as she found another man. Danilo's mother brought them up until she died a couple of years later, and then it was down to him. Even his third child, with another woman, was left by his mum with Danilo for a couple of years until she came back to collect him and take him to Spain.

Danilo and the three boys 2002

Mind you they have changed a bit now

We now have Albert living with us. Yet again, his mother does not want him, and his father isn't able to look after him, although he lived with him until he was 7. Often if the father cannot pay child support, the mother simply hands over the child, which is what happened in this case, and the father is Danilo's half brother but since he had a stroke he cannot manage Albert.

All of those boys without mothers looking after them. And when I see what a delight these boys are and what they have done and will do with their lives, I feel sorry for their mothers who do not know what pleasure and pride they have missed out on. And I really do not understand how they could do what they did.

It even happens to chickens. One of our hens died, leaving a load of chicks, and others look after the first few which hatch, but then if the more eggs hatch  a couple of days later they don't want to know them, so we have to take them away before the mother kills them. So we now have loads of motherless chicks - but at least they all keep each other warm at night in a plastic container.

I felt like I was looking at a picture of four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie last night.

The pups have all gone apart from one so the house is relatively free of poo and pee. We ended up keeping one - as she hid when the others left so she obviously wants to stay. She spends all day long finding things to take and hide - so methinks she could be trouble - Miss Brown Nose.

And finally, I sometimes come across other blogs which I enjoy and this is one I recommend you look at. It is written by an American lady who lives in Sosúa on the north coast, who describes herself as a nice Jewish girl. I think she is a lot more than that, and she too documents her experiences in the country - some of which bear remarkable resemblance to mine - including exploding Dominican Pyrex in the oven. Enjoy 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hello Zika

The whole election shenanigans are coming to an end. The court sort of went to sleep even though the delegates signed a paper to say they were not present at the count, so the local electoral court had forged their signatures. So no result to all our work. But we are now suing for fraud in the civil courts and looking for compensation. I don't hold out much hope but we will keep on fighting.Unfortunately the people of Guayacanes, most of whom voted for Danilo are stuck with a mayor who did nothing and who will do nothing. It really is a travesty of justice and they are the ones who will suffer.  In the meantime, word is on the street that to "apologise" for cheating and fraud,  the government will give Danilo and some of his team a job - on August 16 the new government takes power and all of the jobs change. I will believe it when it happens.

While waiting for University to start again, Danilo has been clearing the land. We have like four or five acres which became overgrown as he was off campaigning and given the drought last year most of it was dead. Anyway as he cleared it he found four grapefruit trees, an orange tree, two mango trees, and avocado tree and a guanabana (soursop) tree. They all look pretty healthy so hopefully they will deliver fruit in a year or two.

I was feeling pretty tired last week, which isn't usual for me, and pains in my hands were waking me up in the night. I was a little concerned I had arthritis or rheumatism and hands are essential when you are typing all day long. Then, a week or so ago I got up and felt worse. Eyes were bright red and sticky, hands and feet hurt and I was covered with a rash from head to toe. Well hello Zika! I have escaped dengue since I have been here, which is just as well as I have had it twice - once in Singapore aged 8, and once in St. Lucia when it was hemorrhagic dengue. The third time will be even worse. I also escaped Chikunguya so I can't moan just getting Zika. It was gone within five days and I was all back to normal, but loads of people seem to have it at the moment.

We were having problems with our Sky satellite TV as the signal kept going in and out, so Danilo decided it was because the trees in the mahogany wood next door were too high. Easy to fix, just take shoes off, put machete between teeth and climb 60 feet up a thin swaying tree with no safety gear and lop top off

He is there in the middle of the picture

At the top of the tree some 60 - 70 feet above the ground

When he reached the top, he lopped the top off (hoping that the Ministry of the Environment would not appear as you can't cut trees down without permission - especially mahogany trees) and then I noticed the satellite wasn't pointing anywhere near that tree! A day later the Sky satellite stopped working all together, called Sky in Mexico where I didn't understand a word as Mexican Spanish might as well be Chinese, but Sky man turned up today and fixed it all. No need to cut down any more trees.

The pups are growing - looking super cute but should go to new homes soon. Maybe apart from Lobita

Friday, July 8, 2016

Life goes on

I promised to update you on the building projects.

The first is the new hen house - well, the hen apartment building really. We had to move the hens around to the back of the house to stop the dogs getting to them and to try and prevent the neighbour's chickens coming in to visit. I had no problem with them visiting, but the dogs didn't appreciate it, and the chickens usually did not make it home after their trip.

I have to say that recycling took on a totally new level. Adios balcony.

Hello chicken apartment building

It is in the back garden just behind the barbecue, which will be useful if we want fresh roast chicken, but he ran out of wood so used one of his campaign posters. Now call me Mrs. Sensitive, but do I really want to see a campaign poster every single time I look out of the window - I think not. At least it blends in as it is green.

There are four chicken apartments.

Each one has a food and water bowl, a stick to perch on and a nesting area, as each one has a cockerel and a hen. Once the hens are sitting on eggs, the cockerel gets moved to another apartment - he had to build another four! We also now have a nursery apartment where the mum and chicks can go once they are born. Impressive or what?

As I mentioned the election I will update you. The fat lady hasn't sung yet, but I think she is in the dressing room putting on her make  up. We have had weeks of backwards and forwards to court, providing proof that Danilo's and others' delegates were not allowed in for the count. The latest is that, without going into detail at this stage, it appears that the delegates signatures were forged and today, supposedly, all of those involved will be interrogated. Hopefully we should know if there will be a recount by early next week - although to be honest it is getting a little late in the day. The fight goes on. We also have a case going through the Constitutional court, but given that all the judges change on August 16 when the new administration comes in, no one seems to be doing much work.

Life is not particularly easy at the moment, it has to be said. Danilo's car broke - yet again and it seems it needs yet another transmission - a mere US$1,000. How a car needs a new transmission every 12 months is beyond me, but mechanics here are a law unto themselves. Most don't have a clue, and they are experts in saying that they have bought a new piece and they haven't. I always say let them give you the receipt for the new piece, but apparently things aren't done that way. Anyway the car is fixed but we can only have it back when we have paid for it - which may take a little while.

In the meantime the gas for cooking ran out as I was making pizza the other night. No car, no taking gas tank to be filled around five miles away and here there are no motoconchos. Danilo leapt into action, collected wood and said we now cook outside on the barbecue. I was extremely suspicious. it is one thing using a wood fired oven to cook a pizza and another to put it on a barbecue. My concerns were justified as I looked out of the window and saw the pizza on fire. (It was very dark).

In the event it was delicious and had a lovely smokey flavour.

And the following day, it was back out to the fogon to make fish soup, and by now I was getting the hang of controlling the temperature by pushing the logs in (they are set up in a star formation) to increase the heat and pulling them out to decrease the heat. Not sure we will go back to a proper stove now!

The house has also been full, as we have Danilo's nephew living with us, 10 year old Albert who used to live with stepson Alberto, but as Alberto has lost his job in the Free Zone as the factory has closed they couldn't afford to feed him, so he is now here. The days of kids eating everything in the fridge have returned unfortunately, but this time I am older and wiser so he has his own shelf in the fridge and everything else is off limits. Chivirico was also here for a couple of weeks, which made Danilo very happy to have two little dwenditos to follow him everywhere.

And the kids managed to amuse themselves by making catapults and traps to  catch whatever with long strings on them. They sit in the garden for ages, waiting for something to come in the trap so they can pull the string. Luckily they have caught nothing so far.

And to end on a mixed note. Matilda, my 15 year old cat, who never went outside, disappeared a couple of months ago, never to be seen again. She was not ill, but did have Alzheimer's. I looked for weeks but no sign.

But as one life ends, another begins, and Grita Mucho had 4 pups. Four more little huskitas, just over a week old. Mother and pups doing well.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Fight goes On

Once again I have been waiting to update you until I had definite news, but having had emails from irate and impatient readers who are desperate for news, I apologise but not much has happened on the election front.

Danilo came home, exhausted and depressed but threw himself into a long list of jobs I had for him which I will post about later, including building new hen houses, fixing fences, fixing the leaking roof, mopping Dominican style and a whole range more.

In the meantime the fight goes on and he has been gathering all of the proof of the fraud including witness depositions and video evidence and this has all been submitted to the court asking for a recount of the votes under strict scrutiny. The people of Guayacanes continue to be outraged but he has asked them to stay calm while he tries to resolve everything by legal means. If that does not work I have no idea what will happen next, but in a country which is trying to improve the education of children and teach them right from wrong - not to steal, lie, threaten, bribe, carry out fraud and cheat - one would hope that the government would believe in the same values. Maybe too much to hope.

The hearing should have been Wednesday, then Thursday and now tomorrow - but who knows. As soon as I know anything I will let you know.

Meanwhile he is here most of the time which is nice for me, and to be honest just as well as I got in the shower the other day, and while turning the water on, this is what I saw

The tiles are 8 inches square just to give you an idea. I leapt out of the shower and luckily although Danilo happened to be in Guayacanes at the time, submitting all of the court documents he arrived home as my knight in shining armour  a few hours later and rescued me.

Now if you can't see very well you can see the little darling here on the brush and a million thanks to a very nice lady who sent me a fandabbydozy camera which takes great pics - and will be better when I learn how to use it properly.

Anyway it grabbed onto the broom and he put it outside in the woods. Today it is like four days later and the little sod returned and was waiting for me, swimming in the toilet when I went for a pee.

It was very much alive and swimming away so hopefully Danilo has put it back in the woods again and told it to stay there.

I will try and update in a few days with his building projects as well as the latest on the election front.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Election Results - sort of

Well I am sure you have all been waiting for news of the elections. The good news is that Danilo won. The bad news is that they took it away from him.

Let me explain. There are 17 of what they call mesas, or tables. One in each of the smaller communities and in the larger ones there are up to four. People vote, fold their votes up and put them in the ballot box. At the end of the day, which was supposed to be 6 pm but they extended it to 7 pm and only announced it on television and given no televisions in the voting centres the staff had no idea, they count the votes.

This year, for the first time it was supposed to be electronic counting in that the votes should be scanned and put through a machine which took the count directly to the Central Electoral Court (JCE). But…. some of the voting centres had no electricity, most had no internet, some had no idea how to use the machine and some didn’t know the password, so in the end the counting was done manually and the law says that the manual count would override the electronic count.

Danilo won every single one of the 17 tables. How did he know? In each voting centre each candidate has a delegate to check there is no funny business, along with a member of the local Electoral Court. He didn’t just win by a little, he won by miles. As the votes are submitted to the JCE they issue bulletins. In the first bulletin, with over 11% of votes counted, Danilo was in the lead with 33.23% of the votes. Second was Noel with 23.42% ( he is with the PRM) and third the current mayor with 22.47%. Danilo was around 10 percentage points in the lead.

Then everything went horribly wrong. As the votes for each centre are counted they are entered onto what is called an Acta. These are taken to the main office in Guayacanes for sending on to the JCE. All of the delegates went to the main office in Guayacanes with the ballot papers and the Actas, and the Head of the local Electoral Court submitted the first bulletin. He could see from the other Actas that Danilo had won by miles. He told the staff it had been a long day and to go home and they would finish off in the morning. When they returned in the morning the Actas had all been changed, new bulletins issued and votes had been taken off Danilo and given to the existing mayor. The people in the local Electoral court should be supervised by the candidates or their delegates to see again no funny business. But when the office was closed, in the middle of the night, the members of the local electoral court went in, with members of the existing local government and changed the numbers on the Actas. By the following morning the existing mayor was in the lead with 31% of the votes and Danilo had crashed down to 22%.

Impossible. He complained along with all of the other candidates, they went on television, they went to court and the case was ruled inadmissible. In addition the JCE have now forbidden any recounts or any rechecking of the Actas.

This happened in another 29 municipalities throughout the country. People are complaining, burning local election offices down. Their votes are worth nothing. You all know I love this country, but here there is no democracy. Guayacanes had the chance to have a mayor who would do all he could to improve the lives of the people there, and they voted for him. But due to the local head of the electoral court and the massive corrupt nature of the current mayor their votes were worth nothing. There is no point in having elections here, just a huge waste of time and money. There is no point in having an electoral judiciary as they are incapable of delivering justice.

So what happens now? Well apparently the Head of the local Electoral Court is in a bit of a jam and he has told the Central Electoral Court that he has no experience of dealing with fraud of this magnitude so he has asked for help and for someone from the JCE to come and take over. Throughout the country members of the local Electoral Courts are in fear of their lives. If he tells the truth about what happened, the current mayor will be very cross, if he lies, all the other candidates will be very cross.

We, along with the other candidates have a new lawyer who appears to be confident that he can ensure there are new elections. It has never happened before so I am not as confident, but maybe at the very least we can ensure a recount – assuming the ballot papers do not disappear in the meantime.

So we wait and see. Across the country there are protests, complaints, hunger strikes and riots. And the new government has said not a word. Danilo Medina had an overwhelming victory but has not commented at all on what happened. Maybe he is just hoping it will go away, and given the impossibility of fighting the system here, it probably will.

The losers in this are the people of Guayacanes. In the last 6 years there has been zero development and a massive increase in crime. Things will only get worse, and unfortunately even though they tried to change it and vote Danilo in they were simply crushed by fraud and corruption.

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.