Friday, December 30, 2011

The creature from the deep

I am very lucky in having a husband who cooks. Yesterday he cooked chicken soup for lunch. This is a thick hearty soup full of Dominican vegetables such as yuca, potatoes, guineo (normal bananas but unripe and green), yautia (root vegetable), yam and pumpkin.  It is flavoured with fresh coriander, celery and the essential Maggi stock cube or two and  liquid seasoning (orange stuff in a plastic pot full of salt and E numbers). The chicken is cut into pieces together with the bones, which aren't taken off before you eat it.

So there I am happily slurping my way through my chicken soup, when suddenly, from beneath the vegetables, a foot rises up from the broth, just like some sort of monster from the deep. A massive knobbly chicken's foot. I half expected it to jump out of the bowl and grab me round the neck.  I know that chicken have feet, but I would rather see them where they belong, on the end of the chickens' legs strutting around the streets in the barrio, than lying in wait for me under a pile of vegetables.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sensible place to put a tap - not.

I have another neighbour, also called vecina (neighbour), which makes it easy as I don't have to remember names.  She lives to the left of us, two houses down.  She was away visiting her daughter for a while and someone stole the water pipes to her house. Understandably she was a tad miffed, so bought some new pipes and the vecino (male neighbour) from over the road dug up the road and put the pipes in for her. I wasn't convinced that he was a qualified plumber as he dug a channel in the road with his machete, and stuck the pipes together using the flame from a candle. Anyway, problem solved one would think.  No. She didn't have the money for enough pipe so the pipe stops outside my gate. He fitted a tap and now when she wants water she just comes to the front of my gate, turns the tap and fills up her buckets - as do a whole range of people!  She has promised that when she can afford it she will buy the rest of the pipe, so that we can drive the car out without breaking her pipe and tap.  I think I may be marooned here for a while.

And the second slight technical hitch is that the vecino didn't do a very good job with his jointing of the pipes.  He did the work when the street water was off, which it is often and when it came back on, almost immediately there was a leak.  A big leak, in fact a fountain,and so we now have a river in front of the house.  Obviously the method of sealing water pipes with a candle is somewhat suspect. The water board wont fix it as they didn't do it, the vecino has gone away to family for Christmas, and so to leave the house now we have to don wellington boots, as we can't get the car out without breaking her pipe!  Happy days.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas lunch - with apologies to fellow blogger Piglet in Portugal

My neighbours are lovely people. Lala is 80 years old and has 16 children and her husband Michael is a 72 year old toyboy. They live just around the corner and their little wooden house backs on to our side wall. Every morning when I go to the local colmado (shop) they are sitting on their front porch, cleaning rice or shelling peas or just chatting. Lala always invites me onto the porch for a chat and   never lets me leave without giving me some vegetables - plantains, a slice of pumpkin or a cupful of peas.  She knows my name but always calls me Doña Vecina which means Lady Neighbour!

This morning, at around 9 am there was a dreadful screaming coming from her house, and my husband told me they were killing a pig. Dominicans celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve, with the most important components being family and food - usually pork. 

I love pork, but I really do like to buy my meat in little trays, covered in plastic, in the cold section of the supermarket. Even after living here for 10 years,   I do not like to think that pork was once a little pink piglet, even though of course I know it was.  

No chance of getting away from the fact here, as I saw when I walked past her house a couple of hours ago.  One pig is all ready for the fire pit and the other is hanging around waiting for his turn, just next to the wall which separates our houses.

As I walked through the barrio, every so often I could hear more pigs squealing, as they went to the big pig sty in the sky, and when they start to cook them, later tonight, the air will be full of the rich smell of roasted pork, all ready for the festivities tomorrow.

Happy Christmas from the Dominican Republic!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Help! There is a pterodactyl living in my bedroom.

If you live here you have no choice but to get used to creepy crawlies.  I actually think I do quite well with rats and snakes and mosquitoes in that I don’t dissolve into hysterics when I see them.  And not all creepy crawlies are nasty. There are the nice ones like geckos which I try to encourage into the house to eat the mosquitoes, and I even give them names as they tend to hang around for a while.  I must admit to disliking cockroaches, as I am sure everyone does, especially the flying ones. They are hard to kill, as I read somewhere that if you stamp on them then eggs come out of some part of them and instead of one you end up with hundreds.  There must be some sort of spray that can penetrate their tank like shells, but the one the colmado sells is no use at all, in fact when you spray the cockroaches they lift up their wings and think you are giving them a spray of deodorant.  I am also not partial to the tarantulas that appear in the summer.  They are the size of side plates and exceedingly furry.  I know they are supposed to be nice and also eat mosquitoes, but I read somewhere else that they pull the hairs out of their bottom and throw them at you.  I haven’t actually seen it happen as when they wander into the house I don’t hang around to watch this particular party trick, but you can’t be too careful.

I particularly dislike flappy things.  Like pterodactyls.  And one has moved into the bedroom.  It has been there a week now and though I have never actually seen it move, it is always in a different place in the morning so it must move during the night which is a somewhat scary thought.  The bedroom ceiling is very high therefore I cannot get my husband to catch it and take it outside. So it is just living there on the wall above the macheted pine cabinet. And before you start thinking that it is just a little moth, it is enormous – about 7 or 8 inches from wingtip to wingtip and it has this thing poking out of its head, like a blood sucking proboscis.  Are there such things as vampire moths?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Barrio Christmas Tree

You wouldn't really know it was Christmas here. No houses have trees in the windows; no twinkling lights anywhere; no one is rushing around buying Christmas presents. There are not piles of Christmas cards on the door mat every morning. Mind you, I have my one and only card from my mother in England. She addressed it to the gringa with the big dogs and then the name of the town! The post man - who I had no idea we had - said it took him a week to find me! To be honest I was amazed it ever arrived.

But the barrio has made a little effort. We have a Christmas tree! It is in the middle of the road and is not like any Christmas tree I have ever seen. It is made of a plastic tube with chicken wire around it and concrete blocks to keep it in place. It has lights, and a wire comes out of the top and is attached to the overhead lines so it lights up at night - when there is electricity. The man sitting on the beer crate outside the colmado (convenience store) told me that it is beautiful when the lights come on at night! Definitely the strangest tree I have ever seen - has anyone seen one stranger than this?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making Life Easy

Dominicans on the whole like making life easy for themselves, which on the face of it is a good thing. Nobody wants a difficult life. But what this means in practice can be very frustrating for their first world partners. It means never checking in the fridge to see if there is an open can of tomato paste, just open a new one and put it half empty back in the fridge to join the other seven half empty ones there. It means never putting the lid back on anything properly, place it on the top but don't bother to screw it down. It means never emptying the bucket of the dirty mop water, never picking up beer bottle caps when flipped off whilst opening the bottle. Never drying the dishes and putting them away, just take them from the draining board when you need them. The teenagers are worst. My stepson washes the dishes at night, and it is hard work washing the pan which the rice was in as it has to be burned on the bottom - the concon - the
favourite part of the rice. He would no more dream of washing it up than flying to the moon, as it takes some effort to get it clean. The easy option is to leave it to soak in the hope that someone else will wash it up, or to hide it in the oven or a cupboard. Out of sight out of mind. At least he no longer throws the dirty pans in the bin as he did when he was much younger.

And it doesn't just apply to your nearest and dearest - the workmen are the same. I recently
had satellite TV transferred from the old house to this one. The man drilled the hole in the wall for the cable half way up the wall for some bizarre reason. He then had three choices; take the cable to the ceiling and make a nice neat line along the line where the ceiling joins the wall; option two to do the same on the floor and round the bathroom door frame. And option three was just to leave it where it was and go in a straight line along the wall, drape over the bathroom door and hence to the television.

Yes, he chose option three.

Our television was fried a while ago when too many people connected illegally to our electricity. A friend of mine offered me a 30 inch TV so I called my husband and asked him to measure the space in the unit we had for the television. He assured me it would fit. It didn't.
So he had three options too. Firstly to give to television back and get one that did fit. Secondly to put the television in a different place. Thirdly to take a machete and hack a massive hole in the purpose built, beautiful pine unit.

I wonder if you guessed which option he took.

I am all for not making life harder than it needs to be, but sometimes the easy route drives me mad!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The dustbin man cometh

I suppose for my North American readers I should firstly explain that the dustbin man is the garbage man, well I think that might be what you call it!

He comes once a week and beeps his horn so that you know to take the rubbish outside. The rubbish is kept in a tanque - the blue one you can just see in the picture - and you have to keep it inside the gates or the street dogs will have a field day distributing its contents all over the street, and someone will steal the actual bin. Most people have empty rice sacks for their rubbish so we are quite posh.

The dustbin man expects a tip - 50 pesos which is just over a dollar. If you don't tip him he stops coming. The other day they came to the house and I was in the shower, so my husband told them I wasn't in and it is usually me who pays them. Today they saw me outside the corner shop and followed me down the street in order to get their tip. It wasn't even the right day,the bin was empty and I am not used to being chased by dustbin men!

In England a lot of people have bins on wheels called, intelligently enough, wheelie bins. As recycling is the norm, you have a different bin for different things - one for paper, one for bottles etc. Now although we do not have formal recycling here, the dustbin men are very good at sorting through your rubbish. They examine every bin carefully, putting the bottles in one area of their truck as they can sell them, plastic containers go in another, and they also look for food, going through all the plastic bags. When Tyson, my Great Dane, was castrated on our dining room table, I put his testicles in a plastic bag and threw them in the bin. Yes, you have guessed it, following the standard investigation of bin contents the dustbin men kept Tyson's bits. I have no idea what happened to them - but I hope whoever ate them enjoyed them.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The good news and the sad news

The good news is that Zebedee One has arrived in the new house and has stayed here for 3 days so I assume he is home to stay. Now I have all the cats present and correct. Here in the picture he is asleep with his brother and cojo who is my three pawed black cat. He was born with only three paws but it doesn't seem to bother him and he hops around quite happily.

The sad news is the harsh reality of living in a third world country. Whilst most of the time I love living here, there are times when the lack of education and knowledge and facilities hits me
hard. There is only one vet here and he is very responsive, will come to the house if you call him, seems to really care for the animals, but I really am not sure how much he knows. In this picture are my four dogs. The little Malinois puppy died about a year ago. His diagnoses ranged from poisoning, to depression, to gastro enteritis and even diabetes. His treatment didn't work and she died. He said that the half pitbull next to her had a benign tumour. She lost weight rapidly and died. The one on the far left, Sophie, died last night. He said it was an infection and she had a raging temperature. Her temperature was 102 which is normal for dogs although he insisted it should be the same as humans. He gave her an injection to lower her temperature and then rechecked it, but wouldn't let me see the thermometer. He said it had tumbled to normal! It is always very sad when you lose a beloved pet, but when you have a feeling that had the vet known what he was doing, the animal maybe would not have died, it makes it ten times worse.

Most of the Dominicans have total faith in the vets and indeed the medical profession, but some of the things I hear doctors and vets say just make my toes curl. Tomorrow I will go and see the vet to pay the bill. I will present him with information that explains what a dogs temperature should be. I am not sure he will thank me for it, but it needs to be done.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Matilda has moved out

The biggest trauma of moving house recently was moving the cats. I have always been a cat person and have had them ever since I moved here. Unlike in the UK, where once you had a cat it would be with you until the end of its natural life, it is a tad more dangerous here. I have lost several to the dogs who have an intense dislike of being spat at by cats, maybe as Dominicans say that cat spit in your eye turns you blind. When it happens they tend to have a game of tug of war with the offending cat and the cat invariably loses - permanently. I have lost another cat down the well, and only realised when the shower water had a most unpleasant smell and we had to haul the offending animal out of the well in a bucket. The final problem they have is that they get caught and barbecued. Apparently they taste a bit like chicken and it is best to eat them picante, like goat. There was actually a chap where I used to live called Comegato (cat eater) and after he had eaten a cat he would put its head around his neck on a piece of string. Charming. Anyway, I had 9 cats to move here.. In the end two were left behind as we couldn't find them - Zebedee One who was a big neutered ginger tom and Guerrero who is a grey tom with all his equipment intact. As the new house is close to the old one, every day I went back to look for them but no joy.

After a few days Zebedee Two - brother of Zebedee One, and identical - left the new house and went back to the old house to look for his brother. I was hopeful he would find him and bring him back here. After another week Guerrero turned up at the new house, which I thought was very intelligent as he had never been here before. Then Zebedee Two came back and for some reason the dogs murdered him. It was strange as he was normally fine with the dogs. I was really upset and stepson put him in a plastic bag and went off under strict instructions to bury him properly in a nice place. Two days later I went back to the old house, and there, sitting in the garden was Zebedee Two. The dead cat. Only he was very much alive. I had a chat with him and told him to come back to the new house and to bring his brother with him. On my way home my new neighbour stopped me and asked if I had seen her ginger cat. I am ashamed to say I could not tell her the truth, as had I told her, there was a good chance she would have poisoned the dogs. Eye for an eye rules here. When I got home I was so excited to tell husband and step son of the miraculous reincarnation of Zebedee Two. However I was not impressed when stepson said that he had no idea how he had managed to get out of the canal that he had thrown him in, tied up in his plastic bag. A few days later Zebedee Two arrived back here. So we are just missing Zebedee One. Every evening Zebedee Two would go out and look for him and at last, four days ago he brought him back. He was very thin and starving, but happy to be here. He ate for Britain, climbed on the bed and went to sleep. In the morning he was gone and I haven't seen him since, but he knows where we are now so hopefully he will return.
In the meantime Matilda, the first of my Dominican cats, and mother, grandmother, great grandmother etc of all of the cats I have now, has decided to move out of the house and she has taken up residence in my jeep. She comes out to eat and do her business, but apart from that she is very happy. Not sure whether she will come with me when I take her house out to do the shopping, or how happy any passengers will be when they are covered in cat hair. But she is happy and that is the important thing.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The tales of the dwendies

Several years ago, living with my Dominican husband and stepsons, I noticed that when I went outside in the morning to drink my coffee, there were men sitting in various spots around the garden. Doing nothing. Just sitting. I mentioned to my husband that they were like garden gnomes and he told me the Spanish word for a garden gnome was dwendy. It is actually spelled duende and means an imp or a goblin but the name stuck. They were basically people who were unemployed, or self employed with no work. Dwendies are very useful as they do all sorts of jobs for you. Pop to the shops, help in the garden, clean the pool, and the only payment they require is the occasional meal. When we moved to barrio land, I thought that was the last we would see of the dwendies. Not so. We appear to have picked up a little group of them here too. They are the ones who helped us to move house, and once again pop up during the day, just sitting in the garden. I had no idea who they were, what their names were or why they were dwendies, so I thought I would ask. This is what I discovered.

Dwendy chiquito (little)

Little dwendy is actually called Efrin, and he is 18, although looks younger. He lives with his mum and three brothers and sisters. He has never met his father and has no idea who he is. Up until this year he was at school, in the first year of high school. The Dominican school system has years 1-8. with several people leaving after 8th grade, and then four years of high school, when they graduate and can then go on to university. If you fail a year you have to take it again. Efrin wants to finish school, go to university and become a surgeon. He has no wish to leave the country. Unfortunately he was knocked over by a car when he was 10, and his left arm was very badly set, and so it is deformed. Whilst not totally useless, it does not function properly. Apparently an American medical mission saw him in the summer and said they would come back in January and operate on his arm to solve the problem, so that he can become a surgeon. Therefore, he has not attended school this year, as he thought he would fail with taking time off for his arm operation. I really hope the medical mission comes back and helps him, as the cost of arranging it himself would be prohibitive.

Dwendy two

This is Wildelson who is 16. He lives with his father who is a carpenter. His mother is in New York and sends them US$ 150 every two weeks. He is in the first year of high school as well, and he wants to graduate and go to university to study languages, and then work in the tourism industry here. His dream is to go to America eventually. So far so good, but his 19 year old girlfriend is now four months pregnant and so he has 'married' her. Dominican married means basically living together. Although some people do get married legally, it tends to be the minority. So now as well as going to school, he is working with his father to earn money to support his 'wife' and future baby

.Dwendy perezoso (lazy)

This is Frailin who is 20. His mother died when he was 2, and his father didn't want anything to do with him, so he went to live with his grandmother. He went to school up until the 7th grade, aged 14, but had to leave as there wasn't enough money to send him there. Although the public schools are free, the children still have to buy uniforms, writing materials, and pay for transport to get to and from school. I first met Frailin when i discovered he was living in our house, sleeping in my stepson's room. His grandmother had gone to Rio San Juan and decided she couldn't afford to keep him any more, so left him here. He has no house and just sleeps wherever he can find a bed. I put up with him for a couple of weeks, as I felt sorry for him, but all he does all day is chat on line and didn't help around the house at all. I gave him US$15 to go to Rio San Juan, find work and live with his grandmother. He took the money and moved into a house over the road! He says he wants to work but there is none.

Dwendy pelo largo (long hair)

Aged 16, Yeudi is very very charming. He lives with his mother and his stepfather. His father and mother were together for 10 years and now his father cultivates coffee in the hills. He has 3 sisters and a brother, all of whom have different fathers. Yeudi left school in the 7th grade, due to lack of money. He has been 'married' three times, the first time when he was 14. On each occasion his 'wives' kicked him out as he had no money. He has no idea what he wants to do - although I have a feeling he would do well as a sanky panky. He is now leaving to go and join his father and pick coffee so that he can earn some money, and get married again.

Having heard these stories, I was left speechless really. Education, in the broadest sense of the word, is the key to ensuring that children who come from a working and lower middle class background can have some sort of decent future. Not only education of the children themselves, but also of the parents. I just cannot see how a mother can let her son go and 'marry' when he is 14 years old, and how a father can totally abdicate responsibility for his son. These are only four dwendies, but I am sure if I asked the same question of many of the teenagers here, the answers would be similar. There has to be an answer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The inverter went to hospital

Electricity here is the bane of my life. Not just mine but most people. It all depends in what electrical zone you live: A B C or D. Before, I was in an A zone, which meant that there was constant electricity and no need for any back up system. When I say constant, I mean unless there was a problem, or they shut the system off for maintenance.
There were a lot of problems.
The cables are like balls of wool after 20 cats have played with them. Once they reach houses they are stuck together with bits of tape (taypee in Dominican Spanish).

This causes all sorts of problems. People will steal electricity all of the time as they just connect to your line. Once you discover this you then follow the line and find out that you are paying for a whole little settlement of 10 huts. You complain to the Electricity company and they disconnect the huts from you, take the wire away, but you still have to pay the bill. The next day the huts are reconnected to you again.

The second problem is the number of deaths by electrocution. It is appalling. Almost nothing is earthed and so when a live wire falls onto a zinc roof it is a recipe for disaster. Plus the fact that

the best known remedy for electrocution is to cut the person being electrocuted with a machete so that the electricity flows out of their body.

When your electricity goes off unexpectedly you can call a 24 hour help line. They are very nice people. They lie all the time and tell you what they think you want to hear, when the reality is that they have no clue. One will tell you that there is a problem and it is being sorted and the electricity will be back soon. You call 30 minutes later and you will be told that it is off for maintenance. I was once without electricity for 5 days as a snake had been totally inconsiderate
and climbed on top of a transformer and fried itself, blowing the transformer fuse. On that occasion I was given a whole host of reasons as to why there was no electricity and not one included a dead snake. Every call will end with: "Thank you so much for calling and have a good day/night". How the hell can you have a good night when it is steaming hot and you have no electricity for fans??

Anyway, back to the inverter. I now live in a D zone. Planned outages for around 12 hours a day. One day it is on in the afternoon and the night, the next it is on in the morning and the evening.
The electricity company very kindly provide a timetable on line. To cope with this we have a bank of batteries - kept under lock and key so no one nicks them - and an inverter, so that when the electricity goes out the inverter kicks in. Two days ago it didn't kick in. It was sick and had to go off to the Inverter hospital, have a quick replacement of some bits and then came home. Thank goodness it was fixed, as living without electricity is no fun at all and goodness only knows how my neighbours manage - most of whom have no inverters at all.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The tale of the missing toilet

All was fine in the new house apart from the shower in stepson's bathroom which was blocked and the water would not drain away. The easy solution, I thought, was to buy a plunger and unblock it, and if that failed, to poke a bit of wire down the plug hole and unblock it. It was not to be. The owner's brother turned up and said that the pipe from the shower to the road had to be replaced which would entail breaking up the concrete yard and putting the pipe in and then cementing over it again.

There appear to be two types of waste water:
agua negra (black water) which goes into a septic tank and plain old dirty water from the sink or shower or washing machine. The later goes through pipes out into the street and on washing day most street around here are flooded with soapy water.

Anyway, the so called plumbers descended on us, broke up the concrete with pick axes and laid new pipe. Shower was still blocked. In the end they got a piece of wire, shoved it down the plug hole in the shower and pulled out a plastic toy. I said not a word.

The shower then worked perfectly.

The owner's brother then decided that there was a problem with the septic tank. For some reason he worked this out while standing on the roof. All seemed fine to me, but he insisted on opening it which involves breaking concrete again as they are always all concreted in. The lid was pried off
and the tank was full of what looked like dirty water. Now apparently the tank had been emptied a month ago, and they should only need emptying every several years, not months. In fact if it works really well it should last a lifetime.
According to my husband they are supposed to be full of water, as some stuff floats to the top where there is a pipe and then it floats off somewhere. I have no idea where, and as there is no proper sewage system here, I assume it just floats off to another part of the garden - under the concrete. The solid waste which one assumes is heavier, sinks to the bottom where it supposedly biodegrades. So, once the owner's brother saw it was full, he summoned Robert, who is the sewage disposal man. Robert arrived with his pipes and sucked the septic tank dry.

There was then a long discussion as to why it was full of water. My husband tried to tell them it was supposed to be, but was ignored. It was then decided that the walls of the sewage pit were being invaded by roots of the palm trees, and those roots were transporting rainwater into the sewage tank. Basically the reverse of everything I thought I knew, in that roots transport water to the tree, not the tree uses roots to transport water away from it.

They prepared to cut down the palm trees. Luckily they were dissuaded from that, and then I became aware of their next plan when I went to the bathroom to go to the toilet. The toilet had gone. Totally vanished. On returning outside I politely asked if anyone had seen the toilet and was informed that that particular toilet had too much water in it and it was that causing the problem. They were going to buy a new toilet.

The new toilet arrived, and was eventually fitted. The septic tank was resealed with more concrete and everyone patted each other on the back. Problem successfully solved.

I still have absolutely no idea what the problem was, nor how removing a perfectly functioning toilet and replacing it with same model has solved anything.

Still every one is happy and the old toilet has disappeared to a new home somewhere.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Moving house

We decided to move house for a variety of reasons. Where we lived was dusty or muddy depending on the amount of sun or rain. This meant that how ever often I mopped or swept (weesped as my husband says it), the house was dirty and the dogs were even dirtier. The track outside the house was one of the main thoroughfares and so was busy and noisy, kids constantly encouraging the dogs to bark, and a stream of venders broadcasting their wares through loud speakers. There was music from stereos from every house behind, to the side and in front for what seemed like 24 hours a day. Time to go.

On the one hand it is not easy to find a house to rent as there are no signs outside, no listings in local papers, but if you put the word out you are looking a constant stream of people appear who take you to various houses - all hoping you will rent them and they then receive commission from the owners. In the end it took around a month to find the right house. Nice and spacious, my first ever en suite bathroom, guest room, lovely outside terrace where Danilo could work, surrounded by concrete and not mud, and high walls all around. Plenty of space for the dogs, and in a quiet area.

It took 4 days to move as, unlike England, you do not pack things neatly in labelled boxes and then they are collected by a professional removal company. Everything was thrown in my jeep, beds and sofas were balanced precariously on the top with guys standing on the sides holding on to them. Things which were too big or too heavy for the jeep were carried, the cooker was wheeled here in a wheelbarrow. I stayed at the new house to arrange things here, and to save me stressing out as I saw how things were thrown in the jeep.

The fridge arrived safely, but they did not take anything out of it and so it was full of ketchup and mayonnaise, soya sauce and melted butter. The back fell off the washing machine, and we had to mount it on blocks so that the hose could fit in the drain hole. The top from the wardrobe went missing, as did the screws to put the doors back on. In true Dominican fashion screws were simply taken from something else, so an item which had four screws now only has 2 or 3.

The inverter for the electricity was moved and re-installed. For some reason whenever we were on inverter power, the mouse on my lap top went crazy. It was eventually discovered that although the house was wired for earth that not only was there no earth, the earth wires had been stuck to the positive ones and so double electricity was coming through the plug sockets. It was no big issue for the Dominicans who lived here as their plugs had no earth prong. Mine do. The electrician told me just to snap the earth prong off the plug, but I said I preferred him to fix it, which thankfully he did.

So now we are installed. Happy, no mosquitoes, no noise, no dust. In just a couple of days I have got used to the cockerels who start at 4.30 and am sleeping like a baby. The dogs love it too as they have more space, more shade but less people to bark at.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What it means to have a Dominican friend

A friend will ask you how you are

A Dominican friend will tell you you look good, will hug you and give you a kiss.

A friend sends you flowers and a card when you are in hospital

A Dominican friend will sleep on a chair at your side

A friend will ask to borrow something and will give it back 2 days later

A Dominican friend will ask to borrow something and after a week will forget it was yours

A friend will offer you the sofa to sleep on

A Dominican friend will give you his bed, he will sleep on the floor and not let you sleep but spend the whole night talking to you

A friend will know a few things about you

A Dominican friend will be able to write a book with all the things he knows about you

A friend will give you a paracetomal when you are hungover

A Dominican friend will make you chicken soup, and give you his grandmother's cures, and will make sure you drink the soup, even hand feeding you.

A friend will knock on your door, waiting for you to open it

A Dominican friend will open the door, walk in and then say I am here

A friend will ask you to make them coffee

A Dominican friend will go into the kitchen, make the coffee and go next door to ask a neighbour for sugar if you have none

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The Dominican Republic is a poor country. It is highly stratified with a very small and very wealthy upper class, a small but growing middle class and a very large working and peasant class , many of whom live in absolute poverty. There is high unemployment especially among the youth and for those who do work the average wage is around 100 pounds a month. So how does this affect the way that the people live?


Houses tend to be rented or built on pieces of land where the owner isn’t present – squatting if you like.

Those that are rented are block or wood built with zinc roofs and will cost from 20- 30 pounds a month to rent. Although the zinc roofs mean that they are hot in the daytime they are cool at night, especially if they are built of wood, and do not retain heat like the concrete blocks do

Inside, the houses will typically have a living area and a
sleeping area with cooking often being carried out outside, although some houses do have kitchens. Although poor, every house will have its television and everybody will have their mobile phone!

Instead of doors between each room there is usually a curtain. If lucky the floors are of concrete, but many
houses still only have a dirt floor.

The squatters build houses out of whatever is available and in one of the pictures below you can see the children’s room made out of cardboard. Many houses will have neither running water nor a toilet - there may be a latrine in the garden or yard which can be shared by several families or people simply use the woods around.


Shopping is done daily at the colmado or corner shop.. There are various reasons for this. Firstly there is usually not the money to do ‘a big shop’.

In fact most of the poorer Dominicans have never been into a supermarket.

Secondly you can buy everything at the colmado in small quantities: onestock cube, a little bit of oil, a few ounces of rice, one clove of garlic, a few pesos of chicken. This keeps the cost down, and remember many people do not have a fridge so could not store food in the heat. And most importantly the colmado will offer credit, so if you cannot pay that day they will simply write down what you owe on a piece of cardboard torn from a packet of something and when some money arrives you can pay them back.


Obviously with so little money it is impossible to save. If you are in desperate need of funds, for a medical bill for example, then the family or neighbours will chip in and help. People will say they want to borrow money but most will never pay it back as there is no way they can. Many will play the lottery for only a few pesos at a time, because winning the lottery is the only way they will climb out of poverty. Very few make it out of the class they were born into. Education costs money. The public schools are free, but the children needs books, pencils, uniforms and although many parents start off with good intentions, very few children finish their education. Even if they do, most good jobs go to those with family connections and hence if you started poor it is almost impossible to move out of your ‘class’.

But in part, poverty has made the Dominicans the people they are. Friendly – as in the barrios or neighbourhoods everyone knows each other and helps each other out. Generous – if you have food you give it to your neighbour as tomorrow they may have to give it to you. Optimistic – when you live in poverty you have to believe that tomorrow your life will be better, otherwise you would be miserable all of the time. And Dominicans are happy. They say we are alive and we have our health and so with that they are happy. As long as there is food on the table for that day they ask for no more.


I used to find it hard when people would come to the house and I would have to feed them when I had only cooked enough food for me and my family. I would find it hard when someone borrowed money and then didn’t pay it back. Now I live in a barrio I understand where they come from and why they behave like they do. The generosity of those who have nothing is humbling and a lesson which is worth learning for all of us who come from consumerist societies.