Thursday, January 30, 2014

Taking the plunge to be an expat

I receive several emails from people about to make the leap and become an expat in the Dominican Republic, and I wish I had taken the time to speak to expats before I made the move which might have prevented me making quite so many mistakes over the years.
Having said that, when I first moved here over 12 years ago I was only going to stay for 6 months so I didn't make a conscious decision to become an expat, I just sort of drifted into it unlike most of the people who write to me who are doing all of the right things such as looking at different countries, sorting out their finances and doing all of their research properly.
I did some things right such as learning Spanish as there is no way you can truly understand and immerse yourself into a country if you cannot communicate with the people. Another thing I did right was to marry my Dominican husband.
I did a few things wrong too! I should have listened more to the people here about the fact that many things work differently here compared to the UK. For example we opened a gym and had a couple of hundred members. I didn't realize though that there is no direct debit system in the DR, so although people joined one month, if they didn't have money for the next month that was that. No money coming in. Not like the UK where the money is taken from your bank whether you go or not. That was a big lesson. Never assume that things work the same way in your new country compared to your home country.
Apart from learning about to best way to do all of the practical things such as open bank accounts, get residency, set up cell phones, internet and cable TV, it is the cultural differences which present the greatest challenge. For example, many expats become frustrated here with the lack of electricity but the way I see it is you either let it get to you or you accept that it is what it is and behave like the Dominicans who just chill and work around it. The wise expat will do everything they can to mitigate the situation by having an inverter and/or generator and checking online to see what times of the day they will be without electricity. The even wiser expat will have done their research and make sure they live in an area with 24 hour electricity – although those who have not done the research will probably not even know that electricity is an issue, nor how to find out about any particular area. Imagine going to rent a house in the UK and asking what the electricity was like!
So congratulations to those budding expats who research the move – it will certainly be much smoother for you than it was for me. For those who want more really useful tips and hints check out the HiFX expat page here which will also have some of my tips on it in a couple of weeks.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dominican duck pond

So last week it was decided to go and steal posters from the side of the road advertising bands who had already appeared and the date had passed. Luckily a neighbour offered to be the getaway driver so I managed to get out of doing that job. He collected loads.

I thought they were going to be the roof but apparently the chickens and ducks don't fly if you snip their wings so the new improved hen house didn't need a roof and the guinea fowl are staying in the little original one.

So the posters are the back wall. The new hen house is the size of a tennis court and includes part of the gym and my outside sink - minus plugs, taps and water supply. I can't see it making its way into the utility room any time soon.
And now onto the duck pond. Danilo agreed that the ducks needed a pond, and once again I showed him a picture of a quintessentially British scene. The village duck pond.

No problem, he says. This is what we end up with.

Yes it is a wheelbarrow. The ducks are singularly unimpressed and so far have refused to jump into it. In the meantime the flock continues to grow. Danilo did the supermarket shop last week and managed to forget 50% of the list but instead brought back yet another hen. Apparently she was a bargain.

Puppies are slowly leaving us - two more went this week so two more to go. The cats will be very pleased to see the back of them as they have learned how to use the Dominican cat doors and stop the cats coming in.

They are great fun though and Chivirico enjoyed playing with them this weekend.

I have visitors arriving on Sunday, two Canadians and a Dominican so there will be a fun week in store. I just hope they remember their ear plugs.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

All I want is sleep

Where we live in the campo it is a little community of around eight houses and huts. Everyone gets up with the sunrise and is tucked up in bed by nine at night. It is beautiful and quiet – usually. As well as those of us who live here permanently, there are two houses owned by rich Dominicans from nearby towns and they come for the occasional weekend to get away from it all.

Last night, one of these weekend visitors was in residence and it sounded like he had brought hundreds of people with him. He arrives maybe once every couple of months. The music was unbearable and when it got to one o'clock in the morning I gave up trying to sleep. I told Danilo to go and tell him to turn the music down as not only was it stopping me sleeping, the colmado man had been taken to hospital during the day with a suspected stroke, which ended up being a “sugar attack” so he is fine now, but his wife was on her own in the house and I knew she hated noise at night. Danilo asked what I wanted him to do and I replied that he had various options.
Option 1 was to  tell them it was a lack of respect for the community and please to turn the noise down. He said he couldn't do that as the man was a) rich and b) a lawyer. Plus that was the British way and it wouldn't work here.
Option 2 was to call the police. He said that was useless as there were no police here and  the man was a) rich and b) a lawyer.
Option 3 was to cut their electricity off. He said that was illegal.
He said I had not mentioned Option 4, which was the Dominican way. Intrigued I asked what that was. He said to throw stones and off he trotted in his dressing down, down the garden, with torch in hand whilst I lay in bed waiting. Five minutes later the music stopped. A miracle. When he came back, I asked him what he had said. Nothing apparently. The Dominican way to ask people to turn the music down, is to throw rocks into the garden or at the house! You do it from behind a bush so they can’t see it is you. Well it worked, and I was very grateful. Until 4.30 am.

The chicken house saga continues. Remember all I wanted was a couple of hens so that I could have fresh eggs and I ended up with 10 scraggy chicks and three guinea fowl. He realized that they weren't going to start laying any time soon, and so bought two more – a hen (which is apparently a pedigree hen, but he got it cheap for RD$150 pesos which is US$3) and a young cockerel, which he insisted you need for eggs. Well wonders will never cease and the next day we had an egg.

Unfortunately I was not allowed to eat it as apparently you have to leave it there or she won’t lay any more. The next day luckily there was another, but he told me I couldn't have that either as he thought it would be a good idea to have chicks. Being not impressed at all with this idea, I stole one of the eggs whilst he was out and had a fabulous poached egg on toast.

Each day I managed to sneak the eggs out but I think he is in cahoots with one of the cats who now sleeps in the egg basket on top of them. I wonder if they will hatch?

Then yesterday he turns up with two ducks and a cockerel. This is now getting out of hand.

He told me he had to buy the cockerel as the one we had was too young to mate with the hen and the eggs we had were guinea fowl eggs so to get chicken eggs we needed an older cockerel. He assured me it was a non crowing variety. He lied.

It started at 4.30 this morning and hasn't stopped.

Now, with all of these birds, the hen house needs to be bigger and he has put in the sticks for where it is going to be. You can see the original hen house in the corner and the stick on the left is the edge of the new extended version which will encompass the water cistern, half of the gym, and the utility room sinks which he sorted eight months ago and which have never moved. Apparently the sinks are now going to be filled with water for the ducks so it doesn't look like they will ever make it into the utility room.

The sides of the new hen house will be covered with chicken wire and I asked about the roof. He told me it was under control but I persisted to understand exactly what form it would take. Eventually he explained it would be a lona, which is a large tarpaulin. Now these are not cheap and we are talking a big roof. He then said he had a cunning plan. This would be interesting. He went on to say that on the road up to our village there are lots of big signs for coming events such as discos and famous singers appearing at different locations. He said there was one for Anthony Santos in early January and as the date had passed he could just take the sign down – not the wooden frame, but the plastic sheeting it was written on. It was useless now as the date had passed. So the plan is that the chickens will have a roof of various posters announcing famous singers which he would stick together with taypee. I asked how he was going to do this and he explained that WE were going to go out in the night to get them. I was to be the getaway driver and he would take the sign down with his pincers.

Next blog will probably be from jail.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The finishing touches to the Hen House.

In England in the 1950's every house had a garden shed and the man of the house was often to be found pottering in his shed.

Obviously in the DR the Hen House takes the place of the shed, as every day Danilo is in there adding more new features. Yesterday it was a drinking system for them. An upside down Presidente bottle with a little cup at the bottom.

The chickens are a little fatter - not a lot - and still lack feathers in some places.

And new additions arrived. Guinea fowl. Apparently their eggs taste the same as chicken eggs and they should start laying sooner. I must admit they look lovely - all fat and black with white spots.

However,they roost on their stick most of the day and night and gossip. They don't shut up. Am trying to think of names but without much success so far.

The puppies are getting bigger and we now have homes for all of them. We are going to keep 2, so far called Panda (male) and his sister Pandita. They are getting to know the other dogs - here is Pandita with Belinda.

On February 9th at 2 pm there will be a discussion about my book "What about your saucepans?" at the Meeting Place in Puerto Plata on the north coast. I will be there to answer questions and to sign books. Any of you in the area please do come along and say hello. Full details will be posted on their website shortly but in the meantime you can read about the Meeting Place with directions on how to get there here.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The chickens have arrived

So the hen house construction continues with the interior decor. First they have to have a ladder to get up to the ex wardrobe nesting box.

Then they need a bed. Apparently chickens sleep on sticks. I mean they roost in trees. I thought they just put their head under their wing but I am told they need a stick high up - so that is what they have.

And today was the day that the hens finally arrived with all their vaccinations done. Now I have always had a problem with my imagination, dreaming what things would be like and they never meet my expectations. Those of you who have read the book will know this. This bad trait has not disappeared. When I think egg laying chickens I think this:

Instead when they arrived they are like this. There are ten of them.

Scraggy, no feathers around their necks and doesn't look like any eggs tomorrow. Not yellow fluffy chicks not big fat hens. Now apparently nothing will happen for the next two months. They will stay like this. During this time they will eat lots from their space like feeder.

Then miraculously they will turn into proper chickens and lay eggs. I asked why they were bald and the man said they were Japanese chickens. That is a special breed which has no feathers around its neck. Anyone heard of this? I thought they just had some sort of mange. Are there such a thing as Japanese chickens? Also Danilo pointed out there were two males among my scraggy featherless chicks. Now to me male chickens mean roosters. Roosters mean noise at 5am. No, he says, Japanese roosters don't crow.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Watch this space for progress.

All I wanted was a fresh boiled egg!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Dominican Hen House (Without the hens)

Firstly Happy New Year to you all!

Remember the Hen House Project? This is the picture I gave Danilo and all he had to do was build a Hen House which looked like this and then fill it with chickens who would lay eggs. Simple really.

Well it will be no surprise to you that the Hen House bears only a little resemblance to this picture and there is no sign of the chickens.

Here is the completed Hen House

Now I wanted a nesting box so that I could just lift up a flap and take the eggs out. I do have that, but the flap isn't wooden, it is a sheet of zinc. Chivirico demonstrates how it works. I just hope they can't push it open and escape.

So that part should be easy enough. To get into the Hen House to feed them you have to go in through the back door - which is also a sheet of zinc. Damn clever stuff this zinc.

And of course there is a "piece de resistance". An additional nesting box. Remember my wardrobe which had a chunk carved out of it so that the television would fit?

Well it has reappeared as an additional nesting box.

And for some unfathomable reason it has a padlock on it - when you can just lift up the zinc flap which has more nesting areas. Is the hen who goes into this box going to lay golden eggs?

So the house is ready, the food has been bought, but there are no hens. Danilo went to the market to buy them and was told they had to come from Moca which has the best laying hens apparently. He ordered them, and went to pick them up a few days ago at the appointed time.  No sign of hens as they were on the way "en camino" and spent most of the day "en camino". Eventually they arrived. But they had not been vaccinated. I had no idea hens had to be vaccinated and I assumed against some sort of Chicken Flu. No. They have to be vaccinated against Smallpox and something called PIP which is when they breathe through their beaks rather than nose (no idea chickens had noses either) and their tongue goes hard and they can't eat. So he waited for the vet who never arrived - no chickens came home to their 5 star house. It was then arranged that someone who was coming here to visit would bring them - still didn't arrive as still not vaccinated. The latest news is that they will come tomorrow. We will see. I have no idea how big they are, or if they are already laying or what. This will be an interesting experience!