Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Beginnings

It was 5 years ago this week, July 22nd 2006, at 10.30 at night this tiny little .22 bullet was shot through my throat at close range by a couple of Haitians who I interrupted trying to rob the house. The bullet entered my throat, went through the top of my right lung and ended up stuck in my back, close to the surface. Local Dominicans and Haitians took me to hospital using a combination of carrying me, on the back of a motoconcho and a borrowed car, where the doctor did a tracheotomy - cutting in the wrong place so damaged my vocal chords - and I

then went in a clapped out ambulance to Santo Domingo where chest drains were inserted. I spent 12 days in hospital and then came home, and a couple of weeks later I was right as rain - apart from a dodgy voice. The bullet was moving around my back - you can see it in this picture and so it was cut out with a Gillette razor blade a few weeks later.

Being shot doesn't hurt, I didn't feel a thing until around 12 hours later when I felt like I had been run over by a bus. The chest drains actually hurt more. Your body seems to have this amazing ability to produce pain killers and something to stop you panicking - I was very calm. It was just uncomfortable not being able to breath as one lung had been punctured and the other was collapsing as the chest cavity filled with air and blood

When your lung is punctured the air has to go somewhere and it actually went under the skin and filled the top half of my body. My head swelled to double its size as did my arms and my boobs! And if you touched me where there was air, my skin squeaked! Interestingly although I never lost consciousness, I can only remember up to being in the car going to the local hospital and then nothing until just before the ambulance arrived at the hospital in Santo Domingo. At that point I was being bagged with oxygen - and the oxygen ran out. I remember then very clearly signalling to my husband that I was out of air, by slashing my hand across my throat, and I waved goodbye to him. Seconds later we arrived at the ER. Unfortunately they will not begin to treat you without a deposit, and luckily there is a cashpoint machine right outside the ER to make it easy for you to get cash. My husband got the deposit out and a few hours later I was pronounced out of danger. Total cost was around 700,000 pesos which was around14,000 pounds.

So here we are 5 years later and this week we are all working! Number 2 step son has opened a cafe, which sells hot dogs for 20 pesos (30 pence), freshly squeezed fruit juices, and fried chicken and plantain chips for 60 pesos (one pound). Unfortunately various items keep disappearing from the house and turning up in his cafe. Knives, chopping board, stereo, extension lead, and there you can see husband, Danilo, sitting on one of the bar stools from the house. The other one disappeared from the house today as well. Still, the cafe is doing well, taking around 40 to 60 pounds a day!

And I am now working for an American couple, researching on line, translating from Spanish to English, and sourcing things for them. One of the things they wanted was muslin bags, and not finding them here, I bought some muslin and gave it to the local tailor to sew. His sewing machine has come out of the ark, but it seems to work well! His name is Feo which means ugly, but he didn't look that bad to me. He sits in the main street outside his little shop, and has a box next to him where people drop in their clothes to be mended. It costs around 20 pesos to have a pair of trousers hemmed - so I doubt he will be rich soon!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The plantain

The humble plantain is known as a platano here in the Dominican Republic and is one of the staple foods. It sells at between 4 and 12 pesos depending on the size and the season - that is between 6 and 15 pence for one. They are usually sold green, but can also be used when they are ripe.

Once you have your plantain the first thing you have to do is to peel it which as not as easy as it sounds. You have to put cooking oil on your hands otherwise they turn black with some residue which is on the outside of the banana. Then you cut off the top and bottom and using a blunt knife, score down from top to bottom whilst at the same time sliding the knife under the skin. Repeat this around three times and then it is easy to just peel the skin off. It sounds easy, but even after 10 years I still end up gouging lumps out of my plantains.

One of the main ways of eating plantains is mashed. It is called mangu and we eat it most days at midday with fried salami, fried onions and fried eggs. For those who eat breakfast, it is the standard breakfast here. I mash my plantains with butter and milk, but they are usually just mashed with their cooking water.

A variation of mangu is called mofongo and in this instance the plantains are mashed with garlic and bacon. For some reason it is served in a big wooden egg cup. Mofongo is usually eaten with stewed beef or chicken, and it is delicious.

If you ask for it in a restaurant be careful not to confuse it with mondongo as that is tripe.

Another use for plantains is in a dish called pastellon which is delicious.

For this you use the ripe platanos, i.e. when they are yellow, and it is basically like a lasagne but without the cheese sauce and using platanos in place of the lasagne. Layers of tomato and minced beef, layers of cheese and layers of mashed plantains.

And finally tostones which are I suppose the Dominican equivalent of french fries or chips. These are fried plantain chips and are eaten usually with fried chicken or fried fish or fried chops. In fact with anything.

So many uses for one little banana. I must admit I was not particularly keen on plantains at first but now I am as addicted to them as Dominicans are.

In fact if people feel you have adapted well to this country they say you are aplatanado - like a plantain I suppose!