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.