Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Galipote on the loose

The word galipote, also spelled gualipote comes from the Taino language, quali meaning 'children of' and pote which means 'the devil'. I have heard the word before, but thought nothing of it until last night people were running through the streets of the barrio saying that there was a galipote on the loose, with fire coming out of his mouth, and to lock up the children and stay inside. These legendary magical creatures are said to be men who turn into animals or inanimate objects such as  tree trunks and stones. According to the belief galipotes are cruel and violent and frighten people at night.

Many galipotes become dogs which was what apparently what it was yesterday. The lady who saw it was on her scooter when it appeared. She said it was an enormous dog and at first she thought that someone had brought it from New York as she had never seen such a big dog here. However it rose on its hind legs and spat fire from its mouth at which point she turned and ran. It then went on a rampage through the local banana plantation ripping through the  trees with its claws.

Galipotes are immune to bullets and they say the only way to kill one is to get a branch and make a wooden cross from wood which can only be cut on Good Friday. Some say you must use a knife or machete that has been blessed with water and salt.

Apparently in order to become a galipote you make a pact with the devil whereby you sell your soul in exchange for being able to change yourself into another form.

I thought that was the end of the excitement but the problem we have is that we have an English Mastiff rescue dog, who is massive but old and slow and blind. Word is now going around the barrio that maybe he is a galipote and even the dustbin men refused to collect the rubbish today, scared that our galipote might get them. I have a horrid feeling I will now be known as the gringa who lives with a galipote.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Keeping in touch

I speak Spanish all day long and I do like to keep in touch with other expats and keep up to date with what is happening. These are the three main sites I use. - I write a monthly column here, but I also really enjoy reading the columns written by the other columnists, reading blogs by other expats and also the expat interviews. I enjoy reading about the experiences which other people have had, plus the views of qualified experts. - this is the biggest forum in the Dominican Republic. It is in English, but covers the whole island and has hundreds of posts every day. If you want to know anything about the DR then this is the place to check it out. - This is another forum and the best thing about this one is the chat room.  You can meet your friends there, and new people too, and everyone is very nice! I am usually there every evening from around 6pm together with people from all over the island and all over the world. Drop in and say hello sometime!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

W is for Whales and Wasakaka

In my A-Z of the Dominican Republic we are nearly at the end. This post is on W and W is for Whales and Wasakaka. Looking at whales first.

Each year, between January and March, between 3,000 and 5,000 humpback whales make the long and slow journey from the polar regions of the North Atlantic to the warm clear waters of the the Bay of Samana in the north east of the Dominican Republic, to give birth and mate for the following year.

In the above map, the area marked in dark blue shows the territorial waters of the Dominican Republic; the green shows the waters of the Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals.

The Dominican Republic is fortunate to have one of the largest and best humpback breeding sanctuaries in the world and the Dominican government enforces strict whale protection laws and guidelines to ensure the safety and conservation of these amazing animals. There are strict guidelines if you want to go and watch them, and boats have to keep a respectful distance so as not to disturb them too much.

The female typically breeds every two or three years with a  gestation period of eleven months. When born, the calves are about 4 metres long and weigh around 700 kg. They are nursed by their mothers for around six months and leave their mothers when they are just over one year old and around 9 metres long. Both males and females reach maturity at around 15 years old when they are around 16 metres long and weigh 40,000 kg. They live for 45-50 years.

They eat around 5000 lbs of tiny shrimp and plankton and small fish a day, twice a day, but only in the feeding season which lasts 120 days in the cold waters. A group of whales will swim rapidly in wide cicles under a school of fish and then blow air through their blowholes. The bubbles then net the fish and each whale will take his or her turn swimming into the shoal, mouth open, swallowing thousands of fish in one gulp.

They are incredible animals and the Dominican Republic has hundreds of tourists each year, just to have the chance of watching them.

My other W is for Wasakaka. This is a sauce, which is served with chicken at one of the Dominican Republic’s fast food restaurants known as El Provocon.

The chicken is cooked over carbon and served with this fabulous sauce and usually accompanied by yucca and lightly fried or boiled onions.

Whilst the recipe for Wasakaka is a secret, luckily Aunt Clara, author of the famous Dominican Cooking recipe book, has her version of it which is scrumptious, and it is here.

I would love to serve it with yucca too but for some reason I am totally incompetent when it comes to cooking it, it is always stringy and hard, so I eat my Wasakaka chicken with mashed potatoes!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

It's getting hotter

As usual at this time of year it is getting hotter both in the day and the night. So it is time to get the fans out. Some people have air conditioning, but I never seemed to get on very well with it. I always had noisy ones that would keep you awake, or drippy ones that flooded the bedroom. Also you can't use them when the mains electricity is off as most are 220 volts so the inverter won't run them, and finally they cost a fortune to run.

So I am a fan girl now. One of the main advantages with fans is as well as keeping you cool, they keep the mosquitoes away. You can  have a ceiling fan and they often have a light underneath. I have had problems with these too, as they never seem to be balanced properly and not only go round and round but also swing wildly from side to side when they are working, so I am always afraid that they will come loose from the ceiling and chop me into little pieces in the middle of the night. Or that the light bit will fall off and shower me with glass.

So I am a stand up fan person. They have the advantage you can move them around, but for some reason they don't last very long. Of course, as always the Dominicans can fix them. This is the one in the bedroom, and as you can see it has a broom stick at the back to keep it together and wire wrapped around to keep the buttons held in. But it works brilliantly.

Of course, with true Dominican ingenuity if you really want you can combine the cool air of air conditioning with the efficiently and lower running cost of a fan.

Don't you just love this country, where when you go to bed at night you can't help but have a smile on your face just from looking at your bedroom fan!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dominican Elections

Well the elections are over and it looks like we will have a new President in August. Same party, different name. This one is Danilo Medina. This election was very similar to the others, whether at local level or national. It went like this.

1. Launch your campaign to be President. Start having convoys all around the country, and think of a catchy phrase such as "LLego Papa" which means "Daddy is coming".

2. Have a team producing all sorts of fake things. Fake photographs, fake web pages, fake documents, fake recordings. Give them to the press who then publish them, hence smearing the reputation of the candidates or the party. I do not understand why the press print these stories, nor whether they are paid to print them. They are often found to be fake and rarely the perpetrator seems to pay the price.Also it is impossible to know whether the information is true or false. Each election the subject of the smears changes and this year the theme was mostly corruption.

3. The week before the election, the party who thinks they might lose lays the groundwork for the potential shouts of "They were cheating". This time around it was said that the military were threatening those who wanted to vote for the PRD, and earlier that there were problems in the computer centre where the numbers of votes would be entered.

4. On election day they say that both sides were buying cedulas which are the national identity cards needed to vote. Before the elections there were around 400,000  people getting replacement cedulas saying that they had lost theirs. You can sell your cedula on election day for anything between 200 and 1000 RD$. I find it interesting that everyone blames the parties for buying cedulas, but never the people themselves for selling them. It is the parties fault they say, it is fraud they say, but if the Dominicans didn't sell their cedulas and exercised their right to vote then there would not be a problem.

5. The results come out and the winning party celebrates and the losing party screams fraud. Over the next couple of days the losers come up with all sorts of reasons why they should have won, and that the other side cheated. The outcome never changes.

In some ways the Dominican Republic is so advanced. The website for the Central Electoral Court, the Junta Electoral, is very professional. The system for sending the results from each voting office is good and fast. But last night the Junta website was down and still is this morning. A television station was broadcasting the results and was closed down by the Junta. There are all sorts of claims of fraud, cedula buying, mistakes on the electoral roll, threats and the rest. A few people were even shot.

And now as I wait for the official proclamation of the new Dominican Republic President, Danilo Medina. I  hope and pray he does what he says he would do. Improve education, lift thousands out of poverty, stop corruption, provide more employment opportunities. The Dominican people really really deserve that. I just wish I could feel a bit more optimistic that it would happen.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

V is for Viralata

Continuing my A-Z of the Dominican Republic V is for Viralata. This is pronounced Beeralata or Veeralata depending on which part of the country you come from. Dominican Spanish is confusing as the letter V is often pronounced as a B but not always. When I was learning Spanish someone would say what sounded like "Dondé tu bas?"meaning "Where are you going?" but actually written vas not bas. Very confusing when I wanted to look words up in the dictionary. B is known as B larga and V as B corta. Even some Dominicans get confused!

This means we buy street dogs which are fierce or angry
Viralata is made up of two words. Vira comes from the verb virar meaning to turn and lata means a tin or a can. Viralata means to turn over or tip over a can or tin and refers to street dogs who get into the oil drums used as rubbish bins and tip them over to get at whatever is inside.

If the Dominican Republic were to have a national animal it would have to be the viralata. They are absolutely everywhere. It is estimated that in the capital, Santo Domingo, there are around 90,000 and even that could be a gross underestimate. These animals literally live on the street and look for food wherever they can find it. They are very intelligent and every food establishment and butcher will always have a group outside. It does not mean they all do not have homes, many do, but they are not allowed into the house and so spend their time lying on the road in front of the house. Often the so called owners cannot afford to feed them either. Most will have other viralata friends and they will play together and run around together and of course mate together, which increases the problem all of the time.

On the whole they are not aggressive, although I find it a little nerve wracking sometimes to have to walk through a big group of them, worried about being attacked or bitten as there is still rabies in the DR and of course viralatas are rarely vaccinated. Having said that I have never ever been attacked or even threatened by one. Some do have the nasty habit of chasing motor bikes and often get nasty kicks from drivers or passengers.  Some Dominicans, especially children, seem to take pleasure out of hitting them, or throwing rocks at them or abusing them in other ways.

As far as I can see, there is no  nationally coordinated programme of seeing the viralatas as a problem and of trying to do something about it. In some towns however, when they do seem to be getting out of control, the local authorities will put down poison. I will never forget going to work one day as a diving instructor and seeing the beach littered with corpses of street dogs. Appalling and heartbreaking.

However, there are some institutions in different parts of the country who work very hard to capture, neuter and then release the dogs. One of them is called the Asociacíon de Amigos Por Los Animales de Sosua or the Association of the Friends of Animals in Sosua, and they operate a spay and neuter programme and a rescue programme for street dogs. You can see their website here. Many of the dogs now get adopted by people living overseas and they get whisked off to Canada or the US. Easier for a dog to get a visa than most Dominicans!  And I had a comment on my last blog posting telling me about Animal Balance who also do fabulous work sterilising and vaccinating the street dogs. Their website is here.

Viralatas are a massive issue in the DR. It is heartbreaking to see dogs being badly treated and suffering. For some reason, and I do not know why, Dominicans do not treat dogs in the same way as people from my culture. Dogs are not usually seen as pets nor allowed in the house. Many will not even touch them. I have a rescued English Mastiff and my stepchildren will never touch him, he even gets washed at arms length with a broom - he still enjoys his bath though!

 In order to solve the problem there needs to be education and a nationally government sponsored programme of spaying and neutering, rather than relying on a few organisations, who, while they do amazing work at a local level are only solving a tiny part of this national problem.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bubble and Squeak on a hot tin roof

I like cats and have quite a few, including two called Bubble and Squeak or Bubly y Kwees as my husband calls them, together with their sister, Rabo Blanco which means white tail (ran out of names and she has a tiny bit of white at the end of her tail).

For the non British readers, bubble and squeak is a famous English dish which is made of left over potatoes and vegetables which are mashed together and then fried until crispy on the outside.

It is usually eaten with cold meat and is traditionally eaten on Boxing Day with the left over turkey. I introduced it to my Dominican family and they love it and it has become one of our staples with a fried egg on top - makes a change from plantains and rice!

Anyway I digress. So we have these male cats called Bubble and Squeak and they have not been neutered. I know I should get them fixed but the vet here is not very good and I am not convinced he will do the job properly, or that they will come out of it alive. He has a nasty habit of taking animals in for operations then telling you they have died, whereas he has actually sold them.  Hence Bubble and Squeak still they have all that they were born with so as to speak.

Bubble with his 'equipment' intact after a night on the tiles

Lala my neighbour stopped me this morning and said that they dance on her zinc roof every night. They go  and meet her female cat on the roof in the middle of the night and apparently the three of them dance. At least that's what she said they do.  I laughed and said "cats on a hot tin roof" and she looked at me as if I had lost the plot so I assume that doesn't translate well into Spanish - los gatos encima d'un techo de zinc caliente? She said they keep her awake with all the noise they make. So I have no idea what to do about it as cats with their equipment intact do tend to go out and play at night - maybe that is where the saying "A night on the tiles comes from," although here it is a "night on the zinc". Any ideas?

My neighbours' roofs

Monday, May 14, 2012

The face and voice behind the blogger

For those who have wondered what I look like, and what I sound like, now is your chance! Expat Focus have carried out an interview with me about life as an expat in the Dominican Republic. I was a little concerned as following the shooting my voice isn't too strong and tends to run out of steam after a while, but I managed to make it through the interview!

You can find the interview on Expat Focus here.

I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Another good reason to live in the DR

I went to the colmado this morning and stopped in to see Lala my neighbour. She is 80 and lives with her toyboy 73 year old husband. One of her daughters lives next door. I often call in to have a chat with her, and this morning she asked me about my mother. How old she was and where she lived. I explained that my mother lived in England and would be 80 this year and she asked me who looked after her.

No one does, I answered and Lala was appalled. I explained that my mum was fit and well, and that maybe when she needed help she would go into an old people's home. She was totally horrified when I told her that. It just wouldn't happen here. I know that when I become old and infirm, my step children will look after me, and not only that, I will command the most respect in the home. What a great change over the UK. I just hope the boys and their eventual wives know what they are letting themselves in for!

Monday, May 7, 2012

U is for UASD

My 'U' in the A-Z of the Dominican Republic is for UASD, pronounced 'Wass' which stands for the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (Autonomous University of Santo Domingo). It is the public university here in the Dominican Republic with its flagship campus in Santo Domingo, the capital and with regional campuses in Puerto Plata, San Juan de la Maguana, La Vega , Hato Mayor, Nagua, Santiago Rodriguez, Higüey, Barahona, Santiago, Mao and San Francisco de Macoris.

It was first called Santo Tomas Aquino University, and was established in October, 1538, and is the oldest university in the Americas. Originally a seminary that had been operating since 1518, Pope Paul III gave the mandate to upgrade it to a University. At that stage it had four schools; Medicine, Law, Theology and the Arts.

1755 Santo Tomas Aquino University ruins

Since then it has closed a few times, and then reopened.  Firstly in 1801 due to the Haitian occupation of the country, and was reopened in 1815, when the DR returned to the Spanish. It closed again in 1822 as the students were recruited to military service on the order of the Haitians governing the country again. When the DR became independent in 1844, there was once again the will to restore the university although it took a while and in 1866 the university was replaced with the Professional Institute of Santo Domingo. It closed again in 1891 to 1895 and in November 1914 was renamed the University of Santo Domingo. It shut its doors yet again in 1916 to 1924, due to the United States occupation of the DR and during the 31 years of Rafael Trujillo it struggled with even the most basic freedoms. After the death of Trujillo in 1961 it was granted autonomy.  By tradition, an “autonomous” university in Latin America is one that provides protection and sanctuary for political dissidents by excluding the police and the military from campus. Even today neither the police nor military have any jurisdiction on the premises.

Nowadays there are eight schools:  Humanities, the Arts, Law and Political Science, Health Sciences, Economics and Social Sciences, Science, Engineering and Architecture, and Agricultural Sciences. It has the highest enrollment of students in universities in the DR, currently running at around 170,000, probably because the cost of enrolling and studying is minimal as it is heavily subsidized by the state. This is a major increase over 1995 when there were some 65,000 students.

Very unfortunately, what was once a centre for learning and debate has lost its way somewhat, due in part to the lack of calibre of professors with some leaving academia for other sectors of the economy, where they will receive higher salaries. Others emigrated for economic reasons, but many of the best fled the country to escape political persecution under the repressive regime of Joaquín Balaguer, which ended in 1978.
In addition, the University is short of funding, and this has led to cutbacks in research, salaries, equipment and student services. This then leads to strikes by the faculty demanding higher wages and student protests for better services.

It is really sad as a public university should mean that anyone irrespective of their financial position has the ability to study and better themselves through education. Nowadays the fact that it is a public university is taken to mean incompetence, lack of productivity and the qualifications are said not to be worth the paper they are written on. Many students see it as a means just to gain the credentials to be able to have a better job and not as a place to really develop their abilities.

As the first university in the Americas it deserves better and so do the young people of the Dominican Republic who cannot afford to go to the private universities here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A frustrating week

I know I go on about the power problem here but this last week has been a total pain. Last Saturday some enterprising persons unknown decided to make a bit of money by stealing the electricity cables from the streets in the barrio. They have already taken all the manhole covers.  The cables are pretty flimsy and there are no lamp posts so the cables are on bits of twig or tied around trees. End result is many homes with no power as no cables left! Apparently this has happened before and the residents decided to get up in arms about it and went en masse to the electricity office to demand that the lines be replaced with bigger and stronger ones that were on proper lamp posts and that couldn't be stolen. Power to the people (sorry about the pun) and it worked!

There was no electricity Saturday, and the company came out with the promise of money from us if they fixed it. So they did a temporary fix with the same trees and similar cables and the supervising residents collected 50 pesos which is about US1.50 from each of us, ready to hand it over. However they finished after 5pm and the electricity was scheduled to go off 5-11pm and as most people don't keep an eye on the schedule like I do, they assumed the men hadn't fixed it and refused to hand over the collection.  There was a shout at the gate later that evening and I was given my 50 pesos back!

My pole with birds nest on top. Nice blue sky!

Sunday and Monday were normal in that we had 12 hours of street power and 12 hours on the inverter and then Tuesday they came to do the work and install the new cables and new posts. Personally I would have started by putting up the new posts and cables. However they started by taking down the line they had put up on Saturday, rather than leaving that up until they were finished with the new one. It took three days during which time we had no electricity. In order to try and make the inverter last, the fridge was turned off, no fans allowed, no TV allowed but at least the computer worked and we used minimum light bulbs too. All slept somehow although it was very hot and the mosquitoes had a banquet.

Man cutting down my wires to connect to new line

The new big shiny line went up on new tall concrete posts and then they had to connect each house which involves taking a line from the house and somehow jamming it in to the big thick line using a knife.  They weren't going to do mine until today but I managed to persuade them to do it last night before they finished, so they came and cut my wires down from where they went before and dragged them over to the new line, and jammed them in. Two hours later - street power and a lot stronger than before so I was a happy bunny.

Getting ready to connect me - my lines coming out of his bottom!

The story does not end there however. The houses round the corner have never had meters. They paid a low fixed rate each month irrespective of use. To be fair they are small wooden houses with maybe a TV and a fan, but no swimming pools, dryers, air conditioners. They paid around 300 pesos a month - about US$8. I have a meter and pay around 1500 pesos which is around US$40 but a lot of that will be charging the batteries for the inverter.

Yay I am plugged into new line

Now with this new line they all have meters which are on the shiny new lamp post and every time I go past there are people looking at their meters and watching them go round. I can feel there will be trouble ahead when they get their first proper bill. Added to this for the first time in ages we are having much more electricity than usual, no doubt as people will now have to pay for it.

See all the new meters on the post
Anyway, this morning they were due back to connect the houses still not hooked up, around 10 of them and no sign of them anywhere. So some people still have no electricity - thank goodness one wasn't me. But a man from the electric company came and told me that my meter has stopped working and said I would need a new one. I have a birds nest on top of my pole where the wires go to the meter so maybe the bird pecked through the cable or maybe the man damaged it when he was connecting me to the new line.  Fine, I replied get me a new one. He suggested that I go into the office and buy one and I suggested that I didn't as his chaps had damaged it when they moved my line so it was his responsibility. He went off to fetch reinforcements to deal with the stroppy English woman, and so far has not returned. Watch this space to see what happens, but in the meantime I have the hot water on all the time and the meter isn't moving an inch! Bliss!

You can see how wires are all twisted now but birds nest still there

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What colour are you?

This post has been inspired by some comments on colour and Haitian immigration on my post about Trujillo. I should preface this by saying I have little idea about discrimination on the grounds of colour as I am white and have never felt discriminated against wherever I have been, apart from here as I was a foreigner I used to get charged higher prices. I personally do not see someone for their colour, people are people and that is that.

The Dominican Republic in my opinion does not have a major issue with discrimination on the grounds of colour, but those who are black are often considered to be Haitian, and in some areas there is discrimination against Haitians.  Look at this photo.

These guys all worked for me. The one in the red baseball cap is Haitian and here legally with a visa. The one in the white vest is Dominican and comes from a family of Cocolos. That is, his grandparents came here from St Kitts where they were descended from African cane cutters. They came to the DR to cut cane, and in fact they still speak English. The one in the orange shirt is Dominican pure bred. All three of them are more or less the same colour. The one on the end is also Dominican.

My husband who is brown and likes to say he is descended from the Indians, had never experienced prejudice on behalf of his colour until we went to England where we would get comments and insults. Every black person he saw there he thought was Haitian and couldn't understand why they could not understand him when he spoke in Creole! It was as hard for him to understand why someone would be prejudiced against someone because of his colour as it is for those who are used to prejudice to come here and not realise that the same level does not exist.

It cannot be denied that there is prejudice on the part of some Dominicans against some Haitians, due in part to the long history between the two nations. Dominicans celebrate independence day on 27 February and I always thought it was independence from Spain, but it is independence from Haiti.

We all want to live in a world free from prejudice and discrimination be it colour, religion, sex whatever. The Dominican Republic is not perfect in this respect, but it is certainly a lot better than some other countries.