Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chivirico, my new bodyguard

Chivirico is five years old. Well I think he is, as last week he told me it was his birthday and he was six, so I gave him 10 pesos and today he said it was his birthday and he was six. I told him he was six last week, so he said he was seven today. Who knows.

He comes to the gate twenty times a day to chat, or sometimes to shoot me with a plastic pipe and then he ducks down behind the wall so I don't shoot him back. Today he shot me with a twig, yelling "bang bang" as he shot me. The ice cream man came and as I was buying him an ice cream, I explained the twig was a gun. Chivirico looked at me like I was a total idiot and told the ice cream man it was a twig.

His real name is Eury and his lives with his grandparents. His aunt is the girlfriend of my stepson, Alberto. His mother is not on the scene - she lives near the park and for some reason doesn't want him. His father is Alberto's girlfriend's brother who  has another wife now and two more children. His new wife is the daughter of my neighbour, Lala, and they live next door to me. Everyone goes backwards and forwards between the houses.

They call Eury Chivirico but I don't know what it means. Rico is rich and chivo is goat, not that that helps me much. He is amazingly bright, but not good with time at all. He told me he gets up early, at one o'clock, and he goes to bed late at six o clock. Obviously he is already in tune with Dominican time.

He has decided he wants to be my personal security guard and when I asked how much he charged he said 3,000 pesos - around US$75. I informed him that that was an awful lot of money but he said he needed it to buy milk for his brother and sister. I gave him 20 pesos. He then collared my husband and said he wanted to be his security guard and he paid him 10 pesos.

He now stands outside the house guarding it with a twig, and is sometimes joined by a friend, who rarely wears clothes so I have no idea where he keeps his gun!

Today Chivirico asked for his wages again - a tiguere in the making. I told him the 20 pesos was for 15 days which didn't go down too well.  He asked if the 15 days would be up tomorrow. He really is adorable and makes me howl with laughter everytime he opens his mouth!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Shoe shine boys

Shoe shine boys, known as limpiabotas are a well known part of Dominican culture and society. They are to be found in every town, usually in the centre near the park, and there are more in the tourist areas. Their ages vary from around 7 to 17 and in some of the major cities especially, they not only clean shoes, but also run errands, and are even tour guides. In fact in 2010, 22 of them received certificates from the Ministry of Tourism in the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo due to their knowledge of the area.

Sammy Sosa

Many well known people were shoe shine boys at one stage in their lives. The most famous from the Dominican Republic were Sammy Sosa, the baseball player from San Pedro de Macoris, and Johnny Ventura the merengue singer, Dr. Peña Gomez the leader of the PRD, and José Rafael Corporán de los Santos, a television and radio producer and presenter. From America, James Brown, Rush Limbaugh, Lee Trevino and Rod Blagojevich were all shoe shine boys at some point.

A typical Dominican town centre park

I am not sure what I really thought about shoe shine boys. I assumed they were poor, came from poor families and were trying to make money to help provide food. I decided that I would like to know a little more, and so I went to the park and met up with three of them for a chat. I must say, I expected this to be a sad post about poverty here, similar to my post about the dwendies here. I was wrong.

I spoke with José Francis and Jefferson, both aged 15 and Roberto who was 16. All three of them were born here, and are second or third generation Haitians. Their parents all have Dominican cedulas.  They spoke fluent Creole and fluent accentless Spanish. Jefferson also spoke English. They all had the boxes that the shoe shine boys carry, full of rags, brushes, different colours of shoe polish, both liquid and solid wax, liquid soap and a metal implement to scrape mud off shoes.

I was surprised to find out that all three of them were at school. Roberto was in 8th grade, José Francis in the first grade of High School and Jefferson in the second year of high school. During the school holidays and at weekends they work an 11 hour day, from 8 in the morning to 7 at night, but during the school year, they fit their work as shoe shine boys around school, working in either the morning or the afternoon and then again in the evening.

The normal rate is 15 pesos to have your shoes cleaned, although some people pay less, and they said an average days wages was around 100 pesos which is around US$2.50. A good day was 150 pesos. This money is then taken home and all of it given to their mother for food. All three lived with their mother and siblings. The fathers of José Francis and Jefferson were working in Haiti, and occasionally sent money back. Roberto’s father had left and he didn’t know where he was.
José Francis had 4 brothers and sisters, Roberto had 7, and he was the youngest, the rest were working in the capital apart from a 20 year old sister at home, and Jefferson had two brothers at home with his mother.


I was surprised that they were studying, as I had an impression, I am not sure why, that shoeshine boys had no education, but what surprised me even more was what they wanted to do with their lives. They did not have near impossible dreams which were unlikely to be realised. José Francis and Roberto both wanted to go to university and become lawyers. They wanted to defend people and to help the poor. Jefferson wanted to work in tourism, and was taking extra English lessons. They said they would carry on working as shoe shine boys to fund their education.

José Francis

I was really impressed by these three entrepreneurs, especially these days with employment being hard to find. Unlike many young people here, they didn't spend their days hanging around, complaining that there was no work. They work a 7 day week, from dawn to dusk, for a tiny reward, which was very refreshing and impressive. I really do wish them well and hope they realise their dreams.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Interview

Here it is, my interview on Esta Noche Mariasela, and I hope you enjoy it. Thanks to Jose Lora and all of the production team. It is in Spanish - hopefully I didn't make too many mistakes!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Television Interview

My interview will be aired tonight at 10.30pm Dominican time, on Channel 9, Colorvision. Esta Noche Mariasela. For those who want to see it and who are not in the Dominican Republic, you can find the Channel online on various internet sites including http://www.colorvision.com.do/

Hope my Spanish wasn't too bad!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Tale of Nuts

I used to own a colmado, and every week would go shopping in the warehouse and the market for stock. I was always looking for new things to sell, and the Dominican staff would always tell me that the interesting things I bought would never sell. "No sirve" they would say, "It won't work."

But I persevered and one day I was in the market and I saw sacks of raw peanuts, and thought it would be a good idea to sell them.

I rang the staff and said I had seen sacks of peanuts and they told me they would have to be put in little plastic bags, roughly the size of a condom, and then they could sell them at 5 or 10 pesos depending on the size. They could not be sold straight from the sack apparently. Flour, rice, sugar, washing powder, beans can all be sold from the sack and weighed out, but not peanuts.

So I bought 50 lbs of peanuts, and hundreds of little plastic bags and took them home.

I spent 3 days filling the plastic bags with peanuts and sealing them with a knot, and proudly took them into the colmado. "No sirve," I was told, as they were raw. I explained that we ate our peanuts raw in England and demonstrated by eating a packet, while the staff looked on horrified and told me at best I would have severe stomach problems and at worst I would die. They told me that in the Dominican Republic they would have to be roasted.

I went home with all my packets of nuts, had neither stomach problems, nor did I die, but spent the next 3 days unknotting all my packets of nuts, and roasting them in the oven and on the top for around 40 minutes each lot. It took for ever, and used a months supply of gas. I was then instructed to cover them with a sprinkling of salt and leave them to cool.

I then spent another 2 days stuffing and knotting all the little packets again and went back to the colmado. "No sirve," they said. They have to be peeled.

Roasting and peeling nuts

Back home, open up packets again and start peeling. It was obvious this would take weeks, until I was shown that you just rub handfuls between your hands whilst blowing at the same time. The nuts are then peeled, but the house is full of peanut skins.

Peanuts for sale in little plastic packets

A week later all the bags were done yet again. This time the staff was content, and the nuts sold. They asked me to do some more. Not on your nelly, as we say in England.

Moral of the story. Do not expect Dominicans to eat the things we eat in England, as they will often  tell you they "No sirve"!  You do not die if you eat raw peanuts. Making and peeling home roasted peanuts takes ages but they are delicious!

NOTE: Not on your nelly means not on your life. It is cockney rhyming slang as nelly rhymes with smelly, which leads to smelly breath, breath leads to breathing to keep alive, which leads to not on your life.  Some people say it comes from Nellie Duff, whoever she was, and Duff rhymes with puff, puff of breath, and then life and not on your life,

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Domestic violence in the Dominican Republic

Last year 66,000 women were murdered in the world. Significantly less women than men, but nonetheless a high figure, and this little Caribbean island unfortunately is one of the places where femicide is much higher than it should be, ranking at 24 in the world. Interesting Latin America, South Africa, and Russia and surrounding countries all feature highly.

Many of the femicides here, well over 50%, are due to domestic violence, and domestic violence was amazingly not a crime here until 1997 – hard to believe that before then men could beat their wives as often as they wanted without fear of legal reprisals. According to Oxfam data, nearly a quarter of all women between the ages of 14 and 49 have suffered abuse, and according to the women in my barrio, it is more like 90% here.

The numbers of women killed have been slowly rising in the Dominican Republic from 190 in 2005, to 230 last year, and in the first five months of this year there have been 80 deaths, with 10 in 6 days a couple of weeks ago. To put it another way, every 36 hours a woman is murdered in the DR.

The majority of the women killed, and their murderers, are Dominican, but every year expat women are killed too, usually by Dominican men. Last year a German, Venezuelan, Italian, Canadian and Swiss woman were murdered.

Most murders of women happen in the large conurbations, which one would expect given that that is where the most people live, with Santo Domingo taking top spot. It is followed by Santiago, the second biggest city, and then San Cristobal, San Pedro de Macoris and then La Altagracia.
The big question is why is femicide and specfically men murdering their wives, partners, lovers, ex partners, so prevalent?

The main reason appears to be jealousy.  Dominican men are known as being macho. Their machismo reflects in all aspects of male behaviour but importantly they view themselves as conquerers of women and women are often expected to play a submissive role in the household. In addition extramarital affairs are extremely common as men feel it is their right, and in some cases their duty as men, to seek the companionship of other women. But women of course don’t have this same right.

Many of the reasons for murder have been that the woman refused reconciliation, or she had another man, or she didn’t want the man who killed or, or he thought she had another man.
Often the machismo plays out in a different way as the woman may be younger than the man, and she may be brighter, be studying at university or have a better job, and the man will feel emasculated and jealous of her success.

This body is mine. Don't touch it, don't rape it, don't kill it.
There can be no doubt that many of the murders are fuelled by alcohol and economic problems. If the family are hungry and the woman fights with the man because he has not provided enough money to feed them, or is keeping another woman, then that can escalate. In my experience many Dominicans, especially the poorer ones, have not had the education to be able to discuss issues within a relationship in a mature and calm manner. So any discussion quickly dissolves into a full on screaming and physical battle from both sides. In those cases where the woman is killed and the man then commits suicide, which also happens frequently, I am sure it was often an argument which ran way out of control, and often started by the woman.

Most of the murders are carried out by shooting – yet another reason to limit gun ownership, followed by stabbing. This being the DR, Google searches on domestic violence bring up horrendous pictures of women having been murdered with kitchen knives sticking out of their backs. I have spared you this.

The other, in my mind incredible, reason for the abuse, especially in the campos, is that the women have said to me that they would be concerned if their husband did not hit them, as by hitting them he is showing her that he loves her, as if he didn't care if she looked at another man then it meant he did not love her.

Do not think, however, that the country is doing nothing about this. There are marches in the street, and all over the country women are saying No More. Just this last week the Ministry for Women (yes there is one) has launched a hotline for women to call if they are being abused. It has been found that those who have been killed have usually been abused before so it is better to nip it in the bud if that is possible.

Hopefully there will be a reduction in the figures, but there needs to be a fundamental change in the attitude and behaviour of some men towards women here, which I don’t think will happen overnight.

Friday, July 13, 2012

I am going to be a TV star!

As I mentioned in my last post, I was asked to appear on a new show for Channel 9, Colorvision here in the Dominican Republic. The show is to be hosted by  Mariasela Alvarez and will go out from Monday to Friday between 10.30 and 11.30 pm. The programme is called "Tonight Mariasela" and will be a variety show which will be entertaining and involving a lot of interaction with the public.

Mariasela won the Miss World title for the DR in 1982, becoming the first Dominican to do so. She has brains as well as beauty, as she is an architect, but changed that career to enter television. She had a programme in 1996 with the same title as now and received the Casandra award four times for the Best Special Programme in Television. 

So it was decided to interview me, as a result of this blog and yesterday the team appeared.

They were very professional, and I thought I would just be sitting at a table and being interviewed, but it was not like that! We chatted a little first in the house and then went walkabout. Firstly to the colmado where we had a beer which proved to be very necessary for what followed next.

It was decided that I would ride my pasola with the interviewer behind. The only problem was that I haven't ridden it for over two years, and I was never very good at having a passenger on the back, nor at going round corners. Ten seconds of me driving was enough and the interviewer, whose name I have forgotten, swapped places with me and he took over. He  had never ridden a pasola in his life, but Michael Schumacher eat your heart out!

We flew around the barrio at 60 miles an hour, well it felt like that, being filmed all of the way and luckily made it back safe and sound.

All in all it was great fun, although my puppy, Meg was keen to join in on every occasion and tried her best to get in front of the camera whenever she could. Here she is having gone into the rubbish bin in the kitchen and getting the top of the bin stuck round her head. Then she has the nerve to say it wasn't her who went into the bin! No wonder my husband calls her a vira lata!

I think the programme with me in will air a week on Monday, the 22nd, but I will try and post a video of it here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trip to Santo Domingo

I had to go to Santo Domingo, the capital of the DR on Monday to renew my residency. It has to be renewed every two years, and mine was two years out of date - ooops! Given that they are supposedly bringing in new regulations I thought I had better get it sorted or risk possible deportation. We left here at 4 am planning to get a bus to Santiago and then another big, air conditioned bus to the capital where I was planning to sleep. A mini bus came along so we hopped on that, and it ended up going all the way to Santo Domingo at break neck speed. I was squished in the back and could see nothing, which I think was just as well.

The minibus. I was on the back seat.

It is apparently owned by a local member of the army and he goes every day early morning and back and then goes to work! It only cost 300 pesos which is around 5 pounds. Fantastic value!

A journey of four hours turned into two, albeit not very comfortable, and we were outside immigration by 7am. This immigration department bus with barred windows was waiting outside which did not fill me with confidence, but inside everything went smoothly. Firstly pick up form and complete and give fingerprints, wait, then pay, wait, then have photo taken, wait, then pick up residency card. So I am now legal again!

Then it was off for a pre - interview chat. I am going to be interviewed for Dominican television by Mariasela Alvarez who is famous, so I am told. She was the first cover of the new Hello! magazine here last week and is very beautiful. Anyway it was just a chat first and she is supposed to be coming to interview me tomorrow, so I will report back once it has happened. The interview will be in Spanish so tonight I need to learn my verbs!

Then it was off to see a friend of mine in the Colonial Zone who has bought an old colonial house and is doing it up to make what will be a small hotel, or a place which can be rented out for weddings or events. I don't know what I was expecting, but it was simply breathtaking and is not even finished yet.

I felt like I had stepped back in time with original colonial floors and doors but amazing modern touches as well. It is just waiting to have a pool put in the courtyard and then will be ready for events, but he is renting out rooms now.

The bedrooms were to die for, especially the showers which hit you with roasting hot water from every angle. Check it out here.

We then went out to a french restaurant in the Colonial Zone. The Colonial Zone is gorgeous at night, with the beautiful old buildings you feel like you have gone back in time, and I kept expecting to run into squads of soldiers from the 16th century. The restaurant was called La Taberna Vasca and I was a bit concerned it would be stuck up and posh!

private dining room

It was neither. It was amazingly comfortable, like being in an old colonial house, with impeccable service, fabulous food and a really lovely atmosphere. They have a website here.

Just look at how many crayfish there are in this paella!

I met a few more people, did a little more work and then back to my barrio! I had forgotten how great the capital can be, and how different a place from where I live. I ate some fabulous food, had English tea and bacon sandwiches so was in seventh heaven.

Also yesterday I was quoted in the Daily Telegraph about blogging, which is one of the UK's top newspapers, which you can read here.

So a very successful and fattening couple of days. I was so impressed with the Sanchez hotel in the Colonial Zone and the restaurant la Taberna Vasca, I am thinking of doing a 'Lindsay recommends' section, but only for places I have visited and tried out. If you know of any places I should check out then let me know.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Internal conflict of the Dominican Revolutionary Party

This blog post was inspired by a picture of my 10 month old puppy, who had a bone and didn’t want to let go. My husband saw it and said it reminded him of the infighting in the PRD, the Dominican opposition party which has just lost the presidential elections. He then wrote this post.

The Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) was founded on 21 January 1939 by Juan Bosch and other patriots who were in exile in Cuba. The fundamental objective was to fight against the tyranny of Trujillo and obtain a better democratic future for the Dominican Republic.

But it was not until 1961, after Trujillo was assassinated that Juan Bosch and the other patriots who founded the PRD returned to this country and started to fight against the Trujillists and hence the party became an option for power and a solution to the problems facing the nation.
In 1962, Juan Bosch stood as Presidential candidate and won, assuming power on 27 February 1963 but his government only lasted 7 months due to a military coup.
In 1970 Juan Bosch, still party founder and leader, did not want to compete in the elections because he felt that it was too dangerous to compete again Balaguer, the head of the PRSC. Balaguer won with no opposition. There was a subsequent disagreement between Juan Bosch and Pena Gomez who was his right hand man, so Juan Bosch left the party and formed the PLD.

 Peña Gomez and Balaguer and Juan Bosch

Since then all the serious internal party differences between the popular leaders have resulted in one of those disagreeing, leaving the PRD and forming a new party.
Juan Bosch left and started the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD).
Jacobo Majluta left and started the Independent Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Jacobo Majluta

Hatuey De Camps left and formed the Dominican Social Revolutionary Party. (PRSD).

Hatuey de Camps

Should Miguel nor Hipolito abandon the party with the idea of forming another one, that would be fatal for the PRD.

Hipolito and Miguel
They should reflect and look for a solution within the party as only the leaders of the PRD can solve this problem which they themselves created, by accusing each other. They should learn from the last fifty one years.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Imagine no ......immigration rules

Imagine there’s no need for visas. Imagine people from every country could travel and work wherever they wanted to.

I first became aware of the whole immigration and visa issue when I left England to become a diving instructor. I did my Instructor’s course in Singapore, but when I entered and my passport was stamped, I was only allowed to stay in the country for 3 months, and was not allowed to work. Usually I would take no notice of passport stamps as I was always travelling for pleasure or business and never stayed anywhere longer than a few days or a week or two at most. Suddenly it wasn’t very nice to be told I couldn’t stay somewhere. The same thing happened in Thailand. I couldn’t work legally and if I stayed I would have to take the long bus journey to Burma every few months and return, or I would be deported. The same thing happened in Borneo. It really was very strange for me, as with a British passport I thought I could go anywhere I wanted to and work wherever I wanted to. I thought it was only people from really poor countries who could not travel to rich ones.

I didn't realise that almost no matter where you live, if not your home country, you need permission to live there. In the Dominican Republic I am a resident. It was not that hard to obtain, involving lots of running around obtaining documents, translating them, having medicals, getting police reports and paying US$1,000. It has to be renewed every two years, and currently there is talk of a new law which will make it more difficult and more expensive to obtain. I went to renew my residency this week to be told my photograph has mysteriously disappeared from the system, so next week I have to go to the capital, Santo Domingo to have my photo taken and renew my residency. Hopefully I will find out about the new rules there.

It was a shock to me to realise that my Dominican husband couldn’t leave the country without a visa, apart from to a very few places. At least I can travel, although I need visas to stay or work. He couldn’t travel to the USA, to England nor to Europe. I had no idea that there were such restrictions for a country like the Dominican Republic. In the end he obtained a visitors visa for the UK and for the USA, but if ever we decide to go and live in my country, the UK, it will be very difficult for him to get a visa to settle there with me. He will have to pass an English examination, and we will have to have plenty of money in the bank, or I will need to have a good job. The cost of the visa and the English exam is over 1000 pounds or around US$2000, which is non refundable even if it is denied. There is a lot of work involved in getting the mountain of paperwork together for the application, followed by the stress of waiting to see if it has been granted or not. People who don’t know you at all sitting and looking at papers deciding where you will be allowed to live, or, in some cases, if you will be allowed to live together at all, even if you are married.

And visas don’t last for ever. They take no account of emergencies.  My dad died suddenly and my husband’s visa had expired so he couldn’t come with me to the funeral. That was awful.
All over the world loved ones are separated or stuck on different continents, not able to see each other. All over the world people want to travel but are not allowed to. All over the world people are trying to save up to apply for a visa, or trying to make sure they meet the requirements, and for many it is and always will be impossible.

Imagine if there were no visas!  I know people say that all those in third world countries would go to first world ones, but many first world people want to live in less developed countries, just like I want to live in the DR.  You may say I’m only dreaming ……..but it’s a nice dream!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Death in the Dominican Republic

For my column for ExpatFocus this month I talked about death here in the DR. Why it happens more often and what happens when it does. You can read the full article here, but here is a short excerpt.

I have been to more funerals since I have been here, and seen more dead people  than ever before in my life. There is no stigma against photos of dead bodies in all their gory glory, and if you do an image search for anything on the internet, whatever it is, from chocolate to beaches, from recipes to transport, you will find pictures of dead bodies. As well as people dying due to medical issues, there are also the tropical diseases such as malaria, cholera and dengue which claim victims every year, in addition to people drowning in the ocean and rivers. 

Then there are the violent deaths. Dominican Republic has a homicide rate of 31 deaths for every 100,000 people. This compares to the USA at 4.8 and the UK at 1.23. As you can see there is a massive difference. There is a similar picture with traffic related deaths. The DR has 17.3 traffic fatalities per 100,000 population per year, compared to the US at 12.3 and the UK at 3.59. If we look at the figures per 100,000 miles driven per vehicle, the DR is 140.7 traffic deaths, the USA 15 and the UK 7. Incredible really and probably something to do with the lack of law enforcement on using well maintained vehicles, wearing helmets on motorbikes, not drinking and driving, wearing seat belts and having a driving licence.