Saturday, April 27, 2013

Neem trees and good news

This has been a busy week for fixing and making things as husband has a two week break from University.

The first thing to do was to mount the marmolite washing sink which is a standard in many Dominican homes.  It is to go in the utility room, and I thought somehow it would be mounted on concrete pillars. It was not. Instead an interesting frame was put together using bits of wood and trees. I was amazed to see the appearance of a spirit level and a tape measure, neither of which have ever been used before. I have a strange feeling they were just there for appearance as the stand seems pretty rickety to me but I am assured it will be fine.

 At the moment, although finished, the sink is waiting outside until the necessary plumbing is done inside.

I also wanted a garden bench. Hector began by cutting down a small tree, using the biggest axe I have ever seen.

I asked him what sort of tree it was – there was a long line of the same type, and he said it was a neem tree. I had no idea that all the trees on one side of the house were neem trees. They are pretty amazing as in India they are known as “the village pharmacy” because of their healing versatility, and the neem tree has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for more than 4,000 years due to its medicinal properties.

The seeds, bark and leaves contain compounds with proven antiseptic, antiviral, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and antifungal uses. The oil extracted from the seeds  is used in pest control , cosmetics and medicines, and the leaves  are used to treat chickenpox and warts.

You can also make a tea from the leaves which is used traditionally to reduce the fever caused by malaria. The bark and the roots are used to control fleas and ticks on animals. Neem extracts also are used in treatments of several diseases including diabetes, AIDS, cancer, heart disease among others.
And one of the great advantages is that just having the tree in your garden will help cut down on mosquitoes – I have not seen one mosquito since I moved here.

The finished item is…interesting but definitely rustic.

Now they are working on a balcony. Watch this space.

But saving the best till last, this week saw the miraculous return of Cojo, the three pawed cat who had been missing, left at our old house, for two months. I had given up hope as I offered a reward of 1000 pesos which is about 25 dollars for him but still no joy. Then at last, on Tuesday, I had the call I had prayed for. He had been found and my stepson had him in a cat carrier. He brought him here the next day. Cojo was delighted to be here. He is very thin and a little beaten up, but has made himself at home straight away.

Lesson to be learnt is never ever give up hope.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bulls, nuns and Hector

You know the feeling when you look out of the front window in the morning and see someone has dumped something in your front garden? Maybe a beer bottle, or a crisp packet (chips I think in American). You feel a tad disgruntled. Well the same thing happened to me the other day when I looked out of the window into the front garden when I woke up. Not a beer bottle, nor crisp packet, but a cow.

Apparently it is a bull rather than a cow, and about 8 months old. It belongs to Feluche the 80 year old man who lives in the hut in front of us.  I have no idea what he is going to do with it, nor how long it will be there, but it moos constantly. Cats miaow when they are hungry or to say hello, and dogs when they are excited or want to warn you. This baby bull moos morning noon and night. He can’t be hungry as Feluche puts food in his orange crate. I didn't realise country living would be so noisy what with the cocks crowing and now bulls mooing. Hey ho.

When you move to a new place, it takes a while to suss out where the shops are, and where the plumber, electrician, car mechanic are. This week I was told about the convent. No, I am not thinking about joining them, but apparently they sell cheese, yoghurt, fresh eggs etc, so off I went. It is only a couple of miles away with stunning views of the mountains on the way. I felt as though I was in the Sound of Music.

Apparently there are 11 nuns there and they work in the garden and sell plants - they are famous for their orchids, and they also have cows and chickens. Once you arrive it is most peculiar.

You walk past the statue of Jesus in the entrance hall and then there is a sign inside saying what they sell and you press a bell then give your order through through a wooden loudspeaker.

Part of the wall then slides back and your purchases appear. You put the money in, the door slides back again and then reopens with your change.

The sign says the Lord has risen, Hallelujah. Underneath are my yoghurt eggs and cheese.

Anyway the yoghurt and cheese were fabulous so I will be going back there again. I made poached eggs on toast for lunch – there is nothing like poached eggs made with a fresh egg – although it caused a stir among the Dominicans, the idea of boiling an egg without its shell on, and everyone had to stand around and watch.

Have I mentioned Hector yet? Hector is my husband’s cousin and is a campesino full, as Danilo calls him. In other words a country bumpkin. He has been with us in the new house helping to sort it out. He cleans, sweeps, mops and washes up inside, and outside he digs, sows, mends pipes, builds whatever needs building.

 I have known Hector for a while and he makes an appearance in the book, as he was shot by the police (lying on the ground and handcuffed, they shot him through the back of the leg and said he was shot running away), and came and lived in our spare bedroom for a while until he recovered. Here is a little excerpt about what happened.

I took him dinner one night, pork chops, and he looked at me, horrified.
“Are you trying to kill me?” he asked, with a look of shock and surprise on his face.
“No, why?”
“Everyone knows if you eat pork when you have been injured, you will die.” I had never heard that gem of Dominican medical practice, but Danilo and the rest of those gathered for dinner confirmed it, and were astounded I did not know. I decided to conduct an experiment and asked Hector if he would like sausages instead, which he readily agreed to, of course not realising they were pork sausages. Surprisingly, he did not die.

There was a children's television programme in the UK called Hector's House, about a dog called Hector, and people would say to him, affectionately, "you are a silly old Hector". He was not very bright.

Dominican Hector is brilliant at stating the obvious. I think I will start a list saying “Hector says..”. Yesterday it was “It cannot rain as it is windy and clouds have to stand still to rain”.

The water had arrived by pipeline as it does every two weeks and the cistern was slowly filling up. It was about half full when I went to check it and he informed me, “If the water keeps coming through the pipe, the cistern will fill up.”

The book is selling steadily, and I am receiving some lovely emails and lovely reviews about it. I am trying to market it more now, and have written to all sorts of newspapers in the US, Canada and the UK. Unfortunately none have written back yet so I will just have to keep plugging on. Please let me know if any of you have any great ideas!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Saved by the boil

This has been a busy week so far. More visitors this weekend but they were North American and Dominican who behaved like North American. No mopping, no sweeping, no taking my clothes out and washing them. Normal lovely visitors. Not only that, they also brought me so many goodies I was totally blown away.  Cadbury chocolate, kitchenware, seeds for the garden, gardening boots and gloves, clothes for me, husband and Chivirico and even a leg of lamb which we devoured on Saturday evening.  My lovely neighbours  found me some mint so we could have mint sauce.

Chiviro loving his new clothes and my new gardening boots

They left on the Sunday and then yesterday I had to drive to pick up a chap who was coming to train me in the newfangled world of online marketing, so I had arranged to go and pick him up.

I got into my jeep and realized that the seat belt would not work, as it appears that Chivirico had shoved a half chewed sweet into the bit you stick the end into. I was a tad concerned about driving without a seat belt, but hey ho, off I went.  As  I approached the military base, on the edge of town, I could see that helmet-less motorbike drivers were pulling over to the side of the road, well before the traffic lights. My heart sank as that could only mean one thing – AMET.

AMET are the traffic police. Supposedly unbribable, they are well known for their interesting hats, lack of a sense of humour and their love of issuing tickets or impounding your car.

I was too late to turn round, and unfortunately there is nothing they like better than a gringa who is not wearing a seat belt. If they saw this truck, which I took a picture of the day before, then there would not be a problem, but with me there was.

They pulled me over. I tried to think quickly. Should I suddenly not speak Spanish? Should I say the seat belt was broken? I wound down the window and tried to smile sweetly as the stern AMET chap pointed out  the glaringly obvious fact that I wasn't wearing the seat belt. And then it came to me. A master wheeze. “I can’t wear it as I am disabled,” I said. He looked confused. “I can’t wear it as I have a boil. A golondrino.”

I was telling the truth, not that you can really lie about something like that. Stepson had a boil on his face a few months back, so, rightly or wrongly, I blame him for infecting me with the particular brand of bacteria or whatever it is that causes them. His went after a couple of weeks but then a boil appeared in my left armpit. Half outside and half inside, the size of a ping pong ball. I was told to put hot water compresses on it and wait until it ‘ripened’, then it would burst and get better. I did and it did. Instant cure.

Another one then appeared a couple of weeks later in my right armpit, which disappeared on its own, only to reappear by what I can only describe as a monster boil. Think tennis ball. I am still waiting for it to ripen. I will spare you the picture of it.

Anyway, the AMET man asked me to pull over to the side of the road which I did. He then asked to see the boil. I assume he wanted proof. I had a T shirt with sleeves on, so I had to take my T shirt off, to the amusement of the crowd of onlookers who seem to enjoy watching AMET nab people. Of course they had no idea why I was taking my T shirt off.  Luckily I had my nice Victoria Secret yellow bra on, and not a holey one.

Mine is like this but smaller!

I lifted my right arm and his mouth dropped open. He then called over his AMET mate, and he disappeared into the army barracks, reappearing with what seemed like 20 squaddies. I was then instructed to show my boil to all and sundry.

There followed a long litany of advice as to how to help it to ripen it quickly. Everyone was talking at the same time, shouting to make their particular cure heard.  The cures ranged from rubbing it with a lime, to using a papaya compress, putting plantain skins in the gas flame and putting them on it, mashing up or boiling leaves of one tree or another, bikbaporoo of course (Vicks Vapour Rub), and a selection of various concoctions to drink. I was eventually allowed to get dressed, was wished all the very best, asked to report back as to which cure worked best, and sent on my way. Still without a seat belt.

Don’t you just love this country?!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Dominican Visitors

When I lived in the barrio we had very few visitors coming to stay. Now we have moved to the mountains the invasions I had forgotten about have started again. Dominicans love being in the mountains as it is cooler, and many of those who can afford it have their country homes which they go to at weekends and in the summer for an extended vacation. Those that don’t have a summer home are happy to make friends with someone who does. We now appear to have a lot of friends.

We were on our way back from the book launch in Sosua, and called in to see a man whose sister had died the day before in order to pay our respects. My husband invited the man and his wife here for Easter weekend.  Fine, I thought, I can cope with two people and I do like having visitors.

Friday I cleaned the whole house,mopped the floors, changed sheets and bought the food.

Saturday morning arrived and so did said gentleman, together with his wife of 6 months, her daughter and a friend of hers. Two had become four.  Later on in the morning appeared my two step sons, the girlfriend of one of them, who is Chivirico’s aunt, and a friend. They had called husband and said they were coming and he said fine. Hmm. Two had now become eight. Plus husband and me and Chivirico, there were eleven people in the house.

The cats were the first to lose it. They all disappeared into the mahogany woods next to the house and did not return until everyone left on Sunday, apart from the latest addition, a little grey kitten known as Mariposa, meaning butterfly, who desperately tried to find somewhere to hide. Firstly the wine rack.

And eventually decided to stay in bed under the covers where there was at least some peace and quiet. Wise  move.

The dogs were also unimpressed, and managed to escape under the fence into the wood. It was then decided that we had to strengthen the fence so husband climbed a few trees and chopped off branches to stick in the ground in the fence to fill the gaps. These were laurel trees and another one called the copper wood tree. Apparently you just stick branches in the ground and they root and grow quickly. Great idea, but not sure I would have worn my dad's cream cashmere sweater to do it.

When Dominicans come to your home they do not sit and wait for you to offer them a cup of tea, and to cook a meal. They do it themselves. And they don’t just cook. They clean the house which you have just spent a day cleaning and thought was spotless, they wash your clothes even thought they are clean and stacked neatly in drawers and in the wardrobe, they garden, they mend things, they totally take over.  Now on the one hand this is very nice, and I know I should appreciate it, but I think I must suffer from some sort of "Leave My House Alone Syndrome" as it does my head in. I watch my coloured clothes being washed with bleach and have to shove a fist in my mouth; my new knives disappearing one by one to dig the garden, or to gouge holes in the wall to put up pictures. And when I saw a man in the garden fast approaching where my parsnips are planted with a pick axe in hand, I had no alternative but to retire to my bedroom with a small bottle of rum and do some deep breathing exercises.

I must be honest that the man whose sister had died, Cesar, was amazing. He re dug the new vegetable patch as apparently it was facing the wrong way and planted onions and peppers.

He transplanted watermelons and cauliflower, and dug another 4 vegetable patches ready for seeds.

The kids and the women took over cooking the evening meal, which was just as well as I had bought enough stuff for 4 and now we were 11, so I left them to sort that one out.

At last they all left on the Sunday and the silence was blissful. Then the trauma began of trying to find all the things that had been put in different places from where they belonged. It was lovely of them to wash the dishes, but now I had to find them. The machete had disappeared but was eventually found.

I unhooked all my clothes from the barbed wire fence and had them ready to take upstairs when I went to bed, when the peace was broken by the arrival of some of the neighbourhood women. They saw the basket of clothes that I had already neatly folded and couldn't stop themselves taking everything out, and folding them all up again while I just looked on in amazement.

 Then they took the clothes upstairs and put them away. No idea where.