Monday, September 30, 2013

Expat experiences

My book was published by Summertime Publishing which specializes in books by expats and about the issues facing expats, whether the effect on the families, the kids, being an expat wife or a memoir about living abroad like mine. We read each others’ books and review them and so I have been exposed to books which I would never usually read.

For example, I read Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott - a tale of two gay men in Turkey. A fabulously witty, funny and insightful book about Turkey and the adventures of Jack and Liam. What was interesting is even though Turkey is not the DR, the issues facing expats are often similar.

You can visit Jack's website here

Another book I really enjoyed was Expat Life, Slice by Slice by Apple Gidley. It is a story of her life and childhood moving around the world and as well as superb writing which brings the places to life, it looks at all sorts of issues which affect expats such as child rearing in foreign countries, making friends, dealing with elderly relatives at home and relationship management.

Apple's book available here

Reading all these different books has got me thinking as to how people change and cope when they spend a long time in a foreign country. I am English and always will be although I have lived in the DR for 12 years on November 2nd! I am married to a Dominican, have Dominican step kids, live in a purely Dominican campo and only speak English to my mother on Skype and if I ever have English speaking visitors. But I will never be Dominican. I will always speak Spanish with an English accent, and I don’t think I will ever act or think like a Dominican. But having said that I could not imagine living in England again. Not being able to pop into anyone’s house without letting them know I was coming; not having people calling round at all times of the day or night with an avocado, plate of food or cup of coffee; not listening to music everywhere you go; not laughing most of the day.

That is not to say I will not change the way I do some things. I used to be conscious of being on time, time was important to me. Now it is not. The Dominican way is to be late and unless I am meeting a fellow Brit I will not panic if I am late. If people are coming for dinner I never expect them to arrive on time and plan accordingly. I remember once we had dinner at home and I was just going to bed when my husband exclaimed that he had forgotten we had been invited to dinner in Santo Domingo, an hour away. I had to get out of my pyjamas, get in the car and we arrived at 11.30 at night for dinner – the second dinner of the night. Everyone else was there and they were all starving, waiting for us to arrive.

But in many ways I will always be English. I will cook English food; cut off a piece of cheese if I want to eat it, unlike this piece I found in the fridge a couple of days ago. I don't need forensic analysis to recognise those teeth marks, and they don't belong to a mouse.

People born in one culture, growing up in one culture and then moving to another face special and often rewarding challenges and even more so the children. They call them TCKs – Third Culture Kids. I receive many emails from people every day about this blog, or my book, and I recently received one from a film producer, Rahul Gandotra who had made a short film about this very issue. It wasn't just any old film, it was actually shortlisted for an Academy Award. He sent me a link to watch the film for free.

You  can download the film here

It is an extraordinary film, beautifully shot in the foothills of the Himalayas and follows the story of a young British boy of Indian parents sent to boarding school in India. It explores this very issue of being born into one culture whilst genetically from another. He has given me permission to share the film, and you can download it here, together with interviews and discussions from experts on Third Culture Kids. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Another fun week in the campo

It has been a busy couple of weeks here in the campo. The water diviner didn't turn up so we are no further forward with the well, but we have had lots of rain so at least the garden is happy. The only problem is that when it rains - it rains hard and the house fills with water. It comes in through the patio doors, under the front door and when the balcony fills with water upstairs, it then cascades down the stairs. Every late afternoon the storms have arrived which has involved 3 hours of mopping. Hey ho. And the storms have brought the mosquitos with them, the first time I have seen them here. They have arrived in droves, but the campo folk have a range of different ways of stopping them biting. I have been told to rub my skin with garlic and vanilla (doesn't work) and Hector has been wandering around with half a neem tree around his neck, which he won't take off even at dinner time.

Chvirico came for the weekend and we harvested our first yuca of the season. It was absolutely delicious with none of the stringy bits that yuca sometimes has. As we have maybe 50 yuca plants there should be enough to keep us going for a while.

We went for a walk with the dogs to see the pigs. Everyone in the campo has pigs but they don't keep them close to the house, they are all further away deep in the woods.

And we also cooked cup cakes - I love the way Chivirico climbs onto the work surface to supposedly wash his hands and instead is caught out licking the bowl.

Talking about being caught out eating out of the bowls in the sink, I spotted our Great Dane Belinda doing exactly the same thing.

Remember the cat who had a kitten and took it off to live in a deserted house nearby and then brought it back and I had to put it in the washing machine? I gave the kitten to a neighbour, but it ran off and went back to live in the deserted house. Eventually I found him again, and given that it was his Dad who was shot for playing with chickens I decided to keep him. His name is Bubblito - son of Bubbly, and here he is happily playing in out Dominican cat flap.

And talking of cats, my three pawed cat Cojo who didn't make the move here and who was eventually found and arrived three months later has settled in well. He sleeps on top of the balcony railing which is a pretty stupid thing for a three pawed cat to do as he falls off periodically. He then looks around to see if anyone has spotted him falling off and then nonchalantly climbs back onto his perch again.

Every morning he walks from one corner of the balcony to the other, as the other corner has sun in the morning. However, it is dangerous for him to stay in the other corner, as if he falls off he will go straight into the dog run which is not a good idea for a three pawed cat. When he walks from one end to the other he goes very slowly to make sure he doesn't fall. Here he is this morning.

Guaranteed to make me smile over my morning coffee.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chivirico's seventh birthday

Chivirico was 7 last Sunday. It only seems like a few months ago we all went to the pool. He wanted to do the same again, so off we went and this time he brought his brother (on his right) and his cousin.

They were all in the pool all day, although his cousin is a little sod and kept being told off for jumping on other kids and sticking them in the bottom with a skewer from his hot dog. Don't think he will be invited next year.

When Danilo held him up for this picture I could really see how much he has grown since the same time last year

There was the usual cake

Which was enjoyed by all!

So, all in all a great day.

On the well front progress has come to a grinding halt as Hector hit rock. He says he can't dig through it. So Danilo and I went to visit the local convent where they have a well. The mother superior said that a man came from a neighbouring campo with 2 sticks and when they crossed he said here is water. A Dominican water diviner! She said then a company of well diggers came from the capital and the well was so deep they had to get extra drilling bits. But she and the rest of the nuns all stood around praying and eventually they struck water. This may be harder than I thought, but we will call the water divining man as he may be better at it than me with my coat hangers.

The great news is that the postman arrived with a book for me sent by a friend who I last saw when I was 7 in England. She and I went to school together and she is now a gardening expert and living in the US. She sent me a book on gardening in Florida which is nearly the same as here, with when to do what. I have now realised I planted everything at the wrong time! So I will start again in October - and watch this space.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Chivirico and the school uniforms - Part 2

We delivered the uniforms on Monday at 8 in the morning and the children were milling around waiting for the Head to arrive.

There were some kids there who don't have a uniform but had tried their best with what they had. These two both received a new uniform so that they could go to school now.

Firstly we had to join in morning prayers, watch the Dominican flag being raised and sing the National Anthem.

Then it was off to each class to hand out the uniforms.

The lady next to me is the head mistress.

All in all a very successful day and 50 children can now attend school, thanks to the generosity of those members of Chivirico's facebook group. The whole event was videoed and shown on local television. I tried to download the video onto my computer but it wouldn't work for some reason so I played it on the television and used the computer webcam to film it and then downloaded it onto You tube. You can see it here although the quality isn't the best! In case it doesn't work on here you can click here and go to You tube.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Chivirico and the school uniforms - Part 1

Some friends came from the USA and Canada and met Chivirico. They very generously gave him some money to buy his school uniform, and off he went to the first day at school. The following weekend I asked him how school was going, and he said fine, but there were only 7 people in his class, as the others did not have the money to buy their uniform. No uniform, no school. I posted thanks to those who had given him the money on his Facebook page – Chivirico the Bodyguard. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with people offering to buy the children uniforms.

So I went to the shop and asked how much a uniform would cost, a pair of trousers, shoes, two shirts and a pair of socks. Total average cost RD$1,200 which is about US$30. I posted the information on his page and the money came flooding in. Some bought one, some two and some more. It was staggering. People forwarded the message to their friends and they offered to help too.

The head mistress provided me with a list of who needed a uniform. She was supposed to put the sizes but mostly it was just the ages. The school is what we call an infant school in English, the first 5 grades plus kindergarten. Some of the kids are 12 or more though as they started school late.

Ana, Chivirico’s aunt, went and visited all of the kids on the original list of around 80 students – half of the school total, and crossed off those who had a uniform but just had not gone to school, and those who did not want to go as they were working instead – usually as shoe shine boys. She then came with me to the shop to help put everything together as she had a better idea of the right sizes for the right kids.

I then went to pick up the money which had come by Xoom to my bank account here, into my British bank and by Western Union. That is when things got a little sticky. I was already wondering what sort of reception Danilo would get in Western Union when he handed over his long list to pick up – they would be bound to think he was a sanky panky, but we used his name as he goes into town every day to University. Well WU has some new rule that you can only pick up two deposits a day, so I had to call the shop and confirm I could have some of the uniforms on credit until we managed to pick up all of the WU money.

Then it was off to Banco Popular to take out the Xoomed money, which was no problem. Then to take out the money from England but they had a new machine in the bank which you have to put your PIN in. It was behind the counter so I couldn’t put my PIN in. I offered to give the number to the bank teller but that is against the rules, so I offered to come behind the counter. That is against the rules too. The only option was to go outside to the cash machine and withdraw 4 times, as there is a maximum of RD$10,000 a time. First withdrawal was fine. Second said go away you fraudulent person, or words like that. So I had to call India. My bank is in the UK but their customer services team is in India, which is useful as I get good curry making tips.

I tried to call but the phone wouldn’t work, even though it had plenty of minutes on it. Off to Claro, the phone company, who told me that I cannot use the minutes I pay for on my contract as they are a different type of minute. If you want to call overseas you have to buy more minutes, which although the same minutes, allows you to call overseas, and India. Bought minutes, called India, said I was me and not a thief, got the money out.

Then it was off to pay for the uniforms. Each one had been carefully put in their own plastic bag and numbered but some were lacking shirts which the owner had been to buy at the warehouse the previous day.

Every bag had to be opened though to see if they had shirts, and all were tightly knotted. The new shirts were put in and every bag tied up again. Then the owner thought he had better check the bill, so every bag was opened again, items called out, added up and the bags tied up again.

We had money left over so I bought notebooks and pencils and at last everything was loaded into the car and we drove home. Then every bag had to be unknotted again and the notebook and pencil put in.

Each bag had a label with the name of the student, who had gifted them the uniform and which country they lived in, and a message from Chivirico telling them to take care of their uniform and study hard.

Tomorrow morning at 8 am we will go to the school and hand them over to the kids. The headmistress is supposed to have told them all, and the TV and press are supposed to be turning up too. I am sure it will be total chaos, but fingers crossed all will go well and 50 kids will now be able to go to school.

What started as a thank you for one child a week ago, has snowballed into a massive thank you with people from all over the world coming together to help a little barrio school. Totally amazing.