Sunday, December 29, 2013

Dominican Christmas

The big day for Dominicans at Christmas is Christmas Eve. Alberto came over to join us and Danilo cooked as he does every Christmas Eve. The day before, my friend Shirley had arrived so there were the four of us for a dinner of barbecued beef, rice and of course the peas from the garden cooked with coconut milk. It was delicious and Danilo made sure he had enough.

Santa arrived thank goodness.

And the turkey sat in the fridge, waiting for a traditional British Christmas lunch.

Chivirico was due to arrive at 8 am but when I called his aunt Ana she said they were just leaving and eventually they arrived at 10 ish. There followed a fabulous 2 hours of opening presents, mostly provided by his Facebook fans and Tracy, the American lady who was here the week before. He loved everything. There are far too many pictures to post here, so here are a few but if you want to see more they are on his Facebook page here. Here he is opening a Spanish/English learning child's computer. Every morning now I log onto my computer saying I have to work, and he does the same.

A Lego fire station here. Lego has changed since I was a child, far more complicated but brilliant. The only problem was that Belinda the Great Dane kept stealing and eating bits so we had to go and investigate her poo to try and find the front tyre from the ambulance. We found it!

He was given a full cowboy outfit - only thing missing is the horse.

Boxing gloves. Danilo was given some too so everyday they have boxing matches. Only problem is that Chivirico being that much smaller is at the right level to deliver a left hook to Danilo's "bits".

And a doctor's outfit.

Lunch was fabulous and we even had sprouts which, I discovered, Dominicans don't like. The turkey had a fabulous flavour, although I discovered the following day that I had left the giblets inside in their plastic bag. They were nestled behind the stuffing. Maybe that is why it tasted so good!

Puppies are growing fast and I am now trying to find homes for them. They are 4 weeks old now and should be ready to go in another month. They are eating well and getting fatter and fatter and noisier as well.

Danilo is not here at the moment. He has gone to get the chickens. Yes the hen house is finished. Does it look like my picture? Next blog all will be revealed.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Peas, cows and chickens

You remember I said we had loads of pea trees? Well the peas are ready, so we invited the neighbours over to help pick them. They picked several and taught me how to tell when they are ready which is when the pods are fat and they are just starting to turn yellow. You also have to pick the ones which have gone brown as although the peas are dried inside you can still use them - just have to soak them over night. I will use them like I use lentils to make dal.

But although we have picked a lot, the trees are still full and the pea picking will continue for a few weeks more.

The trouble is once picked they have to be shucked, which takes for ever. I shucked for hours and only ended up with this.

They are all ready now to make rice and peas with coconut for tonight, Christmas Eve, which is traditional Dominican fare.

So, I am trying to build up the energy to keep picking and shucking, when help came from an unexpected source. I looked out of the window and there at the far end of the garden was a cow, with one of those white birds with him or her.

Danilo and I went to investigate and shooed her off. The following morning the dogs were barking about 200 metres away from the house and I looked out of the window. Obviously the cow had taken a shine to me, or more likely the peas and had returned, inviting all her friends and relations around to join her for breakfast. There were now 8 cows in the garden - eating my peas.

There was no way we could shoo so many and make sure they all went in the same direction, so we called in the assistance of the cowdogs, Meg and Belinda and together we all managed to get rid of them.

Danilo found the owner and warned him that the next time we would keep and sell the cows, as not only did they eat peas - not all of them - they also ate yuca and avocado trees so they were not really welcome visitors. Made me laugh though, less peas to pick and I now know how to round up cows.

In our drive for self sufficiency we have decided to keep chickens for eggs. I love freshly laid eggs - they are perfect for boiled eggs and soldiers. Usually chickens here are left free to wander around so goodness knows how anyone can find the eggs and given that the dogs like chasing chickens I thought a chicken house would be the best solution. I found a picture of one on line and showed it to Danilo.

With this design the chickens can run around safe from the dogs, they have a nice  warm house which we can fill with straw, although not sure where I can find that, and I just put my hand in the little box on the side and take out the eggs, as I am not too keen on chickens flapping so it would save me actually walking among them.

No problem he said. I can do one just like that. Like an idiot I believed him.

The chicken house has begun, in the corner behind the gym. Well what a surprise it shows no resemblance to my picture at all!

Still it is not finished so I live in hope.

Megs pups are growing like topsy and are three weeks old now. They are eating mushed up puppy food as well as still feeding from her. They now look like little furry teddy bears.

We are having our Dominican Christmas tonight, with the family over where Danilo will barbecue beef and serve with rice and peas and salad, and tomorrow Chivirico will arrive with his family in the hope that Santa Claus might possibly have dropped some presents off for him here. (Don't tell him, but I think Santa will be coming),

Finally a merry Christmas to you all, wherever you are, and thanks again for reading.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dominican Christmas Traditions

You think you know most there is to know about the Dominican Republic and its customs and then something new appears.

That is what happened at 4am this morning.

I am in the middle of a beautiful sleep, snuggled under my two quilts as it is a tad chilly in the mountains now, with just the odd rooster thinking it was dawn and crowing and suddenly there was this appalling noise from the road and the house in front of us. Shouting and singing and music and banging of drums. Our dogs started barking like crazy.
“Danilo, what is going on?” I asked. “What on earth is all that noise in the middle of the night? Is someone dead?”
“Los aguinaldos,” he grunted and went back to sleep.
“Los whatdos?”
There was no way I was getting out of bed to look the word up in a dictionary so I lay there and listened to them singing in Spanish. Excuse the spelling, those of you who understand it.

“Si no te levanta, ni abrí la puerta.
Yo será aquí cantando hasta que amanezca.
Allá entra veo, allá entra veo
Un bulto tapado y yo toy pensando
Que un puerco asado”

Which means in English:

“If you don't get up nor open the door
I will be here singing until you wake up.
Over there I can see, over there I can see (looking through the window)
A bag all closed up and I am thinking
That it has a roast pig in it”

As I lay there listening to this, over and over again, I thought “What burglars would sing outside a house that they wanted to nick a dead pig?”

Eventually, after about 30 minutes they moved off but I could hear them all the way down the road singing the same song and banging on the drums.

In the morning, all was explained. It was los aguinaldos which actually means Christmas bonus and is a tradition, especially in the countryside. Groups of people get up before dawn and go round the neighbourhood banging on doors, playing music and singing the very same song. You are supposed to get up and give them ginger tea and biscuits.

There is a YouTube video of the music here but I couldn’t find one of them banging on the doors. Mind you I have no idea what the old lady is doing in the video.

They didn’t come to our house as they were scared of the dogs. Oh dear what a shame, as I would have loved to have been woken up at 4 am and have to make ginger tea and biscuits.

I suppose it is like the British carol singing tradition but not quite the same as angelic children singing Christmas carols in the early evening. At least in the UK they don't look through your window spotting dead pigs in bags.

And now I have just had another custom explained. We are supposed to clean the whole house, wash it all out and mop it and then paint it before Christmas and burn all our old clothes and get new ones. We have to put all our old brushes and mops and brooms out at the corner of the street and buy new ones. Again I think not – I can feel this gringa is going to get a reputation as being a tad bolshie!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The American brings Christmas

Visitor week. We don’t have many visitors – not many brave enough to face campo life, but this week Tracy from America arrived laden down with goodies - solar lights for the garden, garden tools, barbecue tools, dog stuff, food, clothes and she was determined we should have a proper American Christmas, so as soon as she arrived she went off in search of a tree, and decorations, and a fairy.

That wasn't enough, we also had to have stockings from Santa Claus and presents from her, her mum, and members of Chivirico's Facebook page. Santa will of course be filling the stockings on Christmas Eve night.

Tracy also runs a company making healthy dog treats. Called Snackeroos, you can find them here. She brought various cat and dog treats to test out on my dogs, taught them to sit properly, and a long leash which I can tie in the garden so that Lobo the husky can run almost free without disappearing through the fence. He is a very happy husky now.

Unfortunately the upshot is that the dogs absolutely love the treats and now live next to the fridge hoping someone will open it and take out the treats.

One of the main reasons for her visit was not just to make Christmas happen for me but also for Chivirico and his family. We had collected some money from those on his Facebook page and several people sent gifts to her to bring. First stop was to buy groceries for his grandparents, who he lives with.

Then off we went to deliver them, along with US$150 for their Christmas Eve meal. Grandma was totally over the moon.

Chivirico came back with us and was totally overwhelmed by the tree.

Tracy also wanted a pig roast, which is why the barbecue was built in the first place. We decided a 25 pound pig would be fine and Danilo was duly dispatched to find the pig. Somewhere along the line he invited people from his university, as well as the neighbours, so the little meal for just us sort of grew. And also somewhere along the line the 25 pounds was lost in translation and he came back and announced he had bought the pig, it was 80 pounds and would be delivered the next day, alive.
I was most unimpressed and even more unimpressed when told I was to cook the inedible bits for the dogs. Danilo was firmly told the pig should be delivered dead, cleaned and shaved.
The following night a horn honked at the gate and I shouted out asking who it was. The pig, was the reply. Full of dread I walked to the gate. Thank goodness it had come on the back of a motorbike and was dead, not running beside on a leash.

That night the pig was seasoned all ready for the next day. We got up early, and were faced with technical hitch number one. You are supposed to light the charcoal first, wait for the flames to die down and it to be glowing red, then put the pig on. But the pole went through two holes so you had to put the pig on whilst the pole was in one of its holes which would mean standing on top of the charcoal and more than the pig would be barbecued. Given that Danilo didn't fancy his bits being crispy, the pig had to go on first, then the fire lit. The pig then charred a bit – well a lot, but in the end all was well , although all the Dominicans howled at me sticking my thermometer in it to check it was cooked.

So, all in all a great week. Tracy ate Indian curry for the first time, made pizzas from scratch, no packets, no tins,no jars, ate lentils for the first time, ate peas and pumpkin from our garden, used a Dominican washing machine for the first time, and, I think, realized how easy and time saving, appliances and shopping are in the first world as opposed to the third world.

It was lovely for me to be able to speak English – well American – for a week, and we have been thoroughly spoiled with the fridge full of cheese, American sausage and Cadbury chocolate from Robyn, a Canadian friend.

Christmas will certainly be coming to the Feliz household this year and Chivirico and I can’t wait.

Thanks Tracy!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Campo Christmas begins

Christmas is coming and last night the whole campo – around 8 houses – got together to put the Christmas tree up on the road and drink ginger tea. The tea was made on the fogon (outside cooking stove) by one of the neighbours, Barbara. It has ginger in it, obviously, sugar and all sorts of leaves - no idea what they are.

The ginger tea I have had before, people drink it most evenings at different houses in the neighbourhood at Christmas time but I have not seen the tradition of Christmas trees on the road.
Throughout the area we live, people are putting up their trees outside the house and here we have one tree for the whole campo.
Firstly the men put up the tree by banging a metal bar into the ground and then they and the ladies stick the bits of the tree onto the bar.

It is then secured by wires and decorated, the plugs are snipped off the light bulbs and the wire is taypeed to an extension lead. Great excitement when they work!

And hey presto we have a tree.

It really was lovely all coming together as a community. By the way, I was sent back to Barbara's house to get more ginger tea, and look what was inside the house.

I can just imagine my mother's face if someone wheeled two motorbikes into her living room.

Talking of trees, this is what I saw outside a café in the local town yesterday. A tree made of the local beer bottles, Presidente.

I have a friend coming for a week tonight and have been cleaning the house from top to bottom. Well, not just me cleaning it as in true Dominican style everyone offers to help. If in England someone offered to help me clean I would say “Thank you, that is so kind of you but I can manage.”  I can tell how much I have changed. Now I say “Great. Get yourself in here and put your pinny (apron) on.” And they all did. Luckily we did clean as look what I found under a cushion which the dogs had knocked onto the floor.

And the big news for this week is that Meg has had her puppies. They were born on December 1st and there are nine of them. This is the first 7 just after they were born.

Mother and pups are all doing well and they are growing very quickly. Here is a little video I did of them so you can see how noisy they are.If you can't see it you can find it on Youtube here

Meg is looking after them very well and is extremely busy. Meanwhile Dad is helping – not at all, just lies on the couch and complains about the noise.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dominican gardens part 2

Oh the shame! I posted this lovely picture of the flowers in my garden and had all sorts of nice comments, apart from one friend, Tracy, who said they looked plastic.

Talking to Danilo the following morning, I told him what she had said, and I said "What idiot would put plastic flowers in a tree?" His reply - "I am that idiot. They are plastic." I had no idea, so apologies to you all for me misleading you. No tulips here.

The next day he called me into the garden. "Look," he said. "Plastic neesk." A 'neesk' is a snake in Danilo speak. Everything with an 's' at the beginning still has the 's' in the word - just in the wrong place.
There on the ground was this shiny, 5 foot long turquoise greeeny blue neesk. It was gorgeous.

"Is that plastic too?" I asked. He replied "Of course." I bent over to touch it and started to pick it up. The sneaky neesk wasn't plastic at all. It slithered off rapidly. He found it hilarious. I came close to a heart attack.

His gardening efforts continue. We have a lovely lawn, and I spotted him digging it up yesterday. Apparently you cannot walk across a lawn to the barbecue, you need a path.

Then to make it look like England, according to him, you cover it with rocks. He says that is what they do in England.

The most interesting crazy paving I have ever seen and I am convinced will cause a series of broken ankles.
Then the grass you took up you could lay somewhere else which needs grass, if you took it up in nice sods.

Or if you dug it up with a pick axe you will just end up with piles like this!

Hey ho.

I have a friend, the same Tracy of plastic flowers comment, coming here from the United States on Saturday. She is not overly keen on snakes, tarantulas, scorpions and other creepy crawlies, all of which we have here, so I am going to put a sign up at the gate for her.

Next blog should be nice as Meg the dog due to give birth any minute. Here's hoping it all goes well.