Friday, January 20, 2017

The sad tale of the Maguey

We have had this spiky plant in the garden ever since I have been here. It does nothing, just sits in the grass being very spiky. I assumed it was some sort of aloe vera, but we have those too, and the leaves of those are much thicker, and we use the gunk in the leaves to cure any cuts or burns.

A couple of months ago, Danilo called me outside to show me that the spiky plant now had a shoot, about 6 foot tall and said that there would be flowers on it, which would be yellow.

All seemed most odd to me, so I asked knowledgeable Facebook friends who told me the plant was called an agave or maguey in Dominican Spanish and although it looked like an aloe vera it was a totally different family.

What is really sad is that the plant just sits there being spiky for up to 10 years, then up comes this amazing shoot or stick in the middle of the plant, it flowers and then dies. Luckily the seeds then fall on the ground and baby magueys are born.

Apparently, if the flower stem is cut without allowing it to flower, a sweet liquid called aguamiel ("honey water") gathers in the heart of the plant which can  be fermented to produce a drink called pulque. In Mexico, there is a blue version of the plant called Mezcal which is used to make tequila. In addition, the leaves also have fibres in them, known as pita, which can be used for making rope or matting. In fact the Taino Indians used to use the plant for both purposes.

We didn't cut the stalk or the leaves and I was really excited when the yellow flowers started to arrive and took a photo.

The flowers were lovely and covered the whole stalk.

Danilo told me the show was not over, the flowers would change colour, and then a couple of weeks later, now they are beginning to change colour, starting at the bottom.

And what a colour! The orange colour of the ones at the bottom is glorious, but it is so sad that once they are all orange, the stalk will fall over and the plant will die.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Christmas 2016

Christmas approached once again, and had it not been for the kids, Albert and Chivirico we would probably have treated it as just another day, but they were desperate to write their lists for Santa Claus and put up the tree – so both were done. The tree appeared to have lost many of its baubles, but was fine and amazingly the lights still worked. The fairy had no head so was replaced by a little bear.

The lists for Santa were identical for both and not quite the same as the lists Santa  had from Dany and Alberto some 15 years or so ago, which were: one t-shirt, one pair of tennis shoes, one pencil and Albert wanted peanut butter. These lists were long, brand orientated and expensive: iPad (Aipa), iPhone, tablet, laptop, Jordan and Nike tennis shoes, 5 t-shirts, 5 pairs of trousers, radio controlled car, plane, helicopter, loads  of baseball gear, roller skates, bicycle and buoquitoki (walkie talkie) etc etc. Santa nearly had a heart attack. Luckily I had been busy in the month so we could just manage one thing each – a tablet - made in China.

Albert went to Esperanza to stay with Chivirico for the few days before Christmas giving Danilo a chance to wrap presents.

Danilo had done all of the shopping, including for himself, so I had no idea what I was supposedly giving him! It turned out to be a sweatshirt and he had toothpaste from the dogs and soap from the cats. he brought me two pairs of knickers - one with a Wifi symbol on the front and another with a start button. .I think they would go down a treat in Marks and Spencer (famous British clothing shop with good quality). Given the kids are out of work, he bought presents for everyone to give everyone - I even had a pack of cotton buds from Saya!

The kids arrived along with Alberto and Dany, Ana and grandbaby and Saya the dwendy and some strange man. We always seem to have strange men here for Christmas lunch. Having opened presents, the kids found a note in the bottom of their stockings  (which were full of things like deodorant, soap, an apple, socks) which sent them off on a treasure hunt to find Santa’s gifts.

 The Santa sacks were hidden inside a pile of blocks being used to build the wall. Joy all around when they discovered their tablets.

This was followed by British Christmas turkey lunch – well apart from sprouts and parsnips and cranberry sauce and stuffing and Christmas pudding. Replaced by rice and peas, Russian salad and ordinary salad.

While I was cooking lunch, and Ana making the rice and peas, the men were doing what men do best - nothing.

Then, just before lunch the boys all went out to check on Danilo’s latest money making venture – honey making. He had a little swarm of bees living in a cat carrier (no  idea how) and had built a beehive out of the wardrobe door.

Beeman had been and transferred bees including the Queen to the beehive - please note this involves using yet another of my kitchen knives.

The menfolk went to check the bees while yours truly cooked lunch. Disaster, the bees had gone on holiday. Beeman was called (yes it was Christmas day) and collected in the car, along with his six kids. He announced the queen had left and there were no more bees. End of money making project. Danilo invited him and his kids for lunch (while I silently panicked) but when Danilo said it was English food, they made their apologies and left (phew!).

Chivirico stayed for the whole of the holidays and the three kids – Albert, Chiv and Danilo (the big kid), played together all day long. Danilo asked if they wanted to play pico gallo (pico means a beak and gallo is a cockerel or rooster). They excitedly said yes and rushed outside to see how to play. Danilo demonstrated putting a 6 inch long bread roll in his crotch with a bit sticking out and the roosters fly up and peck it. Peck the pecker. I was laughing too much to take photos and the kids refused to play, even for 100 pesos. But the money went up and eventually Danilo offered 1000 pesos to the winner – whose bread was pecked off first. The temptation was too great, but they decided to go one more, and I was distractedly working  on the computer when I looked up to see Albert and Chivirico taping  a bread roll each to their willies with black electrical tape. They then asked me to go outside and video them playing Pico Gallo. I explained I did not want to be arrested for child abuse, so persuaded them to unstick the bread rolls (harder than sticking them on!) and just put the bread in their hands.

Here they are playing such an exciting game.

Chiv won, but wasn’t allowed to claim the reward as he had played peck the hand not peck the pecker. And here is the video of the boys discussing what they would do and playing the game.

Every day was a new challenge for the boys, ranging from building more chicken houses, to building the wall, to cooking cup cakes, birthday cakes, playing chess, planting avocados, making pancakes and when the end of the holidays came, I was grateful for the return to normality although I missed the constant laughter.

Danilo is back at University, taking six subjects so only four to go – one more semester after this one and Si Dios Quiere I will be a woman of leisure, and get back to writing book 2.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How (not) to have a heart attack in the DR

I haven’t been to hospital or even to see the doctor since I was shot 10 years ago. I find Dr. Google to work very well, plus being able to buy most meds over the counter, and this method has got me through Zika, Shingles and coughs and colds. I haven’t had smears, mammograms, tests nada. And I am always aware here, following previous experience, that if something goes wrong there is no professional 911 or ER to fix it – well not where I live.

So, on December 30, I was watching the TV at around 8 pm when I had a sharp pain on the left side of my chest. Sort of in the heart area. It went and then returned, and returned again and again and by now was taking my breath away. I took my blood pressure which was very very low, most unlike me as I take pills for high blood pressure and it is normally the upper side of normal. My pulse was also much slower than normal.

Every time I breathed, and even if I didn't breathe, the pain returned and by now I was getting a tad concerned as Google just said if you have chest pains go to the ER lol.

I told Danilo, and he decided to take me to the hospital as if I died and he had done nothing, he said he would be in trouble. Good enough reason to go I thought. There were however, two minor problems with his decision. Firstly he had lent the car to Saya (dwendy Number one) so we had no car and also we have no health insurance. No problem, he calls Saya who rushes back to the house and off we go to the public hospital in Moncion, up the mountain which is free, as all public hospitals are. The kids insisted on coming, Chivirico and Albert as nothing Dominicans support you more in, than medical issues. And as Chivirico said, if I died, he wanted to be there at the end. That made me feel better.

We arrived, and were seen within seconds – no other patients. The nurse apologized but said there was no doctor at the hospital – he had gone in an ambulance with a pregnant patient. She took my blood pressure which was still low and said there was no ECG machine, but she said you might be having a heart attack and she did have a stethoscope if that would help? We thought not and left for the private clinic in Moncion which is the Clinica Morel (isn't that a mushroom?), keeping our fingers crossed it would be cheap and I warned Danilo not to let them make me stay in.

We arrived and it looked like a proper hospital, with curtains, bays, an xray light box – and a man watching baseball on the TV. He ran off and within seconds I was ushered onto a stretcher in one of the curtained off bays and a nurse and doctor arrived. Dominican medics never ask permission they just do – so within seconds a drip was stuck in my arm (very professionally zero pain), I was hooked up to a blood pressure and pulse machine which bleeped I so assumed that was a good sign. The nurse was sticking injections in the drip and when I asked what they were, I was told “medicine”. Hmm I hoped it wasn’t expensive medicine.  I asked again what they were and she said  as I had said I wasn’t allergic to anything so it didn’t matter what they were! This is typical behaviour. The patient is not supposed to ask questions as the Doctor knows best.

The doctor then did an ECG which involved taking my bra off as it had underwire. The doctor is not allowed to do it so asked a family member to come in. Danilo entered the bay and began the struggle with the bra. He had no clue lol. Obviously never practiced as a youth taking bras off the back of chairs with a blindfold on!  He said he had forgotten. Eventually bra was off and ECG was normal. Yay time to leave, but no, we had to call the cardiologist. He was watching baseball upstairs so doctor took him the print out, and he said fine but keep her in for observation. Again normal practice but no way was I spending an expensive night in the clinic, even though the idea of peace and quiet was bliss as I had loads of work to do and in reality I was fine, still in chest pain but I knew it was not heart related and was not about to pop my clogs so I discharged myself, paid US$40 and off we went home in time to see the end of Top Chef.

It turned out I have a cracked rib, which is fine unless I move. This was caused by Danilo and the boys enlisting my assistance to carry out bench presses when they were in our garden gym – and decided to use me as the weight which involved lifting me up in the air, holding me by my chest. Someone – methinks Danilo – obviously grabbed the weight (me) too tightly.

Moral of the story. Don’t allow yourself to be used as weights and the local clinic appears to be very professional which makes feel better for the next trauma in no less than hopefully 10 years.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Adios my fur babies

I know, late again but I have been very busy, and have so much to tell you so I will have to do it over a few blogs.

Having returned from Sosúa it was straight back to work and normal life – translating, writing, cooking, cleaning and daily colmado trips.

Then, and I will not go into the full gory details, but someone/something  poisoned the dogs and over the course of a week, despite our best efforts with rehydration, antibiotics, anti virals, anti poison, three of them died. Grita Mucho and her brother Sweepy and Rin Tin Tin.

Sweepy, the black husky on the left and Rin Tin Tin in the middle

Grita Mucho with her favourtie cat Zebedee

I cannot tell you what sort of a week it was, with one minute hope they were recovering and then despair as one by one they died. Danilo and I spent all week injecting, cleaning up, praying. The puppy, Canguru was in the same condition and was basically unconscious so she was next on the list to depart this world, but by some miracle, one day she got up, walked into the kitchen and demanded food – from that moment on she was on the mend.


So now we are left with Lobo, the husky, Canguru his daughter who is now around 6 months old and faithful old Meg.

But something had to be done, so we decided to build a wall between us and the neighbours. Not just any old wall but a 12 foot high wall. This would also mean that the dogs could not see all the roosters in their cages, nor the cows, nor the horse, so they would bark less, the chickens from neighbours would be less likely to fly into our garden where there was a good chance they would meet a sticky end, and we could let the dogs into the front garden with no fear of escape.

Part one was to take down the wooden stick fence and dig footings, fill them with concrete and metal bars.

The actual building of the wall is being done by Danilo, number one dwendy Saya (the block layer), stepson Dany (who says he knows how to lay blocks and you don’t need a spirit level – his is the wobbly bit), and help from Albert and Chivirico.

Dany laying blocks

Chiv and Albert helping

So far we have built the  whole of the back part, now there are just the sides to go. It is not a cheap project as each block is RD$26 which is around 50 pence or 60 cents and you need an awful lot of them plus cement, gravel, sand and metal bars. Still the cat likes her new bed.

All good fun, and I can’t wait for it to be finished, painted and then nice tropical plants in front of it.