Thursday, October 25, 2018

We Love Memoirs

While waiting to hear if Danilo and Chivirico have visas for the UK, as I have not heard a squeak so far and it has been 10 days,  I thought I would take the opportunity to tell you about some memoirs  I have read.

I love reading memoirs as I learn about situations and locations I have never experienced. In some cases I can empathise as have been through the same or similar. I also think it helps me to become a better memoir writer as I can learn from others who do the same as I do, try and honestly and engagingly entertain and educate at the same time.

I am a member of a FB page – We Love Memoirs – which is a lovely group of people and the admins lets you know when books are free or heavily discounted on Amazon, and you even have chances to win books. Here are some of my favourite ones which I have read recently and when  I reviewed them I gave them all five stars. They will take you around the world, from America to Bali, from Greece to the UK, from Ireland to the Dominican Republic.

Rash by Lisa Kusel

This book is about an American couple leaving their old life behind and moving to Bali.

I don’t know exactly what to say about this book, apart from the fact that it is fabulous on every level. It draws you in from the very first page as it is easy to read, exciting, emotional and involving and once you start reading it is impossible to stop.

Those who have left their home countries for pastures new and different, as I did, will identify immediately with the author’s discontentment with the familiar and search for something further afield. But the grass is not always greener on the other side and the challenges faced with living in a third world country as opposed to a first world one are beautifully chronicled and truly brought to life.

There is a stark honesty as the author describes her feelings and emotions towards her husband and the way of life as she comes to the realization that even though she has what she thought she wanted, life is never that simple.

This book should be required reading for every single person thinking of leaving their homeland for the promise of Paradise. Highly recommended.

Survival and Arrival by John Fahey

These are two memoirs, the first Survival is about the author’s time growing up in the north of England with an abusive father and I loved the book but it ended all too soon. It is beautifully written and the memories came flooding back. School dinners (or lunches) with fish on Fridays. The mangle for squeezing the water from clothes. Underground toilets and making a coal fire with newspaper. What hit a chord with me was that whatever happens to us, whatever education you have, the person in the end will emerge from all of the disadvantages and be what they are capable of being. The other thing was that a simple act of kindness from one person to another can have a lasting effect and can change a life – living in a third world country with extreme poverty, it has made me realise that the little things we do for others can change lives. I wish the author all the best (I want to give him a big hug), and I really, really loved this book.

Luckily Survival was followed by Arrival which tells the story of the author’s arrival in the United States and what it was like being an immigrant during the time of the Vietnam War. I loved the comparisons between UK life and USA life at that time, and being an immigrant or expat in the Dominican Republic from the UK, I could relate to the similarities of some of his experiences.
The book is well written and the author is obviously highly intelligent, whether from describing chemical experiments in the search for new drugs, or his introspective thinking into the behaviours of those around him and revealing his own personal demons. While I only have an O Level Grade 6 in chemistry (scraped pass), I still found the descriptions of the experiments interesting, recognizing the names of several drugs used today, and found it fascinating to learn about the whole long process to get a drug to market.
Almost as powerful as his first book, educational in more ways than one, and very honest and frank Arrival is also emotional and I found myself tearing up at times, which is not something I do often.
I am eagerly waiting for book 3, as this book just stopped suddenly before I expected it to, leaving me very much wanting more.

A Kilo of string by Rob Johnson

When I read a memoir I want to be educated and to be entertained. This book by Rob Johnson does both in spades. A Kilo of String chronicles the lives of Rob and his wife Penny as they move to Greece and their daily life there with all the challenges it presents. Living in the Dominican Republic, I was amazed at the similarities between the two countries in terms of the culture, corruption and slow pace of life.

As well as educating me in the Greek language, lifestyle, farming olives and many thing Greek what I loved about this book was the entertainment. I had a fixed grin on my face from the first to the last page, with several chuckles, snorts and guffaws as I was reading it. It is quite simply hilarious and the author writes brilliantly with an excellent dead pan sense of humor as well as a truly warped imagination which makes A Kilo of String a delightful book to read.

I really hope there is a sequel as it ended far too soon and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to escape from the daily grind and howl with laughter for a few hours.

Mile 445: Hitched in her hiking boots by Claire Miller

This book is about a lady to decide to walk a famous trail in the United States and I was addicted to it from the very first page. That addiction continued to the last page. The writing flows easily, you feel like you are being told a story sitting in a pub over a glass or two of wine. The descriptions are perfect, allowing the reader to see, feel and touch the surroundings without being over dramatic or over flowery, and the wry sense of humour is sprinkled throughout. The characterization brings each of the different people to life so it is not just about the author but you get to know the people she meets along the way.

For me a good memoir should educate as well as entertain and this book certainly does that as I learned so much about hiking and the trail and its surroundings. Would I do it? Never, but kudos to the author for having done so.

The love story between the author and her husband is touching and realistic and I loved the realization that when one becomes two there is a need to adapt one’s own wishes. I could understand Claire’s dilemma when the decision was made to leave the trail as throughout the book we are waiting for the finish line to be reached. However life is not about the achievement of goals but the journey and the realization of this is one of the moments when the book, for me, satisfies another key element of an excellent memoir which is to make one think and realize the different paths we can all take, should we be brave enough to follow our dreams, and keep on going wherever life takes us.
Highly recommended, easy to read, thought provoking, educational and very enjoyable.

Joan's descent into Alzheimers by Jill Stoking

I wanted to read this book as I knew little about Alzheimer’s and wanted to learn more, and this book does indeed provide an education about Alzheimer’s. However, it delivers so very much more. It describes not only the sufferer but also the role, feelings and emotions of the caregiver in a refreshingly honest way. What I found amazing, is that somewhere along the line, the book stops being simply the written word on a page and sweeps you up into feeling you are actually there in the scenes. You can picture the locations, see the people, feel the emotion, stress and frustration and from then on I was unable to put this book down. Living in a third world country there are no nursing homes, no facilities for caring for those with Alzheimer’s and no social services. As well as the beautifully written story itself, I found it amazing and appalling that in a first world country such as the UK, even though on paper the facilities exist, they do not operate in an efficient and caring way and this book shows you the distress and the frustration this causes to both the author and her mother, Joan.

But this book is not simply about Alzheimer’s, it is also about the author’s relationships with her husband, her parents, her son and her brother with just the right amount of detail so as not to detract from the key element of the story

An excellent book, written brilliantly and honestly, which delivers educationally and emotionally and which I highly recommend.

The Coconut Latitudes by Rita Gardner

I was attracted to this book as it was a memoir about the Dominican Republic, where I live, and also took place during the era of the dictator Trujillo, a time in history I am also interested in.

The book is well written, you are not only transported by the author back in time but also you feel you are actually there in the north east of the Dominican Republic, the sights, the smells, the food, the atmosphere all come to life. The book has many levels, reading it is like peeling an onion, each time revealing more information, about the country, about being an American in the DR with the pros and cons that brings, but also about family life and the traumas and tribulations that brings, along with the damage that family relationships can cause.

There are some shocking moments and revelations and one cannot help but think how different life might have been had the author been brought up on mainland USA surrounded by like peers, rather than on a semi deserted coconut plantation.

The Coconut Latitudes also leaves one with questions, why did this happen, what happened to her or him. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Dominican Republic.

Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds by Nick Albert

And now off we go to rural Ireland.

Nick, and his wife Lesley are in a situation I am sure many will identify with, living in the stress filled, fast paced England, like hamsters running round a round in a wheel. They decide to move to Ireland and the book covers their journey to find the perfect house and then to begin their new life.
The writing is lovely and the characterization is excellent, not only of the people but even the dogs and the chickens come to life with their own personalities. There is humour throughout, making the book impossible to read without smiling.

The book flows beautifully and as well as being a great story, it is also full of interesting information about Ireland so as well as a fun and interesting read it is also educational.

I really enjoyed this book, and would love to meet Nick’s wife, Lesley as I am sure we would get on well! Now I can’t wait for the sequel and luckily Nick has just written a follow up memoir which I haven’t read yet called Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds 2.

Hope you enjoy reading some or all of them - will let you all know about the visas as soon as I do!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Visas and Island Life

The visa applications took for ever. One each for Chivirico and Danilo. You apply online, pay US$200 each and set up an appointment at a visa centre in Santo Domingo. No longer are they issued at the British Embassy, which is a shame as I have friends there. Once the online application is done you have to get all of the paperwork together - birth and marriage certs, proof that Chiv is at school and Danilo graduated from university, house title deeds, utility bills, sponsor's invitation letter, 6 months of bank statements, proof of income, proof you will return to the DR etc etc. I was printing for days. Everything in Spanish has to be translated into English by a legal translator so my friend Olga did that for me and I printed them all out.

The day before we set off for the capital on the bus - Caribe tours.

Chiv at the Caribe tours bus stop

We decided to stay at a hostel in the Colonial Zone, owned and run by fellow Brit, Chris. We had chatted a bit over the last few years. I wasn't really sure what to expect - thinking it would be long dormitories and somewhat basic but when I checked out the web page for Island Life Backpackers Hostel I was surprised that there were double and triple rooms as well as rooms of all different sizes and some had private ensuite bathrooms.

The hostel was charming. Formerly a 400 year old colonial home it has been beautifully restored and still has lots of original features.

The courtyard

Our room was the first door on the left
The room we had, had a double and single bed, great quiet aircon and a lovely bathroom with a powerful shower and piping hot water.

But what makes Island Life so special is the atmosphere. Not a stuffy impersonal hotel but a casual, comfortable and very friendly place. When you walk in, you go straight into the bar which is just like a traditional English pub.

Chivirico took no time at all to make himself comfortable with a coca cola before beating Danilo at pool.

In addition to the facilities, Island Life has its own resident Great Dane, Schumacher, who is very well behaved as well as being enormous. Chivirico took charge of the camera to take snaps of him - this is the only one which isn't of his bottom - the dog's bottom not Chiv's.

It was great to finally meet Chris and we chatted late into the night.

So there you have it. Island Life is certainly a great choice for somewhere to stay in the capital. So many interesting people from all over the world to talk to, friendly and helpful staff, fast wifi and everything you need for a comfortable stay.

Before continuing with the visa story, we had a couple of hours to kill the next morning and given that Chivirico had never been to the Colonial Zone, armed with my camera around his neck off we set to explore. I will just post a few of the pictures he took, as there were loads!

Juan Pablo Duarte's house and museum

The ferry to Puerto Rico

Top of the Pantheon

Chiv and the Choo Choo train which tours the Colonial Zone

Christopher Columbus

Beginning of El Conde with Danilo's back on the left!
La Puerta del Conde where independence was declared and my back and Danilo's back

Tour over, it was back to the hotel to meet up with Olga who brought her stamp and stamped and signed the myriad of translations.

Then off to have some lunch and taxi to the visa centre which is in a residential area of the city. We arrived early, said goodbye to Olga and sat down in a freezing room with very squeaky chairs to wait. No photos as they are not allowed. We were early and eventually went in and handed all of the papers over to be scanned to somewhere. A note on the wall said the decision would be made at the British Embassy in Colombia and if granted the visa would be issued in Jamaica. Danilo and Chivirico had their photos and fingerprints taken and surprisingly no questions were asked. So much for all the rehearsals.

Now we have to wait, not sure for how long but the website says 85% of decisions made within 15 days. There is no way of tracking the applications, but we have the Fedex receipt so once the passport starts going somewhere we can track that. At the moment it is not moving!

Then back to Santiago on the bus, this time Transporte Espinal as the last Caribe tours one had gone. We then had to get another bus to Esperanza when Danilo's sons met us and brought us home. Unfortunately we were minus the camera as I had left it on the bus, or, as the Dominicans would say, which I prefer, the camera left itself on the bus.

Quick phone call to Transporte Espinal and the camera had returned itself to Santo Domingo, so once again my "go to person in Santo Domingo" Olga, picked it up and put it back on Caribe Tours to Mao where Danilo picked it up! What luck! Now the waiting continues.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Danilo the lawyer

A busy month as usual. The sad news is that Zelda aka Baby Girl and the Flying Dog died having bitten a cane toad. Danilo heard barking in the middle of the night and came down to see her with a cane toad in her mouth. She dropped the toad and did her usual jump over the wall. I went to find her when he told me what had happened but it was too late she was already dead. RIP. She is missed.

We decided to keep one of the puppies. She was the only female and was born without a tail. Her name is Barraquita (Danilo named her and he calls her mum Canguru, the Barracuda). She is super cute (aren't they all) and is trying to make her ears stick up in the air, but not quite there yet. Oddly she has green eyes.

The main news this month is that Danilo graduated and off we went to the ceremony which was held in the basketball court in Mao.

The students sit downstairs on plastic chairs and the guests on the concrete steps around the sides. The steps were around 3 feet high so walking up and down them was a challenge and now all of the neighbours who went to the ceremony, as several people here graduated, are hobbling around with sore legs - yours truly included. It was very very hot and very hard on the posterior.

Each of the different degrees, ie law, accountancy etc had a different coloured tassel on their mortarboards.

There was a procession of the faculty, accompanied by a brass band and the singing of the National Anthem as well as the University Anthem. It was due to start at 10 am and was only an hour late starting which is good by Dominican standards.

Then after very long speeches the students all lined up to go and receive their degrees from the Rector and have their photograph taken. Danilo was number 169!

Once he had done his bit I escaped to the relative cool outside and eventually met up with the rest of the family - it was impossible to find each other inside the stadium.

All in all it was an emotional day. There were so many proud partners and parents, many had congratulatory balloons and bouquets of flowers. Getting a degree here is a very big deal as it involves a lot of sacrifice of both money and time. Interestingly 75% of those graduating were women.

The other big news is that we have applied for visas to the UK for both Chivirico and Danilo. It took me 6 hours to complete the on line forms and pay US$400. Next step is to get all of the papers together and get those in Spanish translated by a legal translator. Then we have to hand the papers in and have the interview on 16th of this month at the Visa Application Centre in Santo Domingo. We should find out a couple of weeks after the interviews if they have been approved. Then it is England for Christmas - first time back for me in 12 years. I wonder if it has changed.