Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Animals and books

It has been a busy few weeks and I am pleased to say that my brain is slowly beginning to work a little better. I forget fewer words and have had no more coffee maker disasters.

There is a man who lives in Mao who breeds Great Danes and he wanted to bring a female Dane here who was on heat, to live with Goofy for a while. I said no, Danilo said yes, the dog arrived. She had only just started her heat as he wanted them to fall in love pre-bonking. Goofy predictably fell in love with her - her name was Matari - Lobo was not allowed to be with his best mate Goofy and fancied Matari as well so they had to be kept apart.

Grumpy was upset her boyfriend Goofy was with another woman so it was a stressful time for all of the dogs and me! No idea if Goofy did the deed, but Matari left after two weeks, leaving Goofy howling at the gate for a few days. Dogs are now back to normal - thank goodness.

Sticking with the animal theme. as you know we no longer have water delivered from the local water company into our cistern. So we buy it every couple of weeks from Water Man. You call him up, he goes to the river, sucks the water into his truck, comes to us and pumps it into our cistern. Trouble is, the river has more than just water in it, so this time, he deposited a frog into the cistern along with the water. I only realised when I saw the lid of the cistern propped open with a wooden ladder which Danilo had put in there for the frog to climb out.

Please note, the metal box in front of the WATER CISTERN is the box for the main electrics for the house. Please also note the prevalence of taypee sticking all of the wires together.

I thought this was daft until I Googled and found out that all over the place ladders are put in drains for frogs to climb out and what is more, frogs and ladders are used to forecast the weather as they only climb out of water and up ladders if it will be fine, and if it is going to rain they stay in the water! No idea if our frog climbed out, but the lid is back on.

Remember I said the todys were back - the gorgeous tiny green and red birds. Well they disappeared after a day and Danilo discovered they had unwelcome squatters in their little hole in the base of the tree - a family of tarantulas - mum, dad and lots of babies. He disposed of the squatters and the other day the todys returned! I just hope they stay this time. The female is higher up the twig as she has a little bit of black on her green wings.

Oh and even more news, I am a grandmother again! Ana and Alberto (stepson number 2) welcomed Adriana to the world a month early. Though a little small, 6.5 pounds, she is lovely and Danilo and I went to see her in Ana's mum's house, where Ana is staying for the 40 days she is "at risk". Not sure what she is at risk of, but most all women here have to be with their mothers for the 40 day period with a whole list of things they cannot do - like go outside, look at the moon, and they have to have cotton wool in their ears so the cold air doesn't get to their brains.

Proud grandpa Danilo

Ana, Adibel and new baby Adriana

Alberto with his new daughter

Mother's day is very important in the DR, but this year I had no visits from the kids as Ana and Alberto stayed with the baby and was Adibel's, number one granddaughter,  fifth birthday. Danilo was on a course in the capital and returned in the afternoon, cooking me a massive sancocho for my Mother's Day celebration. We ate sancocho for a week.

Finally, as you know I love reading memoirs and this last month I have read two fabulous books, both brilliant and both different.

The first was by Beth Haslam and is called Fat Dogs and French Estates part 1.

This was my review on Amazon.

"I was attracted to this book as the title mentioned the words Dogs and French – and I love dogs and love France. I was certainly not disappointed. The book describes the author and her husband travelling throughout France house hunting, well, estate hunting, to find their perfect home. They took their fat dogs with them.
The characterization of Beth’s husband, Jack, the dogs, and all of the French people and estate agents they meet along the way is superb. There are fabulous descriptions of the estates and the countryside and you really feel you are sitting in the back of the car along with the dogs. In addition, there are unexpected history lessons about different parts of France as well as interesting information about many of the towns and villages.
That in itself would be sufficient to make a good memoir, but what moves this book from good to great, and even fabulous, is the humour throughout. I started off smiling sometimes, then giggling occasionally and eventually was collapsed with laughter, even snorting at stages. It is so very funny I have not laughed so much in months.
I highly recommend this book, and I know I now have no choice but to read the rest of the series. I must admit I was concerned that they might not live up to my now high expectations, but having checked the reviews on Amazon – they are all five stars as well. Thank goodness! I can’t wait."

There are three more books in the same series so my next task is to get those. Really worth it, pure escapism, some learning more about France, and just pure fun.

The second was by Gina DePaulo and is called Unopened Doors.

My review says: 

"In brief, the author describes how she was victim of a mugging which caused a Traumatic Brain Injury and that in turn led to flashbacks of her childhood and a rape and near-death strangulation when she was 19. She then decides to revisit her attack of some 40 years ago and with the help of a Cold Case investigator she slowly unearths the past.

The book is beautifully written and it goes backwards and forwards between the present and the past in a seamless manner. It is more than simply a memoir; however, it is a detective novel, it portrays life in the USA in the 1960s, and you really do find yourself transported back in time. In addition, DePaulo adds in stories of other victims of violence, rape and murder during the same time period in the same area.

More than a memoir, more than a detective story, overall a truly excellent read. I defy anyone not to enjoy this book, which I was unable to put down as it draws you in from the very first page. In fact, this was the best book I have read in years."

This book really resonated with me, having had a couple of near death experiences and now suffering from brain injury. But even if you have been lucky enough not to have those, I promise you will really enjoy this book.

And for those of you who enjoy reading and enjoy reading memoirs, I really do recommend you join the We Love Memoirs Facebook Group. Why? Because the members are writers of memoirs and lovers of memoirs. There are lots of free memoirs to be won, chats with authors, competitions where you can read memoirs and, the best thing, all of the members are lovely people!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Easter comes and goes

Far too long again since my last blog post – I have no idea where the time goes.

All my brain tests were more or less normal, and I must admit the CAT scan was so impressive. For the price of US$50 you are seen immediately - the receptionist said I looked much better than last time! The results are available a few hours later and not only do you receive a written report but also photographs and a CD with even more photos on it. Here is my brain! Very impressive but Dr. Google was not very helpful in explaining what I am looking at.

Apart from the fact my brain looks like I happy face in some of the images, I have noticed no improvement in brain function. I am told it can take years so I am just getting on with it and adapting where needed. My worst performance is in the kitchen, maybe as it is there I do the most multi- tasking. As I mentioned before, my brain is like the internet – it goes slowly, and sometimes it totally switches off and I go blank – but only for a few seconds. I continue to do stupid things such as forgetting to put the cup under the coffee maker so the coffee goes all over the floor, or forgetting to put coffee in it and end up with a cup of hot water. I even put dried cat food instead of sugar in my coffee the other day. Cooking is a challenge to remember how to actually cook some recipes and I may remember one minute and then forget the next, so now I get all the ingredients out before I start. I have a wooden spoon next to my laptop when I am cooking, so I don’t forget and burn things, and a bag of washing powder when I am washing. I also write lists all the time when something comes into my head that I need to do, so I don’t forget. It is liveable with, just a little frustrating.

It has been a busy few weeks. The bookcase is finished – here is Danilo studying in his cow pyjamas.

We need more books to fill it up, but no doubt they won’t be long coming. He has started his Master’s degree in Criminal Law – which means I have been checking things on line and typing up his assignments so I am effectively also doing a Master's in Criminal Law. The university is the Dominican Open University and he is doing it part on line and part attendance so everything is done via the University website – which is appallingly slow and complicated to follow so it has taken me ages to upload assignments. I think I am getting the hang of it now.

Chivirico and Albert came for Easter week so we had to make habichuelas con dulce (sweet cream of beans), which I still loathe but it is essential Easter fare. Apparently I make the best beans that they, and Danilo, have ever tasted. Thanks to Aunt Clara's Dominican Cooking.

Knowing that they never eat vegetables at home, we had a mainly vegetarian week with vegetable chilli, dips of hummus and baba ganoush and home made naan bread.

Kids making naan bread

We also had Irish stew without meat and served with buttered cabbage. Chiv was amazed seeing that I cooked “salad” as cabbage usually eaten in salad here.

When they weren’t cooking they seemed to be fascinated with the library so it was great to see them joining Danilo in reading.

In the meantime, life goes on as normal. As I am finding it harder to write shopping lists and keep forgetting things we need to buy, Danilo is taking it upon himself to shop without a list as he knows what we need, he says. This was one of his proud purchases last week.

Yes, that is a pig's tail. I cooked it by boiling it in water with various herbs and spices, onion and garlic and then roasting it in the oven. I ate the meatier end (bit closer to the body - and  the pig's bottom) and Danilo had the tail itself. It tasted just like pork - but not sure worth doing again!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Aftermath of The Incident

So here is the update on my current condition. I am still numb and a little swollen on the left side of my face, so I can’t smile and I dribble a bit from the left side of my mouth. It feels like you have had an injection from the dentist and I look a bit like a hamster on that side, with his mouth full of sunflower seeds.

According to Danilo, I am more grumpy than usual, so he calls me Grumpy 2 as opposed to the rescue boxer who is Grumpy 1. I also have memory problems. My brain is working as if it is connected to the internet, and I want to say something but have no idea what the word is – either in Spanish or English, but then, around 30 seconds later the internet comes back and I remember the word.

Given these issues, I went to see a neurologist. There are no appointments here, so the first time I went, he wasn’t there and nor was his secretary. The second time was around 10 am, and the secretary told me I was number 19. But he didn’t arrive until 2 pm, and our last bus home is at 6 pm, so there was no way we could get home. I asked her to put me on the list for the next day. No can do as you can only ask to be put on the list on the day itself.  I had to go the next day at 8 am, to be put on the list for the afternoon. But she said I could phone as well. So, the next day I phoned at 8 am to be told I was number 6, and to get there at 2.30 pm. I did, and for some mysterious reason I had dropped from number 6 to number 8, but at 5.30 pm I got in to see the neurologist.

He said nothing could be done about my face, maybe it would improve in time, but maybe not. He told me smoking was dangerous for my health, and I replied that so was being shot and attempted suffocation and being beaten up. He shut up after that. He told me that I have a Traumatic Brain Injury, otherwise known as a TBI, and to have another cat scan and blood tests which I will do next week. In addition, he gave me a prescription for two anti-depressants. I am not depressed, but am taking the one which helps memory function which is helping a little but have not bothered with the other one, as according to Dr. Google it is for panic attacks, post traumatic stress disorder and erectile dysfunction – none of which I have.

In the meantime, Chivirico came to see how I was, and it was lovely to see him.

I went to see my American friend Grace, who comes to the country once a year with her Dominican husband. That was a lovely break and as usual she provided me with loads of kitchen equipment and baseball goodies for Chivirico and Albert.

In addition, my friend Heather was in the country, helping people in Consuelo, and she hired a car and drove all the way up here to see me. She brought the all-important Cadbury chocolate with her as well.

Grumpy Grace loves her evening cuddles

Danilo adores books, so he is building a book case along the whole of one wall in the living room and at last has put shelves in the utility room so the kitchen will be less cluttered.

Our spirit level has gone walkabout (nothing new there) so we had to check if the shelves were level using a peanut. If it rolled one way or the other, they were not straight. I think it must have been an odd shaped nut as they look a bit wonky to me.

In the meantime, Peggy, a Canadian lady has been staying for the last couple of months. She has around another month to go. Loves cleaning and mopping which is great for me, but we still managed a night out at the local bar!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Violence in the Dominican Republic - The Incident

I promised to tell you about what I call The Incident, which may also explain why I haven’t blogged much recently.

It was Tuesday, February 5 and Danilo and a Canadian lady staying with us were in his rustic gym in the back garden. She wanted to get fit and so after they had done their exercises in the gym, they would go for a 15- or 20-minute run. I heard them in the gym, but I was busy collecting articles to do the news for DR1 – the expat Dominican Republic forum.

It was exactly 9.30 am when I was interrupted by a lady messaging who wanted information about the Police Good Conduct report in the DR, and I was about to reply to her when a man slid open the patio door to the garden and walked towards me. I had never seen him before but in his right hand he had a gun, pointing at me. He stopped about 6 feet in front of my desk.

I didn’t have time to ask him anything before he started screaming “Don’t look at me” which he did several times. I asked him calmly what he wanted, and told him to calm down. I would have used the English saying “Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” but am not sure how that translates to Spanish.

He said he wanted money, and I replied that I had some but not a lot, and asked him not to hurt the dogs. I had one each side of me, just looking at him. I told the dogs to stay and shut up and stood up – he made me put my hands in the air – and went to the dining table next to my desk where my handbag was.

I reached in for my purse, which made him start waving the gun about, and was about to get the money out of my purse when he stopped me, so I put it down on the table. He then screamed at me to lie on the floor. I kept telling him I did not understand as I wanted to know if he spoke English and also, I had no idea why he would want me to lie down.

He pointed to the corner of the room behind the dining table and I sat down. He told me to turn around and lie face down, and put the gun to the back of my head. I asked him not to kill me. But there was no reply and he did not speak again. I took my glasses off and lay them next to me on the floor before lying down.

He then twisted both arms behind my back and sat on my back – there was no way I could move my arms or my body. I assumed he was going to tie me up. I should be so lucky. Then he put some sort of cloth or towel in my mouth and covered my nose with it as well and held it tightly in place with his hand which by now had a surgical glove on it. I could not breathe in nor out. A most peculiar and uncomfortable feeling. I tried to fight to move my head and my arms as I was desperate to breathe but each time I did, he smashed my face into the tiled floor. I tried playing dead (as I have seen that work on the television)  and again he grabbed me by the hair on the back of my head and hit my face against the floor.

I had hoped there would be chloroform on the pad – but there was nothing, and I just wanted it over with. And then after around a minute, it was. Blissful nothing.

Meanwhile, Danilo and the guest returned from their run and he heard someone running through the woods. Danilo quickly approached the house on high alert and immediately saw I was not at my desk. He scanned the room and saw me lying on the floor in the corner, face down. He turned me over and my eyes were open but unseeing. He and the guest quickly put me in the car, unconscious and set off at speed for the hospital. Soon I began thrashing around, then talking nonsense and then the guest noticed a large baseball sized lump appearing on my temple. It grew and then opened showering her and me in blood and continued to bleed profusely. I was then able to say I had been attacked – until then they thought I had just fallen over – and I thought I might have been shot in the head.

At the hospital following x-rays and a cat scan it was confirmed I had not been shot nor did I even have a fractured skull. The lump on my head was drained, cleaned and stitched. My mouth was cut everywhere inside – no idea how and I was covered in bruises. I was admitted for twenty-four hours and the next day was home. The bruises have mostly gone now, but I have been left with neurological damage on my left side so I need more hospital visits and tests to see what is causing it and if it can be cured in any way. I am hoping just time will heal it.

You will be wondering how I felt during all this. Well I felt no pain at any time, but being suffocated is not pleasant at all. I have no idea how long it would take to kill someone but I don’t think I could have managed much longer. It appears he heard them coming back from the run before the deed was done, so smacked me hard on my temple with the gun, hoping that would do the trick. Takes more than that to get rid of me! I was pretty sure I was going to die and the only thoughts I had were that I hoped Danilo and guest would not return or he might kill them and I did not want him to hurt the dogs – which he didn’t. My overriding emotion, once I had worked out fighting him was not working, was total acceptance of what was to come – I just wanted the discomfort of being suffocated to be over quickly. So, I was much calmer than I would have thought I would be in that situation.

And the perp? It took me a few days to work it out. He looked Dominican but he didn’t. He dressed like a Dominican but he didn’t. He spoke like a Dominican but he didn’t. And I have never heard of Dominicans suffocating people. This guy had done it before – I felt like he was a professional. It turns out he was Venezuelan – there are tens of thousands in the Dominican Republic now, having fled from their country, and yes, he had killed by suffocation a few times before in Venezuela. It was a total random attack as he was scouting out houses which back onto the woods to rob. He thought the house was empty as he saw Danilo and the guest leaving on their run, hence he was surprised to see me, and as he did not want to be identified he had to dispose of me.

Several different police forces came from all of the surrounding areas. They were very pleasant but they took no forensic evidence at all, not my clothes, nor fingerprints, nor did they search the area. The local prosecutor was very professional as was the medical examiner who had to assess my injuries.

So, all’s well that ends well – and the current level of nerve damage is liveable with, assuming it gets no better or worse. I am very very thankful as the ending could have been very different. And it's another chapter for book 3!!

Around eight hours after the attack.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Holiday in England

Wrist slapping time as it has been over 2 months since the last post. I do have a raft of excuses such as being in England, followed by the flu, followed by what I am calling The Incident which I will explain about in the next blog post.

So off I went to England - alone, as there was no visa for Danilo and Chivirico. It was a long journey to the airport, around 12 hours on three different buses but it was simple enough and the long distance buses are very comfy with aircon, big seats and wifi so it was actually nice to relax.

I was met in Punta Cana by my great friend Ilana and her husband Pedro and spent a lovely night and the next day with them and Ilana's friends before being taken to the airport for the 8.30 pm flight. Fab flight and I had three seats to myself so I managed to sleep all the way to England. This was my first time on a plane for 12 years and they had certainly been upgraded with seat back TVs and loads of channels to choose from.

Mum met me at the airport and looked exactly the same as the last time I was in England some 12 years ago - how you go from age 74 to 86 looking the same I have no idea but just hope I do the same!

To be honest it was all a bit overwhelming at first. We stopped about an hour from the airport so I could get some coffee and smoke a cigarette  - not necessarily in that order - and as I had no English money I asked mum for 10 pence to get a coffee. She laughed and gave me a 10 pound note - around US$13. I walked into the store and there was the coffee machine. First I had to choose what type of coffee I wanted and there were a million choices most of which I had never heard of - so I pressed cappuccino. Next, small, medium or large. Did that, got my cup, put it in the right place, out came the coffee and then it told me to use my App. No idea what the machine was talking about so I went to the cashier and she told me to use my App to scan something. I explained I had no idea what she or the machine was talking about,  so I paid in cash (think around 2.50 pounds - bit more than the 10 pence I expected). What was it with all the Apps - they had invaded the country, everything was scanned or Apped or whatever - I think I was the only person paying in cash in every place we went to.

I stayed for three weeks. I spent time not only with my mum but my aunt and uncle, brother, sister and brother in law, cousins, friends and it was quite simply the best holiday I have ever had. The food was out of this world, all the things I cannot get here, and I managed to put on 10 pounds in weight! Rather than telling you all about it in words, here are just a few of the pictures I took over the three weeks.

Fresh raspberries and cream
Roast lamb, sprouts, new potatoes, peas, mint sauce!
English breakfast!
The local town, St. Ives, Cambridgeshire

Mother's cutlery drawer - so organised!

Sister's spice rack - alphabetical order of course


House in mum's village. I had forgotten how beautiful England is.

Local pub in Houghton where I spent many a misspent hour in my youth!
Another house in the village I grew up in, Houghton

Frosty Christmas morning in mum's back garden
Christmas lunch including PARSNIPS and Yorkshire pudding. Beef barbecued by brother in law, Gary.
I went through a whole range of emotions in England - not sad ones at all. It was so lovely to be with family and I had forgotten how much I loved them all. It was also interesting to compare life in England with my life in the DR, and rather than explaining it here, please do go to Janet Given's website and blog where I have done a guest post for her on how I felt. When you are on the site, do check out the other blog posts and the rest of the site ,as Janet is a well known writer and author and I know you will enjoy browsing. I came across her when I read her book At home on the Kazakh Steppe which is about her time in the Peace Corps when she did just what I did and gave it all up and ended up in Kazakhstan. Fabulous book and well worth a read!

In a few days (I promise) I will blog again to keep you up to date. In the meantime, here is Grumpy, the mangy boxer who turned up here a few months ago. Not mangy anymore!