Sunday, December 14, 2014

Being invaded by triffids

As the weather is getting much colder and we had a lot of rain I decided it was time to plant yet again. We cleared a space from the myriad of weeds and got it ready for planting. I divided the seed packets - tomatos, beans, peas, carrots,peppers, chilli peppers, beetroot and parsnips - into two lots, half for Danilo and half for me. He says I don't know how to plant. I read my packets, and took careful note of spacing, depth etc and he just bunged his in the ground.

Here we are two weeks later.

His is the top half, where everything is sprouting, and mine is this end where absolutely nothing is going on at all. I could espit.

You may notice on the right side of this picture, there are some large leaves. We are being invaded by triffids, otherwise known as pumpkin or auyama in Spanish. They are taking over the whole garden, and I jest not. There are all sorts of rules apparently. You cannot touch them or point at them with your finger or the pumpkins die - you can use your elbow though. To find out if the pumpkin is good, you knock it with your fist and listen to the sound it makes. I can do that bit but have no idea what is a good sound and what is a bad one, but I make sure I impress the veg man when buying one by knocking it and nodding knowledgeably and saying, "This one is a good one," and he nods and agrees.

They grow like topsy, with lovely orange flowers and the best thing of all is that where there is a flower, later arrives a pumpkin. This one is the first to arrive and is about a foot long. I have no idea when you can tell when they are ready. No doubt Danilo will knock it to find out.

We will have hundreds methinks and luckily I like them mashed or roasted but if anyone has good pumpkin recipes please let me know. In the meantime I will practise my knocking skills as I will have plenty to practise on.

The rest of the garden is also going crazy and the poinsettia have also taken on a life of their own, with some over 10 foot tall now.

And every day more and more are turning red

We still have an abundance of avocados - I think though they will be gone in another month. They seem to have lasted much longer than normal this year.

And this week my best Dominican mate left for Nuevo Yol as they call New York. She and her 18 year old son have gone as it will be better for his education, although she promises me she will be back in April. She comes to stay every couple of weeks for a day or two and, in true Dominican style cleans my house from top to bottom and washes all of my clothes. She also cuts my hair and has been a great friend for the last 4 years. Magdalena I will miss you - and not just for the cleaning and washing!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Beginning of Citizenship Journey

So off I went to the capital on Thursday - to meet with a book club and then to hand in the papers for my citizenship. As I predicted, things did not go smoothly. What a surprise.

Danilo and I went to town for me to get the bus, leaving enough time to have my photos taken for the citizenship paperwork. We had plenty of time to spare so we went to the phone company Claro to get a free new phone. You can have a new one every 18 months, free of charge. It was a painless process, if a tad long, and in the end I was the proud owner of a new Nokia. Only one problem, it had very little charge and the SIM in my old phone was cancelled. My old phone had plenty of charge and no SIM and the new one little charge but a SIM. Simple, I thought, just swap the SIMs over. No can do, as they were different sizes. Also all my contacts were on the old card, which didn't work.

I got on the bus and thought I would use my laptop and USB internet stick to get in touch with the book club lady, Laura, who was meeting me off the bus. Stick wouldn't work. Computer didn't recognise it and said the device was faulty. Only option left was to turn off the new phone and hope there was enough charge to call her when I arrived in Santo Domingo.

When I arrived I had to go to Listin Diario, the national newspaper office to prepay for the newspaper advert which will be issued once I become a citizen. I got lost on the way, and with the words of my husband ringing in my ear to be very careful as there were lots of attacks in the capital in December, I was lucky enough to find a nice lady who walked with me to Listin Diario. It was then a simple process to sort the advert and Laura came there and picked me up. So far so good.

We went to a beautiful apartment for the meeting, and around 20 ladies came, all of whom had read the book. I had not realised there were so many bright expat ladies working in the capital. Some worked for NGOs, some for private companies and they had been here for varying amounts of time - from a few months, to decades. A type of expat I had not met before and I really enjoyed talking to all of them.

Food was served, and one of the things I was really looking forward to was different food from that I normally have to eat here. Laura explained to me that they always have food at their meetings and the type of food is based on the location of the book. My little brain whirred around. My book was based in the DR. Yes the food was Dominican! Having said that it was not rice and beans and was really delicious.

One of the ladies I met was Kate Wallace of Tody tours. She is the famous bird watching expert and runs great tours for ornithologists throughout the country. I had written to her two years ago when I was putting together a guide book for the DR. If anyone wants to check out the birds here, she is definitely the person to go with.

Once the meeting was over I went with Laura to spend the night at her place. I cannot tell you how nice it was to speak English and I really did have a great time.

Next morning, bright and early, I was off to meet with the lady who translated my birth certificate for me, Olga, who I met when she contacted me having read the blog. She does a fabulous job and having gone to her apartment, we set off for the Procuraduria to get the translation stamped. She went into the Procuraduria, which was full of people, grabbed a ticket for our turn and then we went round the corner to the bank to pay the RD$330, then back to the office. She found a man she knew working there and within no time at all we had the stamp and then it was off to the Ministry of Interior and Police who are located in a building called the Huacalito - once the biggest building in the country. A Huacal is a plastic crate where bottles are kept. The word for bottle is botella. Botella is also the word for those on the government payroll who don't actually work, and they say there are more people with botellas supposedly working in the Huacalito, or not as the case may be.

 I don't know how to describe Olga. Her English is perfect and she made me howl with laughter. She speaks to everyone, seems to have control of every situation, and just makes things happen. If you need any translations doing, or just someone to help you round the capital with anything legal but not at lawyers' prices, she is your woman. You can contact her here.

So, there we are at the Ministry. I have flip flops on, and Olga says I should have closed shoes. So to disguise our entrance we helped some caterers carry up their food and breezed passed the security people. Me with a tray of pineapple and Olga helping to pull a cold box. Up to the thirteenth floor and into the office. I handed over all my papers: Letter asking for citizenship; copy of our marriage certificate and Danilo's birth certificate; colour copy of my passport and Danilo's cedula; application form; receipt from the newspaper and four photos and my birth certificate, duly apostilled by the UK Foreign Office and translated by Olga then legally stamped. The apostille has to be done on any documents which come from overseas, as long as that country is part of the Hague convention, and has to be done in the country where the document was issued. My mum had to get a copy of my birth certificate and get it apostilled, then send it to me. She did it twice as I didn't realise it had to be handed in within six months of the date on the apostille.

The man was not impressed. My name on my birth certificate was not the same as the name on my marriage certificate to Danilo. I explained I had been married previously and when I married Danilo the Central Electoral Court had seen all the documents and were happy with them. So had the Migration department for my residency. Nope. I had to hand over my original marraige certificate from my first marriage plus my divorce certificate. I had them with me so gave them to him, but they were not apostilled. He would not be persuaded and so we left empty handed, and I had to ask mum to get me a copy of my first marriage certificate duly apostilled and when that arrives I have to return, and do it all over again. Deep joy not.

Off then to get a new Claro stick, which was fast, painless and free and fabulous customer service. I was surprised as by then I expected more problems.

And Olga was amazing as usual and ran around Claro giving everyone her business card. What a sales woman lol.

Finally we went for lunch and I could eat my longed for hamburger at Wendy's and met up with another lady who wants me to speak at the International Women's Club meeting early next year. That I can hopefully combine with the second attempt at becoming a Dominican. Olga had a discussion with Wendy's management on how to improve customer service and stop queue jumping and how to treat elderly customers, handing out her business cards of course.

Then back to Caribe tour for the long journey home. My phone worked, my stick worked and although I didn't manage to hand my citizenship papers in, I made some new friends and have a new stick and a new phone. Life is good.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The mystery solved

Danilo's birthday was on Sunday and as he was at university in town on Saturday he decided to bring the family back with him then - a tad early for Sunday lunch but hey ho.

Chivirico was in charge of looking after the baby but as usual he wanted to use the computer. Luckily she seemed to enjoy watching you tube music videos as well.

In common with most Dominican children I know, she is very well behaved. No screaming or crying, just sleeps, eats and laughs.

Another interesting thing is how, when Ana, her mother and married to my stepson, Alberto, arrived, she brought nothing for the baby. No stroller, no big bag of wipes, nada. Just a bottle and some pampers. The child just gets carried everywhere and manages with what there is in our house.

We had a great lunch on Sunday - Turkish Lamb Stew which I adapt using goat instead of lamb. It is just goat, onions, couple of tins of tomatoes or fresh ones if you have no tins, aubergine (eggplant for Americans),  potatoes, chickpeas, red wine and herbs and cook it slowly for 3 hours. Delicious served with the all important rice, salad and of course avocados.

They left after lunch, but not until they had raided the garden and left with two bags of avocados, one of passion fruit, called chinola here, and one of oranges.

A few weeks ago Danilo at last did what I have been asking for ages, which was to build a gate into the kitchen so the dogs could not get in. The reason is that they terrorise the cats and eat their food, hassle me when I am trying to cook, and get into the rubbish bin, strewing stuff all over the floor. Even when it is obvious who the culprit is, Meg still looks at me and swears it was not her in the bin.

Anyway, the gate is up and no more problems. Apart from the fact that there were. The cats food still disappeared and the rubbish was still over the floor. Some careful spying then revealed what was happening. This time Pandora the puppy - well a year old now.

And this is on the way out.

Next week I am off to Santo Domingo to speak to a book club and, all being well, to hand in my paperwork to become a Dominican citizen. That should be a fun process so watch this space to see if it goes smoothly - which of course it won't. Talking of the book, it now has 86 five star reviews on Amazon and 7 four star reviews. It would be fabulous to get it up to 100 four and five star by Christmas, so if you have read it and not done a review yet then please please do. Thanks.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Here comes winter

At last winter is on its way. Firstly it has stopped raining and the next time it rains should be after Easter. Bad for the garden but it means much less mopping, and for that I am grateful.
The temperature and humidity have both dropped significantly, especially in the early mornings, so it is hooded housecoat, socks and slipper weather when I get out of bed at sunrise. By mid morning it warms up though and stays warm until nightfall. Another reason you know that winter is coming is that the poinsettia are all turning red.

The whole of the outside of the house is surrounded by them and I still find it hard to believe that these are the same flowers I had in a little pot on the dining room table at Christmas. Some of them here are 15 foot tall. I think we need to prune them maybe to make them bushier though.

Everywhere you look at the moment, everything is so green and growing like crazy. It really is beautiful.

Miguel has returned from his heart operation and is fit and well - although not doing a lot at the moment. They cannot use their new bathroom as the plumbers didn't stick the pipes on too well so everything leaks so they are looking for a new plumber to sort it out. Meanwhile, Baybara has a sink now to wash the dishes instead of a simple bowl. No plumbing problems here as they didn't put any pipes in at all so the water just falls out of the sink straight onto the floor!

And the avocados keep right on going. I never thought I would say this but I think I may be pleased this year when they are over. We have a box of hundreds to get through, and there are still loads more on the trees. I think this year must have been a bumper crop, I just wish there was a way to freeze them.

For the useful advice about putting lime in with papaya, thank you so much. Totally takes away the yucky taste so now my daily papaya milkshake is significantly more palatable. Yesterday was my birthday and though I hoped Danilo would forget, to save money being wasted on yet another Dominican hooker style pair of tight trousers and t-shirt. He remembered and instead bought a bottle of wine (first for a year!) and cooked sancocho for lunch - shared by all the neighbours - and a papaya and lime milkshake for dinner. Both with avocado on the side of course. His birthday is on Monday so we are expecting hordes to arrive on Sunday. Time for the famous Lindsay "Goat stew from Istambul" as Danilo calls it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

What to do with papaya?

The drought is now pretty much over with non stop rain almost all week last week. Although great for the garden, which is now growing like topsy, everyone else was getting pretty fed up with it. Some of the areas on the north coast flooded very badly, with many losing all of their possessions in floods over waist height as the rivers broke their banks. It is even said that in Sabaneta de Yasica, the cemetery flooded so badly that the bodies were washed out of the graves and disappeared. No doubt they will turn up somewhere.

Here, we luckily don't have flooding, apart from inside the house via the badly fitting windows, and through the roof where the men sorting the internet aerial stomped about on it in hob nail boots. But the dogs were fed up with the rain, and while I was concentrating hard, writing on my computer, they had a silent pillow fight early one morning.

It started off with the puppies, nearly a year old now, Panda and Pandora who managed to pretty much destroy a cushion. I had no idea that the cushions had so much estuffing.

Belinda ended up with the empty cushion cover, leaving the Pandas to frolic in the bits of foam.

Which Meg then robbed and  took out the lining. A good time was had by all, although I was a tad scared about Danilo's reaction when he got up. Surprisingly enough he was happy as said that the chickens would love the estuffing to build nests so it all got scooped up and given to the happy hens.

Chivirico arrived for the weekend and began by harvesting the papaya, known as lechosa.

Now, I know it is very good for you, but I just don't like it and there are not many things I don't like here. Danilo and Chivirico adore the batida, or milkshake, they make with it. If anyone knows a way to make it palatable then please let me know as we have loads.

Danilo was in Guayacanes for a big meeting with all his supporters last week. He tells me it went very well and now some of the major employers in the area have met with him and promised to support his launch day which is planned for early January. We still need to raise money for that and although I can repay people in a year's time when I come into my pension lump sum (no comments on pensionable age please), we have been unsuccessful in raising any more funds. So an American friend of mine racked her brain and me having said no to a cake stall, and a garage sale, as not enough people here and we give cakes as gifts to the neighbours, she came up with the idea of a 50/50 raffle. The idea is that people buy tickets, $10 for one and $20 for three with no limit on the number, and then the raffle is drawn on 15th December. The money raised is then divided into two with half going to the lucky winner, and half to Danilo's campaign. I was hoping to raise US$10,000 in total but it is going a tad slowly, so if anyone wants a ticket, the Facebook link is here. Anyone who wants to take part but isn't on Facebook you can email me on

Friday, October 31, 2014

Diabetes in the Dominican Republic

382 million people in the world suffer from diabetes. In the Dominican Republic, over 10% of the population has what they call azucar, ‘sugar’ or diabetes and some people say it will rise to 20%.  To be honest diabetes has never been particularly high on my radar and I don't know that much about it. I had a great uncle who had it, a second cousin and a daughter of a friend, but I have never thought of it as particularly dangerous.

That is, until I moved into the campo. Here, everyone seems to have it. In fact we are the only house in our area where no one has diabetes.

The statistics show that Dominican Republic is the 21st most affected nation with diabetes in the world. The United States is in 29th place, Canada in 51st  and the United Kingdom 199th place. The full list is here.

The reasons given for the Dominican Republic being so high up the list are firstly genetic. It is thought that Hispanics, American Indians, and black people are more likely to get diabetes than white people, and it is thought to be passed down through families as well. It can also be attributed to a sedentary lifestyle which is definitely a Dominican trait. In addition it can also be due to being overweight, and nearly 70% of the Dominican population is overweight, plus a poor diet also does not help. The diet issue is true throughout the country with a heavy reliance on white rice and root vegetables, starches which turn to sugar, and a lack of protein and vitamins. Oil and salt are also both used to excess.

To gather more information I went to talk to two of my neighbours, Leida and Jose Manuel, the latter is usually known as Sukin. He runs the local colmado and they live in one of the 8 homes which make up our campo.

Sukin and Leida are both 62 years old and have been married for 38 years. They have a son and a daughter, both of whom live in New York. Well it could be anywhere in the United States as they call the whole country New York. They both suffer from diabetes. Sukin has had it for around 18 years and Leida 14 years. They both found out when going to the doctor for other problems and the infamous Dominican medical analysis discovered they were diabetic. Sukin’s father died of diabetes related issues aged 80 and Leida’s mother as well when she was 64. No one suggested they should be regularly checked even with a family history and nor are their children being checked.

They go to the diabetes institute in Santiago every 3 months to be checked, and there they are given diet sheets. Now Leida and Sukin eat what they grow and what he has in the colmado. They eat white rice, chicken and beans, and yuca and corn which they grow. Sometimes spaghetti and avocados in season. And he has white bread delivered daily which they eat.

They told me that if they follow the diet they would starve, as it says no or little rice and no root vegetables. No potatoes nor pasta and nothing with flour in it. They are allowed one serving of rice a week and one portion of yuca a fortnight. But all they eat is rice and yuca, so the diet sheet goes out of the window. They are allowed brown rice and whole wheat pasta, neither of which are sold within 70 miles of here and even if they were, they have higher taxes so are very very expensive. They can't eat cornflakes but can eat bran flakes which I have never seen in the country. Corn, which they grow, is a no no, but they should eat broccoli, which is expensive and hardly ever available and spinach which I have never seen here.

They try their best. They do not eat sugar, so no sweet coffee, no natural juices loaded with sugar. Instead they drink packet juice or cartons and don’t bother to read the sugar content on the side.

They are both insulin dependent. Sukin buys the bottles of insulin for 100 pesos – just over US$2 – at the Botica Popular which is the government pharmacy and they last around 2 weeks for them both. They both inject twice a day. If the Botica does not have insulin, then he has to buy it from the regular pharmacy and it costs ten times that amount. Leida has a machine with strips to check her sugar levels which her son brought from the United States but she never uses it as she isn't sure how to. Sukin has never used a machine. He has had two low sugar episodes where he has fallen unconscious and had to be taken to hospital where luckily, he recovered. His sight is now failing.

Leida had her right leg amputated 2 years ago due to poor circulation and gangrene, and her sister had her leg amputated just afterwards. She is the lady we bought our house from. Leida’s other sister died 18 years ago from complications related to diabetes, including gangrene. Leida’s other leg is now being affected and she anticipates another amputation in the not too distant future. She is upset as her wheelchair has a problem with the wheels and she can't go outside the house as it will only go sideways.

There are just under 1,000 amputations a year due to diabetes in the country and 75% of those that have one limb amputated will have to have the other one too.

It seems to me that so much could be done which isn't happening. Firstly, education and those whose parents are both diabetic should be checked regularly and early in the their lives.

Secondly, the food which diabetics should eat should be available and everywhere, not just in the international supermarkets in the large cities and tourist areas. Why are brown bread and brown rice not available everywhere? And why tax whole wheat pasta and brown rice higher than white rice and pasta? There is no point in giving people a diet sheet for things they cannot buy as they are not available or if they are they are twice the price.

I am sure people somewhere are working to solve this problem but it affects so many people's lives here and so many are dying unnecessarily that there must be a solution. I just don't know what it is yet!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Unfinished dreams

It is the anniversary of my father's death in a couple of days time. He died very suddenly and unexpectedly from mesothelioma in 2005. I think about him every day, and talk to him at night when I take the dogs for a walk. I like to think he is one of the stars which are out almost every night here and are amazing as we have no light pollution. He was very supportive of me and what I did, however crazy everyone else thought I was, and the fact he spoke fluent Spanish was fabulous as he could speak to Danilo. The picture below was taken on the occasion of his 50th wedding anniversary to my mother which was in April 2005, and Danilo and I went to the party. That was the last time I saw him.

He came to visit me in the DR for a week, after I had been here about six months or so. He and I would go to a bar on the beach at night, but because the music was so loud, we would go down to the ocean and sit on a tree trunk which had been washed into the ocean by one of the tropical storms or hurricanes. After he died, Danilo went down to the ocean and brought the same tree trunk back to our house so that I could sit on it in the garden.
A couple of days ago Danilo told me to look out of the window. He had remembered the anniversary coming up and had transplanted an orchid onto the tree in front of the window where I sit. Orchids were Dad's favourite flowers. This time they are real and not plastic!

I am always receiving emails and requests for help and information about the country, and especially from ladies wanting to know about sanky pankies. So when I received an email entitled 'Any advice" I thought it was nothing new. Until I read it. It was from a lady called Kathryne who is carrying out doctoral research at Newcastle University in the UK into holiday relationships  - not quite a PhD in Sanky Pankies but not a long way off!  I thought it was really interesting. She was looking for any British person who has had a holiday relationship with a Dominican, or someone from some other countries, to take part in a survey for her doctoral thesis. You can check it out here if you would like to participate.

We had a crazy weekend with a houseful on Sunday, not only Chivirico but his grandmother, my step grandaughter who is 4 months old and Tracy, a lady I met online via the book and the blog and her husband, Jose.

Here is the grand baby who was very well behaved.

We had a great lunch of barbecued ribs and moro de guandules and then Danilo proudly showed off his prize cockerel to Tracy - as you do.

Everyone then went and gathered avocados - well enough to last a day or two.

As you know Danilo has decided to run once again for mayor in Guayacanes. His logic being that he learned a lot the last time, and that if he doesn't run again, all that hard work and money will have been for nothing. This time, he says, it will be different. It does seem to be different in that he has the support of all the key party figures such as governors and party leaders and the phone is ringing constantly day and night.

My original reaction to be honest was, oh no not again. But as time has gone on, I have realised that you cannot take away people's dreams from them. The fire he had in his belly to actually make a difference is as strong now as it ever was.

I love the fact that he is so optimistic, but I have always wanted his unwavering optimism to be tempered with a little realism. We were talking about this over dinner the other night, and I know that people brought up in poverty often dream impossible dreams, such as becoming a world class baseball player or winning the lottery. My dreams when younger were achievable - a better job, a bigger house.

Danilo dreamed of one day having a machete like his father, but never in his wildest dreams could he imagine travelling abroad or studying at university, let alone being mayor. Unfortunately dreaming is not sufficient to win elections, and although the party have confirmed that they will give him all the financial support he needs after the primaries, assuming he is then elected candidate, he needs to fund the campaign up until then which is April next year.  Actually, the way things seem to be going, the other candidates for the party are likely to withdraw even before the primaries which will mean his automatic naming as party candidate without the need for a vote.

So I am busy trying to raise money again just like I did four years ago - fingers crossed this time it will work! I will just need to talk to my father, twinkling up there in the sky, and keep the faith. Si Dios quiere, as they say here, this time he will win.