Saturday, July 5, 2014

Storms, cows and chicks

Goodness where does the time go? I had no idea it has been 3 weeks since I last blogged. Well as usual nothing stays calm for long here.

The first problem has been that it looks like I will be losing my biggest freelance job which is our main source of income so it has been time to look for something to fill the considerable gap. There is no social security here so if you don't have money coming in there is no back up. The DRsisterhood site is providing some income and I am enjoying helping people out on there and in addition I have registered with several freelance job sites and managed to pick up writing the odd article and brochure here and there which has been interesting. I am now like those actors who say they can ride a horse to get the part - I say I can write about anything!

Obviously to be able to work as a freelance writer you need to have internet and electricity. Last week there was a massive storm. It started at three in the afternoon and this is what it looked like outside.

I ran around the house unplugging everything, as you do before a storm, and then it started. Torrential rain and massive claps of thunder with lightning all over the place. The electricity went off - they usually turn it off in a storm in case trees bring a line down and someone gets fried. One bang shook the whole house and I wondered if we had been hit. In between mopping the water which seems to come in through every window I was desperately trying to get an article finished for a deadline using a usb stick for internet and the lap top battery. I made it just as the battery died.

The electricity didn't come back until it was dark and I only knew it was back as the shout rang out around the campo "Llego la luz!". It had arrived everywhere but not in my house. A neighbour came to help me investigate and he discovered the main switch was set to 'off' which I thought was odd. The switch is in the basement where a couple of hens, a cockerel and 24 chicks are currently living, so I thought maybe the hens had pecked it to 'off'. He switched it back to 'on' and hey presto there was light.

Until I went upstairs, which was in pitch darkness and I couldn't find the light switch. Further investigation revealed that I couldn't find the switch as it wasn't there any more. It had been blown off the wall, as had all of the light switches and all of the plug sockets. The internet was fried and there had been a fire where the transformer for the modem was. Which I had been blissfully unaware of. The water pump didn't work and nor did the hot water nor the internet - probably as the transformer was now a melted blob on the wall.

To cut a very long story short, the internet aerial on the roof had been hit by lightning and taken out everything electrical upstairs. Luckily as I had unplugged everything, we just need to fix the electrics and buy a new transformer, internet receiver at the top of the aerial, plugs and light bulbs. The internet is now fixed, but took a while as the internet man has had his phone cut off. He has now told me to add him to Eskippy. I had no idea what he was wittering on about until he wrote it down for me - Skype. I explained how it was pronounced and that Eskippy was actually a kangaroo, but he told me I was wrong as there was an 'e' at the end and you couldn't just ignore it. And he had never heard of Eskippy being a kangaroo. Eskippy it was and Eskippy it stays.

Anyway, the water is now fixed too and the electrician is coming tomorrow for the rest. As well as fixing everything he will earth the house which should help next time. Assuming he knows what he is doing which is far from certain.

I thought that would be it on the bad luck front, but yesterday afternoon, one of the pups started barking and I looked up, and there chomping on my parsley in the garden was an enormous brown cow. All of his friends and relations were just behind him. It took about an hour to get them all out of the garden and one of my neighbours said I had to get money off the owner of the cows. The law of the campo is taken very seriously and the cow owner would have to pay for the damage. The next thing I knew, the local mayor turned up. He must be around 90 years old and carried out a full inspection of the garden, then pronounced that he would tell the owner to pay RD$5,000 pesos for the damage. Danilo felt uncomfortable about this, so it was agreed that the owner would instead receive a final warning, but the next time his cows invaded us he would have to pay.

And finally, something to warm the cockles of my heart, even with all this chaos and stress going on there is always something to make you smile. I mentioned the two hens and 24 chicks and the cockerel in the basement. Each hen has 12 chicks but one of the mothers is a nasty piece of work and attacks the other chicks, so she has been moved out. I went to check on her chicks to see if the other hen was looking after them. I didn't realise before, that after chicks are born they all sleep under their mums to keep warm, so I was hoping there was enough room for all of them under the one mother down there.

It was not the case. Dad had stepped up to the challenge and he was looking after all of the chickens!

They were all over him, including on his back. Life in paradise.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The gift of the old

This has been a sad week. I have a friend in Canada, married to a Dominican and they have a beautiful little girl. My friend’s mother died of cancer this week and whilst I was obviously very sad for her loss, I was thinking about what a shame it is that her daughter will grow up without her grandmother.
When I was a child I adored my grandmother – my mother’s mother. I continued to adore her all her life until she died, aged 99, in 2006 the day before Danilo and I had our marriage blessed in church in the UK.

She used to let me win card games and board games so that I wouldn't be upset if I lost and I think about that now as I play card games with Chivirico. I don't have to let him win though, as he beats me anyway.

I used to call her every week, however when I was shot I tried to call her, but as my voice was no longer strong she couldn't hear me. No one wanted to tell her I had been shot and so I think she probably wondered why I was no longer calling her. At least I saw her the day before she died and she recognized me and knew I was there with her.

Danilo’s sons also spent fabulous holidays with their grandfather when he was alive, up in the mountains above Barahona. (Not sure they will thank me for this picture!)

Behind me lives an old man, Feluche, with his son and daughter and their family. Feluche is 83 and his brother, who was in his 90's died last week. Feluche’s daughter was telling me that he is now the last surviving child out of 18 of them and was feeling depressed and very aware of his own mortality and refusing to eat.
I went to see him and asked him to do me a favour. Chivirico is with us for the summer holidays and I asked Feluche to teach him all about the country ways.  I can teach him maths and how to read and write but I cannot teach him all the things which Feluche knows. The medicinal properties of all the different plants here. How to look after and ride a horse. How to milk cows and goats. How to grow Dominican vegetables. To tell him about what it was like when he was growing up all those years ago.

The older generation has so much information, knowledge and wisdom to pass on, and often grandchildren do not take advantage of them. The relationship a grandchild has with his or her grandparents can be something very special.

Every morning now, Chivirico rushes round to Feluche for his daily lesson. And Feluche is eating again.

On another note. Back to the chickens again. The ugly ones with no feathers on their necks are turning into monsters. Ugly monsters at that. Chivirico took one to be weighed on the scales at the local colmado and he was nine and a half pounds!

We have had another 15 chicks born as well. What with hens and chickens, cats and dogs there is a definite animal take over bid happening in this house.

Still, the floor is quite comfortable.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A crisis of conscience

To Dominicans family is very, very important. Children will always support their parents financially in their old age, there are only few occupations with pensions, and would never dream of putting them in an old people’s home. They will move in with the parents or vice versa to ensure they are well looked after.

There are three events when the whole family will pull together: death, jail and hospital. If any member of the family is involved in either of these three, everyone will turn up to visit and give financial assistance even if they have to borrow to do it. When I was shot, Danilo's two sisters came and stayed in the hospital for a few days, washing me and looking after me. There was no questions that they would do this.

Danilo’s parents were both dead when I met him, so we did not have to provide for them. In fact we have been lucky with the rest of his family in that they rarely asked for or needed anything. We gave a small amount of money to his full brother when he was in hospital but only around £100. His sisters have never asked for anything.

His half brother, Antonio had a stroke about 9 months ago and we had to send something, even though we did not have much, he had nothing at all. And this is where my problem starts in that if we are broke why do we have to send money we do not have. To Dominicans there is no question. I know I feel selfish as I begrudge having to send money we could do with, but Dominicans have no selfishness when it comes to supporting the family – it is just something you do. If we don’t send it I feel very guilty so we sent the money.

A few weeks later, Danilo’s aunt died and he announced he had to go to the funeral in Barahona. Not only did we not have the money for the fare but we were also due to go to Barahona anyway the following week. He tried to make me understand that he HAD to go, that is what Dominicans did, but in the end I prevailed and luckily the final day of the wake – the ninth day, was the day we were due to arrive there, so he went then and gave them some money – as you do.

And now there is another issue. The brother who had a stroke has a child who is 8 years old. The mother is a Haitian who dumped the boy on the father when he stopped paying child support. Antonio is Danilo’s half brother and has not been able to work since the stroke – not that he appeared to do much beforehand. Apparently one of Danilo’s sons saw the kid begging on the beach for money which he would take back to his father so he brought the child here to stay with him and a female friend of his. Danilo's son works in the capital, Santo Domingo, so he left the child with his friend and she appears to be looking after him even though she isn't even related. That is what Dominicans do. They all help.

The child, Albert, came here last weekend with Chivirico. There is nothing wrong with him, but I, again selfishly, don’t want him to live with us. He has nowhere else to go. Should I be Dominican and simply take him in as any Dominican would, or do I say he has to find somewhere else and feel guilty about it. I can’t help the way I feel, I don’t want him living with us. Chivirico was not that impressed with him either and was happy when he left yesterday to go back to the woman he is currently living with.

Albert with Chivirico. Both almost the same age

He is only a child. He had no say in his mother, who dumped him, nor his father who is physically unable to look after him. My selfish side says why should I have him, and Danilo’s Dominican side says we have to help this kid.

What do I do? I think I have adapted to the Dominican way of life but when it comes to something like this my British side comes out and I opt for self preservation, not for giving it all up to help the family. But I feel guilty.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Nothing is ever easy

I remember having some American friends here in the DR and we would meet for a meal or a drink but she would always have to rush home at 9 pm to watch “her programme” which was Grey's Anatomy or some other show. I don’t really watch television here very much, never have done, as when I was in the UK and it was a sunny day I would always think I should be outside taking advantage of it rather than inside watching the TV. Of course here it is almost always sunny but I can’t get that thought out of my head!

Anyway, I now have “my programme” which is Top Chef.

I have no idea which series it is or how far behind we are but in some sort of masochistic way I love watching it and seeing all the fabulous meals and ingredients which I can’t find here. The contestants run around Whole Foods store looking for amazing products whilst I sit on my sofa munching a cracker with Dominican soap like cheese.

The programme is on at 3pm and I spend all morning looking forward to watching it. However, like everything here, nothing quite goes to plan.

Take this week for example. Sunday I turned the television on just before 3 and then on came “Marvels Agents of Shield” which is guns and shooting and I never watch programmes like that. The programme guide said it was Top Chef, but it wasn’t. It lied. I waited in case the man who puts the programme on realized he had put the wrong tape on, and changed it for Top Chef. He didn’t.

Monday the same routine. Turned television on, and this time it was Grey’s Anatomy. I checked the programme guide and yes, there was a marathon of Grey’s Anatomy programmed. No Top Chef.

Tuesday, yay, Top Chef was on. Then a storm came in and the clouds were so thick that the satellite signal kept going. In fact the signal only came back for the adverts which was most annoying.

Wednesday I missed it as I was out, Thursday I saw it and Friday the electricity went off from noon to 7.30 at night so I missed it again. Fingers crossed there are no issues today although by now the series might even have finished.

Two pieces of good news this week. Twelve baby chicks have hatched and are living in the basement. There is another hen in there too sitting on more eggs. I have no idea what the plan is for these chicks but at the moment we are getting around 6 eggs a day.

And the other piece of news is that not only has Chivirico passed his second year at school he was also awarded top student and has a certificate which says he has the merit award for  showing integrity, honesty, dedication and sharing.

Great news isn’t it?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

New beginnings

Number 2 stepson, Alberto, is 'married ' i.e. living with, which is Dominican married, to Chivirico's aunt Ana. Last Monday she gave birth to a baby girl, Adibel, which makes me a step grandmother.

Here she is just after she was born weighing 7 lbs 7 ounces. She was born by Cesarean section which is how most children are born in the DR. Not because a C section is needed but because the doctors want to make more money which was exactly what happened in this case. The doctor told Ana she would not be strong enough to push the baby out, carried out a C section and charged RD$40,000 which is nearly US$1,000. They have insurance which covers 80% but then had to find RD$8,000 which is more than Alberto's monthly wage and way beyond the reach of the majority of Dominicans. Family and friends usually have to come to the rescue as mother and baby were held hostage by the clinic until the bill was paid. In this case it was my mother and we were all extremely grateful.

Ana is now staying with her mother until she is "out of risk" or "fuera de riesgo". This takes 41 days but I am not sure what she is at risk of. She has cotton wool in her ears and socks on her feet to stop cold air getting into her body and cannot eat eggs or pork. She is not supposed to bathe during her "risk time" but she is doing so.

Chivirico thinks his new cousin is very pretty, but was more than pleased that he has finished school and can come and stay with us for the holidays until August. He wants to stay with us after then and go to school here, so fingers crossed his father and his grandparents will let him.

When I learned that Ana was pregnant I can't say I was over the moon, as I am now so accustomed to first world thinking that you should be financially stable, with good jobs and a nice home before you start a family. Everything is programmed so that it happens at the 'right' time. But as I was looking down at Adibel, laughing at me, just six days old, I remembered that so often I compare the Dominican Republic to the UK in the 1950s.

I was born only just over 10 months after my parents married, and Mum would tell me that women had a child as soon as possible in case anything happened to their husband. My Dad was a navigator in the Air Force and there were conflicts all over the world in the 1950's. Plus the memory of the Second World War was very raw. I was born when my parents were living in a rented room, and then a caravan. Not so very different from the wooden house where Adibel will be brought up.

And another new beginning. I make my living working for various clients, writing, doing marketing, translating and my main client has decided to probably close his business. This will mean a major hole in our income. So it has forced me to get off my backside and launch something I should have done ages ago.

I spend a lot of time answering emails to ladies who want to know if their boyfriend is a sanky panky, or wanting them investigated or people wanting information about the DR. I get asked to translate text messages, asked how to find a job, about schools and accommodation. I receive between 100 and 200 emails a month and have always tried to help free of charge. But now i have decided to make a business out of it - or try to. DR Sisterhood has been launched as a membership service where people can have access to me and other ladies for help and information and to be their eyes and ears in the country. Fingers crossed it works!

In the meantime Chivirico is helping collect the eggs for breakfast!

And as I sit here typing this he is making biscuits to go and sell. The puppies ate my cell phone (and a diary, two books, four CDs, 2 rolls of tape and a cushion) so I nicked his phone and told him I would get him another one. He wants an iPhone so has to make a few thousand pesos first. Methinks will end up with a basic phone again!

Friday, May 16, 2014

One of those weeks

Life in the campo is usually calm, peaceful and fun. But sometimes it is none of those.

The last couple of weeks have been busy and stressful.

Firstly I had a visit from a journalist and photographer from the UK Sun newspaper which is read by 6 million people in the UK. They were lovely people and a good time was had by all. I was being interviewed about Sanky Pankies - men who go out with foreign women just for money and the article was published on May 10th. Here is Danilo with the photographer trying out our gym!

There was also a great review of my book in Global Living Magazine in the May edition.

However this is also the beginning of the rainy season which means that it rains every afternoon and whilst it is nice for the garden it is not nice for the house. The house is not built for rain and water comes in through every available crevasse and under every door. Every afternoon I am wandering around with my mop and bucket getting rid of the water. The floor stays clean and dry for minutes and then dogs, cats and people wander in and out with muddy paws and feet. It is enough to drive a woman to drink.

The good thing about the rain is it shuts the bloody cockerels up. The whole neighbourhood is now complaining about the noise which goes on almost 24 hours a day. It appears they belong to the brother of the neighbour, and he  lives in Santiago. His neighbours complained about the noise of his flock of fighting cockerels so he brought them here. I assume he thought that country folk wouldn't complain. Well they have and the brother is being spoken to when he comes tomorrow and will be asked to move them. We will see what happens.

The rainy season also heralds the arrival of the wasps and new nests are springing up all over the place. Here is a handsome wooden statue I have of a bongo player.

And the wasps are even nesting in him!

Luckily they are quite pleasant wasps and only sting if you sit on them or squash them.

And finally, I had to go to the capital last week and when I came back my grey cat, Guerrero, meaning Warrior, was not around. This was not unusual as he often goes walkabout for a few days. However he didn't appear all week, until a couple of nights ago, Danilo yelled at me to go outside. I was working and yelled back that I was busy. So he came to me. In his hand was a stick and stuck on the top was Guerrero's head. I apologise for not having a photo of it, but I am sure you are not too upset about that. It was the first time I have seen a cat's head on a stick and to be honest I would rather not again. No idea how he died or what happened to the rest of him. R.I.P. Now I am down to two full time cats and two part time ones who come and go as they please.

Here's hoping next week will see the departure of the cockerels, a little less rain and no more dead cats on sticks.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Going to the baseball game

Danilo plays baseball for a local team called the Pinchi's. No idea what that means, but he plays every Monday night on the local field as do many of the neighbours. The whole campo goes to watch and this week I went to watch as well.
The baseball field was smaller than I thought it would be but well maintained with a lovely little area for the spectators.

Most of the players are young and fit, but not all.

Before the game started the central sandy area - which probably has a name but I have no idea what it is - had to be smoothed out. I assume the major league teams have a machine for this, but here it was a car driving round and round, dragging a rake and with someone sitting on the rake.

Eventually the game started and it was pretty professional. Everyone knows everyone and the crowd was hilarious aided by copious amounts of alcohol. They screamed insults at everyone and the game kept stopping as the players were collapsing on the floor laughing. Everyone has a nickname as is usual here, so the screams were things like "Guandules (peas) you are getting fatter than an elephant" and too many more for me to remember, nor understand.

The Pinchi's won both games to the delight of the crowd.

A good night was had by all.

However my neighbours have decided to take cock fighting more seriously and have bought 15 fighting cocks.  Due to the noise they make they have housed them as far away from their house as they can - which means they are right next to my house. So far only 6 have been installed in their cages and another nine are en route. They crow all day long and only stop when it rains.

Neighbour assures me I will get used to the crowing. I assure him I won't.