Monday, June 20, 2011

The colmado

Colmado in Spanish literally means full to the brim, and is the word used here for the equivalent of a corner shop. They are all over the place, and in my street alone there must be 7 or 8. Some are tiny, no more than a little shack, but most are the size you see here. They are all totally full of merchandise and are open from early in the morning, between 7 and 8, to between 8 and midnight at night. The ones here close for lunchtime between 12 and 2.

Colmados are not self service. You ask for what you want, well actually you demand it by screaming "dame", which means give me. It doesn't matter if anyone else is being
served, you just shout anyway. He or she who shouts loudest is served next.

You can buy just about anything you
need. Many things are sold loose, such as rice, flour, sugar, washing powder and things you might not expect like cornflakes, oil, vinegar, soya sauce. You just take a container in and they fill it up for you. There are always vegetables available such as plantains, yellow bananas, yucca, green peppers, onions and potatoes, tomatos and celery. As far as meat is concerned it is restricted to chicken, which is usually in a washing up bowl and
comes with feet and neck, smoked pork chops and of course salami.

A large percentage of people buy on credit and carry around a little piece of cardboard with what they owe on it, torn off a packet of something. Then when they get paid on the 15th or the 30th, or the 25th for government jobs, they take their piece of cardboard to the colmado and pay it all and then are given another torn off scrap of cardboard.

As well as being the main place for food, the colmado doubles up as a bar at night - and all day Sunday - and the main social centre of the neighbourhood. There is usually a television in one corner and the colmado fills up for baseball games and the daily soap opera programmes. At night everyone gathers and sits on the ubiquitous plastic chairs and drinks beer and rum.

There have been two key subjects in our colmado this week. Firstly the lack of street water, which has been turned off for over a week now whilst the tanks are cleaned apparently to stop the spread of cholera which has now hit this area. We have had a large tank in the street to use for water - how that is more healthy I am not really sure. The second topic has been the road which as you remember was full of mud. This morning a steam roller was driving up and down it, so we now have compacted mud and I was told that they are going to set fire to the road with petrol and then pour black stuff over it. I am not sure exactly how that is going to work, or if it is a Dominican way of tarmacking a road. I am sure that it will be a delightful experience as the whole street is set on fire.

Watch this space as they say.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hurricane season

The hurricane season began on June 1st and ends on the last day of November. This is my 9th full season and so far, touch wood, I have only been in the tail end of a Category One hurricane and maybe 6 or 7 tropical storms. They were bad enough so I am not looking forward to being in anything any stronger.

It has been raining every day since the season started,and this is the road outside the house. Walking in flip flops has become next to impossible as they just
get stuck in the mud.

Where we live now we should be less affected by hurricanes as they tend to hit the south of the island more than the north. And the north has more earthquakes than the south - not sure which I would prefer given the choice

During hurricane season I check the various hurricane websites every day. You need to be aware in advance of what is happening, especially
The hurricane web sites will show the amount of Saharan dust in the air - a lot is good as for some reason it dissipates hurricanes. Also the sea temperature - the hotter the sea the easier for a hurricane to grow. They also show the wind direction. I am not sure why, but in the early season they tend to head for the Dominican Republic and then veer northwards towards the Bahamas before they get too close. Then later on in the season, they go in a
straight line into the Caribbean sea, and then turn northwards, which is when we could get a direct hit. The web sites are very accurate about timing
as well. I remember one tropical storm which we were not really expecting to be close. I happened to check the website and it said it would be a direct hit at 6.30pm. By now it was around 4.30. I called my husband and told him to come home as a storm was coming, and we ate early. He told me I was exaggerating, and we sat down to play dominoes on our patio. At 6.30 on the dot the storm arrived. You get no warning apart from the fact that everything is very still and the birds stop singing - there is not a sound, no crickets, no frogs. The domino table was blown over, the trees bent over and the wind and the rain was ferocious. All the the Haitians and Dominicans who lived in huts nearby came to us for shelter that night. We had over 100 people in the the local news channels often are not, and my Dominican and Haitian friends rely on me for information.

And that was only a tropical storm.

Apart from the wind which destroys houses and downs power lines, the main problem is the water. Although this is a tropical island where heavy downpours are a way of life, there appears to be no efficient way to cope with the rains and flooding happens all of the time. As soon as a storm starts the authorities turn the electricity off to save hundreds being electrocuted as the wires are blown down. So not only do you have to cope with the wind and the water, you also have to do it in the dark.

The other thing to remember is the eye. The wind will come from one direction and then as the eye passes over, all is quiet. During Hurricane George which was the last Category 5 to hit, when the eye passed over there was bright sunlight and everyone went into the streets thinking it was over. An hour or so later it started again, this time with the wind coming from the opposite direction. Most of the injuries happen during the second half when people are in the open thinking it is all over, and they are hit by flying debris.

So, stay safe everyone this season.