Sunday, October 16, 2011

What it means to have a Dominican friend

A friend will ask you how you are

A Dominican friend will tell you you look good, will hug you and give you a kiss.

A friend sends you flowers and a card when you are in hospital

A Dominican friend will sleep on a chair at your side

A friend will ask to borrow something and will give it back 2 days later

A Dominican friend will ask to borrow something and after a week will forget it was yours

A friend will offer you the sofa to sleep on

A Dominican friend will give you his bed, he will sleep on the floor and not let you sleep but spend the whole night talking to you

A friend will know a few things about you

A Dominican friend will be able to write a book with all the things he knows about you

A friend will give you a paracetomal when you are hungover

A Dominican friend will make you chicken soup, and give you his grandmother's cures, and will make sure you drink the soup, even hand feeding you.

A friend will knock on your door, waiting for you to open it

A Dominican friend will open the door, walk in and then say I am here

A friend will ask you to make them coffee

A Dominican friend will go into the kitchen, make the coffee and go next door to ask a neighbour for sugar if you have none

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The Dominican Republic is a poor country. It is highly stratified with a very small and very wealthy upper class, a small but growing middle class and a very large working and peasant class , many of whom live in absolute poverty. There is high unemployment especially among the youth and for those who do work the average wage is around 100 pounds a month. So how does this affect the way that the people live?


Houses tend to be rented or built on pieces of land where the owner isn’t present – squatting if you like.

Those that are rented are block or wood built with zinc roofs and will cost from 20- 30 pounds a month to rent. Although the zinc roofs mean that they are hot in the daytime they are cool at night, especially if they are built of wood, and do not retain heat like the concrete blocks do

Inside, the houses will typically have a living area and a
sleeping area with cooking often being carried out outside, although some houses do have kitchens. Although poor, every house will have its television and everybody will have their mobile phone!

Instead of doors between each room there is usually a curtain. If lucky the floors are of concrete, but many
houses still only have a dirt floor.

The squatters build houses out of whatever is available and in one of the pictures below you can see the children’s room made out of cardboard. Many houses will have neither running water nor a toilet - there may be a latrine in the garden or yard which can be shared by several families or people simply use the woods around.


Shopping is done daily at the colmado or corner shop.. There are various reasons for this. Firstly there is usually not the money to do ‘a big shop’.

In fact most of the poorer Dominicans have never been into a supermarket.

Secondly you can buy everything at the colmado in small quantities: onestock cube, a little bit of oil, a few ounces of rice, one clove of garlic, a few pesos of chicken. This keeps the cost down, and remember many people do not have a fridge so could not store food in the heat. And most importantly the colmado will offer credit, so if you cannot pay that day they will simply write down what you owe on a piece of cardboard torn from a packet of something and when some money arrives you can pay them back.


Obviously with so little money it is impossible to save. If you are in desperate need of funds, for a medical bill for example, then the family or neighbours will chip in and help. People will say they want to borrow money but most will never pay it back as there is no way they can. Many will play the lottery for only a few pesos at a time, because winning the lottery is the only way they will climb out of poverty. Very few make it out of the class they were born into. Education costs money. The public schools are free, but the children needs books, pencils, uniforms and although many parents start off with good intentions, very few children finish their education. Even if they do, most good jobs go to those with family connections and hence if you started poor it is almost impossible to move out of your ‘class’.

But in part, poverty has made the Dominicans the people they are. Friendly – as in the barrios or neighbourhoods everyone knows each other and helps each other out. Generous – if you have food you give it to your neighbour as tomorrow they may have to give it to you. Optimistic – when you live in poverty you have to believe that tomorrow your life will be better, otherwise you would be miserable all of the time. And Dominicans are happy. They say we are alive and we have our health and so with that they are happy. As long as there is food on the table for that day they ask for no more.


I used to find it hard when people would come to the house and I would have to feed them when I had only cooked enough food for me and my family. I would find it hard when someone borrowed money and then didn’t pay it back. Now I live in a barrio I understand where they come from and why they behave like they do. The generosity of those who have nothing is humbling and a lesson which is worth learning for all of us who come from consumerist societies.