Friday, December 30, 2011

The creature from the deep

I am very lucky in having a husband who cooks. Yesterday he cooked chicken soup for lunch. This is a thick hearty soup full of Dominican vegetables such as yuca, potatoes, guineo (normal bananas but unripe and green), yautia (root vegetable), yam and pumpkin.  It is flavoured with fresh coriander, celery and the essential Maggi stock cube or two and  liquid seasoning (orange stuff in a plastic pot full of salt and E numbers). The chicken is cut into pieces together with the bones, which aren't taken off before you eat it.

So there I am happily slurping my way through my chicken soup, when suddenly, from beneath the vegetables, a foot rises up from the broth, just like some sort of monster from the deep. A massive knobbly chicken's foot. I half expected it to jump out of the bowl and grab me round the neck.  I know that chicken have feet, but I would rather see them where they belong, on the end of the chickens' legs strutting around the streets in the barrio, than lying in wait for me under a pile of vegetables.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sensible place to put a tap - not.

I have another neighbour, also called vecina (neighbour), which makes it easy as I don't have to remember names.  She lives to the left of us, two houses down.  She was away visiting her daughter for a while and someone stole the water pipes to her house. Understandably she was a tad miffed, so bought some new pipes and the vecino (male neighbour) from over the road dug up the road and put the pipes in for her. I wasn't convinced that he was a qualified plumber as he dug a channel in the road with his machete, and stuck the pipes together using the flame from a candle. Anyway, problem solved one would think.  No. She didn't have the money for enough pipe so the pipe stops outside my gate. He fitted a tap and now when she wants water she just comes to the front of my gate, turns the tap and fills up her buckets - as do a whole range of people!  She has promised that when she can afford it she will buy the rest of the pipe, so that we can drive the car out without breaking her pipe and tap.  I think I may be marooned here for a while.

And the second slight technical hitch is that the vecino didn't do a very good job with his jointing of the pipes.  He did the work when the street water was off, which it is often and when it came back on, almost immediately there was a leak.  A big leak, in fact a fountain,and so we now have a river in front of the house.  Obviously the method of sealing water pipes with a candle is somewhat suspect. The water board wont fix it as they didn't do it, the vecino has gone away to family for Christmas, and so to leave the house now we have to don wellington boots, as we can't get the car out without breaking her pipe!  Happy days.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas lunch - with apologies to fellow blogger Piglet in Portugal

My neighbours are lovely people. Lala is 80 years old and has 16 children and her husband Michael is a 72 year old toyboy. They live just around the corner and their little wooden house backs on to our side wall. Every morning when I go to the local colmado (shop) they are sitting on their front porch, cleaning rice or shelling peas or just chatting. Lala always invites me onto the porch for a chat and   never lets me leave without giving me some vegetables - plantains, a slice of pumpkin or a cupful of peas.  She knows my name but always calls me Doña Vecina which means Lady Neighbour!

This morning, at around 9 am there was a dreadful screaming coming from her house, and my husband told me they were killing a pig. Dominicans celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve, with the most important components being family and food - usually pork. 

I love pork, but I really do like to buy my meat in little trays, covered in plastic, in the cold section of the supermarket. Even after living here for 10 years,   I do not like to think that pork was once a little pink piglet, even though of course I know it was.  

No chance of getting away from the fact here, as I saw when I walked past her house a couple of hours ago.  One pig is all ready for the fire pit and the other is hanging around waiting for his turn, just next to the wall which separates our houses.

As I walked through the barrio, every so often I could hear more pigs squealing, as they went to the big pig sty in the sky, and when they start to cook them, later tonight, the air will be full of the rich smell of roasted pork, all ready for the festivities tomorrow.

Happy Christmas from the Dominican Republic!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Help! There is a pterodactyl living in my bedroom.

If you live here you have no choice but to get used to creepy crawlies.  I actually think I do quite well with rats and snakes and mosquitoes in that I don’t dissolve into hysterics when I see them.  And not all creepy crawlies are nasty. There are the nice ones like geckos which I try to encourage into the house to eat the mosquitoes, and I even give them names as they tend to hang around for a while.  I must admit to disliking cockroaches, as I am sure everyone does, especially the flying ones. They are hard to kill, as I read somewhere that if you stamp on them then eggs come out of some part of them and instead of one you end up with hundreds.  There must be some sort of spray that can penetrate their tank like shells, but the one the colmado sells is no use at all, in fact when you spray the cockroaches they lift up their wings and think you are giving them a spray of deodorant.  I am also not partial to the tarantulas that appear in the summer.  They are the size of side plates and exceedingly furry.  I know they are supposed to be nice and also eat mosquitoes, but I read somewhere else that they pull the hairs out of their bottom and throw them at you.  I haven’t actually seen it happen as when they wander into the house I don’t hang around to watch this particular party trick, but you can’t be too careful.

I particularly dislike flappy things.  Like pterodactyls.  And one has moved into the bedroom.  It has been there a week now and though I have never actually seen it move, it is always in a different place in the morning so it must move during the night which is a somewhat scary thought.  The bedroom ceiling is very high therefore I cannot get my husband to catch it and take it outside. So it is just living there on the wall above the macheted pine cabinet. And before you start thinking that it is just a little moth, it is enormous – about 7 or 8 inches from wingtip to wingtip and it has this thing poking out of its head, like a blood sucking proboscis.  Are there such things as vampire moths?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Barrio Christmas Tree

You wouldn't really know it was Christmas here. No houses have trees in the windows; no twinkling lights anywhere; no one is rushing around buying Christmas presents. There are not piles of Christmas cards on the door mat every morning. Mind you, I have my one and only card from my mother in England. She addressed it to the gringa with the big dogs and then the name of the town! The post man - who I had no idea we had - said it took him a week to find me! To be honest I was amazed it ever arrived.

But the barrio has made a little effort. We have a Christmas tree! It is in the middle of the road and is not like any Christmas tree I have ever seen. It is made of a plastic tube with chicken wire around it and concrete blocks to keep it in place. It has lights, and a wire comes out of the top and is attached to the overhead lines so it lights up at night - when there is electricity. The man sitting on the beer crate outside the colmado (convenience store) told me that it is beautiful when the lights come on at night! Definitely the strangest tree I have ever seen - has anyone seen one stranger than this?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making Life Easy

Dominicans on the whole like making life easy for themselves, which on the face of it is a good thing. Nobody wants a difficult life. But what this means in practice can be very frustrating for their first world partners. It means never checking in the fridge to see if there is an open can of tomato paste, just open a new one and put it half empty back in the fridge to join the other seven half empty ones there. It means never putting the lid back on anything properly, place it on the top but don't bother to screw it down. It means never emptying the bucket of the dirty mop water, never picking up beer bottle caps when flipped off whilst opening the bottle. Never drying the dishes and putting them away, just take them from the draining board when you need them. The teenagers are worst. My stepson washes the dishes at night, and it is hard work washing the pan which the rice was in as it has to be burned on the bottom - the concon - the
favourite part of the rice. He would no more dream of washing it up than flying to the moon, as it takes some effort to get it clean. The easy option is to leave it to soak in the hope that someone else will wash it up, or to hide it in the oven or a cupboard. Out of sight out of mind. At least he no longer throws the dirty pans in the bin as he did when he was much younger.

And it doesn't just apply to your nearest and dearest - the workmen are the same. I recently
had satellite TV transferred from the old house to this one. The man drilled the hole in the wall for the cable half way up the wall for some bizarre reason. He then had three choices; take the cable to the ceiling and make a nice neat line along the line where the ceiling joins the wall; option two to do the same on the floor and round the bathroom door frame. And option three was just to leave it where it was and go in a straight line along the wall, drape over the bathroom door and hence to the television.

Yes, he chose option three.

Our television was fried a while ago when too many people connected illegally to our electricity. A friend of mine offered me a 30 inch TV so I called my husband and asked him to measure the space in the unit we had for the television. He assured me it would fit. It didn't.
So he had three options too. Firstly to give to television back and get one that did fit. Secondly to put the television in a different place. Thirdly to take a machete and hack a massive hole in the purpose built, beautiful pine unit.

I wonder if you guessed which option he took.

I am all for not making life harder than it needs to be, but sometimes the easy route drives me mad!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The dustbin man cometh

I suppose for my North American readers I should firstly explain that the dustbin man is the garbage man, well I think that might be what you call it!

He comes once a week and beeps his horn so that you know to take the rubbish outside. The rubbish is kept in a tanque - the blue one you can just see in the picture - and you have to keep it inside the gates or the street dogs will have a field day distributing its contents all over the street, and someone will steal the actual bin. Most people have empty rice sacks for their rubbish so we are quite posh.

The dustbin man expects a tip - 50 pesos which is just over a dollar. If you don't tip him he stops coming. The other day they came to the house and I was in the shower, so my husband told them I wasn't in and it is usually me who pays them. Today they saw me outside the corner shop and followed me down the street in order to get their tip. It wasn't even the right day,the bin was empty and I am not used to being chased by dustbin men!

In England a lot of people have bins on wheels called, intelligently enough, wheelie bins. As recycling is the norm, you have a different bin for different things - one for paper, one for bottles etc. Now although we do not have formal recycling here, the dustbin men are very good at sorting through your rubbish. They examine every bin carefully, putting the bottles in one area of their truck as they can sell them, plastic containers go in another, and they also look for food, going through all the plastic bags. When Tyson, my Great Dane, was castrated on our dining room table, I put his testicles in a plastic bag and threw them in the bin. Yes, you have guessed it, following the standard investigation of bin contents the dustbin men kept Tyson's bits. I have no idea what happened to them - but I hope whoever ate them enjoyed them.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The good news and the sad news

The good news is that Zebedee One has arrived in the new house and has stayed here for 3 days so I assume he is home to stay. Now I have all the cats present and correct. Here in the picture he is asleep with his brother and cojo who is my three pawed black cat. He was born with only three paws but it doesn't seem to bother him and he hops around quite happily.

The sad news is the harsh reality of living in a third world country. Whilst most of the time I love living here, there are times when the lack of education and knowledge and facilities hits me
hard. There is only one vet here and he is very responsive, will come to the house if you call him, seems to really care for the animals, but I really am not sure how much he knows. In this picture are my four dogs. The little Malinois puppy died about a year ago. His diagnoses ranged from poisoning, to depression, to gastro enteritis and even diabetes. His treatment didn't work and she died. He said that the half pitbull next to her had a benign tumour. She lost weight rapidly and died. The one on the far left, Sophie, died last night. He said it was an infection and she had a raging temperature. Her temperature was 102 which is normal for dogs although he insisted it should be the same as humans. He gave her an injection to lower her temperature and then rechecked it, but wouldn't let me see the thermometer. He said it had tumbled to normal! It is always very sad when you lose a beloved pet, but when you have a feeling that had the vet known what he was doing, the animal maybe would not have died, it makes it ten times worse.

Most of the Dominicans have total faith in the vets and indeed the medical profession, but some of the things I hear doctors and vets say just make my toes curl. Tomorrow I will go and see the vet to pay the bill. I will present him with information that explains what a dogs temperature should be. I am not sure he will thank me for it, but it needs to be done.