Sunday, September 30, 2012

Is beating children right?

I first became aware of children being hit when I was living with my husband and his three young boys, aged 11, 9 and 6.

I can’t remember what Alberto, the middle one had done, but suddenly his father took his belt off and began to beat him. Everywhere, not just on the legs or his bottom. Alberto was screaming and cowering in the corner, shrieking “Papi no” over and over again. I yelled at him to stop and ran over managing to pull the belt away and stood in front of Alberto protecting him. I was furious, having never seen anything like that in my life. Yes I was smacked when I was a child, but never with a belt, always with hands and on the bottom or legs, not all over my body.

My husband told me that it was standard practice here in the DR to beat children with a belt when they were naughty, and it was the only way they would learn. That was very difficult for me as I did not want to interfere in his child rearing – he had had the children on his own most of their lives – but on the other hand I did not want to have to witness that type of event ever again. I told him that in the UK and USA children were put in ‘time out’ and he looked at me as if I was a raving nutter, explaining that these were Dominican children and they had to be taught in the Dominican way and sitting them on a chair in a corner in ‘time out’ would achieve nothing at all.  We agreed to disagree although he never hit them in front of me again. Having said that, sometimes he would disappear off with them on the scooter into the woods and when they returned the children would have red rimmed eyes and scuttle into their bedroom as soon as they had climbed gingerly off the bike.

Many people would visit us over the years and all would comment on the children’s delightful behaviour. They would never answer back, do everything when asked, lay the table, clear the dishes, wash them up, clean the garden – all without being asked to, and always with a smile on their faces. It made me wonder if maybe the Dominican child rearing methods had some sense.

Corporal punishment in the DR is unlawful in schools under the Education Act  and the Code for the System of Protection of the Fundamental Rights of Children and Adolescents. However it is not unlawful in the home, and almost all children are disciplined by being beaten at some stage in their lives.  From what I can tell it is more likely to be the father than the mother who does it, although several mothers do, and boys are more likely to be beaten than girls.

A few days ago I was sitting in the living room and there was a blood curdling scream from the street outside. The screams went on and on. I went out and saw a young Haitian boy lying in the dirt road being savagely beaten by the owner of the local colmado, the corner shop.  He was using some sort of vine, like a whip. People stood in the street and just watched as this young kid, probably around 7, screamed and screamed as he writhed on the ground, but was unable to protect himself from the beating. I went to run out and yell at the guy to stop, or to call the police, but was pulled back by one of my stepsons, who told me not to interfere. He said that the kid was a thief and had been stealing from the colmado. Now he wouldn't do it again.

Every evening I sit here, at my computer, listening to the sounds of the barrio. Cocks crowing (obviously have no idea when the sun rises as must be on Dominican time), music playing in the colmado, people chatting as they sit outside their houses on plastic chairs, the sound of dominoes being banged down on a wooden table, and every so often, not every night, the desperate screams for help from a child being beaten.  Cowering under the table, or behind a chair, or running barefoot along the street being chased by a furious father pulling his belt off his trousers as he runs, yelling at the child as to what he is going do to him. The father always catches them, and the kids just curl up into a ball in the gutter trying to protect themselves as they are mercilessly beaten. People watch, no one interferes, no one helps the child, no one asks the father to stop.

I know I shouldn't interfere however much I feel I want to.  It is not my country, nor my child, and maybe smacking children does them no harm. It is true that in my experience most Dominican children are probably better behaved that those from more developed countries. I cannot stop feeling guilty though every time I witness a child being beaten with a belt, or hear those heart rending screams, breathless sobbing and see normally happy faces screwed up in agony with tears coursing down their cheeks.

Should I interfere next time?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Your questions answered

Many people come to this blog by searching on Google or other search engines  looking for specific answers to questions about the Dominican Republic. Often I see the questions and would like to answer them, and so this post will do just that and hopefully the person who asked will return and see the answers. These are from the last two days!

Q. Do Dominicans eat cats?
A. I should point out that I am a major cat lover, but I assume when people are hungry they will eat anything, and I have had a few cats disappear never to return. It is said that Haitians are more likely to eat cats than Dominicans, but there was a man where I last lived called Comegato (Cat eater) and he definitely ate them, as each time he had had a tasty snack he would wear the decapitated head around his neck on a piece of string.

This one is for the Dominicans!

Q. What are Dominican men like?
A. I have loads of questions like this and it is not an easy one to generalise about as they are not all the same just like any other nationality.  The good points are that most are easy going, fun loving, and caring.  The bad points are that their time keeping is usually appalling, and some have problems with telling the truth!

Q. Do Dominican women ask for money?
A. Yes most do, especially if you are a rich foreign man.

Q. Why are Dominican men good looking?
A. According to my husband it is due to the mix of African, Indian and Spanish blood, and the fact that they eat lots of plantain bananas. Personally I think it is in the genes (and jeans).

Q. Would habichuela con dulce still be good to eat if its been in the fridge for a week.
A. Not if it is in my fridge as that is switched off when we have no street power which is 12 hours a day at the moment.

Q.  Where can I buy propane gas tanks for bbq in Rio de Janeiro?
A. Can’t help with that one.  Sorry.

Q. Are Dominican men jealous?
A. Many are yes. It is a macho society and if a Dominican man thinks that his wife or girlfriend has another lover the results can be catastrophic. Just this week a young man shot his girlfriend dead and then killed himself and events such as this happen often. Don't mess with a Dominican.

More answers to your questions next month!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Solidarity card

In 2003, the Dominican Republic had a severe recession, with a subsequent rise in unemployment and 1.5 million were living in poverty.  The government wanted to help the poorer people with basic foodstuffs but it became increasingly difficult to get them to them, was a chaotic process with people mobbing the trucks carrying the food, and those who ended up with the food were not necessary those in most need.
In 2004, the Social Subsidies Administration decided to shift from physically delivering food and other aid, to providing those in need with plastic cards which could then be charged up by the government and so the Solidarity card was born.

They started as an experiment with 5,000 families and 6 million pesos and today there are nearly 900,000 card holders and as at the end of July this year, 40 billion pesos had been put on the cards which is around a billion dollars.

The cards are charged up with money centrally on the 10th of the month, and the amount per card varies from 700 pesos to nearly RD$5,000 - around US$125.  The average for the whole country is RD$3,733 per month although it does vary quite a lot by province with the average in Monte Plata being over RD$5,000 and La Romana province only just over RD$2,000.  The cards can be used in specific colmados to pay for basic foodstuffs  (no cigarettes or alchohol!), to pay for schooling, cooking gas, electricity and medicines.

The colmados simply swipe the cards and then are paid back within 3 or 4 days. People tend to buy rice, oil, powdered milk, beans, stock cubes, flour and sugar.  The idea works as it is a means of helping the poorer people, but with dignity, rather than handing out food from the back of a truck, and also helps the local colmado and local employment - my local colmado always pays for additional staff when the card money arrives.

The people who receive cards are identified by an specific organisation and the card is non transferable. In addition, different people are in receipt of different programmes and benefits.

It is said by some that it is not just the poorest people who get the card, but that it is used as a form of political patronage, and it is talked about a lot at election time, with each side promising to give more cards out and saying they know the opposition will cancel them.

The vice president handing out Solidarity cards

Nonetheless it seems to work well, the only problem is there is no way you can go to the colmado on the day the money arrives as it is heaving, and the days after there is nothing on the shelves!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

This heat is driving me mad

September is the worst month of the year here. It is not just hot, very hot, it is also very humid. The sweat drips off you day and night, unless you have air conditioning which we don’t, and doing even the simplest jobs becomes a chore.

Dominicans seem to cope with it much better than I do, and they do intelligent things like sleep or sit on the patio in a rocking chair.  I on the other hand get grouchy, and things that I can normally cope with become great frustrations. Everything seems much worse when it is hot.

 This is what has done my head in this week.

1. The water tank on the roof was leaking. Solution was to empty the tank, repair with a patch, refill and job done. The menfolk turned on a tap in the kitchen to empty the tank and decided it was not emptying fast enough. Personally I would have turned all all the taps and showers in the house, but no, it was decided I knew nothing and the intelligent solution was  to cut through the main pipe from the tinaco with my bread knife.

Result was it emptied quicker, but then had to buy new piece of pipe, stick it to old pipe with the heat from a candle and taypee, then wait for 2 days for tinanco to dry so patch set. Result no water for two days, and I had to shower with a bucket  – remember it is very hot.  Now all back to normal. I am just waiting for the pipe to start leaking.

2. The cutlery drawer. I was under the obviously misguided impression that those plastic things you put in the drawer for cutlery had different segments so that the knives could go in one place, the forks another.

I was wrong. Everything gets thrown in everywhere. It doesn’t matter how much I yell, how much I sort, nothing changes. I can cope most of the time, but not at the minute when it takes all my energy to open the drawer let alone spend an hour looking for a teaspoon.

3. Youngest step son does the cooking, which is just as well as if it was up to me in this heat we would be living on sandwiches with no cooking required. When he opens the essential maggi stock cube, which goes in everything he cooks,  I would walk two yards to the rubbish bin in the kitchen and put the empty foil wrapper in there. Too much effort.

Open the cutlery draw and throw it in there. Why? So not only do I have to hunt for my teaspoon, I have to wade through loads of shreds of foil and crumbs of stock cubes. I can just feel the cockroaches rubbing their paws together in anticipation of their midnight feast.

4. The electricity is rubbish at the minute. Off 12 hours a day, and now, when it is roasting hot, they seem to have decided to turn it off at night too. The inverter cannot cope with running 15-20 hours a day, so bed time becomes a blissful time of lying naked on top of the covers, soaking wet with sweat, listening to the mosquitos whining in your ears about to strike and praying that the electricity will come on. You call them up to ask what the problem is, they tell you there is a problem, no idea when it will be fixed, and wish you a good night. GRRR.

5. Finally toothpaste. When I was a marketing lecturer I used to explain that people used to squirt their toothpaste the length of the brush.

If the manufacturers wanted us to use more they made the brush heads longer, or the hole in the tube  wider, and we blindly carried on in the same way, but using more toothpaste. In actual fact, according to dentists,  you only need a little squirt, not even the whole length of the brush.

Recently we appear to have been getting through a lot of toothpaste. Imagine my horror last night when husband brushed his teeth and I saw him squirting the toothpaste on the brush. Not just the full length of the brush, but twice, once on top of the other. A DOUBLE DECKER line of tooth paste.

So those are the things driving me mad this week. I am sure there will be more next week and the week after that until it gets cooler in November!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The swimming pool where no one swims

Yesterday was Chivirico's birthday so, having given him his cake we all went to the pool, as the beach is too far away.

The pool is in Mao and is in a complex called Agua Azul, where they also have big bands on at night sometimes. It was 130 pesos each to get in, around US$3, but free for the under 5's. We told them that Chivirico was 4 but he kept proudly announcing it was his 6th birthday! They still let him in for free as we tried to shut him up.

Having got inside the first thing you notice is the noise. There is a massive central bar in the middle, with seats on one side and the pool on the other. The music was deafening. Chivirico donned his googles and off he went to the kids pool.

Meanwhile we organised the drinks and the hot dogs which were full of everything including corn. Never had corn in a hot dog before. It is interesting.

The pool has slides of various sizes all around, and the only rules written on signs were not to run, and that it was not wise to be at the bottom of the slide in the water when people were flying down them. There were no rules about bottles of beer or rum in the water, no rules about jumping in, diving in, flying in. Chivirico loved the slide, and went on various ones as often as he could.

However, the water was too deep, and given he couldn't swim, my husband had to keep rescuing him.

People were dancing around the pool as the afternoon wore on and it got busier and busier, and more and more alcohol was consumed.  Not one person was swimming in the swimming pool, everyone was standing, drinking, singing, laughing and having a great time. Chivirico showed me how to dance reggaeton.

I went in for a swim, but it was impossible avoiding people dancing, or jumping or sliding down on top of you. The only thing to do was the same as everyone else. Stand in the water and drink.

Chivirico couldn't swim, actually I don't think any one in the pool could, and he discovered that having a mask was one thing but a snorkel would help, as he seemed unable to keep his head above the water, and given that he didn't have one, he made one from two straws. I have no idea if it worked.

Finally it was time to come home, and I let Chivirico drive the jeep through the streets of the barrio. A few bruised chickens, and flattened verges and all arrived home safe and sound.

Time to go home

Dominicans know how to enjoy themselves more than any people I know. All you need is family, friends, water, alcohol and loud music. The stage is then set.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Chivirico gets tough

I have been giving Chivirico 5 pesos a day to spend at the school shop which gets him a cup of juice and a biscuit. Some of the bigger boys have been stealing his money, and so he has decided the best way to deal with it is to become stronger so they are scared of him. He wanted to go to the local gym to lift weights to make himself stronger, but couldn't afford it, and also the weights were a tad big for him.

The solution was to make his own out of two plastic bottles filled with sand, and a wooden stick in between them.

He was keen to show me that he knows all  the different types of exercise for each muscle group!

Bless his little cotton socks!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Telephones are driving me mad

I have some work at the moment fact checking a travel guide to the Dominican Republic. It is really interesting work and I am discovering a lot about the country with regard to restaurants, hotels, bars, nightclubs, activities, museums and other places of interest.

The only problem is that everything needs checking. Telephone numbers, addresses, website, opening hours, admission fees and whether bars, hotels and restaurants are still open and are still worthy of inclusion in the guide.

The first step is to call them. And that is where everything goes wrong. Dominicans change their phone numbers more often than I change my knickers. And when you change your phone to a different one, the number you had is then given to someone else. Most of the calls I make are to a wrong number. I think I am calling a restaurant and I talk to a plumber. Then trying to find out the new number is almost impossible as all websites and phone directories have the old number. It should however be said that the museums have been fabulous. They all have the right number, which is answered immediately, politely and with all of the information I need.

Museum of the Dominican Man

Also I have to call government departments. Usually the number works, but you speak to the switchboard and they say they will transfer you to the appropriate department, and when they transfer you, you invariably go straight to voice mail, and invariably the message says that the mail box is full. It has now got to the stage that when the switchboard operator tells me she will transfer me I am pleading with her not to, and can she just not go and fetch the person I need to speak to! They never will!

It has also been interesting to see that customer service is alive and well - not. I am putting some new restaurants and bars into the guide, to replace ones that are closed and I need photographs of the new ones. This guide is totally free and should result in increased business for the establishments concerned. Do they respond to an email request to send a photo - in most cases not a squeak. If I speak to them on the phone, guess what happens? Yes, whoever answers the phone transfers me to a full mail box.

I used to wonder why so many guide books about the country were so inaccurate. Now I know!

On a lighter note, it is Chivirico's birthday on Saturday so we are all going to a local swimming pool at the weekend which I will report on next week. In the meantime he is spending a few days with his Dad and stepmother. Here he was leaving yesterday. His stepmother is on the back, his half sister driving the bike, followed by his dad and his younger brother. Standard means of transport!