Sunday, December 30, 2012

The culture of Dominican men



I receive several searches on this blog and several emails from ladies looking for information about Dominican men, what it is like to have a relationship with them, are they really macho and jealous, how do you know if they are genuine or a sanky panky, and other such questions, so I thought I would write a little bit about them.  I must however stress that this is my experience and observations and obviously does not apply to all Dominicans.

There are several good points about living with a Dominican man. They are fun to be with, usually very optimistic, laugh a lot and are very caring. Most will have your happiness at heart, and will do anything they can to make you happy.  Whilst it is said that they tend to be macho, this does not usually reflect in an expectation that the woman of the household should do all the chores. My husband cooks, cleans and does the shopping. He will not usually do the clothes washing, ironing nor go to the colmado as those are apparently women’s work. I have no idea why those particular chores, unless it is as he was used to the women going down to the river to do the washing.  In most Dominican households the children will be given chores to do from an early age, and whilst they do tend to be different chores for boys and girls, all of the Dominican men I have met have no issue at all with helping around the house.

A key cultural issue is the importance of the family. In a country where there are very few people who have a pension, the children are expected to support their parents when they get old, both financially and physically when needed. Very few elderly people go into an old people’s home, but live with one of their children. In the UK, most wives expect to be number one in their husband’s lives. In the DR the parent will always come first.  In addition if a family member needs help, especially if they are sick, the other members rally round and help. This does not mean that you are constantly handing over cash, but the culture of sharing and helping each other is ingrained and an important part of daily life.

One of the most charming things about Dominicans is their childlike innocence and behaviour, due in the main I think to a lack of education and exposure to the wider world. Whilst this childlike behaviour has its charms, it can become frustrating. The men hate conflict, hate getting into trouble, and so will avoid telling you the truth if they think it will upset you. It is not lying per se, it is just truth avoidance! Learning to understand this and spotting when it happens is a challenge. I always look them in the eyes now, as I read in some FBI interrogation thingy that if the eyes dart to the left they are lying!

In order for the relationship to work, both have to learn to understand, appreciate and adapt to each other’s culture and learn that neither are right or wrong, just different. Those of us who live in the developed world refer often to the past – I remember when you did that or said that. Dominican men live in the present, and don’t like always having the past brought up. So don’t do it – it achieves nothing.

It takes time, perseverance and understanding to adapt to a different culture and to live together in a different way than you would with a man of your own country, culture and background. But then if you wanted to do that, you would not have had a relationship with a Dominican, would you?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chivirico's Christmas


Christmas began for Chivirico and his family with ginger tea.  This is a Dominican tradition when you are invited to someone’s house for ‘ginger’.  Basically it is a tea made with ginger and various other herbs and is served with little biscuits. We were invited round to his house on the day before Christmas Eve, and I was fascinated with the stove. I am used to outdoor cooking stoves known as a fogon, but they are usually on a type of concrete table. This one was a metal drum with concrete on the top, holes at the side to push wood in and a hole at the top to put charcoal in. A multi fuel fogon. Amazingly inventive with the tea bubbling away on the top.


Christmas Eve, the family had a fabulous meal of chicken and pork, rice, Russian salad, Christmas bread and pasta salad.


After dinner, Chivirico came round to my house and relieved me of my bottle of rum for Santa, luckily there wasn’t much left in it, and also took a carrot to leave for the reindeer. He was so excited, I have no idea how he slept.


In the morning we awoke early and went to hide Chivirico’s presents in the dog crate at the back of the garden. Half munched carrots laid a trail to the crate. At 7.30 Chivirico arrived to open day 25 on his advent calendar. He said that Santa had been to his house as the bottle of rum was empty and the carrot had gone. He had searched but couldn't find any presents – he thought probably as he didn't have a chimney.  The search began in my house. Not one cupboard was left unchecked, and he searched under every bed ably aided by the dogs who thought it was some sort of new game.


Eventually he spotted the carrots in the garden and discovered the presents. Unbounded joy.


All of the presents were taken out and the names read on each one. They were then put into a sack to be taken to his house to be opened there.


I was surprised that he took his time opening each present and spent several minutes looking at each one before moving onto the next. There were also gifts for each member of his family. One of his favourite gifts was his chef's hat and apron sent from the US.


Plus his Winnie the Pooh cookbook.


Christmas day afternoon he came to my house to help me cook paella for dinner – no turkeys in barrio land so not quite a traditional English Christmas.



A big thank you to everyone who helped this Christmas to be so special for him and his family. Now life gets back to normal, well as normal as it ever is here.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas comes to barrio land

Tangerines for sale at the side of the road


Christmas is coming to barrio land. The first thing you notice is all the fruit for sale, especially tangerines, apples and grapes. The stalls look beautiful all along the side of the road. Unfortunately the apples don’t taste quite the same as those in the UK, and the tangerines are not as sweet nor as juicy, but in my house a net of tangerines only last a few minutes as everyone wolfs them down.




The second sign that Christmas is approaching is that everyone in the barrio is cleaning the streets and painting their houses.  The dustbin men (garbage collectors I think in American) have been round twice a day to pick up all the rubbish and all the trees which have been trimmed.  Pits are being dug in gardens ready to barbecue the pigs and charcoal is being bought.



Due to the generosity of people on Chivirico’s Facebook page,  we had money to go shopping in Santiago to buy the presents on Chivirico’s list to Santa. One crazy city when you are used to barrio life, zipping around in public shared taxis, with six or seven people squished in and all the drivers think they are Michael Schumacher. Still it is the easiest and cheapest way to get around. Once we arrived at the toy shop I was shocked at the prices of toys. I have no idea how the average Dominican family manages at all. Still a fun time was had by all and I can’t wait for Christmas day to come for him.

Husband and I having fun

As well money for the list for Santa, RD$5,000 had been donated to give to his family to buy food for Christmas. That is around US$125. They had had no money for food at all for a couple of days this week, so we decided to give it to them on 19th of this month.  I took Chivirico into the bedroom to watch TV and my husband went outside to make reindeer noises. Suddenly there was this reindeer noise coming through the bedroom window, well a bit of a snort really. I said to Chivirico, “I think I just heard a reindeer passing.” He agreed and luckily there was another snort. He looked at me with a puzzled look on his face and then, whilst he was watching the television an envelope came flying in through the window and landed on the floor in front of him.



It was addressed to his grandmother from Santa Claus so we had to rush round to her house to give her the envelope. On arrival there he insisted on opening it.



I cannot explain the happiness there was in that little kitchen.


One Dominican family are going to have a great Christmas.



Also, the blog won an award for best blog in the Dominican Republic. You can see the award at the top of the page, and clicking on it will take you to the lovely comments made, and also some other great blogs about the DR. Thanks to all of you who voted, and a happy and peaceful Christmas to all readers of this blog and thanks so much for your support.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

When is it time to leave?

For this months article for Expat Focus I wrote about those expats who decide it is time to leave their adopted home and return back to their homeland. You can read the full article here.

Over the decade or so I have been in the Dominican Republic, I have seen many expats leave for a whole variety of reasons. Some because their work placement had finished, many as their relationships broke up - either with a Dominican, or having arrived as an expat couple, one discovered the carnal delights of one particular Dominican and their original partner returned home, the tropical dream coming to an abrupt end.

Many leave due to ill health, being able to receive better and significantly cheaper treatment in the home country, and amongst the older expats, many just miss their children and grandchildren too much and return home to be closer to them, or don't want their own children to be brought up and educated here.

Many leave the DR as they quite simply run out of money, as this country has a way of sucking up money better than any other place I know, and high paid jobs are almost impossible to find.

And many leave as they just get fed up of the reality of living here. Fed up with the lack of electricity, the corruption, the legal system, and general day to day life.

What is interesting, is if you talk to a group of expats, many wax lyrical about the benefits of their home countries and the downsides of living in the Dominican Republic. However, some of my expat friends have returned home to the UK for the Christmas holidays, and listening to them describe their daily lives back there during the holidays makes me realise that for all the downsides of living here - and there are many - there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.

Having said that, when I see the pictures of my the village where my mum lives in the snow, quintessentially English, and where I would be for Christmas if I were not here, I feel a tremendous tugging at the heart strings and smile nostalgically  at the memories of all the times I was there for Christmas. I do miss my family, miss the countryside and miss the food. But I don't miss the cold.  Truly beautiful, but truly cold.



Imagine being cold. Really cold and damp. At the moment it gets down to 20 degrees Centigrade at night, 68 Fahrenheit and I find that cold. Those who left for Christmas are saying they had forgotten how cold it was in the UK.


Imagine having to get out of your car and fill it up with petrol yourself. Whereas here we sit there, and the petrol man does it with a smile on his face, just making sure you check the dial is set at zero before he starts. Of course the chances are you get short changed somewhere along the line, but at least you don't have to get out in the cold and the rain.

Imagine not having avocados delivered to your home everyday.

Imagine having to take your groceries to the car yourself after you have been to the supermarket. Here a nice young chap packs them all up properly for you, takes them to the car and stacks them neatly inside.

Imagine not seeing your neighbour's washing hanging on the outside of your gate as I saw yesterday.


Imagine not hearing things every day that make you howl with laughter. Yesterday I was chatting to a lady who has been with her common law husband for 40 years. I asked her if he had been unfaithful. She said of course he had and had two other children with different women. I then asked him why. He said that he loved his 'wife' so much he didn't want to put her through the pain of childbirth any more so had children with other women instead. I would miss stories like that.

So, I think I will stay here until they carry me out in a box, as, however tough is it at times, I couldn't imagine feeling happier anywhere else.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Blog hop 12.12.12

I am not exactly sure what a blog hop is but I have been asked to take part in one today so here we go. There is a good chance I might get the technical side of it wrong, but I think if I do it right you should be able to hop to different blogs around the world from here so I hope you enjoy reading them!

The theme is Christmas and this will be my third barrio Christmas. The first one I insisted on a proper British Christmas which was a big mistake as it meant buying a turkey. There are no frozen turkeys here, so my husband went to buy a fresh one. Luckily the man at the market did all the necessary preparation to the original 15 lb bird, to save husband walking it home with a piece of string. However, by the time he had finished making it oven ready, it had decreased to the size of a large chicken.

I cooked it as you normally cook a turkey but it ended up being the toughest thing I have ever eaten in my life. Never again.

Last year we did a Dominican Christmas which is celebrated on Christmas eve with a big family meal. The pork leg was sent to the baker to put in his bread oven.  Most people have their pork cooked there and the baker carves your name on the top so you make sure you get your bit of pork back.  It was absolutely delicious.and was accompanied by salads, rice, potatoes and vegetables.



This year will be a combination of the two. Dominican Christmas on Christmas eve, and then Santa Claus will be arriving for Chivirico, my 6 year old friend, for the first time in his life on Christmas Day. I am sure it will be my best Christmas here too as I can't wait for him to find all his presents. He has his first ever Christmas tree now too.




Sunday, December 9, 2012

Chivirico prepares for Christmas

A month or so ago Chivirico and I were talking about Christmas and I mentioned Santa Claus and asked if he knew who he was. He said he did, but that he had never visited him as he, Chivirico must have always been naughty and he knew Santa Claus didn't visit naughty children.

I told him that Santa didn't visit me here last year either as he ran out of petrol, so it wasn't just him, but that I thought he might come this year. I told him to write his list and then we would barbecue it so that the smoke went up into the air and would float to the North Pole.


The list includes all sorts of Ben 10 things such as a Ben 10 watch, tee shirt, shoes plus presents for his grandparents and his brother and sister, and cousin and also food for the family at Christmas.
Once the list was ready, we went out into the garden and burned it on the barbecue, all of the time watching with a concerned face to make sure the smoke was heading in the right direction.


This was followed by him asking every day whether Santa had received his list, so I decided to try and find if there was some way Santa could communicate with him. I discovered a site which does a video from Santa, and you just provide some information and then Santa sends a video. Unfortunately Santa didn't have the name Chivirico in his list of names - odd that - but he did have Yuri and given his real name is Eury, I though they sounded close enough. The video done, I called him to say I had a message on my computer from Santa. You can watch it here. The level of excitement and wonderment was amazing. I have never seen a child so happy. The only problem is that he is used to talking to people on Skype, and Santa wouldn't shut up and let him speak back to him. So Santa says "Hello Yuri," and Chivirico wants to say "Hello Santa" back, but Santa won't stop talking. We have to watch this video at least twice a day, and every time he is desperate for Santa to shut up. He can now recite the whole video in English.

So we are waiting impatiently for Christmas, and I am getting ready to hit the toy shops, due to some very generous donations from people on his Facebook page - Chivirico the bodyguard. He has also decided he wants a tree for his house, so yesterday we cooked yuca fritters from Aunt Clara's Dominican cookbook, which were absolutely delicious, and he went off and sold them for the tree fund. You can see the recipe here.

grating the yuca

All of them sold within minutes so apparently we have to make more tomorrow.


In the meantime he carries on with working as a bodyguard and washing up to try and earn more money for his Gatorade pot.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Lala - Part 2

Thank you everyone for all your kind words and advice for how I should help Lala.

I went to see her every day. Her little wooden house was full, as all her children returned from various parts of the country, and indeed the world, to see her. The men all sat outside on the terrace, and the women all sat inside in the living area. There was rarely anyone in the bedroom with Lala, unless the priest came, when they all crammed into her little bedroom to pray.

When I went into see her she was lying flat, no pillow, so I suggested sitting her up a little so that her chest didn't become congested, and I sat and talked to her and held her hand every time I went. Sometimes she would open her eyes and sometimes squeeze my hand. I tried to exercise her arms and legs and I asked the family to do the same, and talk to her as I was sure she could hear me. I think they thought I was nuts and could hear them muttering about the crazy gringa lady.

I went to see her every day, twice a day, and each time she was lying flat again, and each time I asked them to sit her up and talk to her.

I went to see her on Wednesday morning. She was the same. Flat on her back again. I sat and chatted for a while, holding her hand and stroking her hair. One of her sons who had arrived said he had asked a doctor from the local private clinic to come and see her at 4 pm. I went again at two.  Her breathing was fine, her pulse was strong, she was being tube fed, with no signs of dehydration. I told her I would see her again later.

At 4.30 pm I was sitting in my house working on my computer and I heard a dreadful wail, and then more and more and more. Screaming and howling. The street was full of people running to Lala's house. I couldn't believe that she had died, as a couple of hours earlier she was fine.

It appeared the doctor had come. He had given her an injection. No one knew what the injection was for, as no one asked. Dominicans on the whole trust doctors implicitly and never ask what medicines they are being given, nor what injections they are having. Lala's family just let the doctor inject her without knowing what it was. They still don't know. Twenty minutes later she was dead.

Dominicans are brilliantly efficient at death. Within no time at all she was laid in her coffin in what used to be the living room which was cleared of furniture, and the coffin place atop a large block of ice to try and keep it cool. All night long the family stayed up and friends and neighbours visited and consoled them. I went to see her out of respect to the family, although I really didn't want to see her body. It was fine though. What I saw lying in the coffin wasn't Lala. It was her body yes, but she wasn't there. She had been there a few hours earlier when I was talking to her, but she had gone. Throughout the night the sound of the crying and howling was heart wrenching.

Yesterday it was the funeral. We went to the local Catholic church first, and then to the cemetery. Outside the church was an enterprising chap selling ice cream out of a cooler and the colmado was handing out plastic bags to women for their hair as it was spitting with rain.  At the front of the procession was a man holding a wooden cross, then the hearse, with the family walking next to it touching it, then people walking, then the motorcycles and finally the cars. It didn't rain and it was hot, so many of the women had umbrellas - I got sun burned.


People were singing hymns and crying, and the men kept leaving the procession to have a pee behind trees. It was around three miles to the cemetery and once there, which took a couple of hours, the coffin was unloaded and carried through the higgledy piggledy graveyard to the crypt.

entrance to cemetery

People were climbing on top of the different crypts to get a good view, like playing in a kids' playground - somewhat ghoulish I thought, but that is the custom I suppose. The screaming then became totally hysterical, with some of her children having to be restrained from climbing into the crypt alongside the coffin. Their grief was almost unbearable to watch and a couple of the women even screamed themselves into unconsciousness and had to be carried away.

She will be mourned now for 9 days and on the ninth day there will be the final farewell, then the furniture will go back inside, and her husband Michael, also in his eighties will start his life alone.

I will always wonder what was in that injection.

RIP Lala.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lala

Lala is my best friend here in the barrio. She lives next door and is around 80 she thinks. Every morning, at around 6 am, she wanders past my house in her nightie to go to the colmado to get a little packet of coffee. If she doesn't have the money for coffee she stops at my gate and yells and hands out her mug and I go and get her a mug of coffee from my coffee maker, with 4 sugars. She complains if it doesn't have enough sugar.

the morning nightie walk
Lala is diabetic. Insulin controlled and she has a cracked mug with the syringe in it and the insulin in a little bottle. Her husband gives her the injections every day. She isn't sure how much she should have and nor is he. She has a cataract in one eye, so cannot see out of it, but the other one was operated on by an American team of doctors who came here a few years ago. She is waiting for them to return to do the other eye.

Every time I go to the colmado to get food for lunch, around 10 am she yells at me. "Fideito entray," in her strong local accent. She calls me little noodle as I am thin. We sit and chat and howl with laughter at each other's lives. She had 16 children I think although 3 died in adulthood. One recently paid for a bathroom for her, so she is over the moon that she has a real toilet to sit on. She gives me cabbage her son brings for her. I buy her Gatorade as she loves it.


Last week Lala had a stroke. She was taken to the clinic and then transferred to the public hospital in Santiago. Every day I would ask her husband and her daughter how she was. Her husband said he had spoken to the doctors who said it could go two ways. She would get better or she would get worse.

Last night I heard screaming from next door and suddenly the whole street was full of people running to Lala's house. I assumed she had died, and sent my husband round to check. She had not died, but the doctors said she was brain dead and were sending her home to die. With no medications, no district nurses, no help, with nothing.

I went to see Lala this morning. The house was full. All her children who have not bothered to come and see her for years have all turned up with their families. She has a feeding tube so she will not die of starvation. She is totally still and cannot move nor speak. I explained to the family that if she was brain dead she would not be able to breathe. They told me you use your lungs to breathe and not your brain. Whatever. I held her hand and spoke to her. She opened her eyes and squeezed my hand. Well, I think she squeezed it.  Lala is still there, somewhere. Somehow, without medical help we have to work to get her back.

No idea how we will do it, but I will go and see her every day on the way to the colmado, even though she doesn't shout at me to go and see her. I will read to her, try and make her laugh as she always did. Tell her stories about England and what life is like in other countries.

If it doesn't work, she has the dignity of dying in her own home, surrounded by people who love her. I just wish there was some way we could have some help from people who know what they are doing for stroke patients, and how to nurse them at home. If anyone knows what I should be doing please let me know. I really want her back as I miss her terribly.