What about your saucepans
Ten years in the life of a British woman
living in the Dominican Republic

A new dream

This is a preview to the chapter A new dream from the book What about your saucepans by Lindsay de Feliz.
Please note this text is copyright protected.

Once the decision was made we got to work and Franklin Compres was appointed as Danilo’s political adviser. This was the same Franklin Compres who looked like Bluebottle and was a witness at our wedding. Danilo had to register as a candidate with the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), we had to arrange for business cards, flyers, posters, baseball caps, flags, and make plans to officially launch his candidacy. There was excitement in the air, and I was enjoying getting back into the world of work, rather than just teaching Spanish and helping out at the colmado.

Compres formulated the plan and I arranged for the printing and production of the merchandise. Danilo had his photo taken and the strap line was chosen, ‘Danilo para un municipio seguro’, ‘Danilo for a safe municipality’. There were several reasons for choosing this as the campaign slogan.
Firstly, there was no hospital in the municipality, and many people had died due to the lack of medical facilities and ambulances. Secondly, there were often robberies, especially in the relatively rich area of Juan Dolio, and expatriates did not feel safe. Also there were many people living below the poverty line with a lack of basic sanitary conditions, responsible for all sorts of illnesses. We rented a venue for the campaign headquarters on the main motorway through Guayacanes. This would be used for the launch and as headquarters during the campaign. This was the first part of the planning Compres was responsible for, and, as with all of his subsequent plans, it was vastly under budget. I was responsible for raising money and paying suppliers. No one would do any work for potential politicians as they were renowned for never paying, but for some reason they trusted me as I was English. They believed English people would pay. Which I always did.

The whole area of finance was very important as other than my pension and a small amount from the colmado and the Spanish lessons, we had no income. Danilo had to resign from the Air Force, as it was not allowed for a member of any branch of the military or police to be involved in politics.

“Danilo, where do you think the money is going to come from?” I asked him one morning.
“Once we launch money will come in,” he promised me confidently.
“Yes, but where exactly will it come from?” I persisted. “Who is going to fund the campaign? And how much will it cost?”
“People who want me to win. Lawyers, constructors, business people. And the Junta Electoral (Electoral Court) will give party money and they give to me when I official candidate. No worry, the money will come. We don’t need use your money.”

He seemed very confident and I was sitting next to him when he was talking to lawyers and businessmen who promised 200,000 pesos, £4,000, as soon as he had launched the campaign. There were others who promised the same. However, we needed money immediately to cover the launch. I decided to approach my family and friends, many of them knew what we were trying to do and I could repay them once the launch was over and the anticipated funds came pouring in.

Since leaving England I had been writing a monthly e-mail to eighty-five family and friends back in the UK, telling them about life in the DR – they were aware of the problems and the levels of poverty. Many had met Danilo, either in England or when they came to stay, and they liked him. When I had lived in England I had always helped friends or family financially whenever they needed it, and fortunately, when the situation was reversed, they were prepared to help out with funds, and we were able to continue planning the launch. I was enjoying the work and beginning to use my business brain in a way I had not done since I left England.

The day of the launch was arranged for the last Saturday in May, the day before Mother’s Day. In the weeks leading up to the launch, Raoul Custodio, the existing Mayor, became a frequent visitor to the house and as a member of the same political party, he and Danilo would be running against each other in the primaries for the party nomination. Custodio was a short, portly man, partially bald and a little lighter in colour than Danilo and I thought he was probably in his late 40s. He usually wore suits and was always pleasant to me. He was accompanied by a man called Marcelino, who had been friends with Danilo for several years.

Marcelino was a confident and well-known Dominican in Juan Dolio, buying and selling various businesses. In fact it was his colmado we had bought a few years earlier. He seemed to make and lose fortunes quickly. Each time he sold a business, and they were always bars, restaurants, colmados, he would take everything with him, all the wood, toilets etc, and they would be transported somewhere else to make yet another bar or restaurant. He had also owned the local car wash and we had many political meetings there, but he would change political parties every few months, usually because he felt he was not getting anywhere. Custodio made him head of the Fire Brigade (Bomberos) in Guayacanes and Marcelino became one of Custodio’s men and the main contact between him and Danilo.

At these various meetings Custodio asked Danilo to withdraw from the primaries, which was no surprise, as he wanted to continue as Mayor and didn’t want any competition. In his mind the primaries were over and done with and no one had a chance of beating him. He would insist there was no way Danilo could win and it was a waste of money him trying. We were sure Danilo would win – the consensus on the street was Danilo had the majority of the votes in the bag. The more he asked Danilo not to run, the more concerned Custodio was becoming. I was not present at these meetings – I wasn’t allowed – but Danilo would repeat what had been discussed afterwards.
One night I was sitting in my outside office, under the palm leaf roof, chatting away online, and Danilo was fifty yards away sitting at the table next to the pool with Franklin Compres, Custodio and Marcelino. It was a week before the official launch and I was surrounded by hats and posters, leaflets, and flags.

It was a beautiful evening, warm and still, the inky black sky covered with twinkling stars and the garden full of fairy lights. Custodio and Marcelino got up to leave and I waved as they passed me. Having seen them out, Danilo came into the office and sat down next to me.
“He wants me stop Mayor, and says he give me money to stop,” he announced.
“How much money?” I asked.
“He says he give us one million pesos,” Danilo replied flatly.
“Twenty thousand pounds? What do you think? What do you want to do?” I asked him.
“Whatever you want my love,” he said smiling. “If you want stop, we stop and have money.”
“Do you think you can win?” I asked.
“Yes, I know I win. I be Mayor and you First Lady. But if you want money, we take money and stop.” It didn’t take me long to respond. “No, let’s carry on, if you’re sure you can win.” An enormous grin spread over his face and he got up and went back to Compres sitting by the pool.

The day of the launch arrived and the house was chaotic. There were people coming and going and I felt nervous, having no real idea what was happening. It was scheduled to start at three o’clock, and at two the motoconchos began to arrive outside the house. Soon there were a hundred or so. I had no idea what they were doing, but each was paid a hundred pesos for his fuel and issued with purple Party flags. They thronged on the dusty track outside the house with more cars arriving all the time, people coming in and out. They were given purple ‘Danilo’ hats and ‘Danilo’ badges. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do and sat at the table outside watching the comings and goings. Danilo eventually came up to me and said, “You go now, I come later.”

He gave me a quick peck on the cheek and I walked outside and got into the car, along with a group of other people I didn’t recognise. The back of the Ford pick-up truck was full of twenty people squashed in and we drove slowly with the motoconchos in convoy, their flags streaming out behind them, honking their horns, down to the headquarters in Guayacanes three miles away, holding up the traffic en route. Over two hundred people were waiting there. I had a lump in my throat when I saw them and walked through them, greeting people and shaking hands.

This was my first lesson in how political campaigns in the DR were run. The candidate never arrives until after everyone else and at four o’clock Danilo turned up. The crowd, which had by then increased dramatically, went wild. Everyone was screaming and chanting his name as he made his way up to the platform where there was a long, top table. I was sat at one end, next to Danilo’s sister, who I had no idea would be there, along with various party dignitaries. It was not particularly well organised. A lawyer on the top table was drunk and fell asleep, and the microphone did not work very well. Danilo’s sister became concerned and turned to me and said, “I’m worried about him speaking. He should have had training for this. He has no idea. I’m worried he will make a fool of himself.” I smiled and looked at her, “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. He knows what he’s doing.”

I knew Danilo had a photographic memory and had no need of notes, and once you put a microphone in his hand he went back to the time he worked as a DJ on the radio. He stood up to speak, smiling and showing the gap between his front teeth. While I could tell he was nervous, as he kept blinking, once he opened his mouth his confidence increased and he spoke fluently. He told the enthusiastic crowd he would try to get a local hospital built, put pedestrian bridges over the motorway, provide an ambulance for the area, and he would increase the size of the police force to fight crime. He planned to set up a market where people could sell their produce.

The crowd yelled in support each time he mentioned another item on his agenda, as journalists present took notes, and photographers took pictures. There was a raffle for liquidisers, irons and coffee pots – it was Mother’s Day the following day, another reason why we had gone so far over budget, and there were the usual scuffles from the women, fighting over the winning tickets. There were two bands scheduled to play, Michael Jackson, the Guayacanes version, and a rap singer called el Funky. We left after el Funky finished.

I was to learn the Candidate arrives, speaks and leaves quickly. We were mobbed as we were leaving, with people asking for money and shoving medical prescriptions into our hands. The car was covered with people, trying to get close to us. I had never seen anything like it as I was bundled into the car. We arrived back at the house and more people began to turn up, congratulating Danilo, who kept asking me if he had done well. I assured him it was fine and the next day even the national press reported on his launch. The level of excitement started to mount and I waited for the money to come pouring in. Danilo did manage to raise some, but the majority of the wealthier people still did not think he could beat Custodio, so funds were not as substantial as we had hoped. Nevertheless we carried on working.

There were mano a mano – literally hand to hand – when we walked through the streets in various parts of the municipality shaking hands, and the people would give us a list of what they wanted – zinc sheets for the roof, bags of cement to help build a house, concrete blocks, bags of sand, always medical needs. Frankin Compres trotted alongside Danilo writing down what people wanted in a notebook. It quickly became apparent people voted depending on what they were given, not with their hearts, and not with what they might get in the future. For the vast majority it was not about manifestos, it was all about ‘give me now’. I thought if they preferred Danilo, if they liked what he was trying to do, they would vote for him. The reality, for the majority, was what we could give them now. If we thought their vote was secure, we would return later with what they had asked for.
In the meantime I carried on raising money from family and friends. I even approached my ex-husband and although we only communicated once a year to say hello and keep in touch, he was happy to help towards the campaign. We would go through times when we had enough for events such as a san cocho (stew) at a local bar, where Danilo would make a speech, or present baseball shirts to kids’ teams, or buy the zinc or whatever people wanted. However, on the domestic front we were broke. There was no birthday celebration for Dany in the August, nor for Danilo or I in the November. Every peso we had went towards the campaign.

Danilo did not stop working. He was out almost twenty hours a day, every day. However, things were looking good and a poll put us well in the lead, and inside sources told us Raoul Custodio was becoming very concerned.

Besides Custodio and Danilo there were another three candidates. One was José Luis Bencosme, but it was obvious Danilo had significantly more support than him. He was helping the Diputado from San Pedro, José Maria Sosa, with his campaign to be Senator, and under instruction from Sosa he withdrew and told his handful of supporters to support Danilo. Sosa needed all the votes he could get if he was to become Senator, and he could see the groundswell of opinion favouring Danilo, and knowing how much the local people disliked Custodio he threw his support behind us. We had the key people on our side and all was looking good.

On a Thursday in September I was riding my pasola back from teaching Spanish, and I had a call from an American friend called Dana. I stopped the pasola and fished my phone out of my pocket, “Lindsay, you have to help. Ezequiel is in jail.” Her boyfriend, Ezequiel, was number two dwendy. I was not too concerned, as like many people he was often being taken to jail for nothing.
“What's he done this time?” I asked.
“I have no idea, but your car is in jail too,” she replied. That got my attention and I called Danilo to sort it out. He answered the phone straight away.
“Danilo, Ezequiel is in jail with our car.”
“I know. Everything is okay. I will fix,” he replied, confidently.
I wasn’t too concerned as I knew he would sort out the issue and I carried on with the day as usual, going to our colmado and chatting with Rachel there, visited another friend and arrived home at four o’clock. Danilo was in the pool. I wandered over to him and crouched down by the side of the water. “What is going on with Ezequiel and the car?” I asked.

“Is a little problem, but I sort. Everything be okay,” he answered, hoisting himself out of the pool. He wandered inside to dry off and put on some clothes, while I sat on the edge of the pool, kicked off my flip-flops and dangled my legs in the clear blue water, wiggling my toes.
Three large jipetas pulled up outside the gate and a dozen or so men got out. They were armed with shotguns and automatic rifles.

That's the end of the free preview ...
You can get the rest of this chapter,
and all the others, when you
buy What about your saucepans
Reviews

"I have been visiting the DR for almost 10 years and I thought I knew a lot about the "real"..."

More Reviews
Share on Facebook Tweet This
Buy this book:
Visit the
What about your saucepans
website
Get a Book Preview website