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

Making it permanent

This is a preview to the chapter Making it permanent from the book What about your saucepans by Lindsay de Feliz.
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Life was busy. It was 2004, I was still working as a diving instructor and had been there two years, although it seemed much longer. Fred and Neil had both left, Fred had gone to Vietnam and Neil back to corporate life in the UK, but more instructors had arrived. Ian, Welsh with shaggy blonde hair, looking like the archetypal diving instructor, and his girlfriend Birge, a very attractive German who spoke perfect English.

Danilo was in the colmado some of the time and whilst still in the Air Force he did extra work for the DNI – the Department for National Investigations – a cross between the FBI and the CIA. He worked a couple of nights a week hunting down drug dealers, illegal immigrant traffickers and paedophiles. He was basically a spy. It was not a high paying job, but double the average salary and it meant he had good relationships with the police, which is always useful in the DR.
He became friendly with high-ranking people in the Air Force and DNI, generals and colonels and such, and they would often come over to the house for dinner. Danilo was very good at his job as he knew so many people in Juan Dolio who would keep their ears to the ground and tell him what was going on. Most of them lived in the shacks in the woods, although not all, and our house became a major meeting point. I began to call his friends ‘dwendies’, which is taken from the Spanish word for garden gnome, duende. I would wake up in the morning and wander outside in my dressing gown and there would be four or five Haitians and Dominicans sitting in my garden, like gnomes without the fishing rods. They would hang around most of the day, and if they did not turn up during the day they would arrive in the evening when dinner was being served. I would cook for ten rather than five.

I gave them all numbers. Number one dwendy was Saya. He had known Danilo for years, and used to help to look after his children when Danilo was working in Santo Domingo.
“Why doesn’t Saya work?” I asked Danilo,
“He has no cedula,” he replied. The cedula is the Dominican identity card issued at eighteen.
“Why doesn’t he have a cedula?” I persisted.
“Because when he was small his father sold his birth certificate to an illegal Haitian. No birth certificate, no cedula. No cedula, you no can work.”

There were about twenty dwendies altogether. They would come and go depending on what opportunities came their way. On the one hand, it was nice to have the house full of people and laughter, but on the other, I longed for peace and quiet and occasionally got frustrated at feeding the five thousand.

As well as the dwendies, people came to the house to ask for help, and Danilo would turn no one away.
“Danilo, please let me have 500 pesos to stop my motorbike being repossessed.”
“Danilo, can you lend me 1,000 pesos to get my jewellery out of the pawn shop?”
“Danilo I need 500 pesos to buy medicine for my daughter.”

He rarely said no. Some did pay him back, most didn't. I began to learn that ‘lend me’ was ‘give me’. We also helped with medical issues. Medicines were often given to me by tourists before they left the DR, and I would distribute these to local people who were sick. Although the medicines were available, many people could not afford to buy them. I would take blood pressure for pregnant women, and if it was high would send them to the doctor. I treated cuts, and minor burns, although sometimes I was faced with horrific burns where women had thrown hot fat or hot water over each other, fighting over men. I gave injections too − I had become used to injecting myself during IVF treatment. As there were no ambulances, the car was in constant use taking people to hospital after accidents, or when they were sick. Often it would be washed down after accidents on the highway or after someone had started to give birth in the back seat. We became accustomed to being woken up at two in the morning to take someone to the hospital in San Pedro.

One morning during breakfast Danilo said, “Lindsay you no need clean, have Angelita clean. Is only 5,000 pesos every month.” He was right, it was about £100 a month and would make my life much easier. Angelita was a seriously large lady in her mid twenties who lived opposite us in a little wooden shack. Although she was born to Haitian parents, she had been born in the DR, had a Dominican cedula and was technically Dominican. She had six children by four different fathers, none of whom were currently with her.

Everything started well, and she was a great worker. She would work for six days a week, starting at ten in the morning making the beds and washing the floors. Floor washing is a complex business consisting of flooding the house to start, and then the water is mopped up using a suape (mop) and rung out into a bucket. Local disinfectant (mistolin), which has a very strong smell, is added to water. One gallon would last six months in England, but in the DR it lasts a week as so much is used. This is done every day, whether the floor is dirty or not. Angelita would clean the bathrooms and do the laundry in our twin tub, which was plastic and lived outside. She would use too much washing powder and insist on putting chloro (bleach) in with the clothes with the result they all changed colour and rotted quickly.

However, things started to go missing. Bottles of Coca-Cola, knickers, T-shirts, shoes, a frozen chicken, plates, sheets, cups, glasses. The final straw was when I came home one day and my sofa had gone. Angelita had to go. She was quite blasé about going as I had to pay her a couple of months salary as redundancy pay, known as liquidacion
I asked Danilo, “Can she not see how silly she is? Now she will have no job, and she cannot understand that stealing is wrong.”

“She no see stealing,” he replied. “We has money, she no has. We friend so she take from us. Not stealing.”

By now I was so used to things disappearing, the fury I previously felt when things went missing had diminished, although not completely disappeared. I had other sofas, and she had none – I was learning to share. Angelita continued to live in her hut opposite us and gradually her one hut became forty huts, each with a family. When we moved into our house there were maybe fifty Haitians living in huts close to us, and this increased rapidly over the years to several hundred, especially after the earthquake. If you went into Angelita’s hut it was full of things from my house. I had no idea she had taken so much. We stayed friendly with her, and I would pay for school uniforms for the children each year, helped out with food sometimes, and medical supplies.

The lack of thinking through the consequences of actions today was a recurring theme across all walks of life in the DR, from doctors and lawyers, to the unemployed living in the shacks. Time and time again professionals would overcharge me, and most expatriates. It was more important to have money today than establish a trustworthy relationship, which would bring far more money in the long term. There was a definite dual pricing system, a price for Dominicans and a price for foreigners. Although I could understand prices would be based on someone’s ability to pay, it did sometimes leave a nasty taste when I felt I was being ripped off. Luckily, I had Danilo to do much of the negotiating for me, and the longer I was in the DR, and the better I spoke Spanish, the less it happened.

There was also a system of commission. If you recommended someone to a lawyer or a plumber or electrician, anyone, the person who carried out the work would pay you commission. We had arranged to have some metal bars installed at the windows in a new room we had built as an outside office for me, and I paid the man the deposit. He finished the work and stood in front of me and Danilo as I handed over the final payment.

“There you go,” I said. “20,000 pesos as agreed.” He took the money, counted it, and handed Danilo 2000 pesos.

Tu comision, Danilo,” he said. I looked a bit blank. Danilo turned to me. “And here your half Lindsay,” he said, giving me 1000 pesos.

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