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

Paradise turns to hell

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

Saturday, 21 July 2006, started much like any other day. I got up and fought off the army of cats, who were desperate for their breakfast. A little procession into the dining room to give them their food, all ten of them, switched on the coffee machine and went back into the bathroom for morning ablutions. I slipped on my flip flops and wandered outside in my pyjamas and dressing gown for the first coffee and cigarette of the day. It was already hot, in the mid 80s.

The workers began arriving to continue building the small two-bedroomed house we were constructing in the corner of the garden. We had bought the land adjacent to ours with the idea of building a new house for us, which would better meet our requirements than the house we were in, and also a small two bedroomed house for the children. They were typical messy teenage boys, Dany was seventeen now and Alberto fifteen, and I thought if they had their own little house maybe they would look after it. They were outgrowing the watchyman house, and we were thinking of having a live-in gardener so we would need the watchyman house anyway.

Today was to be the day for putting on the plata (concrete roof). To do this, a framework had been built of wood, and the concrete would be poured on top. Once the concrete has set, which takes a couple of days, the wood is taken away and hey presto you have a flat, concrete roof. No slates to fly off in hurricanes and no wood to get munched by termites. The concrete is mixed by hand in buckets and hauled up to the roof by means of a man on the roof with a rope. It has to be done quickly, and there were twenty Haitians or so working, far more than the usual three or four, under the supervision of the maestro (foreman), Chi Chi, he of the large ears, and a few gallons of rum. For some reason the putting on of the plata always involves rum. Although it is hard work in the hot sun, as it was a Saturday the men would only be working till noon.

Construction employment rules are very strict in the DR, five and a half days a week, eight o’clock until five o’clock, finish at noon every Saturday and get paid every second Saturday.

Danilo came outside, he was heading to the Air Force base to practice karate.

“Danilo, here, take the bank book with you. You need to take out 90,000 pesos and make sure you bring it back here by noon to pay the workers,” I instructed him, handing over the dog-eared cardboard bankbook. “And noon is noon. Twelve o'clock. Don’t be late. English time, not bloody Dominican time.” He took the book.

“I unnerstan. I no late. See you later. I love you my love. Every day, every way,” grinning at me, he climbed into the Mitsubishi truck and drove off to the Air Force base in San Isidro, forty-five minutes away.

In the meantime I had worked out the salaries, some for the day and more for those who had worked all week. I took the little brown wages envelopes and wrote the names and amounts to be paid on each one.

The day continued as usual, I went on the computer, checking emails and playing spider solitaire. As noon approached there seemed to be a lot of noise outside the gate, and I went to investigate. There were several women standing outside, waiting for their menfolk to be paid and for them to hand over their wages. Also waiting was a lawyer, who had recently paid to get one of the workers out of jail for illegal arms possession, and wanted to recoup some of her outlay. As I was to find out later, she told him if he didn't start to pay her immediately, he was going back to jail.

Twelve o’clock arrived and no sign of Danilo. I called him on the phone.

“Danilo, where the hell are you? I need the money to pay the workers!” I exclaimed angrily down the telephone.

“I come later. I be there one o’clock,” he replied brusquely, and hung up the phone. I went outside the gate and announced to the crowd, “Danilo is coming soon. In una hora he will be here.” There was some disgruntled muttering and cross looking faces.

At one o’clock I called him again. “Danilo, they are waiting, you have to get home now!” “I can’t, they called me to work. Tell them tomorrow they have money,” he snapped, and once again cut the call. I was furious as I hated letting people down and went outside to talk with the men.

“Listen, I’m sorry, but Danilo is busy. Come tomorrow in the morning and I will give
you the money,” I said apologetically. There was considerably more muttering, but slowly they began to drift off in ones and twos.

By four o’clock Danilo was still not home and by now his telephone was switched off. I knew when he was working for the DNI his phone would have been removed and kept by the team leader. This was to stop members of the team from warning the drug dealers, or paedophiles, or arms dealers or whoever, that they were coming. If you warn criminals there is going to be a raid, apparently they give you a payoff for warning them. When Danilo’s phone was off, invariably he had been called to work and I never knew when he would be home. There was always the possibility his phone had run out of charge or he had had an accident, and although I wasn’t overly concerned, I did feel slightly uncomfortable. I was also cross he had not got back to pay the workers, as I knew they needed their money, but I knew he would not have had a choice.

The day passed peacefully enough and once dinner was over, I decided to go out to Freedom Bar where there was karaoke every Saturday night, and I could meet up with Margaret and have a chat with Sue. Danilo and I would go there every Saturday, although sometimes I would go alone if he was working. There was no one in the house when I left, as the children were at baseball camp in San Pedro de Macoris for the weekend. The only person around was Luis, the night watchman who lived in a little hut in the garden, to make sure no one stole any of the building materials while we were in the middle of construction.

Fancying a change of clothing, I dressed in clothes from a previous life, Armani jeans and a red Dolce and Gabbana T-shirt, with a matching red leather clutch bag and set off in my jeep to the bar, five minutes drive away.

I arrived at the bar about a quarter to ten. It was already full and people were singing karaoke. I chatted and shook hands with friends as I went up to the bar.
“Hiya Margaret, hey Terry.”
“Lindsay! How are you? You look great!” replied Margaret, in her southern American accent.
“I'm fine, but appear to have lost Danilo – for a change!” I smiled ruefully.
Terry got up from his bar stool and offered it to me and I smiled at him. “Thanks Terry,” I said, hoisting myself onto the stool next to Margaret, and started chatting to her and Sue, running through the events of my day.

I would normally stay till the bar closed, usually one in the morning, but for some reason this particular evening I felt uncomfortable, restless. At ten twenty or so I decided to leave. Danilo was still not answering his phone, and I was not in the mood for karaoke.
“Listen Margaret, I’m going home,” I said, jumping off my stool.
”No, stay a while, I want to sing with you,” she pleaded.
“Hey, Lindsay, stay a while, it’s early yet,” said Terry. “I’ll buy you another rum.”
“Sorry, I’m just not in the mood tonight. I’ve no idea why, but I really want to go home. See you guys later!” I said goodbye to everyone, and although more asked me to stay, I drove off. I had no idea why, I just wanted to be at home.

A couple of minutes later I drove up the bumpy track and arrived at the house, parking as usual outside the gates, climbed out and locked the jeep. It was our habit to park the cars outside and bring them inside the gates before we went to bed. Or sometimes we would leave them on the track outside, as it was usually pretty safe.

There were two ways of getting into the garden. One was to roll the whole gate back, which we did to bring the cars inside, and the other was to enter by a small gate in the middle of the big gate. That was my normal way in, as the main gate was usually padlocked on the inside.

Two men were standing by the gate and it seemed they were trying to open it. They looked Haitian, one short and stocky, and the other tall, with his hair braided. They looked familiar and I realised the taller one had been working on the house that morning. I approached them and noticed the padlock on the ground, which I thought was odd.

There were often people outside the gate waiting to see Danilo, so it wasn’t strange in itself, but I felt a little uneasy.

Buenas noches,” I said, and decided to continue opening the large gate, already open a few inches, and close it behind me before I told them Danilo was not yet home. They didn’t answer me, but stood back a little to let me past. I slid the large gate open about two feet, went inside, and turned around. I had my hand on the gate to roll it shut, when the taller of the two men looked at the other as if he was about to ask a question. The stocky one simply nodded his head and said,“Da le,” which means ‘give it to her’, or ‘go for it’.

What the hell do they want to give me? I wondered. The next few seconds happened in a flash.
The taller of the two men lifted his T-shirt and pulled a gun from his trouser waistband. I was incredulous. The man had a gun!

Instinctively I knew I had to run and get away, but before I could move, he lifted his arm and fired.

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