Thursday, December 15, 2011

Death of Carlos

Death of Carlos
 During the early part of the summer Kiki lived in the newly roofed house in Elias Piña and had reportedly settled into a rhythm of moving items back and forth across the border. Sometime in August he and his uncle Carlos, Altagracia’s brother, went on a clerén and crack smoking bender. Carlos was about 36 and had been one of the friendlier relations when we visited Elias Piña. On the 4th day of the bender they had a slap and push scuffle and shortly after Carlos slipped into a coma. Pipina and some others threw him in the back of a pick-up and brought him to the local hospital where he vomited something green and died. Altagracia and Niningo took a guagua to Elias Piña the next day and found that all the other brothers and sisters were accusing Kiki of murder, claiming that he had heart-punched Carlos knowing that he had a bad heart. The autopsy concluded that drug and alcohol overdose was the cause of death but nevertheless. There were some shouting screaming and pushing fights. Altagracia was accused of being armed. Pipina claimed rights to Altagracia’s house in Elias Piña. Kiki was jailed in shackles. Pipina later is said to have paid some police 5000 pesos to kill him in prison but they only beat him up. I suspect that Pipina and the others—Papito, Violeta, Felix, and even Anna and Momona, his grandmother are just sick of having him around shooting off guns and stealing and eating their goats and pigs.

Altagracia continues to work for Bettye on Sundays and for Adrian and her Haitian retired husband on Tues and Fridays. She would like to quit Adrian but needs to send money to Kiki in jail from time to time and knows better than to ask me to donate. But I have never heard her (or anyone) complain so much about working 3 days a week. Other than analysing the gossip on Loma de Chivo that is our only topic of conversation
Niningo searched for work daily after graduating from high school including trying to get into the air force academy. He evidently almost got in but his school was not able to produce his graduation papers by the deadline. A month ago, with a recommendation from Adrian, he got a job at a Casino on the Malecón watching the video monitors in a locked room with one or two other monitors. He watches for dropped dice and cards and checks that the tellers examine bills for forgeries. He already has spotted 300 counterfeit Euros. His shifts are 10PM-6AM or 2PM-8PM and he has not had a day off since I have been back due to understaffing. 8,000 pesos a month plus the overtime. On his last payday he gave Altagracia 1000 pesos and me 500, and was proud to do it.

Jhoanglish continues to drift unmoored. He does not give the mother of his son any money, does not live with them and sometimes hits her arguing about money. At the moment he is living in a rented room up around the corner and eats at Chavela’s.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kiki reels on, Altagracia works

From Baní Kiki went to his Uncle Tito´s house in Dajabon, then returned to Baní then went to Elias Piña. After about a week in Elias Piña he started running into some folks he had fought with last year so he fled back to Baní, but not before attacking a moneychanger and stealing 5000 pesos from him. His second night back in Baní (where Mariela is still pregnant) a friend of his asked to borrow 100 pesos and when Kiki took out his wallet two other “friends”, one with a pistol and one with a machete, helped the 1st friend rob him of the 5000 pesos. They scattered. Kiki went for a machete and waited outside the 1st friend’s house for hours until he came home Kiki attacked him and cut him up bad enough that he had to be sent to Dario Contreras Hospital here in the capitol with head and body wounds. So if the guy dies Kiki will have to flee Baní. He still won’t be able to come back here because the guy’s face whose ear he shot last week is swelling up because the bullet passed under the skin near the cheekbone on its way to his ear and the guy, whose name is Hansel, had been known as a handsome fellow and is pissed off about his face.

Altagracia has gone back to work. She has been working Sundays cleaning a gallery/pension for Bettye a Tennessee expat for 500 pesos or about $15 for the past few years. She has filled the rest of her time aggressively cleaning our house. Through my recommendations she now works three additional days per week. One day cleaning the apartment of Stan’s wife, Elizabeth, and two days cleaning and doing laundry for a couple who are friends of Stan. It seemed that her getting out of the house and earning some money that is really her own would all amount to a good thing but. . .
            On the Saturday I drove her to her first day of work with Adrian en route she unleashed a string of invectives against me out of the blue. This is not unprecedented, Altagracia speaks nearly every thought that enters her head and filters nothing but usually I have done something to spark a frontal attack like this one. That night in the house she ignored me completely. Sunday she, Niningo and I drove to the Plaza, which abuts Bettye’s—I sell photos under my canopy in the flea market and Niningo sells bead, and shell jewelry that we buy wholesale in Villa Consuelo. We get to the plaza around 8:30 AM and since Altagracia doesn't start work with Bettye until 10 she usually drinks tea which a walking vendor sells out of thermoses and chats with the other vendors setting up their stalls but that day she sat down and shouted insults at me whenever I walked by. Ramon heard some of them and was really shocked. To tell you the truth, for all I knew, this treatment was a common Dominican cultural phenomenon. When I offered her a cup of tea her response was Go to the Devil, coñazo. After a week or so things calmed down but I don’t know why. We would sleep more or less normally, make love more or less normally but in the morning either silence or insults.
            One of the problems is that, even when she is working outside the house she is determined to maintain the house the same as when she is home full time. This includes sweeping water off the roof of the marquisina after it rains, ironing everything in the laundry— including my paint stained tee shirts, perma-press polyester button down shirts, underwear, the baby’s clothes, the pillowcases, my handkerchiefs and the dishtowels. Sometimes I hang clean stuff that does not need ironing in the closet to keep her from doing it but she ferrets them out and irons them anyway. Even though, at $250/month she is making more than a secretary, more than a full time policeman and more than any military personnel up to about the rank of lieutenant this may not be worth it.
            So the timbre of the relationship has changed. It seems to me that when she calls me a stupid campesino (which had been a term of affection between us and perhaps best translated in this context as sodbuster) that there is a more cutting tone; that when she says that she does not know how I can be so stupid while being a professor and all it sounds, these days, like she really means it not like before. We have been together almost 6 years now but separate for about half of every year, which makes it 3 years together physically. It has always seemed to me that the 3-year mark is the big hurdle in relationships. I don’t know if 3 years is the period of best behavior, if our habits of consideration and kindness slip a little, or if we do not really change much but our perceptions of the other shift. Even though I had made it  clearto her that I was not rich—which is the perception about all gringos here—and that we would both have to work to get ahead somehow a latent impression of rich gringos lingers and she may be a little bitter that she wound up with a poor one. It also happens that she is working in houses that are luxuriously appointed. As long as there are pictures on the walls and the chairs are strong enough to hold us up I don’t really care. I lived in tipis, barns and foundations when I was younger and somehow never lost the taste for living in unimproved conditions.
            People think of her as the wife of a gringo who does not have to work but works just to keep busy. Perhaps she feels like she is getting the worst of both worlds.
            She woke up late this morning and when I suggested that she take the Metro—the new commuter train—to avoid the traffic jam and difficulty in finding a taxi she said that the Metro was for the rich people and she would be ashamed to take it wearing her work flip-flops.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bombardment of the Galería and Shooting

Kiki Explodes
After months of tranquilitude La Loma de Chivo heated up. Popitín and Fabriccio are the two tigueres the police are after the most. Popitín’s leg healed well and within three weeks he was back on the street and his limp disappeared after a few more days. Rivals shot Gavilán in the leg and he was not seen for more than a month.
After sleeping for months on Chavela’s floor in her new apartment, which is where Ambar used to live, Kiki moved in with his girlfriend, Mariela, in Chavela's old apartment. Mariela was Kiki’s childhood sweetheart when they were growing up in Baní but she dumped him when his fights escalated along with his drug use years ago. Mariela moved to our neighborhood to be near Altagracia who was a mother figure for her when they were neighbors and she found work shampooing hair and sweeping the floor in a hair salon somewhere in the Zona Colonial. Before renting Chavela’s old apartment across the alley (from which you can see into our bathroom if you peer through the percianas at the right angle) she lived with a different boyfriend a couple of blocks away who worked and had a large flat screen TV. But as the weeks passed she began taking up with Kiki again and since the boyfriend spent quite a bit of time away working she was able to entertain Kiki in the other boyfriend’s apartment.
            One afternoon during this period Kiki found himself short of money and thirsty so he pawned the boyfriend’s giant TV for $30 and when that money ran out he sold the pawn ticket. Drunk he argued and pushed Jhoanglish around so Jhoanglish went and borrowed Mariela’s cell phone, which of course had the boyfriend’s number listed, called him and told him what happened so the boyfriend dumped Mariela. So without a place to sleep she joined Kiki on Chavela’s floor. Mariela then missed her next period, quit her job and the two of them rented the space over the old colmado. The Venezuelans paid their first and last month deposit.
            I met the Venezuelans New Year’s eve the night my wallet was stolen. (I had never taken such precautions before sallying out to the Malecón outdoor concert thronged with people event. I had removed my ID cards and had put my spending cash in other pockets, the wallet was in my front pocket while I waited to use one of the portable outdoor toilets. While I was in the line a large man with a hat pulled low cut in the front of the line two or three people ahead of me—a number of us told him to move, that it was a line etc. but he only moved laterally cutting in front of the line for the adjacent port-o-san. I now believe that while this intentional distraction was going on, he had a friend who was lifting wallets from behind.) At any rate, Altagracia and I and Niningo and Chavela, along with Kiki and Mariela had driven to the Malecón together. I gave Kiki and Mariela $15 and the same to Niningo and Chavela for refreshments and we all milled around in the crowd. At one point Kiki brought us over to cluster of people he was drinking with and proudly introduced us to four Venezuelans as his business associates. I was impressed at first, the V’s were dressed in black sport jackets and spoke enough English to want to practice their conversation. Later I learned that they had all met in prison. Kiki goes out with them occasionally and returns with money and none of us knows what they actually do.
            Mariela’s pregnancy began with very bad malestar or morning sickness, which is not a phenomenon I am expert on, but I do know that she vomited at any time and with no warning and was weak and dizzy. Stress could be partially to blame since Kiki told her that if she lost the baby he would kill her. She told him to go make some money, and she didn’t care how. She got her severance pay and secretly gave me 2000 pesos of it to me to hide for her for the next month’s rent so Kiki couldn’t spend it. Her malestar got worse and whenever Kiki stole or earned some money (he actually worked construction for two days but decided that his hands were not suited to rough labor) he bought rum and drugs. When Mariela started a tab at one of the local colmados Kiki slapped her, hard on the street and did it when Belita (an ex of Kiki) was passing by. A sonogram showed the fetus somehow badly placed. Mariela had had enough and I gave her back the 2000 pesos. She gave Kiki 250 for food money for a few days and she left for Baní to be with her family. Within 15 minutes Kiki bought a bottle of rum and an hour later he bought another one. While I was eating dinner in the kitchen his voice came croaking in from the street that he wanted to talk to me about borrowing 500 pesos ($15) so he could take a guagua to Baní where he suspected Mariela’s family was advising her to get an abortion. I said no. Later he was seen up by Manso’s colmado with another bottle. Altagracia and I went to bed around 10:30, Niningo turned out his light a half hour later. A cement block crashing against the front door woke us all up around midnight. Then another boulder hit the steel burglar bars, then another. We were under bombardment. Kiki was hurling the chunks of block and stone from the street and screaming at us to come out so he could send us all to Hell. We did not know if he was otherwise armed. Some of the blocks hit the tin roof of the galeria mangling it in places. Niningo called the police, then 5 minutes later called again. We waited inside in the dark clutching baseball bats. We could hear Chavela out in the street screaming at him to stop, we later learned she had a knife but never got close enough to use it.  Finally 4 police on motorcycles, a police SUV and a paddy wagon showed up. Kiki was dragged out of Chavela’s apartment where he had run when he saw the cops coming and Altagracia hysterically identified him and challenged the cops to shoot him in the feet and lock him up in Najayo (a tough prison here) for a real long time. They stuffed him in the SUV and took him to the station house in Villa Mella. We followed in the guaguita because Altagracia would have to sign to keep him locked up since it was a family matter. At the station house, when we were in the front room signing the complaint Kiki lunged out of the back room howling, ”Mommy, mommy,“ and was hauled back in and slammed up against the wall a few times. We went home and wended our way through the rubble and broken glass on the galería floor and went to bed.
            In the morning Altagracia had to go back to the station house to re-sign to keep Kiki in for 24 hours, which is the maximum when no one in a family dispute is injured. I went to sell photos in the Plaza. Altagracia called me at noon to tell me that Kiki had escaped the jail. I figured he would have run far, foolishly thinking that it was a crime to escape from jail in the Dominican Republic. When I got home from work we heard that he was with a bunch of neighborhood tigueres drinking and snorting drugs in a local disco. Later in the evening he turned back up at Manso’s colmado. Around 11 PM when we were getting ready for bed we heard a shot but didn’t think anything of it. Around midnight we awoke to Chavela frantically pounding on the front door saying that Kiki had just killed somebody. We talked to some near-eyewitnesses in front of the house and pieced together that Kiki had been with a guardia and had either borrowed or taken his pistol in order to rob someone—he had pistol whipped the guy then pushed the gun into his chest and pulled the trigger repeatedly but the gun did not go off, got about $5 from him and while yelling “You’re useless, tu no sierves!!” and while pulling away on the motorcycle had reached back and shot at his head, the gun went off this time but only took off a piece of his ear. But until we knew how bad the injuries were and who the guy was we had to prepare for immediate repercussions. He might have armed brothers, he might be part of a gang. Niningo, Altagracia and I turned off every light source in the house, double checked the door bolts and sat behind a concrete wall and waited silently. Well, Altagracia kept hissing for us to be silent while she monologued in a high whisper about all the things that could go wrong. We waited like that for about an hour and eventually concluded that neither the police nor the avengers would come that night and went to bed tensely listening and twitching at every cat scratch, dog bark and distant pistol shot. At 3:30 in the morning we heard somebody hitting a padlock with a hammer two houses away. It was Valentine’s Day.
            As I write this on Monday Kiki is on the run based around Baní, where he knows the woods and where he figures Mariela will protect him. He still has the pistol but only one bullet. The guardia has been thrown in jail for losing his pistol and his father is trying to negotiate its return. At the moment the proposal is that the father give 4000 pesos ($120) to Chavela and Jose, a local trusted tiguere, and they go to Baní to buy the pistol from Kiki for 2000 pesos with Jose getting paid the other 2000. So far Kiki has not agreed. Mariela is bleeding and has severe abdominal pain, is not eating and has not seen a doctor.
            Altagracia and Alicia cleaned the rubble off the galeria using shovels and 5-gallon pails while I was at work and dumped it in the vacant lot across the street. The pile of brickbats would have filled more than two wheelbarrows.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Neighborhood News and a Violent Incident

Fewer people live on Loma de Chivo so it is quieter these days. Some of the old people have died, some have moved away and many of the tigueres have been killed. Just this week police entered Popitín’s house and shot him in the hip as he backed away against a wall. His parents were in the room. The goal was to give him a dosis, or a permanent crippling but it seems he will walk again. His parents paid $700 to the police and they released him today. We sent a bowl of rice pudding over to his house since he is a tiguere who does not rob from his own barrio.
            Rubia, who used to butcher chickens across the street sold the little pink house and moved away with her son and Anita, her 16-year-old daughter with her new baby.

The colmado next to the house closed, to everyone’s relief. The speakers Rubio had hooked up to the jukebox got bigger and bigger until we couldn’t hear our own phone ring, much less talk on it when the music was playing. He evidently had borrowed a lot of money to make improvements on the colmado, squirreled the money away and stopped making payments so the bank closed the place down after confiscating the jukebox. Rubio tried renting the space out as another colmado but the guys who rented it gave up after one week for lack of business. At the moment it is a hair salon but I never see any customers in it.
            Christmas day, during the short time the new colmado was open there was one customer who, when drunk, refused to pay for his beer. The second time it happened Kiki happened to be in the colmado and when the drunk reached across the counter and cuffed the colmado employee up side of the head Kiki suggested he lay off. Kiki walked out and was right in front of my marquisina when the drunk emerged from the colmado and yelled at Kiki—who had also been drinking all day—that he should mind his own business and keep going. Kiki turned around and, when the drunk walked up fast and threw a right at Kiki’s head, Kiki launched an overhand right that I could hear connect from the galería and a left that floored the drunk. When he got half up Kiki kicked him in the stomach and connected to the head twice more. The drunk was sprawled in the center of the street but managed to sit up and say something I couldn’t hear. Kiki took a step and a half like he going to kick a field goal and kicked the guy in the head so hard that the sound of the shoe hitting the skull was almost indistinguishable from the sound the back of the guy’s head made when it slammed against the asphalt. As Kiki moved in to stomp the guy’s head into the pavement Niningo, Domingo, and Altagracia herself who had been trying to pull him off all this time finally succeeded.  It had been like watching an efficient predator on the Discovery Channel dismantle a confused wildebeest. A couple of us dragged the unconscious wildebeest over to the curb and it took a long time before his chest moved with his breathing. He was out cold for 5 minutes and we donated two buckets of water from the cisterna to bring him to. Kiki was ushered up to Chavela’s apartment in case police were called, and when Jhoanglish started to lecture him about something from the Bible Kiki grabbed a knife and lunged across the table at him but only managed to nick him although the baby fell and started crying. So Kiki’s girlfriend took him down the street to her apartment and on the way Kiki threw another punch at a passerby who had made a smart remark. This was on Christmas Day, which is also Kiki’s birthday.
            The next day the drunk came around and apologized to the colmado and to Altagracia and she said his whole head was swollen. A few days after that he came around again when he realized he would probably have permanent cosmetic damage (at least), with a pistol this time, but Kiki was not around and we have not heard anything more. He is nonviolent when not drinking and has five children, all younger than 7, with a tall slender woman who often walks past the house with two or three babies in tow and a bucket of water or laundry balenced on her head. They live in a two-bedroom shack with a dirt floor.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pulgita de Antiqüedades

Flea Market
Altagracia returned yesterday afternoon after spending 4 days in Elias Piña trying to spring Kiki from prison. The newest version of why  is that Isido, who we really trusted, as the Alcalde, turned in Kiki’s name  as the perpetrator who beat and whacked the Haitian with a machete even though the Haitian says he does not know who hit him and Altagracia met the Haitian who, she says cannot even barely speak Haitian and only has a small mark on his wrist that could have been from years before. Kiki was ORIGINALLY arrested in conjunction with the rape and it seems that the ammended charges for assault are dated the 10th but the actual alleged beating took place on the 13th.
         While she was gone I built a frame to hold privacy curtains in the corner of the kitchen where she has her altal set up where she reads taza and I built a table to use in the flea market so I will not have to continuously borrow the taza table. The rough lumber for the 2´x4´table came to about $20 or about 600 pesos. The flea market has been erratic but last Sunday I sold $40 worth of fotos and some people claim to be planning on returning with more money. Most of Antique Flea Market Sundays is spent either sitting in the shade talking with other vendors or reading (also in the shade). I bring tunafish sandwiches with lettuce and tomato and folks seem very impressed with the preparation although they stick with the plato del día lunch special from La Despensa on el Conde which consists of rice, beans and chicken for about 80 pesos.
         This Pulga de Antigüedades convenes on Sundays yearround in the Plaza de Maria de Toledo who was the wife of Nicholas de Ovando who was governor of Santo Domingo around 1500 and who was responsible for instituting the mandatory work sentences for the Taíno in the mines where most workers died within 9 months from disease, overwork, starvation or broken hearts. The plaza is on Calle las Damas which is considered the oldest street in the New World and is in the oldest part of the colonial city. Right across the street is what is now the 4 star Hotel Ovando which was originally the home of the Ovandos themselves. In a recess in one corner of the plaza is a small chalkboard with initials etched down one side and a place to put numbers which is how the tourist guides, who spend most of the day lounging on the steps and talking about either baseball, women or politics, determine whose turn it is to give the next tour for a wandering tourist.There are about 10 vendors.

The Vendors--
         Pedro, 60ish fat balding and friendly but who tried to start a political argument by claiming that Pedro Santana was the true father of the republic and not Juan Pablo Duarte and who has a tent with glass display cases to display jewelry, medals, trinkets and who speaks English and is planning to move to Fort Worth, Texas next year and who has lived in NY City.
         A tall man who, with his newly pregnant wife, sets up a larger tent and sells new jewelery-- amber, larimar and silver and even comes Saturdays even though there are hardly any other vendors to help attract customers.
         An elderly fat, sometimes bearded man who sells trinkets, broken camaras, piles of obsete coins, war medals and used silver and larimar jewelery with his son and a granddaughter who also has a large tent.
         An even fatter Frenchman, who looks like an enormous Rodney Dangerfield and who sometimes merengues by himself while waiting for a customer, sets up a row of broken,sloping tables of varying heights along the far wall where there is usually shade and sells old watches, walkng canes,mother of pearl buttons and bric-a-brac.
         Sanibel, frail and thin and 50ish who, usually with a harsh looking but friendly woman who visibly relishes her lunch special, sells genuine Taíno artifacts-- well some of the smaller ones might be genuine but I understand that the nicer pieces come from modern Taíno artifact factories in the interior.

         One week a man came who leaned a board against the wall of the parking lot next door and tried to sell plastic decorative refrigerator magnets. Sometimes people wander in carrying an old lamp or pair of reading glasses or a wad of baseball cards and sell or consign them to a vendor. A coffee vendor passes through carrying urns of sweet black coffee, shoeshine boys are always present and, in the afternoon, a man passes through with a 5 gallon white plastic pail filled with ice selling bottles of mabí, a slightly fermented, champagney, not too sweet, juice made from bejuco de india.
         In the front of the plaza, in the sun, are a large amount of swords, statuettes, used books and posters of Marylin Monroe, laid out on the ground and leaning against the wall. The vendor darts out from distant shade when a potential customer approaches his wares
         Estelle, 20ish, tall lean and pretty who lays out a tablecloth on the ground and tries to sell her 15 or so used books. Last week she also had a vicks vaporizer for sale although she did not know what it was even though Bicksbopperroob is very popular here for everything from headaches to loss of appetite to chest congestion, as well as a used pair of shoes and three small ceramic ducks. She sits in a borrowed chair or on the carry on suitcase that she carries her books in and squints out into the sun beating down on the plaza  and sighs and says, “É difícil.” (It’s tough) Sometimes a man with his own car drops her off with her suitcase and some similar things of his to sell but she says that he is just a friend, that she is single and has no children.
         Carlos, alert, 30ish, shaved head; who brings antique brass platters and urns, looking glasses, old silverware, a mahogony coffee table and a three foot high Haitian carved bald eagle but has not sold anything in three weeks. His area is next to mine so we sit in the shade under the limoncillo tree and chat. He works with his brother in a glass and mirror shop during the week and has a 6 year old daughter who lives with his ex who left Carlos for no obvious reason. We observed a slowly passing couple-- a pretty, young dominican woman and a middle aged, lean,slumping Italian looking man, pause, lean against the far wall to, apparently, get to know each other before adjourning somewhere more private. This event gave Carlos the chance to rant against the immorality of Dominican women and how they so easily line up boyfriends, called chulos, who are not really johns in the sense of blatant prostitution, but are sexual companions who buy presents and food and clothes in return for the intimate favors which are perhaps enjoyed by both anyway. So, I reckon, that Carlos’s woman began lining up chulos which is what led to the end of his marraige.
         Partly because it is nearly summer, and partly because of the economy, not everyone sells something every day. If customers have spent much time talking at a booth later a vendor will stop by and ask-- Did you sell? and if yes-- For how much?  and then congratulate the seller. Some of the vendors arrive with their boxes of stuff by taxi which can cost $15 round trip. It is a long day when one sells nothing.

I have installed a thermostat in the guaguita and am adjusting the carburetor as I go-- almost literally since I can lean over toward the passenger side while I am driving (or idling by the side of the road really) and turn the adjustment screws on the carb with the passenger seat flipped back out of the way. I am looking forward to the next mileage check.

Niningo just asked me if I knew in what countries Portugese was spoken and before I could answer Jhoanglish yelled confidently from the next room-- “France.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mocho's Funeral and Small Family Events

Mocho's Funeral 

         We buried Mocho today. Mocho was a thin, sad, one-armed man with ears like open barndoors who hung around the colmado and could often be found lounging against the doors of our marquisina alone or with other tigueres. Mocho-- who was not called Mocho before-- lost most of his left arm after witnessing  some kind of disagreement among some tigueres and when he went home one of the tigueres followed him, entered the house just behind him and whacked his arm badly enough with a machete that the amputation was completed in a hospital. One might translate Mocho into English as Stump or Gimp. He had been reported to be a thief and one of the neighbors reported him to the police as such and he spent three months in Victoria prison before getting out in December. He was even thinner and sadder looking and he told Altagracia once that he was not a bad man but that drugs had destroyed his life and that nobody should mess with them. He always greeted me with a smile and he never asked for money. It was rumored that he had contracted HIV in prison. We saw him the day before yesterday hunkered under the roble tree across the street that is covered with the little white trumpet shaped flowers that are supposed to bring good luck and when we asked how he was he just shook his head. He died yesterday around lunch time at his mother’s house.
         This morning many people hung out on the street waiting for Mocho to be brought out of the house on the next block where he was being encoffined and eventually 6 tigueres carried out the box which was in the shape of an elongated hexagon, was blue and had a little glass window over Mocho’s face with a hinged wooden  flap that could be closed over it. He was loaded into a city ambulance and a large guagua showed up to help carry mourners to the Municipal Cemetery here just outside Villa Mella. There was a cavalcade that included the guagua, about 4 private cars one of which was ours, and Cheque’s moribund pickup truck with at least 15 people riding in the back and that threatened to tip over at every curb or pothole because of a nearly flat right rear tire. The pick-up’s passengers boisterously passed Presidente grandes back and forth with both the drivers and the passengers of the 10 or so motorbikes circling in accompaniment. Every so often an empty beer bottle was hurled from the back of the truck toward the bushes.
         The unruly cavalcade turned off  Avenida Jacobo Macluta down a dirt road that was being prepared for paving toward Las Casabes and the Municipal burying ground. There were many more naked children than usual along the roadside and the colmados were full of dust from the dry clayey gravel being spread on the road bed. There was a small building at  the entrance to the cemetery outside of town and a woman ran out as we passed saying that we had forgotten to pick up the cross and so one of the motorcycles turned back to get it.
         The two lane dirt tracks ran through the grounds and scrubby brush overgrew many of the white stone or wooden crosses that marked the scattered grave sites. In places the crosses were almost in the road and it was hard to tell if the road had encroached on the graves or if those dead were planted that close to the road; perhaps to shorten the walk. Off in the bushes could be seen concrete sidewalks that started and stopped in the middles of nowhere. With tires spinning dust we wended our way up the last steep little hill and parked. Many of the men immediately turned their backs on the scene and pissed.
         From this humble weedy summit the city could be seen in the distance and here and there in the scrub could be seen groups of freshly filled graves, the backfill still mounded up high enough so that I thought at first that the dead were just covered over on top of the ground. Six drunk tigueres carried Mocho’s open coffin down to a group of fresh mounds where his grave was neatly dug about 3 and a half feet deep. When the crowd of about 50 had gathered, the pallbearers guided the open coffin gently down the pile of dirt it was perched on and into the grave where a cemetery worker was waiting to settle it into its final position. A few of the tigueres sobbed last words emotionally and unintelligibly and, after placing a small Dominican flag in Mocho’s hand folded on his chest, they closed the box and shut the little window flap and began to backfill by hand as well as with mattocks and shovels-- I tossed in a clod too-- and the job was finished in a few minutes. The white cross on which was scrawled Benito Angel Mendez was set and we climbed back up the hill. There was a brief commotion when Mocho’s sister began to wail that he had been nothing but a shit in life and that to have any kind of ceremony was an excercise in hypocrisy but many of Mocho’s friends took exception and several offered to fight someone, or even anyone, over the matter and Julio actually drew his pistol but everyone eventually drove quietly out of the cemetery and, after stopping at a colmado in Las Casabes to replenish the supplies of Presidente, returned to the barrio.
         I had felt uncomfortable crashing a burial for someone I hardly knew, but Altagracia explained that, here, it is a case of the more the merrier and that it also was a chance to support the poor of the barrio. As relative newcomers to the neighborhood, and as relative odballs because I am a gringo who walks a cocker spaniel on a leash every morning and we own a car, attending a burial of a local unfortunate in potter’s field was a nice thing to do and showed that we cared about our neighbors and belonged, even if peculiarly. She also said that she has seen a lot of rich people buried with many fewer well wishers in attendence.

Family News

     ¡ALTAGRACIA HAS LEFT THE PENSION! and she managed to get most of her sevarance pay, here called the liquidación, of about 13,000 pesos. Sat. the 18th. Since then we have heard that the other employees-- Marta, Nelly and Julis are desparately seeking their liquidacións because they are now being made to share the  chores Altagracia left and they can’t hack it.
         So far we have spent two days getting Niningo’s probable hernia checked out. We first went to Robert Reid Cabral Children’s Hospital and after a two hour wait were told that Niningo, at 16, was too old for their services because when it was crowded the cut off age was reduced to 13. We then walked up to Mata Hambre Hospital Emergency room and, after a brief exam were referred to Padre Billini in the Zona Colonial. Because we had a referral we were able to cut one of the lines and Niningo was seen by a doctor who turned out to be related on the Alvarez side. The next day we came back for blood and urine testing and tomorrow we we will return once more for the results and, perhaps, a final diagnosis.

         Saturday Rick, my brother here for a short visit, and I toured in the minibus going to Monte Plata where the National Games are being held (in direct competition with the Winter Olimpics) and we watched a quarter of physical basketball.
         Sunday Rick was here, and so with Altagracia out of work, were able to go to Playa Palenque. Chavela could not go because of her work in the Banca. It was Niningo’s first time ever at the beach although he grew up about five miles from it.
        Monday-- While the hospital would have been happy to perform sonograms and more blood and stool testing on Niningo, one of the doctors suggested that he might only be dehydrated and so, over the weekend he drank a lot of water and now feels fine and is pissing clear.

Altagracia took the bus out to visit Kiki in the prison at Elias Piña on Sunday and reported that it is the nicest one that she has ever visited him in and is equipped with new mattresses, cold drinking water, television, an infirmary and has computer courses available. Kiki was very thin but perhaps because of an aching molar that was to be worked on by the prison dentist the next day. The official charges seem to be whacking a Haitian with a machete and stealing and eating one of his roosters and although Kiki says he didn’t do it and Altagracia says she believes him she is not going to bail him out saying that maybe he will learn this time and besides, the lawyer wanted 10,000 pesos which was too much.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Post, AMET

         On last Friday afternoon the replacement guagua, a white one, was finally ready so picked it up around 5 in the afternoon. The only major fix before I could drive it was to switch the driver’s and passenger’s front seats because the one on the driver’s side could not be adjusted back and it was so far forward that I could not get my foot to the brake. The body of the thing evidently was from a Daihatsu built for Hong Kong or Great Britain with the steering wheel on the right.
         Saturday morning while following a string of cars through the street light at Hipermercado Olé an AMET policeman who had been directing traffic in the intersection waved me over to the side of the road and asked me why I had driven through the red light  and I said that he had waved me through it. He looked over my paperwork, walked back and forth to his motorcycle a couple of times, exchanged a few words with another cop and told me to have a nice day and that I could go.
         Saturday afternoon I drove down Maximo Gomez to pick up Altagracia after work and was pulled over by another cop directing traffic because I did not have my Revista on the windshield. The revista is like a safety inspection sticker in the States although, usually, without any actual inspection. I have seen the renewal stickers for sale in kiosks in front of supermarkets in March when the old ones expire. He did not care that I had bought the car only the day before and had not had time to get a revista and  besides my title had not even been issued yet which you need to apply for a revista he then confiscated my driver’s license and said that I could get it back after paying my fine at the AMET building and he gave me directions on how to get there.
         So after finally learning that I could probably get a revista with my temporary transit title or registration I went to Obras Publicas or the DMV on San Cristobal and just as I was pulling into the gated parking lot a man came up and showed me his ID card wich was hanging on his neck and got in next to me and we drove a few yards down th road. I figured this was the safety road test-- then he started filling out a paper form that was stapled to the sticker and when he showed me the paper I could see that it was about a 10th generation photocopy including the stamp. When I pressed him he admitted that the revista was a counterfeit but would only cost me 1000 pesos and that Obras Publicas had run out of revistas for the month anyway and, after hesitating, I bought the revista from him. After he stuck it to my windshield he told me that if I brought the police back he would say hehad never seen me before. About two minutes after I drove off I realized what an idiot I had been because AMET would surely want to see some kind of receipt  or paperwork before they gave me back my license. I almost turned around and went back to buy a real revista from the real Obras Publicas, but I didn’t. I took a different route home to avoid the Metro construction mess on Gomez and got pulled over AGAIN, this time by a National Police who leaned in my window, glanced cursorily over my paperwork and glanced at my new phony revista, asked me if I had any pistols and then asked for soda money. I had 10 pesos in my shirt pocket, which obviously were not enough but 50 more were. A $2 shakedown.
         When I got home I went online and ordered a replacement license from the Massachusetts DMV-- AMET can keep the one they have. In the meantime I will print out and laminate a new license of my own from a scan I have in my laptop and I will cross the bridge of renewing my fake revista when I get to it.

More Kiki
         Kiki has been arrested again. Evidently, while he was working Customs on the Haitian frontier, his roommate, who unbeknownst to anybody had recently completed a 10 year prison stint for rape, was surprised in the act with a 10 year old Haitian girl on the border by a Dominican police who fired at him but he ran off and the cop then gave the naked girl his shirt to cover up with and then Kiki was found eating dinner in front of the TV at his grandmother’s and was arrested until he tells where the perp might be hiding.
         Altagracia had been missing him mightily of late-- she had never been more than a month without seeing one of her kids before-- but with the news of the incarceration she called Elias Piña to arrange for some food to be brought to the jail and said that since he didn’t do it (and she called more than one source to affirm that he didn’t do it) that they would let him out soon enough and would probably not beat him up too badly.
         Now it has turned out that Kiki is also being held for beating up a Haitian and cooking and eating one of his roosters. Altagracia is still not considering bailing him out, “So if he’s in for a few months maybe he’ll learn,” she said.

I always sort of hoped that the wisdom that comes with age would have some kind of practical application.

There have been several articles in the papers about the AMET situation. Exactly one week after losing my license to a AMET cop the chief of AMET declared no more license confiscations in the streets and that a computer system had been developed to keep track of tickets and fines not paid and so on. But some cops kept on confiscating and they have been, reportedely, punished. The stories about getting one’s license back include tales of lines at the AMET building of more than one day waits and of one having to paw through bags and boxes of confiscated licenses grouped only by by State and country of origin.
         Tomorrow, I suppose, I will reluctantly begin the retrieval process because, also reportedly, any outstanding fine goes on one’s record and ever leaving the country by legal means-- like from an airport for example-- becomes problematical. I am going to figure that they are not going to care that I do not have a legal revista and just going to rty to pay the unjust fine to clear my record, get the license (or not, if that line is long too) and get out.

On the day my ticket would expire and,presumably, become a more serious infraction, I went to AMET to settle up. I got there at about 10:30 and settled into my line. After a little over an hour I got to the window, the cashier glanced at my summons and told me to go wait on that other line after lunch to appear before a judge. I got back early from lunch and was the fifth person to be heard. I explained to the little man seated between a gaggle of clerks that I had bought the minibus on a Friday afternoon and was unfairly ticketed on the next day which was a Saturday when a revista could not be procured. He brusquely asked me if the minibus was new or used and after I answered imported used he pronounced a fine of 40 pesos. I paid after a short wait on the next line and then took my receipt upstairs to retrieve my license. Upstairs was a parking garage and along one side was a line of folding 8 foot long tables covered with steel desk drawers all filled with rubber banded bundles of driver’s licenses. There were thousands of them. A police woman took my receipt and after thoroughly riffling the Maryland bundle found my license in the middle of a pack of about 150 Masachusetts licenses.
         As I was walking away from the AMET building I noticed two street signs. One was a One Way sign pointing to the left and the other was an AMET This Way > sign pointing to the right against the one way traffic <.

Kiki is still in jail.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Los Santos, Altagracia, A Little History

Los Santos
         Altagracia used to make extra money by reading taza, or tea leaves, although she usually uses coffee instead of tea and reads the drips that run down the outside of the coffee cup after the person has drunk and then turns the cup upside down over a candle to scorch the dregs to increase their resolution. She might be able to tell you what your spouse is up to nights when he or she is out, warn you about upcoming health issues or see other things in your life that might be making you unhappy. Afterwards she gives the client a prescription that is usually a perfume or soap or shampoo, never anything ingested. She read taza for Britannia a week before Britannia got in a knife fight and when I asked if she had foreseen such an event she said no, but that she happened to know that Britannia never took her prescription. She was very matter of fact about this talent when she explained to me that, yup, her father had it but that she was the only one of her 13 siblings who had it, so it goes.
         The other evening Altagracia announced that she would like a rum and coke so we dispatched Niningo to the colmado for a half pint of Brugal, the most popular local brand and the one that many people think actually comes from drilled wells in the ground rather than from a distillery, and a large bottle of coke and when she finished that we sent him for more. Altagracia frequently announces that she is going ot get drunk but she scarcely ever has more than a sip and it has become a joke that when she says, “I am going to get stinking drunk tonight”, we say, “Not again!”. But tonight was different and, as she drank while we  watched television, she became quieter and quieter and eventually she nodded off for a few seconds but when she awoke she said clearly and in her own voice, “I am Anahisa.” Niningo happened to be heading out the door but when he heard this he called for Chavela and he grabbed a notepad and we all sat down in front of her to listen and Niningo took notes.
         We listened intently as Anahisa, who is the Voodu derivative of Saint Anne, addressed each of us in turn and warned us about certain possible although vague dangers looming in our lives and recomended a balm or tea to help avoid them. After a few minutes Altagracia’s head dropped again but she rewoke after a few seconds and announced that she was now San MIguel and she again advised us and Niningo took more notes and after a few minutes she dropped back off and awoke as Santa Marta. During allof the visitations she spoke clearly and in her own voice, perhaps a little more deliberatley than usual. After Santa Marta left her she reawoke sleepily as Altagracia and looked at us a little confused  because we were sitting in a row in front of her in straight-back chairs paying close attention-- which is unusual for us-- and she listened curiously as we described what had happened. When I asked her where I might find the shampoo named Arame that Anahisa had prescribed for me she said that she had never heard of it and I could not tell if the little smile that flickered across her face meant that she was telling the truth or not.


         When Altagracia is in a happy chattery mood, chuckling on about food, love, clothes, her hair and work there is no one like her, and when she is complaining about this house that is no good that is in this barrio that is no good, these children who are no good, that she has nobody to help her, that she is going to die soon from anemia because she has run out of blood and does not have one drop left in her and that Luis, her not so dearly departed ex knew what concoction to give her to cure her anemia but that I know nothing about anything, there is no one like her either. On these bad days she wakes up like after being hit by a bus and says that everywhere hurts and that she has no strength and is dizzy and cannot walk and hot coffee does not taste hot and even though it might have 4 teaspoons of sugar in it it does not taste sweet either. She says she is hungry but will not eat and says she wants anemia medicine but when I hand her the bottle of Ferro-sul from on top of the refrigerator she will not take any. It is 6 in the morning by now and she wakes up Chavela to give her the school lunch money for the day and tells her that she is putting too much salt in the food and that is why nobody can finish their lunch and it winds up getting thrown out and that she is forbidden to wear clothes through which her panties can be seen and that she better hurry up and get married because there is no money here to feed her. Then she wakes up Niningo and tells him that he is going to die if he doesn’t stop being constipated and that he better quit school and quit fooling around with that computer and either get a job or sign with a major league team because there is no money here to feed him and she is sick and tired of working 8 hours cleaning the pension and 8 cleaning the house and washing clothes by hand when she gets home.
         Altagracia is an anomaly in a country that has been renown for its laziness for over 500 years. We have running water in the house and in the utility sink on the patio but Altagracia fills the 55 gallon drum by hauling water out of the cistern using a bucket on a rope. We have a portable washing machine, called a lavadora, but Altagracia usually washes and wrings the clothes out by hand because she can separate the colors better even though she believes that it is having her hands in strong detergent so much that gives her migraines. At 9 o'clock last night, after work and after bleaching the bathroom and washing the dishes leftover from the noon meal, she washed 5 dresses by hand that had not been worn but had been hanging too long, she figured, in the closet and were getting dusty. The day before was her day off and she spent that day double-mopping the entire house because Chavela misses the corners on her daily moppings, scouring her cast aluminum cookware and ironing. She does this fueled only by a breakfast of coffee with hot milk, a 15¢ sleeve of heavy gum drops on the guagua commute home, a plate of rice with beans around 5PM and a late dinner of bread and cheese with boiled platanos or yucca. When we have chicken she only eats the feet and necks.

DR HIstory
I am reading the Manual of Dominican History by Frank Moya Pons and it seems that at no time in its history since Columbus did anyone really want to live here. The indigenous culture was dead within 40 years of contact with Columbus. In the early days the European population was comprised of sailors and soldiers many of whom married indigenous women to then live on in poverty. The gold rush was short lived and the gold rushers moved on to Mexico where there was more. Africans were imprisoned and brought here by force to replace the local population which was rapidly being exterminated through disease, slaughter and overwork; in 1546 there were 12,000 Africans to 5000 whites. Natives of the Canary Islands, who were even poorer than Dominicans were encouraged to immigrate beginning in 1684 with gifts of land and again in 1687 and 1690 to replace those previous who had died of smallpox and other pestilence. The money here has ALWAYS been concentrated in the hands of a few aristocratic types living in Santo Domingo or in Spain-- most the population has always been poor. Other than cultivating and refining sugar cane--which is a lot of work for, often, small profit, the most consistent source of income from export was shooting escaped and feral cattle and selling the meat and hides. The colony was always dependent on financial aide from Spain which was sent through Mexico and sometimes arrived years late due to piracy and negligence. The general tone of depression, hunger and fear of invasion by either England or France of the first 250 years of colonization gave way to fear of invasion by the western part of the island,i.e. Haiti, which came true in 1803 and lasted until 1843; and the Dominicans racial distrust and dislike of Haitians stems from those years. The nominal Father of the Dominican Republic, Juan Pablo Duarte, was highly educated, enlightened, principled and honest and is, today the most honored figure in the history of the DR and who inspired the revolution of 1844 along with Mella and Sanchez, but in the months following the successful revolt Duarte was exiled by the military and never led or was able to beneficially influence the country. The Dominican Republic’s very first years as an independent nation were spent under the ruthless military dictatorship of Pedro Santana who led (off and on in between overthrows and deportations) from 1845 through 1862, who was then followed by a string of about 20 presidents and generals until 1916-24 when the US Military occupied it and in 1930 began the 30 year reign of the dictator Trujillo followed by the 20 year presence of the only slightly more benevolent Balaguer.
         The Dominican Republic has had a different history than, say, Massachusetts, which was begun on a basis of belief rather than of conquest and greed and was populated by the people who wanted to be there and who thought about where they wanted to live and could read. I wonder if the roots of the sensibilities of the tigueres who rule the streets of Santo Domingo today can be directly traced back to the histories of all the pirates who have stolen here from Francis Drake and the other corsairs and buccaneers to Pedro Santana to the U.S. Marines who ruled the streets in the 20’s to all the presidents who have counted their own ballots and to the rich 300 year history of smuggling across the border with Haiti or through customs. Despite what one might say about any contemporary political figures in the US, and despite what uglinesses US foreign policy has wrought or is working, the basic desire there is the desire for justice, for just behavior, just rewards and for just punishments. Even if this underlying principle is perverted beyond recognition 99% of the time, it is still the underlying principle. In the DR justness is not the underlying principle, profit (or at least evading loss) is and any laws that favor fairness over gain are ignored. Columbus came for profit, as did Drake the pirate, as did Napoleon and as did Toussaint and Soulouque the Haitian invaders and, it is safe to say that outgoing Presidents of the Republic today still enjoy sacking the treasury on their way out the door, if not on their way in as well, when they can manage it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Yola and La Pulga

         Saturday two flat bed trucks carrying many policeman arrived in front of the colmado next to our house and the cops fanned out and swept through the neighborhood looking for the yola that was rumored to be near completion and hidden nearby. It is illegal to build such a boat without a special permit here because most of them are used as yolas, or boats that carry illegal immigrants to Puerto Rico via the Mona Strait. There are always horror stories about yolas in the newspaper-- they are generally poorly outfitted, overloaded and leaky and often swamp in the surf just after launching or disappear or sink at sea. There are evidently only a few suitable landing sites on the coast of Puerto Rico and the authorities there are on constant look-out for illegal arrivals so most that do actually make it that far are locked up and then returned to the court system in the Dominican  Republic for their trouble. Passage on a yola costs between $700 and $1000 and many yola operators could care less if the yola makes it all the way because advance payment in full is always required so overbooking on unsafe craft is a common practice and the owner himself is not foolish enough to go. Saturday, however, no yola was discovered.
         Sunday night after dark Altagracia called me out of the shower to see what was happening on the street. A guagua was parked in front of our house and people were gathering and boarding to be taken to where the yola was to be launched. The dome lights were on inside the bus so we could see who was going and the scene was oddly quiet even though families were being separated, perhaps forever. We saw that Tootie, the new guy who sells pot on the street was going, along with Jose, who walked over and handed Altagracia a mint the other day out of the blue and whose girlfriend murdered his wife some years ago; and Sandra’s husband was going without Sandra or their children; and Lao who used to consul Kiki but turned out to be a gang leader himself came out of hiding and got on too. The lights went out inside the guagua and it pulled away from the curb and about a dozen people on the street watched as it made the turn at the top of the hill where the bakery used to be. Altagracia and I leaned on the railing of the galleria and watched a tall slender old woman walk slowly back the other way through the dark to her empty house.
         Within 24 hours of the guagua’s departure from Loma de Chivo rumors began making their way back and it seems that upon arrival on the beach at Nagua, the men were asked to leave and the women were invited onto the waiting yola. The Marines arrived and some of the men were arrested and some ran away. The boat never left the shore.
Altagracia is getting sicker and sicker of working in the pensión. Her take home pay averages out to 160 pesos/day and her commute costs 30 pesos and lunch is not provided and even coffee is never offered. There is a new receptionist who manages to go into the rooms after guests have left and takes the tips left for Altagracia and, to top it off, Elvira, the owner, has asked Altagracia to bail out the toilet bowls before putting in the cleaner so as to use less cleaner. Saturday and Sunday Altagracia, unprecedently, called in sick and on Sunday we went to La Pulga to see if it could be a venue for a negociocito, or little business for her.
         La Pulga, which literally means the flea, is a weekly outdoor market in Santo Domingo which, these days is located under Ave. Luperon where it is an elevated highway between Ave. Independencia and the Malecón and must be a half mile long with hundreds of vendors. There were more clothes and shoes than anything, but also for sale were bootlegged CDs and DVDs (I saw King Kong, which is still in theaters for sale for about $2), used kitchen utensils, tools, second-hand cell phones and stereo equipment. We wended our way through a maze of mountains of loose clothes, bales of clothes, racks of clothes, clothes hanging on chains of hangers that  were suspended from under the highway far over our heads looking for Alfonsa, who is married to one of Altagracia’s cousins and who drives to the Pulga every Sunday all the way from Elias Piña to sell bales of clothes, which are called paca, that she buys in Haiti. At the end of our first pass through the throng of hundreds of vendors and shoppers we found Alfonsa seated on one of her paca and we sat on another paca and Altagracia asked about licensing to sell here and the prices for paca in Haiti and whether there would be trouble in Customs and about selling prices and it all sounded feasible.
         After giving Alfonsa some money to give to Kiki on her return to Elias Piña and after buying a handful of chicharrone to eat on the way home on the guagua, which is always a little risky but even chicharrone that makes you feel sick a half hour later tastes great, we decided that the next time we go to Elias Piña we will buy some paca and the following Sunday Altagracia can call in sick again to the pensión.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New Year's, Clinic and a mention that my Kickstarter has only 3 more days

DEC 21
Yesterday I went to el Conde to look for a good road map of the country as well as to visit Bettye Marshall, the proprietor of the gallery where my photos are sometimes for sale and I used public transport. I was in a public taxi in the back seat behind the driver and to my right was a small boy and to his right was his mother and to her right was a man in a suit. The boy, who was practically sitting on my lap did not look happy so I asked the mother if he was sick and she said yes and I asked if it was la gripe, or a cold or flu, and she said no, he was about ready to vomit. The driver pulled over, the man in the suit left and the boy got out and tried unsuccessfully to vomit at the curb, got back in with his mother and within about 100 meters successfully projectile vomited across the back seat and out the open window.

Today I went to the Conde again, this time to deliver 6 framed photos to Gallery Toledo, Bettye’s gallery and this time I drove. I am beginning to enjoy driving here, it is adventurous and as I become accustomed to the unwritten rules it is feeling safer and safer. There are many drivers who drive slowly and cautiously and signal turns and although one tends to notice the reckless, there is a place for everyone.

Jan 1
         Like last year, we spent new year’s eve at home. Last year Altagracia’s brother, Tito and his wife Nudi came for the holiday from Dajabon on the northern Haitian border  where they live and Kiki and Jhoanglish were home. Tito is in the military and, over the years, has been the most upstanding of Altagracia’s siblings partly because she took care of him when they were children as he is about 6 years younger and 7 is old enough to baby-sit here. We cooked chicken and mashed potatoes au gratin and made s big salad and drank creme d’oro (fortified eggnog) and Presidente beer and the boys even chipped in and bought some muscatel from the colmado. I set  my laptop up on the galleria with big speakers and we danced to bachata mp3s all night. At midnight Tito, after removing his official clip and replacing it with his private clip so his unexpended bullet count would balance at the next inspection, emptied his pistol high into the roble tree in front of the house-- the next morning as I was re-imagining the angle he was shooting at I doubted it was really high enough to clear the houses on the hill behind the tree and he was probably lucky that there was nobody home. There are often reports in the newspapers of deaths and injuries from stray bullets.
         This year there were just the four of us plus Chavela’s new boyfriend, Calderon. We ate roasted-fried chicken with potato salad and the same mashed potato dish as last year all the while Altagracia claiming that she was going to go to bed because she had to work the 1st but after her bath she got dressed and she and I and Chloe got in the guaguita and as I backed it out of the marquisina to go up to the street venders near Olé to buy candy, it idled itself down and died in the road. A mechanic came over from the colmado and after I explained the short history of gas problems and after he pulled some tubing apart and blew and sucked through it we pushed it down the hill and it still didn’t start so we had to push it back up the hill and back in to the marquisina and it took 4 of us pushing hard because the hill is steep and potholed and the mechanic is going to come back this morning. He thinks it is a sticky float.
         The street filled with more and more people as midnight neared and firecrackers of all sizes as well as fireworks filled the air with the smell of gunpowder and the noise kept Chloe barking furiously. Altagracia has a friend who drives a large panel truck with election campaign posters plastered on its sides and he drove it up alongside the galleria to position his giant speakers to blare bachata into the house but a drunk on the street chucked a rock, breaking the brake lights on the truck, because he wanted to hear salsa but this was the only discordant note of the evening.
        At midnight the air filled with the smoke and smell of firecrackers and everyone spilled out onto the street and hugged and shook hands-- young and old, tigueres and strangers and evangelists and neighbors and passed bottles back and forth and by 12:30 Chavela and Niningo and Calderon left to go out dancing till dawn with some other friends and Altagracia and I went to bed in an empty house for the first time ever. At 5:30 this morning when we were sleepily drinking our first cup of coffee the crew returned fromt he disco and went to bed.

Jan 15th or so
Las Matas
On the 7th I drove the guaguita to the airport, about one hour outside the city and it gave a little cough or two on the way out but ran smoothly on the way back. On the 8th I drove the guaguita to the airport to pick up Scottie and it ran smoothly the whole time so on the 9th, around 10:30 in the morning we left for Matas de Farfan which is almost  as far as Elias Piña or about 150 miles. It ran great as far as Cruce de Santana, about an hour and a half from Villa Mella, where it stopped. It would start but it wouldn’t go. We waited a little while in the van and then got out and waited with a woman whose house we were stalled in front of while a neighbor with a motorbike went to look for a mechanic. When the mechanic eventually arrived he eventually determined that the problem was a sticky pita de abajo and so to work around the problem he tuned the carburetor (or maybe it is an injector) such that the motor would only run while mightily revved but would run although at every shift one couild feel a little more clutch burning away and we made it.
         Scottie and Louise work every year with a group of volunteer nurses and nurse practitioners who spend two weeks based in Las Matas and make trips to many outlying villages and set up one day clinics. The day I was there their group split into two and I went with the one who went to El Valle which is past El LLano and past Guanito and way up a mountain with a new gravel road that is powdery and windy and narrow enough that you realize that if the brakes on the truck fail on the way back down that death is certain but It was very beautiful and the brakes did not fail on the way back down.
         The clinic was held in a plain concrete church set in a cluster of a half dozen houses. Most people arrived on foot and then had to pay 10 pesos or 30¢ for a number to wait in line-- the clinic itself was free. There were three tables set up for consultations and boxes of medicine to be handed out were arranged on benches along the walls. Not all of the nurses spoke Spanish so I served, along with three others, as a translator. Sometimes even those of us who spoke Spanish had no idea what the patient was saying because, being practically on the Haitian border, many spoke a heavily accented patois and were describing medical conditions such as smoke in the head, wind in muscles, bites in the chest, vague pains everywhere and of one food tasting like another. Many people were hypertensive and quite a few others were malnourished. Louise is working on a funded project to study blood pressure here and it is possible that it is linked to living at higher altitudes.
         During the day another mechanic worked on the guaguita and pronounced it good to go after installing a new fuel filter so the next morning I headed back toward the capital with the same clutch grinding tune up and made it about an hour and half outside Las Matas to Las Guanabanas where it stopped. I waited 40 minutes thinking it might have been somehow flooded, and unsuccessfuly tried to start it again. There were only a few houses in Las Guanabanas and two men sitting on a rock but one of them had a motorbike and so he went to look for a mechanic. When the mechanic eventually arrived he determined that gas was not getting to the carburetor and after much testing of wires with his circuit tester (which he had to go back home to get) that it was due to a bad fuel pump, which is, in this case, located inside the gas tank. So, along with Augusto, who had been sitting on the rock, we dropped the gas tank out of the guaguita, removed the fuel pump and the mechanic took it along with 1000 of my pesos to Azua, 13 miles away, to look for a replacement. While we waited Augusto and I walked to his sister’s house and she fed us lunch and it took the mechanic almost 3 hours to return but he brought a fuel pump and when we got everything back together in the dark and the thing started and ran normally and I paid everybody and got going but after 10 miles it reverted to its high-rev-stall at idle situation of before so it was a long 3 hour drive and boy was I glad to get home.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Unfocussed moments and Driving

         I am having a couple of slow days. Yesterday I felt tired all day and read in the hammock and today I have a chin of diarrhea and the blahs. I got dressed and had coffee with Altagracia and Jhoanglish, who spent the night after a day off from the bomberos yesterday, and, walked them, with Chloë up to the blue water tank but now I am lying in bed listening to the sounds of the street-- the horn announcing the arrival of the potable water truck which will fill your 5 gallon spring water jug with osmotically filtered pure water although Altagracia says, “¡Mentira, agua de cualquier rio!, or Bullshit, that’s water from the handiest river!; the dogs across the street barking at selected pedestrians or motorcycles and thankfully the young shaggy  blond bitch is not in heat anymore-- she was very busy there for a while!; and Chavela moving around in the kitchen, putting habichuelas on the stove to simmer and there is the occasional shouted greeting to her from the street from friends and admirers. My lower back is a little sore and the back of my neck is warm and I think I might have a slight fever. I haven't eaten anything I thought was risky recently and my intestinal trouble of last year has almost entirely subsided.
         So I lie here slightly dazed and wonder what I am going to do. The excitement from the museum show is dying down although my big photos are still on exhibit and one of my images appeared on the cover of the, roughly annual, Journal of the Museum which is a classy publication. We are all still awaiting the finished catalog for the show, which I suspect has been forever derailed due to squandered or embezzled funding and so it would be tricky to ask the Foundation Garcia Arévalo for more money to continue photographing just yet.
         In this first month and a half here this year I have spent more money than I had planned, unlike last year, and I am not sure I can stretch my saved summer earnings enough to last until May, although Kiki is still far away and Jhoanglish and Chavela are working. I like my daily rhythms -- I often cook the lunch and otherwise putter in the kitchen, now that the new countertop of cement and stone marmól is in place and the kitchen faucet now delivers water-- the internet is a 10 minute walk away, we take the guaguita on field trips every other day or so; I do most of the food shopping by myself which cuts down on spats with Altagracia since we have very different styles of shopping. My Spanish learning is on a long, nearly flat plateau so I have begun to read more and check more words and grammar in texts and online.
         With the roof patched and painted and the kitchen sink remodelled the big projects for the year are out of the way and I can now scrape and paint inside at my leisure.
         The neighborhood has changed since last year-- La Rubia has taken up with a new chulo and moved away with him (after borrowing a last 100 pesos from us) leaving her grown children to finally fend for themselves in the little pink wood house-- but nobody sells chicken anymore out front. Many tigueres including Herman, the snaky killer, Demonio and Britania of the knife and bottle fight, Nati the thief, Lao and various others (including Kiki) have all moved on. Guangu helped me apply a plato fino, or finish coat of cement on my leaking roof but otherwise is not around much since he has a new woman in another barrio and only occasionally sleeps in his house (reportedly in the same bed although far from Miguelina, his estranged wife). We have not been to a rezo in a long time although, sadly, Anahai’s 15 year old brother was hit by a SUV and killed last week while on the same motorcycle and crossing the highway at the same spot where their father was killed by a dump truck last year.
         My environment now seems less exotic than before. If I feel a little better I will wash the guaguita this afternoon.

         Man, can it be tough to shop with Altagracia! Yesterday afternoon after work she, Niningo and I went to La Sirena, a mammoth, crowded department and grocery store, mainly to buy something for Kiki since we will be seeing  him in Elias Piña on Christmas Day which is also his birthday. Walking down the blue jean aisle which was neatly organized with the prices clearly posted above each column of shelves of jeans she asked constantly how much are those and how much are these and grabbed folded jeans off shelves and tossed them back roughly and would spend minutes minutely examining a pair  with a 30 inch waist whereas Kiki wears 34 or 36. Niningo and I made a deal behind her back and attended her in shifts of 10 minutes so the other could wander off and take a break. The long selection process was particularly frustrating because I figure Kiki will probably sell the $15 jeans for 50 pesos ($1.75) before the dust on our way out of town has settled. After the jeans were finally selected, and the cart was full of $3 dolls for the nieces in Elias Piña and an oven thermometer to replace the one I burned up somehow roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving, and a polo shirt for Niningo we got separated when Altagracia darted up a shoe aisle and I took the opportunity to sneak off to the perfume counter to buy her a vial of Café, which does not smell at all like coffee but is a heady floral scent that Altagracia is crazy for, which took longer than I thought. When I got back to Shoes Altagracia was nowhere to be found. The cellphone signal was weak inside the big store but I was finally able to call her and we met near the front doors and Niningo eventually showed up but no one had the shopping cart because Altagracia had left it behind in a fit of pique and we didn’t find it until it had already been rounded up by the abandoned shopping cart patrol and most of the stuff had already been sorted out into other carts for reshelving but we were eventually able to recollect everything.  As we headed toward the check-out line Altagracia started to veer back into the store toward the grocery area but we grabbed her and lied to her and said that we had bread and cheese and yucca in the house to get her to leave quietly because hog tying her and dragging her out would have been the next option. When she tried to bolt from the line I waved my fingers, which smelled of Café Perfume, under her nose, and that calmed her down and on the way back home we stopped off at Hipermercado Olé and bought our needed staples without incident.

         When walking Chloë, my crazy English cocker spaniel, on a leash, which is an undisciplined process at best, she will track straight down the center of a sidewalk but if we step out onto the street she careens crazily toward the center of the road, nearly slipping her collar at times-- it is like trying to heel a lemming along a cliff-- and it does not matter which side of the street we are on or what is on the other side or which way we are going or how much traffic there is.
         Chloë loves the guaguita although she has not yet had a ride in it. If the doors are left open she can be found sleeping in it during the day even if nobody is in the marquisina with her. I think she knows that it is cars that take people farther away from her and if she stays in the guaguita she will not get left behind.
         Chloë will not drink tap water, osmotically purified water, ice water or rain water from her water dish which is a normal glazed ceramic bowl on the kitchen floor but she will drink whatever cleanish water running down the street gutters and loves to drink from a full 5 gallon bucket of water just bailed out of the cistern. I have now placed a new aluminum water dish next to her ceramic one but it seems to be as distasteful.

         Driving here requires a mixture of patience and aggression and constant surveillance using the rear and side view mirrors. Aside from the fact that they are cheaper, many people here buy motorcycles so that they can weave their way through the frequent traffic jams, or tapones, and may travel on the sidewalks and down the median strips as well. Motorcycles frequently shoot out into intersections against red lights figuring that they are agile enough to slalom their way through the traffic and may do so with several children on the bike-- I have seen motorbikes carrying as many as five people, counting babies, at a time. Very few motorcyclists wear helmets and I don’t  think I have ever seen a passenger wearing one.
         (During the period when I was photographing in the caves of El Pomier, Johnny Rubio and I had gotten a ride on a motorcycle to take us down out of the hills and back to town and the road wound down through limestone quarries and was severely potholed and was strewn with boulders that had fallen off of dump trucks and I realized that, ironically, between the three grown men with four bulky backpacks on the Honda 50cc Club motorbike we actually had two helmets with us that we used in the caves but it would never dawn on us to wear them on a motorcycle.)
         (When I stayed for a month at the pensión where Altagracia works, which is located on the corner of an intersection with four-way stop signs in a quiet residential neighborhood I heard or saw three accidents happen because most cars do not stop there but honk their horns and speed up and I would listen to that driving pattern of beepbeepvroom as I was dropping off to sleep nights and wait for beepbeepvroomCRASH.)
         Another driving habit that I am learning to anticipate is that when crossing a big city intersection traveling in the left or center lanes it is not unusual for someone, usually driving a large vehicle, to make a left hand turn, whether or not permitted, across your bow, from the right hand lane. One time while we were with Norkis, our lawyer, and stopped at such an intersection in the left hand lane waiting for a break in the traffic that was still streaming across in front of us against our green light, a large Hielo Nacional ice delivery truck, did just that and drove over the top of Norkis’s front right fender in doing so-- later in the police station the ice truck driver emphatically insisted he had done nothing wrong and was flabbergasted when the policewoman confiscated his license and handed him a summons.
         Solutions to tapones may be creative. I have seen two of three southbound lanes of stretches of Maximo Gomez filled with northbound traffic during the afternoon rush-- moving fast too-- and I was once in three lanes of traffic on a one-way, single lane sidestreet going the wrong way-- many cars had one wheel up on sidewalks and at intersections two or three drivers would get out of their cars and direct traffic in a jigsaw puzzle crossing.
         When breakdowns occur where there is no breakdown lane you might see someone changing a tire in a center lane of a highway and I have seen a whole bus transmission being rebuilt on the sidewalk next to the bus it had fallen out of.
         Cars may swerve crazily in front of you while passing to avoid potholes-- which may be cavernous. The use of turn signals is not unheard of but is not common. Altagracia warns not to put one’s elbow out the window because of the chance of stray chunks of rock or metal bouncing down the road.

         I may have chosen the single worst possible time to buy a car in Villa Mella because construction of the elevated commuter train that will run the length of Maximo Gomez nearly from the center rotunda of Villa Mella which is about one kilometer north of my house south to the Malecon on the sea. Upon the project’s approval by the Senate, work was immediately begun and holes the size of houses appeared overnight in the center of the road dug by large earthmoving equipment as well as by pick-and-shovel. Within two weeks giant towers of grids of 3/4 inch re-bar were lifted into place in some of the foundation holes-- sometimes using ropes and man power and sometimes using backhoes or cranes and in some holes the towers were built in place within a cage of wood staging nailed together with rough sawn lumber. I saw one crane that had toppled over while trying to lift a concrete barrier, but traffic was still able to move under the nearly horizontal boom and the half dozen or so workers that were gathered around it scratching their heads did not seem too bothered. As I write this,some of the steel re-bar towers are being enclosed by round, steel, prefabricated forms that will be filled with concrete and later removed.
         The Metro is being built to alleviate the terrible traffic  problems that plague Maximo Gomez during rush hours but while being constructed is making traffic much worse. While the published estimated construction time is hovering around one year most people are wondering if it will be done in one lifetime because the history here is that public works projects almost always run out of money and if the project lasts for more than one term it may turn out that the next President has other plans. Many different construction companies are working on the Metro and there is much speculation already about how the bidding process was legally completed in the one or two days between Senatorial approval and the start of construction.