Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Joanglish works, Dentist, Money

            Kiki is still living with cousin Fermin in Pizarete, apparently uneventfully, although there were some unsubstantiated rumors of renewed trouble with old enemies from when he lived there before, the same enemies who, in fact, had shot him in the face with a shotgun last year. What reliable news we do get from those parts comes from Anahai who lived next door to Altagracia and her family in Pizarete after Altagracia's separation from Luis and was Altagracia's best friend when best friends were scarce. Anahai is 20 something, has a two year old boy, many boyfriends-- all of whom drive SUVs-- loves beer and is astonishingly beautiful. So she and Kiki are friends, having lived next door to one another for three years and Kiki is probably a little in love with her and who wouldn't be and so he keeps in touch with her and she keeps in touch with Altagracia.
            Anahai may have to move soon because she was living in a house that was owned by her father, Chulo, but he died just after Christmas when a dump truck rolled over on him at the turn off for Pizarete on Route 2 and the laws of inheritance here give preference to any children who are minors so Anahai is sure to lose the house. At first it was thought that Chulo would just lose a leg and Altagracia and I tried to visit him one evening in Hospital Dr. Dario Contreras because he had always been nice to Altagracia but because it was after visiting hours we could not get in and that is evidently a strict rule because the hospital's entrances were all gated shut and any visitors who were still inside had to stay inside until morning but we got word to Anahai, who was inside, that we were there and she came down to the gate and we were able to hand in 200 pesos and some fried chicken to her through the bars. But Chulo, who I never did get to meet, died a few days later. Chavela jokes that during the three years the family lived in Pizarete they did not know anyone who died of natural causes. We went to the rezo in Pizarete nine days later and it was a quiet affair, unlike the rezo for Altagracia's father, with about 100 whispering mourners seated under an enormous tree with little refreshment. The little country cemetery where Luis, Altagracia's ex-husband was buried was only a short walk away so we visited it and it was the first time Altagracia had seen it; she had refrained from attending his rezo in August because of dreaded squabbles with his 31 offspring and their mothers, all of whom would feel entitled to whatever inheritance there might have been.  I took a picture of Altagracia solemnly contemplating his tomb which was a concrete box on top of the ground, painted white with a cross and an inscription and she was sad for a few minutes, after all they had spent almost 20 years together, and then she peed on the ground near the head of the grave and then we walked around the cemetery looking at the other tombs, including that of Chulo, as yet unmarked and unpainted, before returning to the rezo.

            Jhoanglish, after not returning to work with Guardianes Marcos, spent a couple of weeks moping around the marquisina and then the phone rang one evening and it was the owner of a colmado near the pension where Altagracia works asking Jhoanglish to come to work making home deliveries by motor scooter for the colmado. We were all very happy, especially because room and board were included in the offer, and Jhoanglish went grumbling off to work at the colmado early the next morning but showed back up at the house around 10:30 that night saying that the motor scooter he was to use had been in an accident the day before and did not run right and so he got hit by a car while stalled in an intersection and he showed us a scrape on his arm to prove it and then he slept all night and most of the next day  but the colmado called Altagracia at work later that next day and asked where Jhoanglish was and where was the money he was carrying to make change for customers with and then mentioned that the motor scooter was fine and that there had never been any accident of any kind. But he never went back and the change that he kept was less than the day's pay would have been anyway and we still don't know how he scraped up his arm.
            Yesterday Jhoanglish went to San Isidro to enlist in the Air Force. Today he is trying to get his paperwork in order to continue the enlistment process tomorrow which means going to Pizarete and getting a copy of his Declaration of Birth as well as a record of having completed high school which he never actually completed but there is evidently an old teacher of his there who will write a note of some kind and stamp it saying he all but completed school and that should be good enough. So Jhoanglish borrowed 200 pesos from Niningo, his younger brother, for guagua fares then woke up at 3AM and washed his clothes and ironed them dry then went back to bed and got back up at 6AM and left for Pizarete. He enlisted in the National Guard once but lasted less than a day when he twisted his ankle during a wind sprint and was sent home so we are not very optimistic about the Air Force.

            Altagracia, after years of procrastination and gnawing on sugar cane,  went to a dentist today. She first called the dentist who has an office very close by and near the blue water tank but it turned out to be a woman dentist and Altagracia refused to go to her. Our second choice was a dental office I had actually reconnoitered once before and was about a mile down Ave. Hermanas Mirabel and was staffed by two male dentists with modern looking equipment and no appointment was needed. Dr. Milton Pinales, a short alert man with very crooked lower incisors, agreed to calculate a price for everything and after about five minutes of peering around in her mouth with the standard tiny round mirror on the little bent stick wrote us up an itemized list of work which included one complete cleaning, one complete destartraje (?), one root canal, two replacement molars and 17 fillings for 14,600 pesos ($500) and promised to be done in two weeks. By the time I got back from the ATM machine with the initial deposit of 4,000 pesos he had already extracted the biggest rotten filling and had drilled the nerve of the worst tooth. He is, so far, getting good reviews from Altagracia.

            Pesos exist in denominations of 2000, 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20 and 10 peso notes as well as 5 and 1 peso coins. The 20 and 100 are nearly the same color as are the 50 and 500 and so are possible to confuse with one another. Cash registers still total your bill using centavos which are also known as cheles but this figure will be rounded off as nobody uses cheles anymore because there are 100 cheles in each peso and the only thing you can buy with one peso is one mint, and not one of the best mints either.  A 50 centavo piece was called a half-peso and a 25 centavo coin was called a peseta. The most important thing to remember when you are about to spend pesos is to offer the largest bill you have that you think the vendor could possibly have change for because small bills, known as menudos, are surprisingly scarce. I have visited as many as five colmados during the afternoon of a weekday looking to break a 500 peso bill (about $17) unsuccessfully and I eventually had to walk all the way to Hipermercado Olé and buy a box of matches for 4 pesos to do so. If you have only a 500 peso bill you need to ask the cobrador if he has that much change before getting on a guagua even though you might reckon that hundreds of people have already paid their 10 peso fares before you got on and if you want to pay your guagua fare with a 100 peso bill you should pay well before your stop to give the cobrador time to find change. I was once called an abusador by an irate cobrador for handing him a 50 peso bill to change as I hopped off his crowded guagua. I believe that there is often a locked box under the driver's seat and that that is where they stash the menudos and if they squirrel away too many of them at once they are stuck for change for a while.
            Unlike in the U.S., where if you posses more than half the bill you still have all its value, Dominican paper money, particularly a large denomination bill, may be refused even if it is only missing a tiny corner or is torn or has some ink on it and you then have to bring it to a bank where they examine it under ultraviolet light and with a magnifying glass before exchanging it for an unblemished one. Many of the larger stores scan all large bills with an ultraviolet scanner and almost everyone will hold the 500 up to the light to check for the watermark of the bust of Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the leaders in the struggle for independence from Haiti which was achieved in 1844. There are little silver foil things embossed on the front and a gold shiny stripe with BCRD standing for Banco Central República Dominicana printed on the back of each 500 peso note as well as the watermark so it would seem to be difficult money to counterfeit, and maybe hardly worth it, but I suppose one can't be too careful.
            Bancos are banks but bancas only sell lottery tickets or, if it is a banca deportiva, it is for betting on sports and might have as many as a dozen televisions showing various sporting events to the bettors. Banco Popular, Ban de Reservas, Banco de Leon, Scotia Bank and Banco BHD are the most prominent banks in Santo Domingo and all have many automated teller locations and many branches and, often, waits of over a half hour to make a simple cash withdrawal and sometimes much longer just before holidays and on the first and fifteenth of each month when many people get their paychecks. I have, at times taken two guaguas to go to the Ban de Reservas in Lucerna because it usually has a much shorter line than the one in Villa Mella and I think I have saved time doing it that way.
            I once brought a bunch of Traveler's Checks to cash at the Banco Popular tower on the corner of Maximo Gomez and John F. Kennedy because none of the branch banks would accept them. After waiting on line for 20 minutes or so I reached the appropriate teller and, making sure she was watching me, I countersigned all the checks and then she took them along with my passport and driver's license and disappeared into some farther reaches of the bank and she finally returned after what seemed like a long time and said that my signatures did not match and so the bank would not cash the checks without the pieces of paper with the corresponding check numbers on them along with more of my signatures that the bank in Massachusetts said to NEVER carry with the checks themselves and so I had to go all the way back to my room in the pension carrying all the checks with two signatures on each one and get the verifying scraps of paper and come back to the bank with all of it in one bulging pocket hoping that I could find the same teller who had watched me countersign them and everything worked out okay but I don't think I will bring Traveler's Checks here again.

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