Monday, July 25, 2011

Self Defense, Kiki; and a note from the Shameless Commerce Division

Since hundreds of people, most of them perfect strangers, have told me that I should not have to be funding my rock art documentation project myself I am sending out this email. Kickstarter is a different kind of fund raising strategy and may be something that you could use to help with your own projects.

What I am asking-- whether or not you want or are able to support this project yourself--is  that you relay this to friends or organizations who might be interested in helping me get this small, but seminal, book  printed. If you like the idea, even just clicking the little LIKE button just above my project description on the Kickstarter page would be a big help. Donations from $1-$1000 are accepted and rewards will be remitted if my goal is reached. If anybody has any questions about how works I hope you will email me.

          Kiki arrived suddenly last week and spent one night in the marquisina and Altagracia gave him bus fare to get him to Elias Piña to stay with Anna, his grandmother, and he left very early in the morning, because now he cannot live in Pizarette anymore because of Bebeleche and his gang. Bebeleche and his woman used to live next door to Altagracia when she lived in Pizarete with Luis and the four kids and there has been bad blood between Kiki and Bebeleche for years ever since Bebeleche’s woman fell briefly in love with Kiki and it was Bebeleche who shot Kiki in the face with a shotgun while Kiki was using a public phone in a colmado. Bebeleche is called Bebeleche, which means milk drinker, because he is crazy and when he doesn’t take his medication he attacks people, with or without provocation. So, last week Bebeleche and two friends ambushed Kiki on the road near his little house but Kiki was carrying a machete and cut Bebeleche’s cousin Sordín’s arm badly and somehow hit Bebeleche in the head with the handle of the machete and escaped running. Altagracia knows that tigueres might kill Kiki someday but she says that they will have to get him from behind or while he is sleeping to do it because he is just too ready, too strong and too fast otherwise. Elias Piña, being on the Haitian border, is full of border guards and various other military and police types and Altagracia realizes that Kiki will get locked up from time to time simply because he is new in town and also because it is nearly impossible to live in Elias Piña without smuggling something across the border either advertantly or inadvertantly even if it is only a pair of jeans or a couple of pounds of habichuelas, but that that is better than getting killed in Pizarette. Kiki did indeed arrive at Anna’s house and we sent her $15 by Western Union to pay for board.

Self Defense
         After witnessing a knife and bottle fight in front of the house and the shooting at the Evangelical Meeting house and after the house across the street was robbed (even though we think the burglar was Natty since he is familiar with the house having spent much time there sleeping with the wife of one of the tenants) I spent more time thinking about self defense. Many many people here in Santo Domingo carry some kind of weapon. Men with shirts untucked may have a pistol or knife concealed in their waistband and many of the early morning walkers that Altagracia and I see on our way to the bus stop at the blue water tank carry short clubs or broken broomsticks. Altagracia herself used to keep a big hat pin in her purse and during the holiday season last year I kept a pocket size canister of pepper spray with me until I finally turned it on myself out of curiosity one night while safely seated on the sofa and was disappointed, in a way, to find that it only broadcast a weak sputter of spicy juice potentially effective at a range of up to four inches.
         Luis, Altagracia’s ex-husband, who was clubbed to death last year by a burglar, almost always owned a pistol handled shot gun and she suggests to me from time to time, after noting that if he still had had one that he might still be alive today, that I buy a gun for the house but I have resisted partly because of the cost which, including license and tips, comes to about $1000 but there is also the problem of publicity. If the local tigueres do not know that I am armed the probability of the house being broken into or me being attacked on the street is no lower than before and if they do suspect that I have a gun  they would be more likely to break in or jump me to steal my gun and that is not what I want. I want to prevent these things.
         Last summer when I was in the States, where mail order exists, I did purchase some weapons. The first were saps or palitos de plomo (lead sticks) as we call them here and which are composed of a lozenge shaped slab of lead attached to a flat spring steel handle covered with thick stiff black leather and are approximately pocket sized and I suppose they could be swung either the flat way or edgewise and cost less than $20 each. The first sap I ever recall noticing was being satisfyingly hefted by a beefy Irish policemen in a Bugs Bunny cartoon but saps also came recommended by a character in one of the Travis McGee private detective novels I read last year and by Nick Nolte in the movie Mulholland Falls where he wields his worn, breast pocket sized sap with such finesse that with just a gentle tap he can put the perpetrator to sleep instantly and seemingly painlessly until he awakes later with a pounding headache-- of course it could be applied more energetically. I bought a six ounce sap and a ten ounce sap, both with wrist straps which were advertised as providing “improved retention” and for about a week I kept the little one in my pocket on our daily walks to the water tank but I kept imagining a ladron picking my pocket and laying the thing up against the base of my own skull and how I might not survive even the embarrassment much less the concussion.
         The other weapon I bought was an extendible police baton which, when collapsed, is the size of a slender pocket flashlight but which telescopes out to a length of 20 inches with a flick of the wrist and is made of aircraft aluminum and has a weighted knob on the far end. The baton opens with three quick, beautifully authoritative, metallic clicks and a ladron, hearing this sound after entering a dark house might even be tempted to back out the way he came in because it sounds like a pistol being cocked. When I had asked the police supply company which model they recommended-- there are many available-- they were concerned about someone without special training buying such a baton because it is considered a weapon of deadly force but it seems to me to be on a par with the two foot piece of 5/8 inch diameter iron re-rod that I could likely find myself up against so I ordered it anyway although it cost almost $50.
         We have been attacked once, it was last year, and now, looking back, I could almost have predicted it. Altagracia and I had mistakenly dismounted from the guagua one stop too soon while going to Duarte, the hectic shopping district known for thievery, and so had to walk down a side street that was nearly deserted. Altagracia had forgotten to remove her cheap goldfil necklace. I had a head cold and was pulling a small piece of wheeled luggage with my left arm while Altagracia was on my right arm and we were walking uncertainly not being exactly sure we were going the right way. When I reached into a back pocket for my handkerchief a figure suddenly grabbed Altagracia from behind and tore the chain from her neck and released her by shoving her hard against me and then sprinted back for the corner. I dropped the suitcase and started after him although he was running like a punt returner and heard Altagracia yell-- ¡DANNY, QUÉ NO!-- and when I looked back I saw her standing in the middle of the street clutching her throat where her chain had been and the suitcase on its side where I had dropped it in the road and there were a couple of hyenas watching from doorways and so I turned back and we moved on. I had had just a glimpse of his crazed darkly stubbled face over her shoulder and he left a deep fingernail scrape on her neck that she washed and washed and washed when we got back home.
         But, while I somehow enjoy having them, I now leave my two sleek black saps and my shiny extendible baton in its holster under our mattress and only Altagracia and Nininngo know where they are, or even that they exist, because, it seems to me after all that the best self defense is attitude and behavior. I walk the streets with a brisk but unhurried, purposeful, athletic stride and I am conscious of how I make eye contact with strangers. I keep what cash I might need in my shirt pocket so I do not have to take out my wallet in public and I do not wear my cell phone on my belt. My peripheral vision has improved and I listen for footsteps approaching too fast from behind, particularly at an angle. If a tiguere-type seems to be thinking of approaching, a relaxed smile and a casual acknowledgment shows that I am aware and not nervous or afraid. I could never have reacted quickly enough to hit the ladron in Duarte with any kind of stick or even pepper spray or mace him although if I had had a pistol I might have been able to shoot him in the back as he ran away. Before Altagracia and I  left Duarte that afternoon we went to one of the Chinese jewelry stores below the park and replaced the chain for 80 pesos or $2.58 at today’s exchange rate.

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