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.

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