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.