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.