Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Retrospective

As I come up to the end of the year, I reflect on my four years here on Hispaniola and look back on my writing........

My favorite piece was written in 2005-----appear in Escape America magazine on escapeartist.com.

I see now that I left out Step 4, which probably accoounts for any of the difficulties that I have had in adjusting.....If I only I knew what Step 4 was!

I include it here for those of you who just might be thinking of moving offshore:

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Preparing For Expatriotism
More From An American In The Dominican Republic
by Elizabeth Roebling

February 2005
Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic
It is the very people who are led to escape America who may in fact be exporting the best of it. Those who are discontent and yet hopeful are always the immigrants, the adventurers, and the colonists. Those with no hope just lie down on the couch and flip the remote.

The lyrics from one Paul Simon song roll around in my brain: “the thought that life could be better, is woven indelibly into our hearts and brains.” If you have come to these pages, you have that hope. Examine what is it, really, that lures and drives you.

Do you simply want to drop out of the system, and find a place among some happy natives, who might just save your soul? Are you tired of having to make an appointment with your best friends or family for dinner - perhaps in two or three weeks? Do you long for a sense of being useful and welcome in your retirement years, instead of just superfluous? Well, welcome aboard. The Third World needs your energy.

’ll be your coach here for a bit to help you along the path. There is a lot you can do at home to get ready. We’ll take it in simple steps. Try this for at least a month and see if you have the makings of a true adventurous expat.

Step One – Language

If you have a foreign language station on your TV, start tuning it in and keep it on all the time. No fair going back to English, for you will most likely be going where English is not the dominant language. Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, the Bahamas, are all very picky about their immigration and visa requirements, although Jamaica and Trinidad are probably still open. If you can live in another language, you have far more options. So try living with only the sound of Spanish or Portuguese for a while.

This experience alone may discourage some of you.

If you don’t have a TV, you are already way ahead of the game and may move to the advanced class.

Buy yourself a short-wave radio and plug in to some completely incomprehensible station for at least an hour a day.

Courage, this is just how two-year olds all over the world feel and they learn. Well, most of them, anyway.

If you are thinking of moving to India, you may substitute a deep reading in the Hindu and Moslem religions for this section.

Buy three CDs from the top countries on your list, if you can find them. Try dancing to them around your living room floor. Now try it in front of a full-length mirror. White people are notoriously bad dancers. Overcome it.

People will like you if you can dance, even if you can’t speak their language. If you are going to Latin America, play the music at twice your accustomed volume.

Latins love their music and always want to share it with their neighbors. Get used to the volume. If you are thinking of Greece and are a man, practice dancing in a line with other men. Rent Zorba and dance along.

Step Two – Comfort Addiction

Life in America is extremely easy on many levels compared to most of the countries I know. We are used to going into a store and finding exactly what we want, at a fair price, without any haggling. And we are used to doing it fast, fast, fast. We have very little patience and are easily frustrated. The thought that you may have to go to three stores to find a can opener is appalling.

Then consider that the first two can openers that you buy and try out will not work. Frustration, exasperation, anger, incomprehension, all certainly described my feelings about this most recent episode with the can openers.

To increase your tolerance for inconvenience, I suggest a multi-part program to wean you a bit from the comforts of home and prepare you for life outside your current comfort zone.

Go to your stove and disable two of the burners. Take off the covering plates. Then take the knob off the oven so you will not be tempted to use it. Oh, please, forget the microwave. No way will there be power lines strong enough to carry it.

Pack it into a closet. Do not, under any circumstances, use the freezer. Neither take anything out of the freezer or put anything in. Put duct tape on the door. Use just the body of the fridge.
You will notice a dramatic drop in your electric bill. Put the money into your savings account.
Now prepare your food this way for at least one week. Then you can have the other two burners back. You will wonder why you ever needed them. Really, who needs four burners? Just mix those vegetables together in the steamer.

Do not use the oven or freezer for at least a month. This will no doubt require that you simplify your cooking pattern and complicate your shopping. Your food will be fresher. You will buy smaller portions and cook more often. You will waste less food. You will appreciate your freezer and long for ice cubes and cream.

Do all your laundry by hand and hang it on the line. (Oh, I forgot, you are American. Well, put up a clothesline, even across the back porch if necessary). When you first start doing this you will wear everything that you own until you have no clean clothes. This is normal. You are allowed on this program, one trip to the laundromat during the first month. Then you can start again.

You will quickly learn that life is better with fewer clothes and that you really only like about a third of the things that you own. You will also find that you can easily wash every day the few clothes that really need washing. Your clothes will last longer without the agitation of the machine. You will learn not to use bleach, as it will sting your hands: it also destroys the fabric and the ozone layer. You don’t need to be that white. If your white clothes get too dingy, dye them blue.

If you hang your pajamas or nightgown outside every morning, they will be remarkably fresh.
Your standards for cleanliness will drop radically. This is an essential for life on the road.

Of course, if you are currently living in an apartment, you will be crowded in the bathroom with the clothesline across the tub. You will be complaining about the sheets and towels. Stop it. Be grateful that you do not have to go down to the river and pound the clothes on the stones on your hands and knees. Appreciate what your great grandmother’s life was like. Know that when you get where you are going, there will be someone who will wash them for you for a pittance.

After you have done it yourself, you will pay her more.

You will notice an impressive decline in your electric bill without the washer and dryer. Put the money into your savings account.

Now, go through your closets and give your extra clothes away. The aim here is to get down to two suitcases, no more than you can carry. And, if you are anything like me, half of one suitcase will have to be reserved for books, CDs, and your portable stereo system. You cannot travel effectively on the quest for paradise if you cannot carry your own bags. You’ll never get off the gringo highway. You will be condemned to staying at Hilton Hotels. Not what you are looking for, I am certain.

Buy anything that you need only at thrift or second hand stores. Start offering half of what is on the ticket to see the reaction. It takes courage to do this but, in many countries, the art of pricing an item is a dance you are expected to dance for hours. Otherwise, you are considered rude.
You may not go to Wal-Mart’s, Walgreen’s, Target’s, K-Mart, Home Depot, Circuit City, Bed Bath & Beyond or Barnes and Noble. Convenience is not one of the perquisites of the Southern Hemisphere. You will buy half as much and spend twice as much time doing it. Your shopping addiction will end. You are learning how little you really need.

Pick your favorite country and study the exchange rate. When you are shopping, multiply the dollar price by the appropriate number. (Yes, bring your calculator, who can multiply by 28 in their heads?) This will give you practice in learning your new monetary system.

You will notice a dramatic increase in your checking account. Transfer the money to your savings account.


Step Three – Foreign Adjustment, NeoColonialism And Racism

If you live in a larger city, this part will be much easier. But even in small towns now in America you will be able to do this.

Eat in foreign restaurants, preferably genuine ones that have actual foreigners among the clientele. Never, ever, never eat at a fast food restaurant.

Eliminate red meat from your diet. This will save you the shock of having to buy it at an open air market where it has been sitting in the sun all day, covered in flies.

Buy vegetables that you do not recognize. Buy packaged boxes of unfamiliar grains from other countries. These will have names like cous-cous and polenta. Download some recipes and cook (on your two burners). Add lots of salt and butter. Try maybe adding hot sauce. Or honey. Look up the nutritional information on the web and feel superior.

Try, if you can, not to eat any bread. In most developing countries the art of bread making has not evolved and will disappoint you. And you cannot make your own because you have no oven, remember? So learn to live without. Flour is not indigenous to the developing world. Substitute corn tortillas.

Put a map of the world on the wall. Learn the names of all the nations in South America, then Africa, then Asia. If you are extremely brave and very gifted and have a modern map, you may also try for the names of the countries in the former Soviet Union, although personally, I would find them too cold. But this is an exercise in globalizing your mind.

Read at least three books on the following subjects: Globalization, The World Bank, The IMF, the Cuban Revolution, the Sandanistas, the Zapatista rebels, the School of the Americas or the bombing of Vieques. If you are not an avid reader, you may substitute one history book by Howard Zinn.

This is to prepare you to hear the absolute worst about your country. It is better to learn these things in the privacy and security of your own home than to go out in the world unprepared and have some foreigner have to educate you. If you skip this step, your new neighbors may give you the information on little pieces of paper wrapped around rocks and thrown through your window.

Practice saying “ I am sorry that my government is so stupid. Please don’t hold it against the American people, who are really quite generous at heart.”

Most of the people in the rest of the world are not pink-mottled-skinned palefaces. You will most likely be in the minority. Learn how this feels by taking a weekend trip to either a Black or Hispanic section of any large city. Stay in a hotel, eat at the restaurants, walk around in the streets and feel conspicuous. Get used to it.

While you are in that neighborhood, visit the emergency room in the local public hospital. This last step will prepare you to not feel superior should you land in a third world hospital. If you are planning to go to Thailand or Cuba, which have reputed excellent health care systems, you may skip this step.

When you arrive back home, look again at the map on your wall. Imagine how rich the former colonial nations would be if the industrialized world had paid them a fair price for their labor and raw materials.

Repent. Drink a cup of strong, fair-traded coffee. Write out checks to the United Negro College Fund and Doctors Without Borders. Mail them. Feel better.

Step Five – Ready?

Are you still with me? Do you still want to leave? Even if you are discouraged, look at all the changes you have made in your life patterns without leaving home. Look at all that money in your savings account. Look at all the time you are spending taking good care of yourself. Think of all the oil that you are saving.

Maybe a few adjustments to your life were all that was needed. Or maybe you might want to take just a short trip.

But for those of you who are really enjoying this, bravo, you are almost ready for a life outside America.

Ok, now for the advanced class: disconnect your hot water for a week. Then go to your circuit breaker and shut off all the electricity and see if you can live without that for even 24 hours. Maybe you will have to wait for summer for these last two steps, but do them; really, it will help you more than fifteen guidebooks.

Now unplug your phone. Feel how it will be to not talk to your family and friends on a regular basis. Unless, of course, you are coming here to the Dominican Republic where it will be just a few pesos a minute or if you manage hi-speed internet in your new home and can use the internet phone system.

Do not flush the toilet paper down the toilet. Use instead a wastebasket on the floor. This will be difficult but most places are simply not equipped to handle toilet paper. Best you should know this beforehand and adapt. After all, I am not asking you to remove the toilet seat although that would also be good practice.

Stop taking all prescription medicine unless you are a diabetic. Cure yourself. You cannot be sickly and manage this life. Nor will you find a clinic on every corner.

If after all this, you still want to head out to the wilds, BRAVO – you have made it.

Take out your money from the savings account. Sublet your apartment or house at a profit for at least three months. You will need more money than you thought as the dollar is plummeting. Then buy a ticket or better yet trade in some frequent flyer miles for a ticket with a changeable return date with no penalty.

Make sure you have a good tenant so that you can stay for a year, at least. At the very least.
Select and break in three pairs of shoes. Make sure that you can walk at least two miles in each pair. Never start a trip with new shoes.

Then carefully pack two bags. Unpack them. Remove half the clothes. Replace them with rechargeable batteries and charger, a pocket flashlight, six books that you have always been meaning to read, CDs, and portable speakers for your Walkman. Pick up your bags and see if you can actually carry them. Adjust accordingly.

Transfer all your addresses from your email account onto a disk. Forward your mail and your bills to your sister along with a photocopy of your passport and driver’s license. Leave her as well a rough itinerary, the names and phones of any contacts that you might have, and a schedule for your check in calls so that she will know if she has to start a search.

Accidents can happen all over the world.

Buy a good offshore major medical policy.

Throw a really big goodbye party with all your friends so that you will be too embarrassed to come home in a month.

Leave.

And – most importantly – don’t look back. Only right in front of you. That will be exciting enough.

4 comments:

Steve Roll said...

Over the past few months I've really enjoyed reading your blog. Not only for the wonderful pictures, but also for the interesting insights about living in the Dominican Republic.

Today, I've launched my own blog about traveling in Latin America. It's called Travelojos. Here is the link: http://travelojos.com/

Needless to say, I've added your blog to my blog roll. I was wondering if you might reciprocate.

Cheers,

Steve Roll

Sara said...

Great post! I think your advice is very sound and I did many of those things without thinking this last time I went back to Chile for seven months.
I'd like to add that in Venezuela the centros de comunicaciones were very cheap and there was always one around, so I could call home anytime I wanted.
In Chile, I always had access to wi-fi, which made skype extremely nice to have.
Plus, Medicine in Chile and Germany are very good (in Germany it is socialized). They have most of the drugs that we take in the US and I would advise people not to stop taking their drugs, but to find their generic names and see if they are availabe in their soon to be new homes. If they are not, they should talk to their doctor about an equivalent. For example, cipro is not available in Venezuela (although that would have been wonderful if it had).
Anyways, great advice! I loved the DR, and think it would be amazing to spend more time there, except that I'm sort of partial to Chile now ;)

Steve Roll said...

This is a truly awesome post. I just blogged about it at http://travelojos.com/

I think your post is even more impressive given the historical context in which it was written. Bush was just re-elected and optimism (for many people in the U.S.) was at a low.

Even though there has been greater optimism with the election of Obama, much of what you say still rings true.

Purest Green said...

I love this post! "Those who are discontent and yet hopeful are always the immigrants, the adventurers, and the colonists. Those with no hope just lie down on the couch and flip the remote." Why did I get all teary when I read this? I am a child of immigrants(Germany to Canada in the 1950s) who launched herself from Canada to Scotland more than three years ago. The UK = easy western living, but I guess I respond to the desire to find somewhere that feels like "home."

Great article. I laughed about the laundry and the stove burners. I have no telly, microwave or dryer, and was thrilled to have a head start.
Wishing you a happy 2009.