Tuesday, December 16, 2008


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:


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.


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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Las Terrenas

Carving up ParadiseBy Elizabeth Eames Roebling

Located along white sand beaches on the north coast of the lush Samana peninsula, this is the latest Dominican boom town. Entering the town from across the high mountains, developers' signs are perched on the steep hills, with prices in dollars, promising a piece of paradise.

Inside the small village, crowded with motorbikes and SUVs, real estate agencies seem to be the major business. Empty new storefronts dot the sidewalks. New four-storey apartment buildings crowd along the beach front. Twenty-five years ago, the small village of a few hundred people lived off of fishing. Now the estimated 30,000 residents, including more than 5,000 foreigners, predominantly French, wait for others to come and buy the land that was long ago bought from the original owners.

Charlie Simon, a local artist, says things are worse for him now than a few years ago. He is concerned about all the new construction and what it will mean for the future of the place. "It is not such a good thing to build so many apartments. People come for a week or two and then lock the place up and leave. Or people come for the weekend from the capital, they come with their own food, with everything. These people, what do they bring? You don't need many people to work in an apartment. It is not business for a town. Fifty apartments will produce maybe five jobs. How much will they make each month, the maids, the gardeners, maybe RD 5,000 pesos a month? This is a benefit for the country? No."

Free Trade Zone earnings and tourism are currently the country's fastest-growing export sectors. So-called "real estate tourism" -- foreigners building vacation homes -- alone accounted for 1.5 billion dollars for 2007, and that number is expected to double within three years, according to the Dominican Association of Real Estate Tourism Companies.

Dr. Jose Bourget, a Dominican who teaches via the internet as a professor at the University of Maryland, settled in Las Terrenas with his family six years ago. He shares Simon's concerns about development. "I think Las Terrenas has grown too much, too soon. That has had a tremendous impact on basic services and infrastructure, on water, roads. People were building any way they wanted, anywhere they wanted. Much of it was done by paying off officials," he told IPS. "The damage cannot be undone. The corals are dying. The quality of the water is...well, there is no quality. We know that the underground water cannot be trusted because there are too many septic tanks. Now they have built a town sewage treatment plant, but they put the collection tanks right on the beach. Some of us have reservations about how well it will work. But the damage has been done. No one was thinking of how to control it when the place exploded," he said.

From May until October, there was a halt on all new construction projects in Las Terrenas. One tourism director put the ban in place and his replacement in the new administration lifted it. While Dr. Bourget believes that there should be a freeze on growth for five years, he is opposed to the manner in which the central government has been directing things in Las Terrenas.

Recently, the government released a "master plan" for the town, containing marked areas for green zones, commercial development and private residences. The plan was designed without any local input. "If you are making a plan for a city, how can you not ask the residents of that city what they want for their home? This was a lost opportunity for participation, to have a local discussion. for general focus groups and town hall meetings, " Bourget observed. "Most likely a lot of things that are in the plan will be said, like 'we want more sidewalks, more green areas, protection for the beach, solution for the traffic problem', but it feels differently if there are hearings, if people have their say. "

Bourget and his wife, Annette Snyder, started the Anacaona Community Library three years ago and run summer camps for some of the local children, with the aid of volunteers. The small library, which serves about 270 local people a week, also serves as the town's only children's playground. When asked about the public education system, Bourget threw up his hands. "Yes, the system has grown. Now there are two secondary schools. But there are 40-50 kids in each class. You cannot teach in a classroom with 50 kids. Graduates of eighth grade here do not read or write well. That is the most critical issue here and no one is talking about it. Leadership should be coming from government, otherwise the people will not be able to raise themselves out of poverty."

Simon's voice carries an edge of bitterness when he talks about the future of the town, reserving most of his anger for the resident foreign population. "The foreign population of Las Terrenas, they do the same thing that Dominicans do, every day. They are here for their business. Some people come from France, very young, they are supposed to stay in France, working until they retire but they do not do that, they come here with 5,000 dollars and open a restaurant and the French tourists go there, not to our comedors to eat our rice and beans. They use our country to make money. They talk bad about our population."

"If we look what we have to do to grow in a positive way, we need education for the people. If development is only for the rich people, the town will be finished," he said. (END/2008)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Street Life Lessons Santo Domingo

The problem with being poor is that it takes up all your time. The problem with living in a poor country is that getting anything done also takes up all your time, even if you have the money.

I am testy. Yesterday was my first 10 hour black out. The phone company arrived on schedule (amazing) to install the internet, and said that of course there would be no problem. As soon as the electricity came back on, it would work.

It did not. Few things work here on the first try.

There were three phone calls to the service center, clearly operators working from their homes as one answered from within his home discotheque. The last answer, last night. was "It has just been installed. They are still working on it. It will be working tomorrow."

It is tomorrow. It is not working. Another call to the service center. "When will you be available for a service technician to visit? Today? Tomorrow?" I will be available all day. Every day. I have nothing to do but wait.

"We will call you."

Why did I expect it to be any different?

Customer service here is a reverse game. The first attempt is to get you to go away. The second attempt is to convince you that whatever you said was wrong - is not wrong. The third attempt is get you to call someone else.

The fourth and final attempt, when it is clear that you are "one of the determined" is to deal with you and the issue at hand. You will never get your money back here. Sales people make you wait while they finish their cell phone calls. The notable exceptions are when you are dealing with the street vendors, the self-employed, the informal sector.

Does this habit come from Spain? From the oppression of a dictatorship? From the incredibly low wages and long hours on the paid jobs?

How is it that these people remain so apparently content? Is it the trytophan in the plantains they eat at breakfast or just their low expectations?

The little old lady followed me around the supermarket. She is one of the "permitted" beggars in the neighborhood. Certainly there must be some sort of unspoken policing of the sidewalks, of the public spaces; otherwise this middle class neighborhood would be filled with beggars.

Here we have just a few, mostly older women, poorly dressed, one with a very swollen leg. I make it a practice to give them something when I pass. Any one of them could have been my mother, or me, but for a fortunate birth. This particular one had made me angry once as she had found her way to my apartment door and knocked. Establishing boundaries is difficult here. I spoke sharply to her not to come to my home.

Today I have no change. I know that in my wallet are two $1000 peso notes, each worth about $28. but I have no change. Change has been hard to find for the past year. Some say the government has not paid the mint in Canada for the new order of coins. Even the smaller bills are in short supply - the $50 peso note ($1.50) is scarce; the $100 is hard to find. Perhaps all the small money is circulating in the poor barrios, from fruit vendor to colmado owner, never making it to the pharmacies and groceries.

I tell her "No, I have nothing."

I am wealthy by street standards - many people work two weeks to earn what I have in my purse- but I cannot maneuver on the street, cannot buy a banana or a paper or give to the beggars.

It nags me., my lie to the old lady. Clearly it is not true for I am wheeling my cart around filling it with fresh vegetables, and cheese and bread. I have been living here under the adage of "give a little to every one who asks for it" - applied to all except the shoe shine boys when they ask for money, lest they turn from workers to beggars. At times I have just bent down and dropped some coins next to someone sleeping on the sidewalk.

Ours is not the finest neighborhood.

I go to find her. She is standing by the checkout counters.
"Tell me what you want and I will buy it for you."
She rubs the indentation of her stomach and says:" I am hungry."
"Rice?" I say. "Beans?"
"No. I would like coffee, please."

My inner Protestant protests. It is the voice of the "One Who Knows Best." I have ongoing arguments with her. Coffee, I know, will ease the hunger. Quiet thy criticism.

We walk to the coffee aisle. I put my hand on the largest bag of local ground coffee.

She protests: "No. Not that one, it is too expensive. A half pound will be fine."

I am shocked. But of course, she is in this for the long haul, knows that I can be a temperamental donor.

"But then, I will get some milk, yes?"

"Yes." She has negotiated my generosity.

She thus reminds that I, too, need milk for my coffee.

We proceed to the milk aisle.

I pick up my two liters in boxes. But she, wise in the ways of the poor, hands me over two packs of powdered milk.

There is much yet for me to learn here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


DOMINICAN REPUBLIC:Marching Against Machismo
Elizabeth Eames Roebling

Raising their voices in agreement with the declaration over the loudspeaker that "machismo kills", hundreds of Dominican women, carrying banners and roses, ended a march through the streets of Santo Domingo Tuesday in front of the Supreme Court Building, protesting the rising level of murders of women.

On the steps of the court, four women were chained together, with the end of the chain held by a man who stood on the step above them. Drummers assembled and started a pounding beat to accentuate the voices of the women, shouting "No to the Violence!" "No to the Killings!" "No to the Silence!"

The Police Department recently released statistics showing that 154 women had been killed this year. Of these, 102 were killed by their intimate partners. This is seven more than last year. According to a report issued by Spanish authorities, this places the Dominican Republic as the sixth highest nation in the world in the rate of the murder of women.

The police have started a publicity campaign on television and radio against the rise in crime in the country. Although many have attributed the rise to organised drug crime, the statistics show that only a third of the crime is "organised". According to an interview with Franklin Almeyda, Secretario de Estado de Interior y Policia, "Over two thirds of the crimes are perpetrated by citizens are cases of inter-family violence, street fights, and other types of incidents."

Gracia de la Cruz, of the group, SER MUJER, told IPS, "I am not sure if there is really an increase in the violence or that it is that we have become more successful in showing the reality in the country. The police are keeping better records now. More women are coming forward now." "We must continue to denounce the violence. We must not be ashamed to do this," she said. "Many men hit women in parts of the body which are not seen. The women take pains not show that they have been beaten. We have had a culture which has blamed the women. Also many women are afraid to denounce their partners. They are afraid that they will be left without any resources for themselves and their children. "

Among the handouts to the crowd, a publication by CIPF (Centro de Investigation para Accion Feminina) had a definition of "machismo", a word which has defied English translation. It is "the expression of the magnification of the masculine, the exaltation of brute physical superiority, brute force and the legitimisation of a stereotype which creates unjust power relations."

In two studies on the murders of women in the Dominican Republic, done by ProFamilia in 2002 and 2003, interviews with killers showed that these violent men had the perception that a man, by the sole merit of being one, had the rights of a permanent privileged status in relation to women, treating them, consciously and unconsciously, as servants in all circumstances and over all women. Fatima Portareal of the Collectiva de Mujer y Salud explained the significance of this particular day: "We have a history in this country of standing up to violence. Today is a great day in our history. For today, the 25th of November, marks the day of the assassination of the Mirabel sisters who fought against Trujillo."

"The United Nations, in recognition of their bravery, declared this day to be in the International Day Against Violence towards Women. Therefore, we Dominican women, women from the city and the countryside, have come here to present the government with a document asking for greater protection for women."

The actual document presented showed the differing agendas of the four organising groups, Colective Mujer y Salud (SMS), Centro de Apoyos Aqeularre (CEAPA), Centro de Servicios Lesgales Para la Mujer (CENSEL), and Confederacion Nacional de Mujeres del Campo (CONAMUCA). Calling for an end to "the beatings, the wounds, the psychological aggressions, the risk of contracting AIDS," the proclamation also called for an end to the "blackouts, social abandonment, officially sanctioned gender violence, neoliberal political economics, and free trade agreements which impose the use of foods with genetically altered seeds". All "constitute the principal expression of violence under which Dominican women live."

In addition, the document called for constitutional reform on the issue of therapeutic abortion, which is not permitted under any circumstances. The women's groups are calling for the right of abortion to protect the life and health of the mother, and in the case of rape or incest. This effort has the support of the nation's Obstetricians and Gynecological Doctors' Association.

It was assumed to be close to passage last year, despite the opposition of the Catholic Church. However, anti-abortion protesters arrived here from the United States and placed explicit videos on the desk of each legislator. The measure was defeated. Both doctors and women are subject to imprisonment under the current law.

The three Mirabel sisters, whose husbands were imprisoned by Trujillo, were assassinated in 1961. Their courage has been credited with galvanising the resistance to the dictator. The story was popularised in English in the book and movie "In the Time of Butterflies" by the Dominican-American author Julia Alvarez. One of the Mirabel sisters, Minerva, was asked, "And if they kill you?" She responded: "If they kill me, I will raise my arms from the grave and be even stronger." (END/2008)