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Wartime Spirit In The Dominican Republic

I sometimes wonder what I used to do with all the spare time I had in England, as everything must have been so much easier when I was there. I know I was up early every morning with a two hour commute to work and back, and now I just walk from the bedroom to my computer, but everything seems to be much more difficult here, even though after 11 years away the memories of how life used to be are fading.

When I get out of bed I can only have a hot shower if the electricity is on. If it is not, the water heater doesn’t work as the inverter and batteries can’t cope with anything more than a few light bulbs and the lap top. The same goes for the iron, hairdryer, microwave and washing machine. As the electricity is off for 12 hours a day in two chunks, everything needs planning. If I am going out in the evening, I have to be organised, check when the electricity will be off that day, pray the website with the details on is telling the truth, and work out when to wash and dry my hair nicely which could very well be 6 hours before I am going out.The days of ironing in front of my favourite TV show have gone, it has to be done when the electricity is on and and I am often spotted in my pyjamas at noon, waiting to be able to have a hot shower on the days I can’t cope with a cold one.

The water is off fairly frequently too, but we have a tank on the roof which lasts for several days, so although the pressure is lower at least there is water. The problem comes when there is a cholera epidemic somewhere and they decide to turn the water off for a couple of weeks while they scrub the big tanks out with bleach. Then the water will run out and we have to get the water from a truck which comes around – you all line up with your buckets and any other container you have. The water when it eventually arrives again has so much chlorine in it, it turns my hair green!

Gas comes in tanks, which you have to go and fill up and as the electricity is so appalling every one uses gas to cook. Of course it always runs out when you are cooking. Many times I have had a Sunday roast in the oven, gone to check the meat was ready and it was stone cold as the gas must have run out at some stage. The gas station closes at 5.30 pm, so you have to judge when the gas might run out, and on those days cook early. Otherwise it is out with the barbecue. The sensible thing would be to have two tanks and keep one in reserve. We are not sensible.

Cooking is like I think England must have been in the 1950s. You want chips, you peel potatoes and make them and fry them. The recipe says a tin of tomatoes, buy tomatoes take skins off and chop them up. You want pizza – make it. This has the great advantage of eating healthily but sometimes I long for Marks and Spencer and a freezer full of pre packaged food I could just bung in the microwave. Mind you that would only work if there was electricity to use the microwave – imagine sitting looking at your chicken tikka masala box and having to wait 5 hours until 2am before you could nuke it.

There is however a sort of spirit, like I assume England must have had during the war – not that I was around then, I hasten to add. A shout of joy goes up around the barrio when the electricity comes on, as we are almost the only ones with an inverter, everyone else is sitting in the dark and chatting. If you run out of gas when you are cooking, often a friendly neighbour will appear to lend you their tank. We sometimes have people at the gate asking if we can finish cooking their rice and beans as their gas has finished and they have no barbecue, and you will see people walking down the street with a couple of fried eggs on a plate which someone has cooked for them.

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I should add that it is not the same over the whole island and not the same for all expats. Those who live in major cities or tourist areas can find frozen pizza and frozen chips and some even have 24 hour electricity. Just those of us expats who choose to live like most of the Dominicans have to adjust. Most of the time it is fine, just occasionally I remember how different life used to be. How water always came out of the tap, hot and cold. How there was always electricity and you could use all of your appliances whenever you wanted to. How the cooker always had gas. But at least here it is always sunny and warm and I wouldn’t change it for the world!

Lindsay de Feliz lives in the middle of nowhere in the Dominican Republic with her Dominican husband, one stepson, 8 cats and 3 dogs. She was formerly Marketing Director of various financial companies in the City of London, and left the UK around 11 years ago to travel the world as a scuba diving instructor. She eventually came to the Dominican Republic on a 6 month contract, fell in love with the country and its people and stayed. Lindsay has a blog www.yoursaucepans.blogspot.com and is currently writing a book about her experiences over the last 10 years.

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