I am Lindsay. English, mid 50s. Started out life as a linguist (French and German), ended up as Marketing lecturer at Kingston University, then Marketing Director of various Financial Institutions in the City.
I have been married to a very hunky Dominican for 7 years, and he has 3 boys who have all lived with us at various times. At the moment we have number two son with us, who is 21, and we also have 3 dogs and 10 cats.
I left the UK and ex husband in 2001. I just wanted more out of life and felt claustrophobic in London. I had developed a passion for scuba diving and had always loved travelling, meeting new people, experiencing new places, eating new food. My plan – such as it was – was to qualify as a PADI scuba diving instructor and then travel the world teaching diving, going from one tropical beach to the next. I didn’t really think about where I would go or where I would end up. My first port of call was the Maldives, where the diving is second to noneI thought with a British passport I could work anywhere. Not true. I ended up doing my instructor’s course in Singapore and the examination in Thailand.
I could have worked in Singapore but it was not a tropical paradise really, Thailand and the rest of Asia wanted work permits and at that time most dive schools preferred to employ locals. After a month of looking for work I ended up in Menorca as I could work legally there. But the Mediterranean Sea was cold – freezing in fact, and no beautiful corals or colourful fish – just the odd cod swimming past a clump of rocks.
I still wanted the tropical dream and thought that it would be handy if I could speak Spanish and then get work in South America where there were lots of sharks, as I was a shark specialty diver. I applied for a job in the Dominican Republic and came to the south coast in November 2001 for a 6 month contract with the plan to learn Spanish and then move on. But I fell in love with the country and the people and then one particular Dominican man, and I am till here ten years on
What challenges did you face during the move?
The main challenge when I originally left was dealing with the emotions of family and friends back in the UK who thought I had lost my mind, and were all waiting for me to come to my senses and go back to England. Having had a successful career and all the trappings that went with it, they could not understand how I could leave it all behind to live in a bikini and a sarong on a beach. I travelled light, with one bag with all of my scuba diving equipment and the other bag was the rest of my life. I basically left everything else behind.
How did you find somewhere to live?
When I arrived in the DR there was accommodation arranged through the dive school – a studio, which I upgraded after a month to a two bed flat which cost 400US$ a month. After a while there I began living with a Dominican man and his three young sons, and we moved to a bigger apartment with a garden. I then bought a villa in 750 square metres of land, 3 beds, 2 baths, pool and a servant’s house, for 120,000 US$.
The buying process was fast and painless, and the house came with all the furniture. We now rent in a Dominican barrio and pay just over 100 pounds a month for a 3 bed 2 bath villa in a large garden. Prices are significantly cheaper in non expat or tourist areas.
Are there many other expats in your area?
In the first place I lived there were many expats and tourists. Mostly German and Italian although also some Americas, Canadians and Brits and over time the Eastern Europeans began to arrive. However, slowly the all inclusive hotels were demolished and luxury apartments built instead. This meant that the tourism declined as the new apartments were purchased as weekend beach homes by Dominicans. As the tourism declined so did the numbers of expats, as many of them worked in the tourist sector.
Living in an expat area has pluses and minuses. On the one hand it is nice to have friends who speak your native language and with whom you have something in common, but on the other hand expat areas tend to attract more crime. You also find that you gravitate towards expats, even those who you would not have considered friends in your home country. Where I live now, in a little Dominican barrio in the middle of nowhere, there are no expats, only Dominicans and a few Haitians.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
As I am married to a Dominican I have always been well integrated with the locals, and our house has always been full of local people, whether his friends and family, or the children’s friends. I have often found myself helping out whether it be teaching English, helping on the computer, driving people somewhere, helping medically – I even delivered a baby once for a Haitian woman on the floor of her hut.
The closest I had come to that before was helping the dog deliver puppies or the cat kittens. Much the same really just a bit messier! I speak fluent Spanish now. When I met my husband he could not speak English or me Spanish but I learned faster and so now we communicate in Spanish. I am totally integrated with the local population and they say that I am ‘aplatando’ which means like a plantain banana.
What do you like about life where you are?
The weather is fabulous – around 85F in the summer and 75 in the winter. The sky is blue usually and although it rains sometimes it is not for long. The geography of the country is stunning; with not only fabulous beaches but also the highest mountains in the Caribbean. Some of the vistas are awe inspiring. The flora and fauna are also beautiful. As I am writing this I am looking out of the window at a pair of tiny hummingbirds on a noni tree. I love the people, the laid back attitude, and the friendliness. I laugh here much more than I did in England, and am far less stressed.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I do miss family and friends, and now I only ever speak English on Skype. I also miss the food. There are many cultural differences too, and some are why I love it here but some drive you mad such as the Dominican way of telling you what you want to hear which is not always the truth!
My life changed somewhat dramatically when I interrupted a burglary at my house in 2006 and was shot through the throat at point blank range. The end result is that I am unable to dive any more and my voice is not too good.
The things I dislike about the country is the corruption and the fact that some of the locals think that as you are an expat you can pay more for something than a local, although that happens far less now. I dislike not having electricity 24 hours a day, but again with the use of an inverter it is bearable.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
The biggest difference is the sharing and the importance of family and friends. Dominicans will share anything, even those who have nothing. And the three times when they all come together are when you are ill, dead or in jail. When I was in hospital after being shot, I had over 400 visitors and some came from miles away. Most days someone will bring a gift, whether a bunch of bananas or a cupful of peas.
The other main difference is the freedom. Although there are rules and regulations, few are adhered to. People drive on a motorcycle without a helmet, drive in a car with no seat belt on and a bottle of beer in the other hand. You can smoke where you like, smile at children in the street without being thought of as strange.
Before I moved here I had no idea that over half of the population live below the poverty line and another 40% are only just above it. It is very humbling to live amongst people who are so poor and yet will give you anything and are always ready with a smile. They have taught me to live for the day, rather than plan for an uncertain future or stress about something that might not happen.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ
compared to back home?
Over the past ten years there are more international stores opened here such as IKEA. Household appliances are much cheaper, but they don’t tend to last as long. Often they are rejects but sold as new. A cooker will not last more than 5 years as it rusts, due to the humidity and the salt air I assume. Anything with electronics such as automatic washing machines or posh microwaves will not last long either, so it is best to buy the most basic item you can.
The electricity when it is on, tends to have surges. Anything which is plugged in when a surge happens will fry. My washing machine is a plastic twin tub and is more or less clockwork with no electronics at all.
If you live in a tourist or expat area you will be able to buy most of the things you could at home, although imported items will be much more expensive. Clothes do not last long but are significantly cheaper but given the climate you don’t need to wear that many clothes anyway!
Food shopping is done at the local corner shop – colmado. The great thing is that you can buy as little or as much as you need, ie one clove of garlic or a plastic cup of yoghurt. It is also the centre of the community so you have a chance to catch up on all the local gossip.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your
particular likes or dislikes?
Dominican food on first sight is not particularly appetising. The staple diet is rice and beans together with a small amount of meat. The main meat is chicken, although you can also buy pork, beef and goat. If you live near the ocean there is fabulous fish. Potatoes are replaced by plantain bananas which are either eaten boiled, mashed (called mangu) or sliced and fried like chips (tostones).
The average diet is very high in salt and oil. Where I live now there are no international supermarkets and so I have to improvise a lot. There is no pre packaged food so it is a bit like living in the UK in the 1950s in that you have to cook everything from scratch. If you want chips you have to cut up potatoes, a tin of tomatoes – you have to peel tomatoes, you want pizza you have to make it from scratch. It is such a delight though to have so much fresh fruit. I eat mangos, limes, avocado straight off the tree.
It is easy to cook Thai food as ginger, lemon grass, coconut is all easily available. I discovered that I love goat – which is a cross between lamb and beef, but I am not keen on tripe, chickens feet, or the dried salted cod (bacalau).
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Travel light. There is no need to bring things from home, as they are unlikely to last long and you will soon find out you can do without.
Secondly make sure you have medical insurance. Although medical costs are significantly lower than the USA here, there is no National Health Service and you have to pay for everything. The medical bills when I was shot were over 11,000 pounds and the insurance covered just under half. The money will go much faster than you imagine. There always seems to be something to pay for – for example, when we need new batteries for the inverter that will be over 1000 pounds.
Learn Spanish. It will make your life significantly easier. Finally, try not to get shot.
What are your plans for the future?
Over the last year I have started writing and have found it is something that I love. I have a blog What about your saucepans? about daily life here and have written a book about the last ten years which is currently at the editing stage. I have my monthly column on Expat Focus as well. My plans are to carry on writing, to show people about life here in the DR. My husband is currently studying to be a lawyer and our plan is to carry on doing what we have always done, which is to try and improve the lives of those who live here, especially those in poverty.