Saturday, March 10, 2012

Country Living In The Dominican Republic

by Expat Focus columnist Lindsay de Feliz

Out of the population of 10 million in the Dominican Republic, around 30% live in the country, in small settlements known as campos. Life in the campo is very different from life in the towns and cities, due to the lack of infrastructure and lack of work. Poverty is rife, but someone the inhabitants of the campos survive, raise children who then often leave to find work in the towns and cities.

The houses in the campos are usually made of planks, sliced up palm trees, although the richer will build theirs out of concrete blocks. The poorest houses are made of twigs or sugar cane, woven together. The roofs are invariably zinc sheet. Inside the houses the floor will just be dirt, or concrete for those who can afford it. The number of rooms in the house, will again depend on how much money the occupants have. Those who can afford it have a bedroom separate from the living area, and some even have two bedrooms, one for the children. Otherwise the children sleep in with the parents.

The living area may also have a kitchen at one end, but the majority has an outside kitchen or no kitchen at all. Cooking is usually done on a fogon, either made of cement like a table with an indent in it for the fire, or simply three concrete blocks on the floor with a space in the middle where you put either the wood or the charcoal.

One of the main problems in the campo is the water. In some areas the public water system delivers water in pipes, and a few people have a tap in the kitchen. More have a tap in the garden or maybe one in one garden which several people use. If there is no piped water to the community, then the alternatives are to dig a well, or to go to the river and conserve rainwater too. In some areas water is delivered in a truck – although most campo folk could not afford this.

In many campos, as the sun loses its heat in the late afternoon, you can see a steady stream of donkeys laden with plastic containers of all shapes and sizes, heading down to the river.

A lack of water means a lack of toilets, and the vast majority of campo houses have a latrine in the garden. In fact almost 50% of all homes in the Dominican Republic have a latrine rather than an indoor toilet. Apparently they get full, and so every few years the little zinc, wood, plastic, or tin structure ups sticks and is moved to another spot in the garden where a new hole is dug.

I remember visiting some of my husband’s friends in the campo in the hills above Barahona, in the south west. I asked to go to the toilet and was shown to the...

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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Expat Experiences: Melanie Fitzsimmons de Alcequiez, Santiago - Dominican Republic

I'm Melanie, an American living in Santiago, the second largest city in the DR. It's been a journey, but I'm still alive.

I was young when I moved, I didn't really speak Spanish and I had had absolutely no idea what the Dominican Republic was until about six months before I moved. I know, I know. That's horrible. Blame it on bad geography education, but my knowledge of the Caribbean was Jamaica and Haiti - and only Haiti because there were some handsome Haitian soccer players on our high school team. The doors, however, of employment opened up and I would be given housing. The pay was minimal, but I wasn't looking to make money.

I first moved to the Dominican Republic in 2004 - just out of college and not really ready to work in the "real world." "I'll travel," I said, "and do some good work before I decide what to do next." The plan was to work for a year, maybe two, and then head back to corporate America. Little did I imagine I'd be here seven years later, married with two children, a fish, a brother-in-law and a sometimes live-in niece.

I spent my first three months mute. I had lived in Mexico during college and returned a few times to visit; I had Central American friends and I used Spanish a lot in Chicago. I wasn't prepared for Dominican Spanish. I didn't understand a word. I spoke in mime and mostly spent time with the kids I was teaching. Children are the most patient teachers.

I met my now-husband when I first arrived, we worked together in an elementary school and he helped me adapt to the new system. We started dating five months later, and when my contract was up, I had to decide what to do. The school I worked in was dysfunctional (as well as the religious organisation that ran it) and I couldn't continue there. I had no real job prospects at home, but I wasn't keen on jumping the gun into marriage. So, I travelled around the island a bit, and then headed to the States for a few months before I would make the conscious decision to move back to Santiago permanently.

Read more about Melanie's life in the Dominican Republic

Friday, March 02, 2012

Smooth Moves for Expat Kids – tips to ease the transition

by Expat Focus columnist, Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Moving to another country with children can be a stressful experience. The tearful confession, “I want to go home,” is the last thing any parent wants to hear. Adults will be going through their own period of adjustment and this, coupled with the logistical matters that lay claim to their time in the early days, can leave them ill-equipped to give their children the help they need to cope with the transition.

The good news is that, when properly prepared and supported, children often adjust more quickly than adults. The key to a move with minimum fuss comes down to 3 main things:


Let's look at each one in more detail:



This starts well before departure. Let them know of the impending move in plenty of time so that they are not unsettled by any preparations taking place, but not so far in the future that they have too much time to dwell on it. Parents have the best knowledge of their child to be able to make this decision but, as a guide, the older the child is, the sooner they need to know.


Discuss the new destination, find it on a map or preferably a globe (3D is more fun!) Do some research together about weather, animals, customs etc. so that your child can build a mental image of their new home. The more pictures and interesting information the better; nothing is more frightening than the unknown. If there is a new language involved, learn some key words and phrases together, and have fun seeing who remembers the most.


Once you arrive, do all you can to spend time together. This is difficult for adults who are starting in a new post, but it’s worth bearing in mind that family is your child’s one familiar constant right now. It’s the only thing cushioning them from the difficulties of their new situation. The more time you can spend together, exploring and learning new things, the easier it will be for them to step out on their own when they feel ready. It also helps for them to see that this is a learning curve for everyone and if it seems as though you are enjoying it, they will be more likely to also.

Stay in touch

Help them to maintain links with loved ones and friends back home, whether it’s through letter-writing and postcards or Skype and email. Continue to discuss the new location: likes and dislikes, new things you’ve learnt, favourite places, etc. We used to go round the table at dinner, taking turns to say what we liked about Canada. It keeps the lines of communication open and reminds everyone that they’re in it together.

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Avoiding Isolation

by Expat Focus columnist, Jennifer Tucker

One of my biggest fears about moving to a new country as a “tag along” spouse was isolation. I dreaded the thought of moving halfway around the world with my husband, having him go off every day to a job while I sat twiddling my thumbs in the apartment, wondering what to do and not knowing a soul.

I’ve had my share of “thumb-twiddling” days and moments where I made faux pas in social situations. Overall, however, I feel as though I’m doing an OK job at transitioning to life in New Zealand. I think that if I could talk to every person who’s preparing to move to a new country, I would tell them that one of the best ways of easing the transition is to form a social network.

You’ll make friends, learn about the community, and develop a sense of purpose by having something to do on a regular basis.

There are many ways to get out and get involved, but in my opinion, here are some of the best:

1. Start searching the internet. Read up about your new country. Find the local newspaper and check it daily. Reading the news will give you something to talk about when you meet people, and you’ll be up on current events in your new hometown. If you don't have a blog, think about creating one and linking it with an expat website. If blogging isn't your thing, then register with expat sites and read through the Q&A forums. Follow the links to user blogs based in your soon-to-be new country. Most expats, me included, are happy to share what they know.

2. Get out of the house. If you’re able to work, then look for a job. It doesn't have to be full-time or even in your area of expertise, but you’ll meet other employees and have a reason to go out every week. If you can’t work {don’t have the right paperwork, need to stay home with children, don’t speak the language} then check out your local mission, soup kitchen, museum, or gallery to see if they need volunteers. If you can't volunteer, then look into joining a gym or a community center or a church. Definitely join the local library. Most libraries have classes on a variety of things – learning the language, lectures on local history, book clubs – and most don’t cost a thing. If you have children, libraries can be a God-send with their story times and children’s reading programs...

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