In the first article in this series, Elizabeth Roebling introduced us to her local community in the DR as well as the expat community that resides there. She also told the story of a home repair project that taught her about more than just plumbing and electricity. Click here to read Part 1 of “Living in the Dominican Republic: The First Six Months.”
I spent the last few weeks looking for other housing, as I am in the tourist area, next to the road by the beach, constantly assaulted by the noise and fumes of the passing motor scooters, roaring pass all day like a fleet of giant, killer mosquitoes. Not to mention the little water problem. For the first few months, I was so enchanted by the view that I did not even hear the noise. Now I often retreat to the back bedroom, cotton stuffed in each ear, to read in relative quiet. It is difficult here to find reasonable and inexpensive housing. My former neighbor here, a French woman, is on a comparable search. She has been here for three years and is enraged that the prices have tripled during that time. Where, she says, are the European showgirls supposed to find housing? They are not, I said, they are to give their jobs to Dominicans and return to their home countries. You must bring to this country your own resources and add something here for they have nothing extra to share with foreigners.
I have received numerous e-mails from people wishing to know more about relocating here. Could they survive, they wondered? How much money would they need? I know foreigners here who arrived with little and are surviving well. For them, a monthly wage of $600 is sufficient. They earn it by working for other foreigners, managing hotels and businesses, installing solar panels, running the paper, and teaching languages. All of them speak at least two languages – their native one and Spanish. Many speak three or four, an absolute requirement to work in any of the hotels. Most have college degrees. They also have no difficulty living among the Dominicans, who have a fondness for gathering at small local bars, playing their lovely bachata music at high volume from 11 PM to 4 AM.
The most adaptable Europeans live deep in the countryside, cold water only, low cell phone service, no Internet or cable, riding to and from town on motor bikes. Other foreigners, often on retirement income, pay from $500 to $900 a month for the small apartments in the tourist hotels, complete with night security, maids, electricity, cable and internet. Living rooms are small and the furnishings, while delightful to the eye, are often uncomfortable. All the furnished apartments are overcrowded with beds.
Some foreigners are living in the furnished apartments while constructing their own homes, dealing with land prices starting at $2000 an acre, the maze of local building restrictions, the horror of the delays and incompetence involved. Some are buying homes already built, going from one real estate agent to another (as there is no multiple listing service), hoping that the agent, the seller, and the lawyer are honest. Few realize what a long shot it is to find honest brokers among all three.
“ In a few years, this road will be paved and you will be right down from the new supermarket, the golf course, and the marina.” Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe it will be a supermarket or maybe it will stay just a drawing on the architect’s board or a half-finished project, abandoned when the money ran out. And you will be living on a dirt road, far from town, alone and vulnerable.
Nor do most envision what their lives will be like living in their own homes. The juxtaposition of poverty and wealth, cheek by jowl, always produces crime. Most windows will have to be barred or the entire property enclosed in a wall, behind a sturdy, iron gate. A night watchman, armed with a pump shotgun, or a large, intimidating dog, will insure a good night’s sleep. While I have not heard of any crimes against persons, there is a steady report of stolen gas tanks from houses, missing equipment when left outside. There are more than a few crack sales places in town. Some say that it is the foreigners, with their taste for cocaine and marijuana, who have brought this problem to town, to the entire Island. But the Dominicans themselves, as well as the rest of Latin America, have long been involved in drug trafficking. It simply follows the money. (Lest you should start to feel superior, remember that 60% of all US Federal prisoners are there on drug charges. And that we now have the highest rate of imprisonment in the industrialized world, higher even than in the Soviet Union under Stalin. This is not a problem confined to one nation. It is global.)
In the next article in this series, Elizabeth shares some of her experiences as a volunteer teacher at a local school, plus she outlines the history of expats in the Dominican Republic. Click here to read Part 3 of “Living in the Dominican Republic: The First Six Months.”
Excerpted from “Life In The Dominican Republic: Six Months Down” in Escape From America Magazine.