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.” Or Part 2 in which Elizabeth discussed the challenges an expat faces in finding a home.
It takes a long time to really appreciate what “poverty” means here in the Third World (or perhaps this country is really now the Second World, considering Haiti to the west).
I thought I had solved the problem of the absence of books in the little free school where I am a volunteer English teacher. I made a CD of a few of my favorite folk songs, typed out the lyric sheets and brought it, along with my portable sound system (a Sony walkman with exterior Bose speakers, my long-ago selection for the best sound reproduction in the most portable device). We had a wonderful time listening and dancing, the kids rapidly learning the steps to the waltz. They interrupted the kindergarten class next door to seize a little dance partner who could stand on the tops of their feet as they moved around the room. I had thought how delighted they would be when I gave them each (14 of them) a copy of the CD, made on my laptop, with a copy of the lyrics, along with a Spanish-English dictionary next week, at the end of the school year. All hope was shattered when I asked who had a CD player at home. No hands went up.
What on earth was I thinking? Many of these kids don’t get enough to eat. But they are so bright, and so proudly clean and well dressed, I just forgot. CD players here cost about $40 – and then the electricity or batteries to run them. I had budgeted enough for the dictionaries but I certainly didn’t have enough for the CD players. Nor did the families have enough money to pay for the electricity to run them. I was ashamed of my own ignorance.
Many ex-pats from all countries have achieved here their little pieces of Eden, growing their own fruits and vegetables in this fertile climate, making friends with their neighbors. My American-Dominican friends have their own chickens and goats, producing fresh milk, an absolute luxury here in this land of boxed milk. Their garden, only two years old, provides them with almost all their vegetables and some of their fruit. Further down the coast, in Puerto Plata and Sosua, there are full communities of foreigners, secure in their own compounds or condos, supplied with their own power plants. But we are on the frontier of development here, living on the edge. There is a new road in construction that will allow us access to the Capital of Santo Domingo in two hours. Within a year, the government says. Give it ten, my French friends counter. The beaches here, with the mountain range right behind town, make this little remote corner one of the most beautiful places on earth.
The Europeans got here first, twenty years ago when it took 9 hours to cross the mountains by horse or mule team. They built the hotels, developed the infrastructure (such as it is), and bought up most of the available land. Now they wait for the Americans to arrive and buy it from them. The Dominicans, who are exceedingly sharp people, have learned from this and are selling the remaining property at comparable prices. Yes, perhaps some Americans will arrive to purchase second homes but few that I know could tolerate either the inconveniences or the up close and personal view of poverty. Europeans are now busy developing Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua. They still have the pioneering spirit that built the United States while most Americans have grown used to their comforts and the easy satisfaction of our every consumer desire.
So my rather blanket advice to anyone who is thinking of retiring or moving off-shore is to go there now and buy a piece of land. Visit all the countries on your short list, find the best community and simply buy a small piece of land and put a fence around it (otherwise you may return to find concrete block houses, filled with Dominican - or Guatemalan, Nicaraguan or Mexican - families, on it upon your return). The prices all around this country are only going to go up as more and more of the baby-boomers from the industrialized world retire. Worse comes to worse, you can always build a house Dominican-style, one concrete block at a time. Investigate carefully as some countries, such as Mexico, will not allow you to actually hold title to land near the sea, only allowing you to lease it for your lifetime.
Excerpted from "Life In The Dominican Republic: Six Months Down" in Escape From America Magazine.