Gay.

There’s a significant contrast in the acceptance of homosexuality between my former home and current.  Having been surrounded by like-minded, progressive individuals it is sometimes alarming to live in a society where this is still not only considered taboo, but is actually an enforced, illegal act.  Reference to this rears its head at curious times, and often during the most seemingly benign conversations.

Sure, there was a veterinary conference, a work excursion where the hosting university booked two male employees into a shared room (separate beds of course) at the resort.  Yes, at the resort.  A plush all-inclusive resort, there were going to need to be ‘’roommates’’ for a period of time.  This was an outrage due to the implication this may hold, never mind that the two are constantly in a state of undress with each other as they change in and out of scrubs during the course of their day.

So each morning I’d ask how their night was, and I was cheerfully greeted with “it was good, we’re not gay or anything like that”

Now as a side note, most medical facilities and veterinary clinics just launder the scrubs and then organize by size.  Today, I was setting about ordering new scrubs for the miscellaneous veterinarians in the compound, and there was a discussion regarding how the housekeeping staff doesn’t return individual scrubs to anyone, and just piles them at random, and so the notion was presented to follow suit with what the norm is in most environments.

The look of horror on one of the junior veterinarians was priceless, and was accompanied by “I could never wear another man’s cloths, I’m not gay like that”.

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Lingering Thoughts

Perhaps one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me, was the day VMan was discovered and stalked by a coworker.  At the time I found it only mildly annoying, mostly because instead of simply participating, and perhaps making a comment on the site itself, I had to then endure separate emails relating to whatever nonsense I had written about on the site.  “That apple gallette looked amazing!” would be the entire body of an email which was of course sent with the high priority flag.  This persisted for a while and eventually subsided entirely.  I chalked it up to VMan on the whole, being an uninteresting site to read, and continued posting pompous articles ‘reviewing’ a new pipe tobacco.

As expected I would use my little blog site to flaunt my accomplishments, and of course, vent about issues taking place at work.  Somewhat regrettably, I lacked the foresight to change names when airing a particular grievance, and shortly thereafter (presumably due to the aforementioned stalker), I found myself being required to discus VMan with human resources. Though I was declared innocent by human resources (who interestingly enough, also enjoyed the apple gallette), I made a rash decision to eradicate the site which in hindsight was a huge mistake.

The event has had long reaching effects however, largely because I would love to share more stories about the absurdities that occur here at work and yet I find myself unable to stop self-editing and therefore, nothing gets posted.

There’s an abundance of otherwise good material to post, this diagram showing the correct way to refill soap dispensers for example:

Nice work boys!

Nice work boys!

And there’s a seemingly never ending supply of venting needed about the elitist behaviours of expats – which in themselves are what make life here difficult, for me anyway.  For Monkey it’s the bugs in the food, lack of creature comforts, black people, humidity and so forth.

In other news, I aced my discrete mathematics course.

Like and Dislike (Part I)

Having reached a certain milestone of time living here, I’ve been thinking about what I liked about the island, and of course what I didn’t like, and whether those things stood the test of time – or did they move into the “like” list. What I haven’t figured out, is how to best list these.  A seemingly arbitrary list that may not be clear to others?  No.  And this list may require several edits in the future….

 

First and foremost, it’s stunningly beautiful.  Ridiculously beautiful.  There hasn’t been a single day that has gone by, where I haven’t looked around and said, “this place is fucking beautiful”.  The mountains, the rivers, the sea, it’s all brilliantly scenic and breathtaking.  We have a stunning view of the sea, of the bay and until recently a view of the jungled mountains.  (They’re still there, but you have to look beyond the house that’s been built).  I enjoy sitting on the lanai, having my coffee or a number of beers, and just enjoying the view, and the wind.  If there’s a storm – so much the better.

Living here has made me realize that I never had much of a view before.  Usually didn’t give it much thought actually.  But now, it is one of my very first considerations when looking at a potential abode. I like the sea view, but I find the rivers and forested areas to be my most favourite.  We had found a lovely little cottage in Concorde that was shrouded in forest, and the White River was just across the road.  Of course, that would mean we’d be 1.5 hours away from the grocery, or anything practical for that matter. (There’s another reason we didn’t go for it, which will be one of my dislikes about the island).

The architecture, is less than enviable though. In fact, Roseau, the capital, is rather horrific in appearance, and is reminiscent of a sleazy Mexican border town dropped into the most beautiful of landscapes.  Portsmouth, the poor bastard step-child to Roseau, is a bit better – but not by much.

From the exterior, many houses look like they are going to crumble away at the slightest wind, or maintain a perpetual unfinished look to them.  Unfinished as in, towers of rebar spiraling up from the roof in anticipation of a second (or third) level that will never come to pass.

There’s an abundance of apartment homes strewn across the village I work, and many of these are in a state of disrepair and neglect. Rusted air conditioning units dangle precariously from their loosened bolts, frayed and faded curtains blow in the wind from cracked or missing windows.  Vines and branches pass in and out of the house where nature has been allowed to take control.

The interior of many homes is simply ghastly, and often defies one’s ability to see what the builder’s intent actually was.  2 complete bathrooms (enclosed), in a bedroom?  Of course. Extra tile from the balcony?  Of course, let’s use that on the walls as well!  I’m sure Monkey has a decent amount of photos that she’s collected during her jaunts to see potential properties, I’ll ask and see if I can borrow a few.

Renting a property can get quite expensive, especially given the quality of much of what’s available, and more importantly, the fact that your skin colour and nationality plays a role in the final price of the rental.  And very little negotiating is to be had when it comes to the price.  The landlords would prefer the property to sit empty and deteriorate for years rather than come down to a reasonable “white people” price.

There’s a lot of “white people” pricing that comes into play for many items here.  Land, houses, cars, food, hell, there’s even a “white people” price for a glass of juice.  That’s an entirely different subject altogether.

 

 

 

Jungle Hiking

Except for a very brief period of time, say 2004, I’ve never considered, nor called myself a hiker, a hiking enthusiast, nor an avid outdoorsman. This is not because of the rather rotund body shape genetics has helped bless me with, but more so because I am incredibly lazy.

I have a fondness for the more modern sport, which includes aerobic lounging on the bed/floor/couch, video game of some sort in hand, book nearby, or even the yogaesque binging of Netflix. I’m lazy, and I readily admit it. Sometimes I find the sheer thought of having to leave the house on a weekend simply exhausting, and must nap in order to prepare myself for the event – usually telling Monkey that I’m going to ‘meditate’, so as to ensure ample quiet time.

But once I hoist myself into action, I have found that there are a few outdoorsy interests I possess. One of course being polo – which is by no means an easy sport to play here on island. Because I suck? Well perhaps, but mostly because Dominica is blessed with an inordinate amount of rainfall (which is perfect for my meditations), which quickly saturates the field, rendering them unusable. But also, I have developed a fondness for snorkeling, which again, is just my lolling about the sea as if it was my bed or couch. And I do enjoy stomping about in the river – one of my favourite activities.

One of the selling points of Dominica, The Nature Isle, is the abundance of hiking available. Well, I am not a hiker. I can be a good sport about it, but I don’t prefer it. I enjoyed Victoria Falls (both times!), and was successful in avoiding any invites to participate in other hikes. I did however want to see Syndicate Falls – because it is extremely close to our house, and the trail seemed fairly easy. (It was actually, embarrassingly easy, but that’s another story).

As Coco prepared to leave the island, he got a bit clingy out of nostalgia. And having avoided his 143 invites to hike, I felt guilty and agreed to go on the ‘short’ hike to Middleham Falls with him. (Remember, I said I was not a hiker, and that I was a good sport.)

I hadn’t looked into this Middleham Falls, and took his word for it that it would be an easy hike. Following our canoe battle at Freshwater Lake, I parked by the side of the road, where the trail sign was marked, and set out on our path. Being a ‘short’ and ‘easy’ hike, I casually left my water in the car and set out.

If you’re the good kind of lazy like me, the serious kind, you know the feeling of embarrassment when you’re walking up a hill and start finding it difficult to breathe. Holding your breath, trying to appear normal, quietly wondering to yourself “how do I get out of this”?

Well that shit happened within the first 10 minutes of the hike. Quietly (probably not so), separating myself from Coco and Sarah so I could admire some leaves and catch my breath. Gazing fondly towards where the car would be, I wondered if it would be too suspicious to twist an ankle. I caught my breath, and slowly caught up to the group, and then repeated this break. After walking an agonizing period of time, lo and behold, we came across a sign marking the start of the trail.

What the fuck? What was this shit I had just walked? And for what? I shrugged my shoulders, hitched up my pants (which were wet from the lake), put on my good sport hat and trudged forth.

While Sarah scampered ahead, Coco in the middle and me in the rear, we headed on the trail at our own respective paces. The weather was nice, cool, misty, and the area was fairly heavily wooded, and I thought, this won’t be so bad. I paused here and there to take a few dozen bad photos, one of which this house:

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Suddenly there became a plethora of ‘’stairs’’. I use the term loosely, because I’m sure there’s a proper term used by the hiking community for “bullshit, steep logs placed at various heights that either make you trip, and exhaust yourself getting onto the next one”. “This is utter fuckery!”, I thought and moved myself up the incline.

Turning the corner, I saw what was ahead, and all semblance of a good sport angrily disappeared from my persona. This shit was not stopping, not evening out, but only becoming more and more bullshit stairs. Sure, some were actually downhill, which seemed like a blessing except in the back of your mind you knew that meant uphill on the return walk – and each stair was a knee jarring affair.

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And then the rain happened. Not a pleasant drizzle, not a shower, but one of the torrential island downpours.

And then more stairs happened.

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Time passed, and soon, the rain paused, and a most glorious waterfall appeared before us. I rested and berated myself for not having anything to drink. Politely taking a sip from a bottle that was offered to me (which, if you know me, is demonstrating huge restraint).

Inevitably, we had to walk back, since no one had the forethought to erect a tram system. Coco lingered back, keeping me company as I plodded along. To acknowledge this, I simply said “fuck you Coco”, on each and every stair.

And then the rain started.

Firing IT

I received a hostile message from Monkey this afternoon, citing her claim of her one regret of Dominica.  As usual, the dialogue fell silent, and I my mind began racing, conjuring up images of what her regret could be.  I know Monkey is pretty hostile about the fact that pizza is served with a pile of corn strewn atop, but I thought she was softening up to that.

Turns out, her regret was that I was killing monkeyontherocks.  “Nonsense!” I told her, “I’ve written dutifully for the past year, and have submitted a posting at least once a week – sometimes more.”

As proof, I logged into my terminal, and queued up the monkeyontherocks.  Lo and behold, she appeared correct (for once).  As it turns out, each posting I had carefully crafted and sent over to IT had not been uploaded.  “Fucking William!”, I roared, and pecked out the terms of his severance package on the screen.

There’s actually quite a bit that I could – and should share here as opposed to my (lack) of posting on Faceplace etc., so give me another chance.

Hike 1…check.

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I was invited to go along on a hike this past weekend, a hike to Victoria Falls. I was a bit nervous, since I was going with a group, to whom the demographic I swayed the old fat guy zone alone. Add to this, I had taken quite ill earlier in the week (dengue fever, 2nd time), so I was bracing for the worst.

My fear was mostly in reminding myself of a short spell in life where I decided we were going to be avid hikers. 3rd hike in, I dragged Monkey up to Soaring Eagle Super Jump or some shit like that in Madera Canyon. That’s an entirely different story, but it was my last memory of a hike. A hike that ended badly.

So I headed out with the group early Sunday morning. (Early, being D/Ca early – plan for 9AM, leave at 930).

If the roads were straight, the trail head would be about 20 minutes from Portsmouth. However this not the case, it’s about a 2 hour drive. Our driver would also serve to be our guide on the trail (not really a ‘marked’ trail). It’s a beautiful drive though, and the larger segment is actually a very familiar one.

The road near the trail head is in pretty bad shape, and our driver didn’t want to risk taking the van there. At the most, I think it added ¼ mile (if that), and truth be told…it was the most “hikiesh” part of the trip.

The path is primarily rock scrambling, sloshing through the river, rock scrambling, sloshing through the river…and so forth. It’s pretty well shaded the entire way, and by the time you get to the Falls, it’s very cold. If this is Dominica hiking, count me in every weekend.

Walk Ride Run

If you’re following the Little Monkey on Facebook, you know we live in Cotton Hill, which is a healthy, steep walk up from the main road.  While our road is unpaved, there is really only one short section of the road that is nicely paved.  Curiously, it’s smooth concrete as opposed to the asphalt that lines the other portions of the path.

To get to work, I walk down to the main road, and then head South over to the main “Bus Depot”…not so much a depot as a milling about of people.  The morning walk is pleasant; watching the little shops come to life, people setting up at the market.  The chatter from the people as they greet each other for the day.

Some mornings (today for example), I was picked up mid-journey by one of our neighbours and dropped off at work.  This is a nice luxury.  One that never happens on the return trip.

The return trip can be taxing.  It’s steep.  It’s rocky.  Here’s a video of the walk:

Part of the walk home

Perhaps my most favourite, most comfortable shoe ever (the Prince NFS II), is in no way made with this type of walking in mind.  It’s a soft gum sole, designed for playing on a racquetball court.  Suffice to say, I’m about to be walking in my socks.

The walk is one thing.  It’s inconvenience truly lies in the inconvenience presented when wanting to pick up more groceries than your back pack can hold (yes, you can take a taxi..but they don’t like driving up our road either).  Walking into town to grab a quick bite, heading in to Picard for more dining options, exploring the island…these are the true inconveniences of the road.  So, it’s time to look in to getting a car.

When the notion of moving here was first proposed, I didn’t want a car.  I wanted to leave near work, and walk.  After visiting, it was clear this was not going to become a reality, and I would have to get a car. Not a fancy car, just a Jeepish 4×4 to toddle about in.

So begins that process.

There are agencies here that will rent you a vehicle, for about $350US/week.  There are mixed reviews about these agencies as to their willingness to actually perform repairs on the vehicle, and more importantly, pick you up if something goes awry.

It’s recommended to buy a car from one of the used dealers in Japan.  There’s a slew of choices, and they’re extremely cheap.  Like $800 – $2500 cheap.  And they’re in really good shape; low mileage, well maintained.  Shipping of the car to the island is about $2100.  So not bad right?  A fairly new car for say, $4000?  Sadly, it takes about 2 months for the car to arrive on the island.

Even sadder, when the car arrives Customs hands you a bill for (no shit) 150% of the cars value (they consider the $4000 to be the total price…CIF).

Still, when all is said and done, it’s not a bad price.

Meanwhile, I’m left to figure out how best to negotiate (I’ve never demonstrated a shred of skill negotiating money), with 1 neighbour who wants to rent me his Suzuki Escudo for 1500EC (I’d offer 1K, it’s rather beat up).  I did drive it yesterday, and it was quite fun.  Almost like the first time you’ve ever driven.

Noshing

When thinking of great food destinations, many immediately come to mind. New Orleans. New York City. San Francisco. Some locations never cross your mind. Harrisburg. Ottowa. Dominica. Pensacola.

This is not to say that these locations do not have good food. In fact, it’s probably more than an insult to the people that live in these “non-foodie” destinations to make broad criticisms. I was fortunate to have not only traveled to Italy, but also grew up in a house where Italian food was always made from scratch. So, sure. I was heavily biased when it came to what I considered “good Italian food” in Tucson. I was quick to say, “There wasn’t any”.

Of course, this isn’t entirely true. I may not like how Caruso’s dumped red sauce over everything, masking all the flavours. I may have not liked many things at many Italian restaurants. But, I could always find something that satisfied me. Was it perfect? No. At the very worst, it made me wish my mom would invite us over for pasta and sausage.

The food of Dominica is more difficult to describe. It’s far from horrible.   I think many of the ‘restaurants’ add what they can to their menu, in an attempt to please the droves of pale skinned students, faculty and expats. Sometimes they get it, and sometimes not so much.

Fish, fruit, ground provisions are all in abundance. All can be eaten at any time, and perhaps a multitude of ways. In speaking with locals, I am repeatedly told that their favourite place to eat is “at my table”, or “at my home”. This makes perfect sense to me. Why go out for these local items, when you can easily prepare them at home.

There are many things that Dominica doesn’t have an abundance of, and is reliant upon the regular import and shipping schedules to get them. Ameri-Jet, the largest shipper of perishables to the island, hasn’t been shipping to Domincia since Tropical Storm Erika (about 5 months!).

The locals are just as reliant (eh, maybe not so much as the American guy), on what’s available to cook with at the grocery store. This is an experience of it’s own. Some times you go, and there’s a ton of fruit, and no meat. Other times, there’s a fair amount of meat, but no fruit or vegetables. I haven’t quite figured out the logic to the ‘schedule’, but I imagine they are still looking for the logic as well. Maybe not.

I do like making a quick loop through the grocery on my way home. Just to see what’s in, what may look like a good addition for dinner. It’s fast becoming part of my “going home” ritual. (A ritual by the way, that is completely absurd, but I am finding to be quite endearing…it’s these damn people!)

Connecting to the World

For over months we were without internet service (at home).  That’s 5 days in the “real world”, but in this day and age, that seems like suffering.  Cable was hooked up the day before yesterday, but I haven’t had cable for a long time now and am used to just sprawling in my own filth and aimlessly watching Netflix.  So, internet back up yesterday, and all should be well.

I came to the startling conclusion that my streaming music choices here at work are severely limited.  No, not by the kids over in I.T.  But by the damn U.S.of A.  And when I say, USA, I clearly mean Obama.

Pandora, Spotify…nothing.  All barred by foolish licensing.

Deep breath, poke head outside:

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Yes…working in paradise.  I can deal with this.

 

So, much like the I.T. guys, I am listening to lengthy raggamuffin mixes on youtube.

Care in the Community/Cutty Ranks: Limb by Limb

Fast Forward

One week, later and I’m accepting and adapting.  Last Saturday we packed the bags, remnants of food, Geist and the sack of rotten dog food into a van and moved into our new house.  We live in the village of Cotton Hill, Dominica (it’s Doh-mi-nee-kah, or Doh-mi-nee-kan). , which is very aptly named due to the hike required to get to the house at the end of the day.
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Moving into the house was a bit different. We had visited with the landlord the day prior and thought we had arranged a time to meet.  Arranged, or rather “time” itself is losing it’s American meaning to me (Monkey is right behind me).  So, we were packed in to the van and heading up the hill.  Slowly.  It’s definitely a 4 wheel drive requirement, or perhaps just native Dominican skills are required.

After realising that meeting at noon was a foolhardy American notion, and sitting without phone or internet service was also foolish (and boring),  I headed in to town to buy electricity.

Buy electricity?  Yes.  Most houses are set up with pay as you go electrical service (same for cell phone service). How do you know how much to pay?  Good question.  Some houses have a meter inside that requires a code to be entered after “topping off” at the store, however our house does not have this, so it will be either be a surprise when we lose electricity or we will end up stockpiling thousands of dollars over the next 25 years.

I liken our move in to this house more on par with someone moving into a new built home.  We have been the test subjects for all of the “what leaks”, “what works”, etc. It’s like camping.  And like camping, when you are frustrated, you can walk out onto the balcony, breathe deeply and look around:

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It’s a different life.  It’s a huge experience, and I’m enjoying it!