Saturday, August 23, 2014

House Hunters International: DR Edition

We have been in the Dominican Republic for two and a half weeks now.  In that time, we have lived in 3 different places (4 if you count the fact that we had to change rooms in our hotel).  We rented a temporary, furnished place to stay in for a week while we looked for a permanent apartment.  Truth time: it is impossible to find a place here and move in with a one-week timeline. I was unrealistic.  Here is what it really looked like over the span of 18 days:

Days 1-7: Find abogados (lawyers/real estate people) who can show you a few places.  You find them by telling friends, co-workers, daycare providers, (whoever!) that you’re looking for a place.  Or you can ride around neighborhoods and look for signs that say “se alquila” (for rent).  There is often an abogado’s phone number posted.  They charge one month’s rent for their services. You can ask multiple abogados to show you places, and there’s no negative consequence for working with multiple people. Here are some tips:
  • Have a neighborhood in mind – recommendations from Dominicans and American ex-pats are helpful.
  • Pick a place where you will have neighbors.  A house for rent that is isolated might be a target for petty theft.
  • Electricity and running water are sporadic throughout the country, so ask about these.
  • Location – not too close to a colmado if you prefer quiet (colmados are small corner stores that can be party spots after hours). Not too close to a church if you prefer quiet (evening services may have loud worship services).
  • Furnished or unfurnished - decide what you want or look at both. (We looked at both.)
  • Don’t make a decision under pressure.  We were on a time crunch, but there were a few “nos” and a couple of “maybes”. For all the maybes, we said we’d get back to our abogado the next day.  This gave us time to think – we ended up saying “no” to both the “maybes” for various reasons.
  • Safety is stressed often. We were advised to look for places with metal bars on doors and windows (I think all houses/apartments have bars), and a closed-in place to park the car.
Day 8: Saturday. Congratulations! You’ve found your dream home. Meet with the abogado. Take your passport. Sign the paperwork. Pay 3 months rent (1 month fee for the abogado, 2 months rent as a deposit that you get back when you move out). The abogado then gets the paperwork legalizado (notarized, I think…I’m still not sure). Your next task is to get the electricity turned on. Go to the electricity place and request a solicitud. No idea what this is but it somehow verifies that your apartment is able to be hooked up with electricity. They say come back on Wednesday.

Day 9: Sunday. You negotiate a lower rate to stay until Thursday morning at the temporary place (was $100/night, negotiate to $55/night). You and the owner both know that $100/night was ridiculous.

Day 10-12: Monday-Wednesday. You wait. Shop for furniture to have it delivered Thursday. Apartments do not come with refrigerators or stoves, so you have to buy these things in addition to furniture if your place is unfurnished.

Day 13: Wednesday. Go back to the electricity place. They tell you it’s not ready to be hooked up. Come back Friday.

Day 13-15: Wednesday-Friday. Furniture is delivered. Move out of your temporary place and into a cheap hotel ($43/night). Plead with every person you see in your future neighborhood wearing an “electricity” uniform to hook you up…to no avail.

Day 15: Friday. Go back to the electricity office. Your solicitud was approved. Now you have un contracto (a contract). Your electricity will be hooked up on Monday. Hopes dashed. Notify the cheap hotel that you will be staying until Monday morning.

Day 15-17: Friday-Sunday. Wait. Switch hotel rooms Saturday because of an electricity shortage. Go to the beach because your family needs a fun day.

Day 18: Monday. Move out of your hotel and into your apartment. Hope against all hopes that someone will turn on your electricity. Eureeka! They do! Jump for joy…and buy fans.

Furniture costs (not including dishes, fans, mosquito nets, odds and ends)
Refrigerator – 15,000 pesos, $350
Bed (queen sized) – 14,000 pesos, $325
Kid bed – 5500 pesos, $130
Stove/oven – 9000 pesos, $210
Washing machine – 8000 pesos, $190
Couch – 12,000 pesos, $280
Dining room table and chairs – 7000 pesos, $165
TV – 14,000 pesos, $325
Desk – 3000 pesos, $70

Total = 87,500 pesos, about $2035

Friday, August 1, 2014

Facing Tragedy In Search of Healing

For me, the Dominican Republic is a place of great joy and even greater pain.  Most people think of palm trees, beautiful beaches, and wonderful people when they think of the D.R.  While I do think of all those things, I also have painful flashbacks to the most tragic day of my life.  My brother-in-law drowned while he was visiting my husband and me during our Peace Corps service in the D.R. four years ago. 

I remember the feeling of sheer terror when I heard my husband shouting for help from the ocean.  I could hear the fear in his voice over the sounds of the waves crashing the shore.  I remember seeing him and his brother frantically waving their arms. 

I remember running barefoot through a stretch of palm trees in search of help…and praying. 
I remember praying. 

I remember the burning heartbreak and nauseating grief I felt when I returned to the beach and could not find either of them.  I thought we had lost them both. 

I remember the dizzy combination of relief and guilt I felt when I realized my husband was still alive…but his brother was gone. 

I remember anger.  I remember feeling the most intense anger I’ve ever felt. 
Anger at myself. At the island.  At God. 

These memories swirl around my very being and they can engulf me if I let them. So I bury them.  The more gruesome memories are buried deeper still. 

But I’m going back tomorrow.  We are going back tomorrow…and I wonder what it will feel like.  The anger and guilt have subsided, but the sadness of loss remains.  We are going back for my dissertation research, but we are also going back in search of healing.  Going back means returning to a beautiful island that feels like a second home.  It also means staring a nightmare in the face.  There is so much hurt that it often overshadows the beautiful times we shared in the Dominican Republic.  I don’t want that.  I want there to be more beautiful memories.  Deeper friendships.  More good.  So we’re going back in search of healing and happiness.