Photo above: motorist navigating flooding streets in Santo Domingo.
It has been raining since I have arrived in Santo Domingo, from the plane’s descent with the rain thundering down, streaking the windows, drenching the runway crew, to the writing of this post, the rain has been engaged in an ongoing assault of different degrees of intensity. I have not seen the sun once.
This is all due, of course, to Tropical Storm, now turned Hurricane, Sandy. It is by far not the first hurricane I have weathered here but in many ways it is one of the more dramatic.
We live on the second floor here, I say ‘we’ because it is like my second, albeit more primitive, home. Thankfully we are on the second floor or the flooding would be worse. But with rain of this intensity, flooding is almost unavoidable. The windows do not have glass (or screens for that matter) but just metal slats that can be open or shut. They often break and stay stuck open or closed or somewhere in between. Even when closed they are not watertight so when the rain and wind is beating against them, the water finds its way in.
In addition to the windows, most buildings here are poorly constructed with shoddy materials and shortcuts. The laborers, who are exclusively illegal Haitian immigrants, work hard and live in appalling conditions right on the worksite. They are not skilled to see the flaws, nor do they have the authority to point out structural mistakes even if they knew about them. The result is that buildings in the Dominican Republic are built quickly without regard to their structural soundness. This is true for all class levels and price ranges. When I lived in Gazcue, a gentrified sector of Santo Domingo, I rented a large apartment on the bottom floor of a house. The rent cost me US $1000 per month, a lot of money in the Dominican Republic. When I first looked at the place, I saw that there was a filtration problem. Water was leaking through various places in the ceiling. “No problema.” they assured me and four months later they said all was fixed and ready to move in. But it was not fixed. Shortly after moving in we discovered that although the leaks in the ceiling had been patched, water was still coming in, down the walls in the closets. We even had water drip down into an electrical outlet, which then caught on fire. The paint on the closet walls was continually wet, the clothes got moldy, and my newborn baby daughter was plagued with a respiratory infection that never went completely away. To this day she has a delicate respiratory system that I know was due to that place.
Once you sign a contract in the Dominican Republic, all measure of responsibility goes away. The landlord of that apartment in Gazcue, who lived in the apartment above, did nothing to fix the problem and I could not afford to move for over a year. But every apartment I have lived in before or since in this country has also had a filtration problem to a greater or lesser degree. Which brings me to the apartment I am now in which has one wall where, when it rains, the water pours down and into the bedroom, because, another issue due to faulty construction, the floors are not level.
So this is what happened on Wednesday night, when the rain was the most intense all night long, and I woke to use the bathroom and realized that our bed, a foam mattress on the floor, was now a water-logged sponge. It was the middle of the night and the power was out as well, so there wasn’t much we could do but put a towel on puddle that was ready to encroach further on the bed and slide the bed a few feet away. We went back to sleep, now aware of the dampness under us and made the best of it.
In the morning we stood the mattress up and put the fan on it to try to dry it out but it had absorbed so much water that we only managed to make it a little less damp but no where near dry. Thankfully the rain eased up on Thursday so it didn’t get wetter. One learns to be grateful for what one can.
We had to go out on Thursday so we had to deal with the rain in a different way, in wet seats of public cars or busses and in the flooded streets we had to cross. One has to get used to feeling sticky and unclean if you travel around the city as we do. Of course this is because we are traveling about on a local level since all our extra money has been going into the visa process. There was a time when I lived like the upper middle class here. I had a car, an apartment in a nice neighborhood, hot water, A/C (in one room which is the most even rich people have), a tinaco (water tank) so I didn’t run out of water, an inverter so I always had power, a bilingual Montessori school to educate my children and a staff to maintain the house. Then all I had to complain about was traffic and dishonest help.
But my standards of living lowered when the global economic crisis hit the Dominican Republic and it was a slippery slide downhill until I finally had to buck up and move back home.
Even though life got tougher before it got better, I am glad for the experience. There is a disadvantage of living in a Third World country while maintaining the same, or nearly the same, standard of living as back home because you never come to appreciate how the people really live. I have never had to live as the poorest of poor thank god, but I have had to live at a much lower standard of living than in the U.S. and I realize that I don’t need all the comforts, I just want them. Americans, who have never experienced local living in a Third World country truly believe they need all the comforts they have to survive. Having power and water 24 hours a day sure is nice but not a necessity. A little humbling of lifestyle could do us all a bit of good.
So we returned home last night after completing our business in the Capital, inspected the bed and it was, unfortunately, still damp all over and downright soaking wet on one side. My ex, who always likes to joke and lighten up a situation, lies down on the bed and says “Come baby, now we have a waterbed. No one in Santo Domingo has a waterbed like we have.” Gotta love the guy. We slept on the half that was less wet which made for more snuggling. If you didn’t move around you didn’t really notice the dampness. The way I see it, my bed in Florida now seems that much more luxurious…
It is now night and the power has now been out all day. We dress to go out using a flashlight. It is all rather surreal. Will I be happy when the sun comes out or the power returns, most definitely. Until, I enjoy that I am with my sweetheart, a rare experience these days, and let the rest slide.