Friday, July 31, 2015

Experiencing limited resources while living in the Dominican Republic

Power Outages:

If you are going to spend any extended amount of time in the Dominican Republic “living like the locals”, then you will soon discover the amount of power outages that occur on a weekly basis. At some point you won’t be able to avoid this, so don’t take these resources for granted…someone else out there is wishing they had it!!

In the area that I live in (Munoz, Puerto Plata), the power goes out on a SET SCHEDULE.  I am without electricity on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Usually it will go out around 9am and come back on around 2pm.  Other times, it may go out around 2pm and come back on around 4:30.  Overall, you can expect 2-4 hours.  I tremendously hate it when it goes out around 2pm because this is the time when I have just arrived home from working in the school/community and I’m very tired. Upon arriving home I usually cook lunch and I’m trying to settle down for a siesta…then the power goes out...UGH!  Even with the warm breeze bustling through my window as I lay across the bed nearly naked, I still wake up from my nap drenched in sweat.  Honesty, I’d prefer the morning outages…at least the apartment is still a bit cool.  Although the schedule is set, don’t be surprise when it ALSO goes out on a Wednesday (sometimes). 

I’ve been told that in certain neighborhoods the electricity will go out due to the fact that a large percentage of the residents are not paying their bill.  In this case, this leaves the few GOOD Paying residents to suffer.  Other explanations I’ve been given is that a community (such as a Haitian batey) may elect one individual to pay the bill (NOTE: This is done because several house can be located on ONE piece of property and everyone divides the bill) and the bill may not get paid, leaving the residents that did pay to suffer the consequences.


Quite honestly the outages are not too bad. It happens when most people should be at work or school. Besides, everyone cooks with gas…not to mention that it’s also very sunny here…so it’s not like you REALLY NEED to turn your lights on anyways during the day!!  Also since I’ve been here, there were about 2 power outages that occurred at NIGHT, but everyone pretty much has an Inverter (generator) to keep things running (especially at apartments, resorts, grocery stores etc..).  Prior to arriving I pack several LED lanterns and candles which have come in handy during the night. 
Solar panel are being used in the DR more than ever too. Several homeowners, business and resorts utilize the power of the sun. Excellent!

**Remember the best rule of thumb is to ALWAYS have your laptop and other important electronics plugged into a surge protector...NEVER EVER plug anything straight into the wall outlet.  They use the American standard wall outlets here, so if you're American there's no need to buy outlet converters. Also remember that the power outages cause major electrical surges that will harm or completely fry your laptop.  So if you're not using those items...shut it down and unplug everything. 


Water Supply:

Yes it’s true…DON’T DRINK THE WATER here! HOWEVER, it is recommended to slowly introduce bacteria from the water into your system by means such as brushing your teeth or gargling with it.  Using this technique will minimalize your risk of becoming very ill from food borne bacteria and drinks containing ice (like the local sno-cones).  I know plenty of people that have done this and they’ve lived to tell the story. So brushing your teeth with the water obviously won’t kill ya.  I don’t brush my teeth with the water, but I do rinse off my toothbrush with the tap water then squirt hand sanitizer on the bristles and let it sit in purified water (primarily because I’m such a huge germ-a-phobic) before drying it off with a paper towel.

One Peace Corps worker even advised me that the Peace Corps informs their employees that if they boil the water for about 3-5 minutes, it will be fine to drink.  I’m still not trying that theory yet….


A Dominican Professor told me that her mom NEVER washes her hair in the tap water.  She only uses purified bottled water. 
This I can understand, because the minerals and bacteria in the tap water can make your hair dry and unmanageable and actually grimier over time…especially if you have a perm. Her mother’s hair is like most African American women hair textures (with a perm).  My hair is 100% natural. As such the tap water may be fine, but although I don’t use chemicals or perms I didn’t want to take a chance. Since I’ve been here, I currently wash my hair in a huge bowl with purified bottled water.  I swish my head around in the bowl, scrub my scalp a few times and then empty the bowl.  I place more bottled water into the bowl, then rinse. Since arriving, I only use a Co-Wash…it makes more sense considering I use less water and it takes less steps to complete.


As for food, you quickly learn NOT TO WASH YOUR VEGTABLES in the tap water as well.  This can be a tricky lesson to learn.  Albeit when you go out to eat at places, they use the tap water to clean the head of lettuce for your salad.  Then unbeknownst to you, you’re not sure why you have this 72 hour stomach bug that never seems to go away.  I’m sure this doesn’t occur as much in those fancy resorts. But if you’re reading the blog then you’re obviously not seeking advice from a Resort stand-piont.  This applies to scenarios of eating local food in the local restaurants etc… The good thing about getting a stomach virus here is that once you’ve had it and it’s been cured…YOU’RE GOOD FROM THAT POINT ON!  YOU HAVE NOW BEEN INITIATED!! You’ve now introduced your digestive system to their strain of bacteria and you shouldn’t have that problem anymore.  YES…I’ve been initiated already and I’m glad that I passed the initiation point!  Think of it as getting the Chicken Pox…once you’ve had it, you don’t have to worry about again.  The key to staying this way is to Hydrate, Hydrate Hydrate!

Water supply in the DR can be very limited.  This isn’t new news. It’s common. It is delivered on a weekly basis to some places. However, other places NEVER get clean bottled water.  Additionally, there has been SEVERAL times that my apartment here in Puerto Plato and the other apartment I lived in (in Santiago) RAN OUT OF WATER.  I couldn’t flush the toilet or take a shower.   I quickly found a work-around…I started hoarding 5 gallon water jugs and filling them up with TAP water when the water finally came on. I then would pour a few tablespoons of bleach in it.  Now on the days we have NO WATER, I am able to at least take a sponge bath and wash my dirty dishes and white clothes.  Luckily the shortage never lasted more than 2 days at most.  I’m also lucky that I didn’t run out of my Purified Jugs of water that I use for DRINKING & COOKING. The 5 gallon water jugs are pretty inexpensive. It’s good to have a couple of those around to. It takes me almost 2 weeks to go through one jug, so I’m always good in the area.  Other tenants in my apartment were wondering how I managed through those times, while they were taking morning baths down by the river.  I went ahead and let them in on my secret.  
I do miss having washers and dryers:
When I first arrived to the DR, I was under the impression that I could simply take my clothes down to a Washateria/Laudry mat on a Saturday and just chill as they dried.   NOPE!!!! They don't have Laundry mats here.  I quickly found this out after hopping into a taxi with all my clothes and I asked the taxi drive to please take me to the nearest lavenderia (laundry mat).  We pulled up to a large building that had the Lavenderia sign.  He assisted me with bring all my clothes in and waited for me outside.  I quickly found out from the lady at the counter that this place was like a dry cleaners.  They can wash all my clothes themselves for a price.  I got back in the car and talked to the taxi driver and explained to him what type of Laundry mat facility I was looking for. I informed him that this was a dry cleaners we are at.  I explained to him what a Laundry mat looks like on the inside. He thought that my perception of a laundry mat was very funny.  He started laughing and said that there is no place in the DR that has a room filled with washing machines and dryer for you to wash your clothes.  He pointed back to the building we were at and said that this is where everyone takes their clothes to be cleaned. He couldn't imagine such a place that I had previous described.  We both laughed because I was SHOCKED that laundrymats don't exist (ESPECIALLY HERE) and he was shocked to know that something like that actually existed. We both laughed about it all the way back to my apartment.
So with that being said...I hand wash my clothes EVERY WEEK in a bucket. It can take me
several hours to do so.  This is the 1 weekly task I don't look forward to. Yes, it’s a grueling task, but on the positive side it's a good work out.
However, one thing I immediately noticed is that the water strips away the color from my clothes. Dark clothes that I’ve washed and placed in a dryer One Million times back home in America, have now dramatically been stripped of its color when washed here in the DR…JUST BY USING THE COLD TAP WATER here.  Keep in mind…I don’t have a drying machine, so they air dry in my apartment…not in direct sunlight either.  This is how I knew that there is something in the water. Something strong…LOL! 

Yes, some Dominicans have washing machines, but they're not like you would imagine. They're fairly smaller and made from plastic.
A very sweet neighbor once let me wash some items at their house. But no dryers.  Besides, it's so freaking hot outside, why would you need a dryer in a house that's already hot?  As I mentioned, the washing machine are not like the typical washing machines you would find back home.  They're nothing more than a huge plastic bucket that has 2 sections. One section is for Washing and the other section is for spinning. The machines are usually outside or near a place where your outside water hose can reach it or a shower area. The water hose is screwed into the machine from the top to fill it with water during its cycles. The manual part is that YOU STILL HAVE TO RINSE your clothes after it's ran through the wash cycle.  You must pull the clothes out and then place them in another water filled bucket (sitting on the floor nearby) to get excess soap out.  Afterwards, you place the clothes back into the machine and let it run through the final rinse cycle.   Because it's made of plastic, it doesn't agitate the clothes as hard as you would imagine. 
I can pass along the street on any given day and see many locals drying their clothes on a fence line across the street from their home or maybe from the balcony of their apartments.  The clothes of course dry extremely fast here on sunny days.

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