One Family’s Caribbean Adventure
Thirteen years ago, we were living in New Jersey.
Today we live in the hills behind Las Terrenas. We have beautiful mountain views on one side and ocean views on the other. I wake up each morning and sip my coffee on my terrace. I watch weather coming in from miles away, I garden, I walk my dogs. That’s my every day. And every day I wake up grateful.
My husband Don and I run the local sailing club. Don is the president. He donates so much time to this and loves it, traveling with the kids in the club to other parts of the country to sail and compete. This is a big deal for these kids who have never been away from home before.
What else do I do with my time? I do yoga. I started when I moved here, at age 50. I was so excited when I balanced on my head for the first time. You’d have thought I’d won the lottery. Now I practice yoga every morning. I also belly dance. I’m an old lady, but I shake and move and make a fool of myself and have a great time.
And, for me, that’s the best part about being here. I can do anything. I no longer feel like I have to fit some mold.
Back in the States, my husband was a banker. After 9/11 his industry tanked. He looked and looked for a job but was only offered entry-level positions—humbling. I would have had to have started working again, too—again, humbling. Neither of us wanted that, but we could not have made ends meet otherwise.
I am Dominican by birth. At the time, my father was still living here. When he died, we came down to deal with that. And we fell in love.
We sat at a restaurant in a fishing village and thought: Could we really do this? Could we leave everything back home and move here? It was an intimidating idea at first.
The biggest challenge was our mothers, both living in the States. We cared for them so much. But maybe they’d want to come with…
We brought them down to have a look, and they both said they were along for the ride.
Don is French, and his son was still in France at the time. When he heard about the French schools here, he asked if he could come live with us, too. We were thrilled.
Then my own son, living then in the United States, said the same thing.
So we had two mothers and two sons moving with us. We bought some land and rented a home for a year while our house was being built. Our rental home was right next to our construction site. That was on purpose. We wanted to be able to keep an eye on our build site. We monitored it every day to make sure our house was built properly.
Costwise, everything worked even better than we hoped. It was so much cheaper than back home—the land, the construction. Then, when our house was built, we had no mortgage. Our overall cost of living was very, very low.
Our mothers were so excited being here at first. They were rejuvenated and acted like they were back in their youth. Then we were here to see them through to the end. It was difficult, but being here made it so much easier, practically and financially. We had doctors who made house calls for US$20. One mother had breast cancer, and we had to take her to Santo Domingo for treatment and surgery. The mastectomy was US$2,500, all costs. We had a live-in nurse to help take care of them. Plus, they were here, in the midst of this paradise, with their whole family. They said it was the greatest way to “go out,” so to speak. I only hope I’m that lucky.
The kids left after a couple of years, and the mothers passed on, so we decided we had enough time to get into managing some short-term rentals. This was a very smart decision. We have done very well with this.
Is life here paradise? Well, there are challenges.
You have to be patient, you have to slow down. You have to change your mindset, to shift your expectations.
When we were building the house, for example, I used to wonder things like, how does this guy not understand how to install ceramic tile? Finally, I understood… because he had never seen it before. I had to teach him how to tile a bathroom… as if I knew!
You have to be ready to go with the flow. You will have things happen to you here that you could never imagine. For example, we had a long-term renter in one of our properties who had a Haitian girlfriend. One day he came knocking on my door asking for help getting the bird out of the house. When I went to look, there was this Haitian woman sitting in the kitchen decked out like a voodoo priestess. In her one hand she had a bird, in the other a butcher knife. She wanted to do a blood ritual to bind them for life. I had to talk the girl out of this idea and get the bird from her. I’m from New York City. I had never touched a bird before! These things come up that you could never anticipate. It makes life exciting. That’s how we see it. We embrace it. What an adventure this is.
By the way, the bird lived.
Full-time Dominican Republic expat, speaking to the crowd at this week’s event in Santo Domingo
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