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Purely Dominica

Purely Dominica


I’m not a complainer. Really, I’m not. But having lived my first 68 years in the USA, I find that things being different take me some getting used to. Understand, please, I’m not asserting that “different” is wrong. It’s probably right for here; only I’m unused to it.

So, I’m sucking it up and learning to accept those different things. Still, I think it may amuse Dominicans reading this and help inform and prepare Americans, and Europeans and other “1st-worlders” wishing to settle here as well.

I’ll write about those differences – big and small – from time to time, and will preface it with this paragraph so that you know I’m not complaining.

The Dominican Difference #8: Auto Repair in Dominica

Something was leaking down the inside bottom of the rear tires of my car. Bad rear axle seals were allowing differential gear oil to leak. My car’s a 1996 Suzuki Escudo Nomade. This Suzuki model is very popular in Dominica and except for body changes, the car is also produced as the Asüna Sunrunner, Chevrolet Tracker, Chevrolet Vitara, Chevrolet Grand Vitara, Geo Tracker, GMC Tracker, Mazda Proceed Levante, Pontiac Sunrunner, Santana 300/ 350, and Suzuki Vitara.

That’s eleven models overall; probably 50% of the vehicles here. Axle seals are very small, inexpensive parts. And they’re vitally important – drive a car with differential gears un-lubricated and you’ll have an expensive repair job and a car that won’t run. Thus, one would think that auto parts stores and any new car dealer would stock them. But no. I tried every auto parts shop in Portsmouth and Roseau and the parts counter at the new car dealer and learned that./p>

So, I ordered the parts, opting for the “by sea” delivery, because FedEx delivery would be too expensive. Meanwhile (I was told delivery would take a month), I did the “Dominican thing” –topping up my differential gear oil (not an easy thing to do, and the village gas station and auto repair shop don’t keep any on-hand) and a jury-rig stopgap “fix” for the seals. That is to remove them, soak them for 5 minutes in a diesel oil/gasoline mixture to swell them then wash them in detergent to stop the swelling, and re-install them. It cost me labor and replacement differential oil, brake fluid, and axle grease. And didn’t work.

So I went to the next stop-gap jury-rig solution – the same as the first except this time put PVC cement around the seals. The costs were the same – and so were the results. After about a month, the shop where I ordered the seals called me, saying “Your axle seal is here.” I said “Seal? Don’t you mean ‘seals’? I ordered two.”

They checked. They’d placed my order for a pair, but the supplier sent only one. I was told the next day that by way of apology the supplier was sending the missing seal via FedEx. Today I called the auto parts store, because they’d not called to say the part had arrived, and was told that the supplier sent Dominica’s package to the Bahamas and vice-versa. Now, they’ll arrive “later” – which in Dominica can mean much later.

When part arrives I’ll have to top-up the differential oil again (the leaking oil is a pollutant) and drive 2 hours each way to Roseau to fetch my seals. Then I’ll have to get them installed, again at those aforementioned costs. Wish me luck!

Updated: (Nov 27th) The Bahamas store won’t send the Dominica package until Monday, because of the Thanksgiving weekend. Even though Thanksgiving is a US holiday. Good grief! I’m wondering what else can go wrong.

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Comment by Dan
2009-12-02 13:38:21

December 2: NAPA called. My parts are in! I will have a bus driver get them tomorrow or Friday and have my mechanic install them (and pay again, but not before I’m certain the leak is stopped) on Saturday.

Then we can go to Roseau Monday and fetch our renewed residency papers and do some Christmas shopping — and shop for a gift for Chris & Luidmila’s wedding on Dec 19 (YAAY!!), etc.

By the way, last Saturday I learned that not one of the 5 places in Portsmouth that deal in auto parts & supplies carried the 90 weight gear oil the my model of car uses! Only one shop had gear oil of any type. I got the 140 weight heavy-duty type it had and topped up. I needed a top-up badly.

Comment by Joel Halfwassen
2009-12-02 14:07:54

My question is…why don’t stores supply these things? There has to be a reason, but for the life of me I have no idea why.


Comment by pete
2009-12-02 17:50:12

Good question..You would think given the popularity of these vehicles on island that the part and at the very least – the required oil – would be available! I am guessing its either poor inventory management on the part of the dealers/suppliers or simply a case of stocking what sells the most. Admittedly, transmission problems are much less frequent than engine problems.

Either way, there should be no excuse for either the oil or the seal being unavailable! On the other hand we do know that Roseau would in likelihood have more availability of many items than Portsmouth.

I am glad that you are getting there Dan! You may want to consider St. Lucia or Barbados as a viable option for sourcing such parts in the future.

Comment by Dan
2009-12-03 09:47:59

It’s simple. many people are too poor to maintain vehicles properly. So they jury-rig and run them into the ground. I figured out why the doctored old seals leaked — the differential was topped up with low-viscosity SAE 30 engine oil instead of the proper high-viscosity SAE 90 or 140 gear oil. I’ve topped it up with 140 and it hardly leaks. But the seals arrived in Roseau yesterday & I expect to install them on Saturday — and not pay until I see no leak!

Another reason for poor local maintenance is the necessity to travel to Roseau for just about everything.

Comment by Dan
2009-12-02 15:39:15

Chris, a mistake in accreditation. I wrote this. — Dan

Comment by annoyed
2010-03-20 13:15:50

bravo mr.tanner,i hope the people who sold their properyy to you have their is disheartening to know you are so negative and you complain way too much.we are happy with our life_style,we don’t need people like you are already psychologically disturbed to try to pretend you have the answers to everything.the only reason you are down here is you wanted some peace and that you have landed in the garden of eden,all you do is try to confuse the minds of people who are comfortable and trying to live in peace.try at least to be like the canadians who are here,living in peace,provide employment to the locals.the canadians who visit dominica and never complain about anything.god bless the maple have a reputation of belittling this village/ers and i hate it.maybe you should sell and donate the money to the villagers before you return to your country of are too negative and you are racist.when will people like you ever give up?time to stop and enjoy my country.that is why you left your war-stricken country to enjoy mine.if all was well with you,you would have stayed to face the rythm you were so anxious to leave.

Comment by Joel Halfwassen
2010-03-21 14:37:37

Annoyed – You must be joking. Either that you you are what we call on the internet forums a “troll”.


Comment by Dan
2010-03-21 08:50:14

Dear Annoyed,

I am very sorry that you are offended. I was writing a series on differences between Dominica and the US for my friend Chris, who publishes Dominica Weekly. I was making efforts not to be negative about Dominica, but rather to write about the things that are different. I had hoped that people would understand that I was in no way being judgmental. I simply hoped, in that piece, to help people understand that it is not always possible here to obtain the immediate goods and services they may have become accustomed to in the USA (or Canada, or Europe).

Did you fail to notice that I wrote that the company went out of its way to FedEx the parts once it realized a mistake had been made? Or did you only start with a prejudiced mind, determined to call me a hateful name?

It is easy for someone to hurtfully call another person a racist. I suppose that there is nothing that I can write to cause you to retract that charge. I can only assert that our many Dominican friends and neighbors know differently.

There is one thing that I hope you and others reading this will understand: Telling the truth does not make a person a racist. Were I to say or write, for example, in truth that a man is a thief, that mans skin color has nothing to do with what was said or written.

All I did was write, in absolute truth, about some things that are different — different, not necessarily better or worse, just not the same — between living here and living in a place with 300 million people and immediate access to everything.

Has it occurred to you that one of the reasons we chose many years ago to retire here is precisely because we accept those differences and prefer it here? Did you know that my parents had to flee their homeland because of racism? (The nazis were killing my people, whom they regarded as a separate race — that’s lethal racism!) As a matter of fact, does my writing reveal my race or color?

Thank you.

Comment by Dan
2010-03-21 15:00:50

Dear “Annoyed”,

I notice that you lack the courage of your conviction to let people know who you are.

You also know nothing about me: I sat-in, marched, and demonstrated for civil rights in the USA in the 1960s, at considerable personal cost and some personal risk. I lost family members who were murdered by racist nazis. Our prospective son-in-law, who we love dearly, had an African-American mother and Hispanic father.

You remind me of the ill-informed basketball fans who, during the 1980s when the Boston Celtics happened to have three white starters, accused the team of racism. They apparently did not know that the Celtics has the NBA’s first black player, its first black starter, was the first NBA team to start five black players, and the first to have a black coach.

You reveal your own prejudices by lumping all Americans into the “racist” category, and all Canadians as non-racists. Read “Bayou of Pigs” and you’d learn differently.

Would I be “racist” if I’d written that the food is different here from that in America, or that one can’t buy raspberries here? You simply lack the intelligence to be able to discern “different” from “good” or “bad”.

I’ll share with you some words from e-mail I’ve received from an African-American who has tried to live in Dominica, ans has so far failed. Is she “racist”?:

“I left Dominica on Feb. 2 to take a break in the states for a while. Dan, I was having a very hard time adjusting to my new life with no electricity. Before I came to Dominica in November I thought I had done enough planning and research for me to be able to live there with no mains for a while. But it just got to be too much. The generator that I brought was loud and used so much fuel that it would take almost 3 hours to make ice. So eventually I stopped using my refrigerator and just got ice every day from the village and stored it in a cooler to keep things cold. I also bought a 600 gallon cistern for bathing and cleaning water. But we could not drink from that water so my friend had to journey into the village everyday just to get drinking water. He didn’t mind but the whole process seemed so ridiculous to have to go through everyday. And to wash dishes you had to get the water from the cistern (two tubs) and boil the water. And I created a make-shift kitchen area to drain the dishes. We built an outdoor shower which was really nice and I got used to luke-warm water for my shower. I think the main problem I had was no electricity. After the sun went down all we had for entertainment was a little radio. I loved the music from Guadaloupe but how long can you settle for that as your only entertainment? I hate to sound like an “American” but I really missed watching the news and keeping up with world events. I would listen to the news on the radio but what they offered was so limited. Even the BBC world news doesn’t keep you really informed on details. So my only source of news was my internet which I would use for about 1/2 hour a day since my generator used so much fuel.

And for a toilet I had a “luggable lui”, a 5 gallon bucket with a small toilet seat on it. My next project was going to be having a plumber install the piping and connect the septic tank to the house and the toilet that I brought down with me. It was going to be such a costly project and by that time I just really needed a break. So I chose to come back and rest for a while before I continue with any projects on the house.

My home really is darling and I enjoyed the view and watching the ships and stars. I just could not go on any longer living such a primitve lifestyle. I did manage to get a few projects done and could see myself living on the pension I have.

My neighbors who have lived in the area with a combination of solar and gas generator for a while, have stayed in touch with DOMLEC and there are no plans for electricity in the near future.

Sometimes I feel like such a failure to have cashed in my life and picked up everything I own and ship it down to Dominica. I have no choice but to return eventually because my house and everything I own is there. My friend there is watching and taking care of the house. He has no problem with living with no electricity. I’m staying in Miami for a while but I really need some of my things that are down there. I will return to Dominica in April and ship some things back in a barrel. My intention right now is to stay in Miami for a year or so and hopefully by then electricity will be in the area. In the meantime my pension is not enough to live off of so I may have to get a part time job.

I got a threatening email from my builder. He pissed because I won’t give him more money for not paying him extra for what he did not do. It is a very precocious situation but I will have to see what’s up when I arrive.”

Perhaps to see the racist here, you must look inward.

PS: Thanks, Joel. And Chris/Luidmilla, I think it’s time that your forums were moderated.

Comment by Dan
2010-03-22 10:31:19

One other thing, “Annoyed”: Although I wrote the piece, it was a Dominican editor who chose to post it. He did not disagree with it or dispute its facts. Nor did he think that it disparaged Dominica in any way. He had the reputation of his Web magazine in mind.

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