Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

Buying a Radio

I know I have complained about customer service before: here is another one, but at least I think everyone learned something out of this one.

This time of year it is imperative to know about tropical storm warnings and to keep abreast of the storm if/when it hits, so I bought a radio. There is a chain of stores here in Dominica called COURTS. They sell electrical appliances and furniture. There is a store on my way home from school and they had what I had in mind, maybe a little more money than I wanted to spend, but so be it. I paid my money, took my radio, went home in the driving rain looking forward to my new toy.

I plugged it in and there was a loud crack with sparks and a smell of burning electricity. You can imagine my dismay…I packed it up and went back to COURTS, (about a 15 minute walk, happily it had stopped raining for a bit). The young lady who had served me was surprised to see me and looked with puzzlement at the box. “We have a problem” I said as I went over to her. She was pleasant and ready to help politely explaining that the store policy was ‘no returns’. No signs, notices, or note on the invoice to announce this policy. She offered to exchange it, but would have to talk to her manager. I insisted that I didn’t want another one. I wanted my money back. The store manager came over, and this is where it could have fallen apart.

She did not address me; she did not ask me what the problem was. Slouching over the counter, she had her back to me and gruffly questioned the young clerk. She issued rules and regulations. She refused to make eye contact with me. I tried to interrupt her, but she was in full sail and couldn’t be diverted. I pulled on her sleeve, aware that my blood was rising. “I am the customer,” I said, “You need to be talking to ME...This nice young lady is doing her best and has nothing to do with the problem. Please talk to me directly”. She wasn’t going to have any of this, and still with her back to me, she addressed me over her shoulder saying that they would not do anything and finally stomped off to call her superior. She came back to me to announce that I hadn’t reset the radio from 110V to 220V and if I had read the manual I would have known to do that, and therefore it was my fault that the radio broke and that they were not going to give me another one, or give me my money back.

“It’s your fault.” she continued. “You have to send it back to the service department for repairs.” “No,” I said as calm as can be. I can see she is getting up a head of steam. I stood my ground without saying anything. She started accusing me of not knowing enough to switch it. “It’s not our fault, it’s your fault.” There was that word again and I was, by now, more annoyed at being accused of irresponsibility and stupidity, and not being talked to directly. As she was carrying on about whose ‘fault’ it was, another person in the store came to my defense and said that it was not my fault, it was the store’s fault for not telling me. Dominicans are highly competitive and love laying blame and fault, but there was just too much fault finding and blaming going on here for me. There was not going to be any movement, and people in the store were watching and waiting for a good yelling match to develop. So, evoking my friend Brian Strom of CICR, (www.cicr-icrc.ca/),I kept my voice low, spoke very slowly, kept smiling, looked her directly in the eye and explained my position again, and adding that there is no issue about fault, and that I was sure we could find a good compromise. I offered not to insist I get a full refund, if they would simply exchange it. They could send the broken one to their service department for repair, as she had mentioned that it was a simple matter of exchanging a small part. Pause. Another phone call. A flurry of activity, which I missed because I was busy breathing deeply. Suddenly a new boxed radio appeared, was handed over with a smile and a kind word. I thanked everyone, and fled with it.

When I turned in the radio the first thing I got was Radio Canada via Lucerne, Switzerland!!!

P.S. there is NO mention of switching from 110V to 220V in the manual. Should I drop in and let them know?
P.P.S. I did go by Courts this afternoon. I was warmly greeted and I informed the woman I had dealt with that the manual, in fact, did NOT say anything about switching the voltage thing. She thanked me for the info.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fishermen's Politics

These are my impressions only, and keep in mind that the Dominican fisher folk speak quickly, loudly, use words I don’t know, and in a heavy accent, so I don’t get it all, and certainly not nuances.

Fishing is a major source of personal income, but there are very few full time fishermen. They each have their own boat and gear. The gear includes the expected reels, nets, traps, scales, lines, various baits, etc. and now also includes a GPS system. The GPS is so the fishermen can locate their Fish Aggregating Devices known as FAD. FADs are moored or free-floating structures placed in the open ocean. Its primary function is to attract pelagic fish (i.e. fish that are normally caught at or near the sea surface or in the water column), which in turn attract large fish (tuna , dolphin, marlin etc.). The FAD is tied to a buoy, and the GPS is set to the location of the buoy. This allows the fishermen to fish way out in the channel between Guadeloupe and Dominica, in the open ocean. Little fish are attracted to it, and the bigger fish are attracted to the little fish. The fisherman trawls the waters at various distances from the fad. At the moment it is the individual fisher man who sets a FA D (or as many as he can afford). FADS are expensive to set up and maintain. It is not every fisherman who has one. They will fish off another man’s FAD whether invited to or not.

This picture is from: www.fishingislandhawaii.com/fad.htm

So, the fisherman goes out in the early morning, goes to his FAD (or FADS), and trawls the area around it. The catch is held in an ice filled cooler, and he heads home late in the afternoon (or earlier if the fish aren’t biting). He pulls his boat up to the beach and empties his cooler of fish on a big table, pulls out his scales and knife, blows on his conch shell and people turn up with pails and plastic bags to buy their dinner! Five Canadian dollars will get you about 3 pounds of terrific tuna. What he doesn’t sell on the spot he puts on ice, or if he has a pick up truck, takes the rest of the catch into the city, or to the villages inland and sells it.

This method has worked for a very long time – but it is an ‘every man for himself’ operation. There are a few co-operatives around the island that seem to be working well. However, fish stocks are depleting as they are being over fished, foreign boats are fishing in Dominican waters, and the individual fisherman isn’t making a good living anymore. Change and adjustment is imperative.

So…the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is in the process of bringing in regulations to support the Fisheries Act (1987). A series of consultative meetings between the Fisheries Division and the local fisher folk are being held all around the Island. There are several stated goals for these consultations. Of course, one is to encourage conservation of fish stocks and prevent species depletion. The State sees that it has the overall responsibility to ensure that fish stocks are maintained and that there will always be a supply of fish to catch. Most interesting, to me, is the Ministry’s push to make the fisherman see his operation as an enterprise and to run it as a business and especially to plan for lean times, and not to rely on the government for handouts and relief, but to rely on themselves and their co-operatives. Every fishing community will have a functioning co-operative, which is run locally. It is the co-operative’s job to determine the size of boat, how many boats, how many FADS, spacing of the FADS, data collecting, reporting.

The Ministry is proposing to set up and maintain all FADS – that is, there will be no more individually held or owned FADS. The Ministry will set the FADS on the advice of the local co-operative. Monies have already been allocated for the deployment of FADS. The fisherman must obtain a license or permit to fish off a government FAD. Sports fishing will not be permitted off a government FAD. What fish can be taken, license fees and structure, enforcement of regulations, are the issues at hand. There appears to be some resistance to giving up individually owned FADS. This is a contentious issue.

I have attended only 2 of these consultations, but I have listened to discussions and arguments among the fishermen. Skeptic that I am about these things, and especially about Government promises, intentions and statements, I was impressed with the vision, the presentation, the patience coupled with urgency, shown by the Ministry representatives and especially by their belief in consultative management . They are going to bring Dominica into the 21st century as quickly and as gently as possible. For sure, the times they are achangin’.

It also became quickly apparent to me that the characters, the attitudes, the worries, the questions, the misunderstandings, the new ideas that are troublesome are universal!

The Haitians Hang Up Their Laundry and Chase Chickens

Close to my window at the back is a clothes line. Close to my road is a house occupied by 2 large Haitian men. They mostly keep to themselves, but they are a presence, and they do walk back and forth by my door and window, sometimes silently, startling me, and sometimes chattering loudly. They usually do their laundry at the pipe by my door, and hang it up on the line at my back window (2 feet away). It is a minor disturbance. This Sunday morning the Haitian men were doing their laundry, at the pipe, and using the bench I had built outside my door, and hanging up their socks and underwear right at the window (which, by the way, also blocks the light). Sono fussed and muttered about it, as he usually does whenever they are about. I agreed it was strange, but not worth doing anything about. He was watching them from the window. Finally when the last pair of boxer shorts went up he leapt into voluble action. French and patois are his first language, so he let them have it…I gather he told them to go hang their underwear elsewhere, not right in the Lady’s (that would be me) direct line of vision. “ C’est pas bien! It is disrespectful.” I think I caught, “Put up a line by your house. Why do you come here and bother the Lady?” The laundry came down quickly and disappeared around the corner.

To complicate things further with my Haitian neighbours…

I am taming a wild rooster and his two hens. They come every evening at the same time for food, just before they roost for the night in a tree. One of the hens has been sitting on a nest of eggs in the shrubbery outside my door. It takes three weeks for the eggs to incubate, and I figured that we were at about week two and a half. So yesterday, the day after the laundry incident, I caught the Haitian man stalking the setting hen. I flew at him, squawking, arms flapping and French flying just like a mother hen. Again Sono let him have it in patois. Today we were rewarded by the black hen bringing her two little chicks, one black, one blond, for a feed!

By the way, you don't hear the term chicken used very often. They are reffered to as 'fowl' pronounced 'foal'.

Also, by the way, I have spoken more French in the past week than I have in the past 5 years. I had no idea how much I knew.