Here I interview Ilana Benady, co-author of a brand new book, Expat FAQs – Moving to and Living in The Dominican Republic. This book is very much a team effort as indeed are many books. It is fitting here to mention the other three who have all played a big part in the creation of this book, published August 2011.
Ilana is Gibraltarian, with a degree in Politics and Social Anthropology from the University of Kent. She lived in Oxford for almost 10 years working for Oxfam, where among other posts she was Communications Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean. This took her to the Dominican Republic for the first time in 1996. Ilana has now lived in the DR for 12 years – nine in the capital Santo Domingo and three on the east coast, in Punta Cana. Today she works as a freelance translator, editor, writer and researcher and is the co-author of Aunt Clara’s Dominican Cookbook (with Clara González) and the Dominican Republic Culture Smart Guide (also with Ginnie Bedggood).
Ginnie, her co-author, sadly died last year.She was a British resident of Puerto Plata on the north coast of the DR. Although retired (academic and social worker) she was an extremely active writer and advisor to prospective expats through her news blog, the DR1 forums and other expat-oriented websites. She had an exceptional knowledge of the DR and its workings, a love and respect for Dominicans and an unusually perceptive understanding of human nature. She was the author of Quisqueya – Mad Dogs and English Couple – an expat memoir, and the co-author (also with Ilana) of The DR Culture Smart Guide.
Grahame Bush is Ginnie’s partner, a retired British businessman and passionate golfer. They had moved to the DR together in the early 1990s. Grahame is in the process of setting up a foundation in Ginnie’s memory, with the idea of nurturing young Dominican talent, possibly in the field of investigative journalism. Together, they hope to donate part of the proceeds from this book donated to the Foundation.
Pedro “Pedrito” Guzmán is a well-known Dominican photojournalist who cut his teeth in the DR press in the politically turbulent late 1970s/early 1980s Dominican Republic. He went on to work as a war photographer/-reporter in Central America in the mid/late 1980s. He returned to the DR in 1990 and worked as the personal photographer to several leading political figures and has covered a range of key national and international events and has also worked for international NGOs like Unicef and Oxfam. His photos are known for their powerful social realism and depiction of the DR’s natural beauty. Married to author Ilana Benady since 1999, they live in Punta Cana with their 11-year old son Lucas. Many of his photographs appear in the book.
JP: Tell me about your book. What is it about? Can you describe it in just a few sentences?
IB – Expat FAQ – Moving to and Living in the Dominican Republic is a practical, detailed handbook for anyone considering moving to the DR. It covers all the possible issues a prospective expat might face, from the legal nitty-gritty to real-life situations, as well as the country’s cultural and historical context. It is aimed at retirees, professionals and “snowbirds” – people with a second home in the DR.
JP: Why did you write it?
IB – Ginnie and I perceived a strong need for this book, based on the daily flow of questions to sites like DR1.com and to our in-boxes from people considering relocation or retirement to the DR. We found ourselves answering the same questions again and again, so it seemed like the logical step – to compile all this knowledge into one single book.
JP: What qualifies you to write this book?
IB – Both of us are qualified in different but complementary ways: Ginnie knows the country from the perspective of the north coast, expat community, although she did not live in a gringo bubble – she spoke very good Spanish and was very much integrated in the local community.
I have lived in the non-touristy areas in the interior of the country (the small city of Cotuí), the capital Santo Domingo and the touristy east coast. I’m married into a Dominican family, speak fluent Spanish and have a lot of knowledge about the country that I acquired over the years through development work and everyday life. Ginnie was writing from the perspective of an older, retired expat, without children, while my experience is of a (slightly) younger foreigner married to a local and raising a child in the country.
Between us we had about 35 years of experience of living and working in the country.
JP: Why do you think your book needed to be written? What will it do for other people? How will it help? Did you have any competition?
IB – The DR is on the list of prospective retirement destinations for people from the US, Canada and the UK, as well as other European countries. Many people also have holiday homes in the DR and spend the winters there (they are known as “snowbirds”).
Judging by the questions that people ask there is a lack of comprehensive guides where the full range of answers is provided.
There have been other books, one in particular comes to mind but it was Santo Domingo-focused and has been out of print for many years. (Living in Santo Domingo, mid 1990s) There are some personal stories out there, including Ginnie’s own Mad Dogs and English Couple but not a practical, detailed expat handbook as such.
JP: It does not matter how good a book is, or how good your writing is if no one knows about it. What steps have you taken or do you plan to take to promote your book? Are you a speaker or trainer? Do you have a blog? A website? A newsletter? Do you use Facebook, Twitter or other social media tools? What about press releases and sending out review copies and free articles? Have you had any other ideas? Which methods do you think work best and can you give me any examples?
IB: Ginnie had a blog/website that is still being managed by a friend. I use Facebook and will set up a Page for the book, which can serve as a promotion tool as well as a place for people to ask questions. I have a Twitter account that can also be used to promote the book. Find it at @aunt_ilana.
The Dominican Cooking website (thousands of visitors) and its Facebook page (almost 10,000 likes) will feature the book – part of its readership overlaps with the book’s target audience. The DR1.com forums will be an important promotion tool and it is worth getting paid advertising with them in return for active promotion of the book in the forums, whose readership is identical to the book’s target audience. Otherwise promotion will have to be passive – third party recommendations. DR1 is the top tourism/travel/expat site about the DR in English. I will also promote to other similar sites. I will also promote the book in other DR media in English, by sending a press release to Dominican Today and regional publications read by tourists/expats/snowbirds (Puerto Plata, Sosua News, Casa de Campo News, Bavaro News), as well as the DR media in Spanish where I have a lot of contacts.
Eventually I hope the book will make it onto essential reading lists about the DR, at the end of guidebooks and on other websites.
JP: What was your biggest challenge regarding the writing of your book? How have you overcome that? Of course, it is inevitable that Ginnie passing away was the biggest challenge and it will be relevant for you to comment on that, but did you have any other challenges?
IB – For me, the only really difficult bit was finding the time, as I had to combine my work on the book with a busy working schedule and family obligations, in contrast with Ginnie, who was retired and could give it much more of her attention. Otherwise it was a pleasurable experience and the actual writing came easily.
Another challenge for both of us was to “tell it as it is” honestly without glossing over, but also without being unfair to our host nation, the Dominican people. I think we succeeded, because all the Dominican friends who read the drafts pronounced them accurate and fair, although they did acknowledge there were some uncomfortable truths!
Ginnie’s death in July 2010 was completely unexpected and it took a long time for it to sink in. In practical terms the timing was particularly difficult because we had just completed the text and I was left on my own to deal with all the subsequent work: proofing, revisions, etc. Suddenly I didn’t have anyone to compare notes with, to make decisions together and it was a very lonely situation. On a personal level I lost a dear friend – although we only met in person about twice over the six or so years of our friendship, we were in daily contact via e-mail, exchanging personal news as well as our working communications about the book.
JP: Now you have written this book, what has writing it done for you, your family, your self-esteem or your business? As you have both written a number of things before, please comment in the light of all your writing work.
IB – A bittersweet sense of achievement, tinged by sadness at Ginnie’s absence. It was a very thorough piece of work and I am proud of it. It is also a worthy legacy – Ginnie’s wealth of knowledge and passion to inform people about the DR will live on through the pages of our book.
JP: If you were to give advice to someone else who is thinking about writing a book, what would be your number one tip?
IB – It will take longer than you think!
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