Thursday, July 23, 2009

The last hurrah

Well folks, I'm back in Canada!

My last week in Guatemala was spent at the home of Dra de Romillo while visiting the Faculty of veterinary medicine of the University of San Carlos. This is the only vet school in Guatemala, and is considered to be the leading school in Central America. While there, I visited the department of Public Health and spent a good amount of time at the teaching hospital. I met with Dra Andrea Portillo who is responsible for organizing sterilization campaigns in different areas of the country with the students, as well as the Dean of the faculty. It was encouraging to see the high level of interest on behalf of the faculty to continue to form bonds with the FMV in Montreal and to work on building a long-term exchange program between the two schools.

I left Guatemala on Monday to spend a day in Costa Rica to meet with WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals), and confirmed their interest in collaborating in the production on the rabies education manual.

And after 3 more flights and an uncomfortable night in Washington National airport, it was wonderful to be greeted home in Montreal!

To sum it all up: 10 weeks, 1 dog population survey, 1 rabies surveillance report, and 1 dog bite and rabies prevention manual. Uncountable Spanish mistakes, but with huge improvement. Nights spent sleeping under 5 blankets, 2 sleeping bags and a toque in Todos Santos, and nights spent sleeping in not very much, in a tent in the jungle. 2 new families, lots of new friends, and some great connections. Over 200km of hiking between the Cuchumatanes mountains and the Peten jungle, and lots of hours at the computer. Some late nights in surgery, some quiet days of reading, some days in meetings (sometimes in appropriate attire, others in hiking boots) and some air time on Xela TV and radio. Getting to know a country where the way of life varies enormously between individuals and cultures, but where generosity and hopsitality is always in the cards.

I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity, and can't thank enough everyone who helped make it such a great experience. Thanks to my hosts in Guatemala (Dr. Dugas, the Cajas-Morales family and the de Romillo family), Dr. Dugas for supervising my time at PAHO, Dr. Figueroa for giving me the chance to work with him in Xela, and Dra de Romillo for organizing my time at the faculty. My project was made possible thanks to Vets Without Borders Canada (thank you Enid, Marjo, Andrew and Kate!) le Groupe International Veterinaire of U of M (thank you Denise, Kathleen, Cecile and Josiane), and grant from the Millennium Scholarship Foundation. And finally, thanks to everyone in Guatemala who gave me such a wonderful welcome.

And thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed!


Durant ma dernière semaine au Guatemala, j’étais logée chez Dre de Romillo pour visiter la Faculté de médecine vétérinaire de l’Université de San Carlos. C’est la seule faculté vétérinaire dans le pays, et est reconnue partout en Amérique centrale. Pendant que j’étais là, je visitais le département de santé publique et je passais beaucoup de temps à l’hôpital d’enseignement. J’ai rencontré Dre Andrea Portillo qui est la responsable pour les cliniques de stérilisation qui sont effectués avec les étudiants, ainsi que le doyen de la faculté. J’étais très encouragée de voir un fort intérêt de la part de la faculté de continuer de travailler à faire des liens avec la FMV et de créer éventuellement un stage plus permanent entre les deux facultés.

Je suis partie du Guatemala lundi matin pour passer la journée à Costa Rica en rencontrant le WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) pour confirmer leur implication dans la production du livre éducatif.

Finalement, après 3 autres vols et une nuit plutôt inconfortable dans l’aéroport de Washington D.C., c’était très agréable d’être rencontrée à mon arrivée à Montréal!

Pour faire le bilan : 10 semaines, 1 sondage de population canine, 1 sommaire de la surveillance de la rage et un bouquin éducatif sur la prévention des morsures et de la rage. Des fautes innombrables d’espagnol, mais beaucoup de progrès. Quelques nuits dormant sous 5 couvertes, 2 sacs de couchage et une toque à Todos Santos, et quelques nuits dormant peu vêtue dans une tente dans la jungle. 2 nouvelles familles, plusieurs nouveaux amis et de très belles connections. Plus de 200km de randonnée entre les montagnes Cuchumatan et la jungle de Petén, et plusieurs heures à l’ordi. Quelques longues nuits de chirurgie, quelques jours tranquilles de lecture, quelques jours en réunion (des fois bien habillée, d’autres fois en bottes de randonnée) et passant à la télé et au radio à Xela. Découvrir un pays dans lequel la population connaît une variété énorme de styles de vie, mais où l’hospitalité est toujours au menu.

Je me sens très chanceuse d’avoir eu cette opportunité, et je ne peux pas remercier assez tout le monde qui a contribué à me donner une expérience si mémorable. Merci à tous qui m’ont hébergé au Guatemala (Dr Dugas, la famille Cajas-Morales et la famille de Romillo), Dr Dugas de m’avoir supervisé à PAHO, Dr. Figueroa de m’avoir donné la chance de travailler avec lui à Xela et Dre de Romillo d’avoir organisé mon séjour à la Faculté. Mon projet a été possible grâce à Vétérinaires sans Frontières Canada, (merci à Enid, Marjo, Andrew et Kate), le Groupe International Vétérinaire de la FMV (merci à Denise, Kathleen, Cécile et Josiane), ainsi qu’une bourse du Millénaire. Finalement, j’aimerais remercier tout le monde au Guatemala de m’avoir si bien accueilli.

Et merci à vous d’avoir suivi mon voyage, en espérant que vous avez aimé l’expérience!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle!

To pick up where I left off, after spending a week and a half at Dr. Figueroa’s clinic in Xela, I returned back to Guatemala City with Dr. Dugas (who came to Xela for a day to discuss the production of the rabies education book with Dr. Figueroa and members of the Ministry of Public Health). It was a short visit with him, as he left on vacation back to Canada two days later. As of June 20th, my new home has been with Dr. Blanca de Romillo, a prof at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine who specializes in microbiology. She and her family have been amazing, and I feel very welcomed once again.

I really only spent the weekend with them, however, before heading back to Xela for a few days: the faculty was still on holidays, and Dr. Figueroa appreciated having me around to help out!

This past week was MY week of “holidays”: I thought it would be a bit of a shame to spend 10 weeks in Guatemala without seeing the Mayan pyramids or the jungle. So…. I thought the 6-day, 125km trek to El Mirador (the largest known Mayan pyramid) through the jungle of the Petén region would be appropriate!

I booked the trip with a tourist group, and was accompanied by 6 other visitors, 2 guides, a cook, and a dozen mules to carry our equipment, food, water, and occasionally us. I became the translator of the group, as none of the 6 spoke Spanish, and the guide didn’t speak English! We visited 3 different groups of pyramids: El Mirador and Tintal (dating from around 300BC) and Nakbe (c. 700BC). Archaeologists are currently working on uncovering parts of the numerous pyramids that make up these sites, although the vast majority remains covered by forest. It was impressive to walk through vast stretches of jungle before practically stumbling across such large structures. We were able to crawl inside some of the tunnels dug into the pyramids to excavate, coming into contact with cave spiders, tarantulas, and carvings with some of the original red pain still preserved on them! It felt very “Indiana Jones”. We were also extremely lucky in terms of wildlife sightings. We saw countless groups of spider monkeys, saw (and heard) howler monkeys, and spotted a variety of birds (including toucans), snakes (including a 2-meter long boa and a night-time encounter with a poisonous snake- la “barba amarilla”), and lizards. We even saw some jaguar tracks! The bugs weren’t nearly as bad as Canadian mosquitoes, although we did have to remove the occasional tick. It was very hot and humid (probably about 35 degrees), but luckily it didn’t rain until the 4th day.

After 5 days of hiking and sleeping in a tent with a mattress that did little to soothe aching joints, I was ready for a bit of relaxation. A day in Flores (a tourist hot spot, built on an island in Petén) was just what the doctor ordered. I spent the day canoeing and swimming with another French vet student (Edouard, a friend of my ex-room mate, who happened to be doing an internship in Flores at the time!)

This week I will be at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, my last full week in Guatemala!


Bon, pour reprendre à partir de la dernière fois, j’ai passé une semaine et demie à la Clinique de Dr. Figueroa avant de retourner à Guatemala City avec Dr. Dugas (qui est venu à Xela pour une journée pour discuter du livre d’éducation avec Dr. Figueroa et des membres du Ministère de Santé Publique). C’était une visite très rapide avec lui, car il est parti en vacances deux jours plus tard. Depuis le 20 juin, je reste chez Dre. Blanca de Romillo, une prof à la Faculté de médicine vétérinaire qui spécialise en microbiologie. Elle et sa famille m’ont très bien accueilli, et je suis très confortable dans leur maison.

Je n’ai passé que quelques jours avec eux avant de retourner à Xela, car la faculté était toujours en vacances d’été, et Dr. Figueroa appréciait mon aide!

Cette dernière semaine, j’ai pris quelques vacances moi-même. Je pensais que ça serait un peu dommage de passer 10 semaines au Guatemala sans voir la jungle et les pyramides! Alors quoi de mieux qu’un trek de 6 jours, 125km dans la jungle de Petén pour voir El Mirador (le pyramide Maya le plus grand connu)?!

J’ai enregistré pour le trek avec un groupe de tourisme, et j’étais accompagné par 6 autres visiteurs, 2 guides, une cuisinière et une douzaine de mules pour transporter notre bagage, la nourriture, l’eau, et parfois nous-autres! Je suis devenue la traductrice, car les autres ne parlaient pas l’espagnol, et le guide ne parlait pas d’anglais non plus. On a visité 3 groupes de pyramides: El Mirador et Tintal (qui datent de 300 AC) et Nakbé (aux alentours de 700 AC). Des archéologues sont en train de découvrir certains segments des pyramides, mais la grande majorité reste recouverte de forêt. Il était très impressionnant marcher si loin dans la jungle avant de rencontrer de si grands structures sans préavis! On pouvait entrer dans les pyramides par des tunnels creusés par les archéologues, venant en contact avec des araignées, des tarentules, ainsi que des sculptures avec leur peinture rouge originale. Je me sentais très « Indiana Jones »! On avait beaucoup de chance en termes de rencontres avec la faune. On a vu plusieurs groupes de singes araignées, des singes « howler », plusieurs variétés d’oiseaux (dont des toucans), des serpents (y compris un boa de 2 mètres et un serpent venimeux), et des lézards. On a même vu des traces de jaguar! Les insectes étaient vraiment moins pires que nos moustiques canadiens, mais on a du enlever quelques tiques. Il faisait très chaud et humide (aux alentours de 35 degrés), mais heureusement il n’a pas plu jusqu’au 4e jour.

Après 5 jours de marche et de sommeil en tente, mes articulations étaient prêtes pour un peu de repos. Une journée à Flores était au menu (une ville touristique sur une île au Petén). J’ai passé la journée en canoë et en nageant dans le lac avec un autre étudiant de med vet (Edouard, un ami de mon ancien coloc, qui fait une stage à Petén en ce moment : que le monde est petit!)

Cette semaine je serai à la Faculté de médecine vétérinaire de l’université de San Carlos. Le prochain blog sera le dernier!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Half-way point

My two weeks at PAHO sailed by! During my time there, I completed the draft copy for the rabies education booklet (one manual for teachers, as well as an activity and information booklet for students) that will eventually be published by PAHO for distribution to schools around the country. The book is still a long way from completion- it still needs revision, input from experts in the field of education, and illustrations, but I’m excited to have helped get it through the first phase. I’ve also met with Dras Greta Bertrand and Leila Camposeco at the rabies programming division of the Ministry of Public Health, and Dr Raphael Ciraiz of the National Center of Epidemiology. I’m slowly starting to figure out how rabies surveillance here works (and what doesn’t!), and am trying to document everything as best as I can.

It was great staying with Dr. Dugas. He is a wealth of information on a variety of subjects, and we have had some great conversations, on everything from international politics to the Muppets  I made it back to Antigua the other weekend for Elodie and Kelly’s Birthday party. Kelly took me to the “paca”, which is essentially an enormous covered market with the largest amount of second-hand clothing I have ever seen! FANTASTIC!!!

This week I have been in Xela (Quetzaltenango) with Dr. Figueroa, the owner of Alina pet hospital. He also runs an NGO out of his clinic called Rescate Animal, and is actively involved in trying to control the stray dog population in Xela through sterilization. He is trained in the McKee technique, which from my understanding, involves sterilizing animals at as low a cost as possible while maintaining the concepts of pain management and animal well being. An emphasis is also placed on a multi-modal approach to population management, which includes public education. He is therefore interested in collaborating in the elaboration and distribution of the booklet, and has been helping in contributing ideas.

In the meanwhile, I have been putting my (somewhat rusty) clinical skills to the test. This week has been a very busy one at the clinic, between meetings of Rescate members and surgeries going into 12:30am (we had to perform a urethrostomy on a blocked dog, who we believe had a penile trauma- I won’t go into details here, but the dog is doing well!). I have learned a lot about making do with what resources are available. I have also had the chance to assist in a few sterilizations. I am happy to say (and my dermatology teacher will be proud of me) that on my suggestion we did a skin scraping to send to a laboratory on a dog that had slight alopecia and erythemia (loss of hair and red patches). The clinic doesn’t have a microscope unfortunately, so this is not a technique that they seem to make use of often; otherwise, they likely would have tried treating based on appearance. It turned out that the dog had a mixed infection of sarcoptic mange and ringworm. This week was also marked by possibly the most gut-wrenching case that I have seen to date (thankfully I have a tough stomach). A dog was brought in from the street that a family wanted to adopt. This cocker spaniel-cross was in fairly rough shape, in mild shock, hypothermia and with maggots. Let’s just say that the maggots were coming out of multiple orifices, and were between the toes. We did our best to treat for shock and to clean the dog up as best we could, and then he was sent off with a shot of ivermectin and antibiotics. Keep your fingers crossed!!! In short, it has been a very rewarding week of knowledge sharing (there was a Guatemalan vet student as well as an American volunteer at the clinic along with me!) and I am really happy to have had a glimpse of small animal medicine in Guatemala!

Over the course of the week, I have been once again blessed with extreme generosity. Dr. Figueroa and his wife Sandi have been extremely welcoming, as have been my host family. Estudardo and Irela are technicians at the hospital, and have graciously taken me into their home, where I have my own room and am extremely well fed.

All in all, I am having a fantastic and very diverse experience here. Stay tuned…


Mes deux semaines à l’OPS sont passées très rapidement. Pendant mon séjour, j’ai complété le brouillon du bouquin sur la rage (une version pour professeurs et une autre pour les enfants) qui sera éventuellement distribuée aux enfants partout au Guatemala. Le livre reste loin d’être fini, car il a toujours besoin de révision, ainsi que l’implication d’experts en éducation. Je suis contente d’avoir au moins commencé le processus, et j’espère continuer aider au cours du processus de développement. Pendant mes deux semaines, j’ai également rencontrée Dres Greta Bertrand et Leila Camposeco du département de la rage au Ministère de Santé Publique, ainsi que Dr Raphael Ciraiz du Centre National de l’Épidémiologie. Tranquillement je commence à comprendre comment fonctionne le système de surveillance ici (et ce qui fonctionne moins!), et je suis en train de documenter le processus le mieux possible.

J’ai beaucoup apprécié rester avec Dr. Dugas. C’est quelqu’un avec beaucoup de connaissances sur une variété de sujets, alors on a eu des conversations très intéressantes sur des sujets aussi variés que la politique internationale et les Muppets. Je suis retournée à Antigua l’autre fin de semaine pour la fête d’Élodie et Kelly. Kelly m’a amené à “Paca”, un marché gigantesque avec une friperie incroyable!!!

J’ai passé cette semaine à Xela (Quetzaltenango) avec Dr. Figueroa, le propriétaire du Clinique vétérinaire Alina. Il est également en charge du ONG Rescate Animal, qui travail pour contrôler la population de chiens errants à travers la stérilisation. C’est un vétérinaire avec une formation McKee, ce qui implique (si j’ai bien compris!) la stérilisation à faible coût tout en maintenant les principes de la gestion de la douleur et le bien-être animal. Il y a également une emphase sur l’approche multimodal au contrôle, qui inclut l’éducation du grand publique. Dr. Figueroa est alors très intéressé à collaborer dans la production du bouquin pour les enfants.

Cette semaine j’ai du mettre à l’épreuve mes connaissances techniques (qui me semblent un peu “hors service”). C’était une semaine très charge au Clinique, avec des réunions de Rescate et des chirurgies nocturnes (on a fait une uréthrostomie sur un chien bloqué qui a probablement eu un trauma au pénis… je n’irai pas en détails ici, mais le chien va bien!). J’ai trouvé l’équipe très débrouillarde- c’est impressionnant à quel point ils peuvent aider les animaux avec peu de moyens. J’ai également eu la chance d’aider dans la stérilisation de quelques animaux. Je pense que ma prof de dermatologie serait fière de moi, car j’ai pu convaincre l’équipe de l’importance de faire des grattages cutanés! On avait un grand danois avec de l’alopécie et érythème légères, qui est sorti positif pour sarcoptes et dermatophytose. Cette semaine j’ai également vu le cas le plus laid que j’ai déjà vu. Un chien a été amené de la rue par une famille qui voulait l’adopter. C’était un épagneul cocker un choque léger, hypothermie et il avait des asticots. Disons que les asticots sortaient de plusieurs orifices, et étaient également présents entre les orteils. On a fait notre mieux pour traiter le choque et pour nettoyer le chien, il est resté une nuit et est parti le lendemain suite à une injection d’ivermectin et des antibiotiques. Croisons les doigts! Bref, ça a été une semaine très formateur avec un grand partage de connaissances (il y avait une bénévole des États-Unis, ainsi qu’une étudiante de med vet guatémaltèque à la clinique en même temps que moi). Je suis très contente d’avoir eu un aperçu de la médecine des petits animaux au Guatemala!

Au cours de la semaine, j’ai été très fortunée d’être accueillie par Dr. Figueroa et sa femme Sandi. J’ai été hébergée par Estuardo et Irela, deux techniciens de la Clinique, ainsi que leur famille (ils ont deux fils et la sœur d’Irela vit également avec eux). Leur générosité est très touchante.

Finalement, je profite beaucoup de mon séjour qui est à date très varié. À la prochaine…

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A chuj- bless you!

Comme promis, j’écris en français cette fois-ci. Je commence meme là-dedans. C’est approprié, considérant que je parle plus en français en ce moment qu’en anglais (explications à suivre!). Je me trouve en ce moment à Guatemala City, après avoir parti de Todos Santos le 25 mai, et en passant par Antigua pour quelques jours. On a fini le comptage de chiens errants le matin du 24. Rendu ce point-là, j’avais des pancements sur toutes mes orteilles du pied gauche (qui restaient plusieurs jours sans tomber- vive les produits de haute gamme!), et pauvre Kate avait l’air de jamais vouloir voir une autre colline! On a passé notre dernier après-midi à Todos Santos à finir nos dernières petites tâches, à retourner les matériaux chez Benita, et à prendre un thé chez Élodie (une canadienne qui travail comme bénévole à Todos Santos sur l’alphébetisme des femmes). Ce soir-là, on est également retourné voir “Blanco”, un chien qu’on avait opéré pour un paraphimosis il y avait quelques jours. Ça faisait quelques mois que Blanco avait des problèmes avec son pénis, et Kate a décidé d’essayer une operation. On a fait le mieux qu’on pouvait sous les conditions, mais il restait quand meme intéressant faire une operation avec des canards qui se promenaient aux alentours et avec des propriétaires qui nous posaient des questions en Mam, qui étaient traduits en espagnol par un traducteur qu’on a engagé, et ensuite traduits en anglais pour Kate (par moi-même). Kate a même eu l’idée de faire un collier Élizabethain avec un seau découpé! Malgré toutes nos bonnes intentions, et celles des propriétaires, Blanco a réussi à enlever son collier le lendemain de la chirurgie, et a retracté de nouveau son prepuce. Quand on lui a laissé dimanche soir, il semblait en forme, sauf qu’il était dans le même état que dans lequel il avait été auparavant.

La référence au chuj était de mon experience ma dernière nuit à Todos Santos. Un chuj c’est un genre de sauna Mayen, dont la plupart des maisons du village en posedaient. Ils sont faits dans plusieurs formes différentes, mais celui-ci en particulier (à l’hôtel où je restais) était fait de béton, des dimensions d’environ 6 x 3 pieds pour la base, et d’environ 4 pieds en hauteur. Le toit n’a pas de trou, alors quand on prepare le feu, il faut laisser la porte ouverte pour laisser partir la fumée. Quand on entre (il faut se pencher, car la porte mesure à peine 3 pieds), on s’asseoit sur un banc à l’intérieur, et on s’en sert d’un basin d’eau pour verser de l’eau sur les roches chaudes. Traditionnellement, c’est une façon de se nettoyer. J’ai beaucoup aimé l’expérience (l’odeur intense du bois, l’ambiance, etc), mais j’ai quand même pris une douche par après!

On est parti de Todos Santos le matin de lundi le 29 à 4h30 sur un chicken bus (autobus écolier bien rempli du monde!), passant par Huehue, pregnant ensuite un coach jusqu’à Chimaltenango, et ensuite un autre bus, arrivant à Antigua vers 13h00. On a mange une excellente pizza en arrivant, le premier repas pour Nick depuis quelques jours (il trouvait ça un peu difficile manger à Todos Santos- je pense une combinaison des odeurs, des mouches et des conditions peu sanitaires). Je dois avouer qu’après une semaine basée autour du riz que la pizza était très bienvenue! C’était un peu le choc culturel arrivant à Antigua. C’est une ville très propre, très touristique, et plutôt riche.

Malheureusement, Kate a du nous quitter pour retourner un peu tôt au Canada pour des imprévues. Je jouais alors tourist avec Nick pendant quelques jours à Antigua avant qu’il prenne son avion et que je commence la prochaine partie de mon stage. On a beaucoup marché, on a visité les musées et églises essentielles, et surtout on a beaucoup mange. Notre mission: manger autant de nourriture riche et grasse que possible dans une période de 2 jours. Réussite totale! J’ai quand même continué le randonné, en grimpant le volcan Pacaya, l’un de 3 volcans actifs du pays. C’était assez fou se trouver à une mètre du feu chaud, dans un paysage semblable à Mordor du Seigneur des Anneaux.

Ma réalité a beaucoup change encore une fois jeudi matin, quand j’ai laissé Nick à l’aéroport pour me rendre au bureau de l’OPS (organization panaméricaine pour la santé). Je passerai les 2 prochains mois sous la direction de Dr. Raymond Dugas, un québecois qui travail dans l’international depuis plusieurs années, et qui travail en ce moment dans la division des zoonoses. J’ai commencé à travailler sur le dossier de la rage en travaillant sur un brouillon d’un guide d’éducation qui sera utilisé par les professeurs à travers le Guatemala pour expliquer aux enfants comment bien garder des chiens, comment interpréter leur comportement (dans le but d’éviter des morsures) et quoi faire en cas de morsure. Dr. Dugas, très gentillement, me loge chez lui pour le moment. Ma chambre dans son bel apart est un peu different de celle que j’avais à Todos Santos!

Guatemala City n’est pas très sécuritaire comme ville, alors je ne me promène jamais seule. J’étais contente de changer un peu de la routine lundi, en allant avec l’autre interne de Dr. Dugas, Manuel, à analyser des échantillons de celles pour des parasites bovins. C’est un nouveau gradué de la Faculté de medicine vétérinaire de l’Université San Carlos qui fait son effort pour m’apprendre les môts Guatémaltèques essentiels. Entre le français parlé à la maison et l’espagnol au bureau, je ferai mon mieux de retourner pas trop mélée à la fin!


Sorry, I couldn’t help but throw in the pun! I currently find myself in Guatemala City, having left Todos Santos on May 25th and spending a couple of days in Antigua. We successfully finished the last day of counting on Sunday morning the 24th. By that time, I had band aids on every toe of my left foot (which actually stayed on for about 5 days! Yay for brand name products!), and poor Kate looked like she had climbed her last hill! We spent the afternoon tying up loose ends, taking materials back to Benita’s place, and having “tea” at Elodie’s (a Canadian volunteer working on a women’s literacy program). In the evening, we went back to check on a dog that we had operated for a paraphimosis 2 days previously. “Blanco” had had a problem with his penis for a few months, and Kate decided to try surgically pulling the prepuce over his very sore-looking ulcerated … you get the idea! We made the most of the conditions, although it was interesting performing a surgery on a porch with ducks wandering around, and the owners looking on, asking questions in Mam (which were translated into Spanish for me by a hired translator, Mario, which I then translated into English for Kate). Kate even had the ingenuity to make him an Elizabethan collar out of a cut-out bucket! Unfortunately, despite a successful surgery and excellent intentions of his owners, Blanco managed to get his collar off the day after the surgery, and pull the skin back to where it had been. When we left him on Sunday night, he seemed to be doing well, although he was back to where we had found him in the first place.

The reference to the chuj (pronounced chew) was from my last night in Todos Santos. A chuj is a traditional Mayan sauna. Most houses in Todos Santos had one, although they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. I took my chuj at the hotel where I was staying, and it seemed larger than most. Essentially, this one was a box made out of concrete, with I think maybe a clay roof, about 6’ x 3’ base, and maybe 4’ high at the peak of the roof. Inside it is much like a normal sauna: a fire is made and allowed to burn down to very hot coals. There is no hole to let smoke out, so the door is kept open as the chuj is being prepared. Once ready, you go inside and sit on a bench (I had to almost crawl in, as the door was less than 3’ high). Inside there is a basin of water to poor over top of rocks that are on a ledge over the coals. This is a traditional way of cleaning, as I think many houses in the village do not have showers. I really enjoyed the experience (the very intense wood smell, the heat, the novelty!), but took a shower afterwards anyways!
We left Todos Santos at 4:30 am on Monday, taking the chicken bus (crowded school bus) as far as Huehue, then a coach from there until Chimaltenango. There we caught another chicken bus (a roller-coaster-like experience, as we were standing in the middle holding on to bars on the ceiling as the bus took corners at a somewhat exhilarating pace!), arriving in Antigua around 1pm. Our vegetarian pizza lunch was the first meal that Nick had eaten in a few days, having had difficulties with the fare in Todos Santos. I must say that it was pretty awesome after a diet based around arroz y frijoles (with a few veggies here and there). It was a bit of a culture shock arriving in Antigua from Todos Santos. It is sort of the tourist capital of Guatemala, the base from which a lot of tours leave, going to the other major tourist destinations. It was strange seeing so many gringos and seeing so much wealth.

Unfortunately, Kate had to leave on Tuesday to head back to Canada for personal reasons, and so Nick and I had a couple of days to play tourist in Antigua before he took his flight on Thursday and I moved on to the next phase of my trip. We did a lot of walking, museum and church visits, window shopping, and above all, eating! Nick and Taya’s excellent adventure essentially involved packing in as much rich food as possible over a 2-day period. We definitely rose to the challenge! I continued the hiking tradition on Wednesday morning, climbing Pacaya volcano (which I must say, after scrambling around Todos Santos for a week, seemed like a walk in the park!) Pacaya is one of 3 active volcanoes in Guatemala. At the top, in a Mordor-esque landscape (Devon, I wish you had been there to re-enact LOTR scenes with!), we could stand about a meter away from flowing, very hot lava. A little bit disconcerting, but pretty cool. Some people brought marshmallows to toast over the flames!

My reality changed once again on Thursday morning, when I left Nick at the airport and headed to the PAHO office in Guatemala City. I will be spending the next two months under the direction of Dr. Raymond Dugas, a Quebecer turned international veterinarian, currently working in the zoonosis division of the Pan American Health Organization (a branch of the World Health Organization). I have begun to work on their rabies dossier by starting to draft an information booklet that will help teachers in Guatemala approach the subject of rabies prevention through responsible pet ownership, an understanding of animal behaviour and appropriate bite-wound management. Dr. Dugas is very kindly providing me with room and board. Let’s just say that my room in his high-rise apartment building is a bit different than my lodgings in Todos Santos.

Guatemala City is not the most secure place, and so I don’t go out at all on my own here. I was happy to have a change of scenery on Monday, when I went to the University of San Carlos (the only university in Guatemala with a veterinary faculty) with Dr. Dugas’ other intern Manuel. He is working on the tuberculosis dossier, but had about 25 fecal samples to analyze for parasites (as a differential diagnosis for a local cattle herd). He has been a comedic relief over the past couple of days, and is making sure I learn all the most essential of Guatemalan vocabulary. Between speaking Spanish at the workplace and Quebecois at home, I’m hoping to come back to Canada not overly confused!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Painting dogs red

It is hard to believe that I have already been in Guatemala for a week! The time has truly flown by! It is amazing how quickly one’s daily reality can change. One week ago I was at home, looking after about 30 cats, watching the daffodils open, listening to spring peepers in the marsh, and spending lots of money at Canadian Tire and Shoppers Drug Mart preparing for this trip. I am now living in the mountains, eating rice and beans with tortillas at least once a day at the comedor, buying supplies at small tiendas which like to sell everything in very small quantities, and walking around town with a GPS, a backpack stuffed with rain gear, and a paint gun, greeting passers-by in Spanish. It seems almost normal!

To catch you up on the last few days: Saturday morning is market day in Todos Santos. Bus loads of people come into town from nearby villages, either to get supplies, or to sell anything from woven fabrics to tamales to mangoes sold out of the back of pickup trucks, to burnt CDs (Bryan Adams seems pretty popular here- he’s right up there with the marimba music and Celin´s "My heart will go on"!) I decided to take advantage of my time off (surveys can’t be done on Saturday because no one is home on market day) and go for a hike. So in the company of Kat, a quirky British girl who has visited 76 countries, has decided to wear traje (the local dress) and who works at the Spanish language school and occasionally gives hikes, we took the bus about 20 minutes down the road to hike up a mountain. It was a very cloudy morning, and the view from the top extended about 100 feet in front of us (instead of the chain of volcanoes that one can see on a clear day). Nonetheless, it was nice to get out, and I was already much more acclimatized to the altitude (when I arrived, it was a strain just to walk up the hill to my hotel!)

Saturday night Kate and Nick arrived. Kate is a veterinarian who has previously volunteered with the Todos Santos project, and who was here for a month in January to perform the sterilizations. This time she is here to accompany Nick, an Aeroplan employee who was selected from a group of interested employees to come and visit the project. It has been fantastic having them here. They have been trekking around with Andres and I since Monday. Sunday was also a day off, since Andres had a soccer game all morning, so Nick, Kate and I did about a 2 hour hike before the rain began.

Work began on Monday, when we joined Andres to help him finish his household surveys and to help put collars on all owned dogs before we could begin marking the stray dogs. I would love to be able to describe this process adequately, but am afraid that the overall impression is lost in translation. Imagine 3 gringos in the company of one local man (I believe in his late 20s), scrambling around dirt paths, cobbled roads, and all possible alleyways, up hills and down (although it seemed that they were less frequently downhill), and visiting every house to ask in Mam, the local language that is spoken by about 80% of the people here, whether or not they have dogs, how many, if they are vaccinated, sterilized, etc. When people arrive at a neighbour’s, they announce their presence by whistling and giving a sort of owl hoot. Andres thought it was pretty funny when I tried hooting to get the attention of a tienda owner later in the day. It is amazing to see that there is nearly always someone at home. Often we will enter a yard where there is a young girl or older woman weaving, or where men are chopping wood. Sometimes it is just the children who are home, but they seem quite capable of answering the surveys, and are often the ones who are the best at handling the dogs to put the collars on.

This was our activity for the entire day of Monday and Tuesday, walking through the 11 different communities that encircle “El Centro”. We gave out about 100 collars, and this after Vets Without Borders having given out several in January. Yesterday, Wednesday, we began the dog count. We set out at 6:30 after a breakfast of café con leche and pan dulce (sort of like a dry pound cake- much better once dipped in the coffee!) Andres, who knows the route like the back of his hand, was armed with a 2L spray bottle of homemade red paint (a mix of different food colourings that wear off after about a week). I had the clipboard to count the number of dogs marked in each community, as well as the GPS to check that we were covering the whole area, and Kate and Nick were helping scout for stray dogs without collars and to check if they were male or female. We passed through all 12 communities in about 6 hours. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape (I jog about 50 minutes twice a week), but I have to say that I was pretty dead at the end of the walk. Walking through the communities is never flat. You are either going up or down. There is no in between. The paths are strewn with assorted garbage, rocks, chickens and dogs (now mostly with collars!). We pass by people walking to town in traje, high heels and carrying baskets of squash on their heads! We shaved an hour off our walking time this morning, we will do a 3rd count tomorrow, and a last count will be performed on Sunday (we’re skipping market day). I wasn’t expecting this much exercise!

Other important descriptions of life in Todos Santos:
-I dread taking showers (although I assure you that I still am, mostly for the sake of my team members), because it is either freezing cold, or if I choose to use hot water- which I usually do- the water pressure is essentially reduced to a trickle.
-Any place is a good place to hang laundry: clothes are placed out on rooftops, on trees, and piled on clothes lines which are often on rooftops.
-Everyone here has Tigo cell phones (I don’t think Tigo has any competition by the looks of it!)
-The most popular dog names seem to be Scooby, Oso (which means Bear in Spanish) and Duke. There are a few dogs who seem to recognize that gringos are a good food source, and we often pick up a dogs as we walk around who will happily trot along beside us for a few communities before going back to their home location. And yes, we succumb to the puppy eyes and usually save them some tortillas from lunch.

From Todos Santos, after finishing up the population count Kate, Nick and I plan to travel to Antigua on Monday to visit the town and hopefully continue the hiking tradition and climb a volcano! We should be ready to take it on after hiking around Todos Santos for a week!

*** Je m´excuse, je prends une pause du francais, je trouve l´écrire très difficile en ce moment parce que je pense en espagnol! De retour la prochaine fois, promis!

Friday, May 15, 2009

First impressions

I’m in Guatemala! I arrived in Todos Santos on the evening of the 14th, after about a total of 8 hours on the bus from Guatemala City, passing through Huehuetenango. The view was similar for most of the ride: dark green hills, roadside huts selling an assortment of chips, galletas (cookies) and aguas (flavoured waters), and houses with rusted metal roofs. The road seemed to be perpetually twisting up, and at some points I think we were actually inside the clouds. I changed buses in Huehuetenango, and for the last two hours to Todos Santos, I was squished in the back of a large van mostly filled with villagers, wearing the beautifully woven traditional costume: red and white striped pants, a white shirt with some detail, and a straw hat for the men, while women tend to wear dark-coloured striped shirts and skirts. I took up more place than I would have liked with my two large backpacks!

I am checked into a small hotel called El Viajero, where I have three single beds to myself for about the equivalent of $5 per night. In general, my Spanish is getting me by, although I don’t understand everything. For example, after settling into my room, I went and found a Comedor (a small, family-run restaurant). After ordering arroz y frijoles (rice and beans, which came with a large stack of corn tortillas), I was then asked ‘que quiere tomar” I answered again arroz y frijoles, which they found hilarious. I then remembered that “tomar” meant “to drink”, and ordered a coffee. I haven’t seen many dogs yet, although one poked its head in while I was eating. I threw it a piece of tortilla, and it sort of hesitated until I said it was ok, and then he quietly took it and left. I fell asleep on the first night to the sound of the church next door playing very loud organ music, with vocals that didn’t seem to fit exactly with what was being played. The nights are cold here, and I slept in my sleeping bag, under about 5 blankets, with my toque on.

This morning I met Kelly, who is the local Peace Corps volunteer. She has been very friendly, and introduced me to Raul Perez Ramos at the municipal office, as well as Don Julio Alvarado. We then went to meet Benita, who is a very smiling, bubbly and welcoming lady with whom VWB has been storing project materials. I picked up the water gun and red paint that we will need later on for the population count. Andres, with whom I will be performing the count, is in the process of completing the household surveys, so we will likely begin the marking on Monday. It was a beautiful morning, but now, at 1pm, the rain is coming down hard. I think that this will likely be the case for the remainder of my time in Todos Santos, as the rainy season began in the beginning of May.


Je suis au Guatemala! Je suis arrivée à Todos Santos le soir du 14, après environ 8 heures en autobus à partir de la ville de Guatemala, avec un arrêt à Huehuetenango. La vue restait semblable durant la plupart du voyage: des monts verts foncés, des petites cabines qui vendaient des chips, des biscuits et des boissons, ainsi que des maisons à toit rouillé. La route montait constamment, et à certains points je pense qu’on était dans les nuages. J’ai change d’autobus à Huehuetenango, et pour les dernières 2 heures avant d’arriver à Todos Santos, j’étais entassée en arrière d’un minibus pour une vintaine de personnes, la plupart étant des villageois en costume traditionnelle. Les homes portent des pantalons rayés rouge et blanc, une chemise blanche tissée et un chapeau en paille. Les femmes portent des jupes et chemises rayées en couleurs foncées. Je prenais plus de place que j’aurais aimé avec mes gros sacs à dos!

Je reste dans un petit auberge qui s’appelle El Viajero. J’ai trois lits simples à moi seule pour le prix de 5$ la nuit! En general, je me débrouille avec mon espagnol, mais je ne comprends pas tout. Par example, après avoir m’installée dans ma chambre, je suis allée chercher quelque chose à manger dans un “comedor” (un petit resto familial). J’ai commandé du riz avec des “bines”, qui sont venus avec un panier de tortillas au maïs. Ensuite ils m’ont demandé “que quiere tomar”, et je ne comprenais pas pourquoi ils redemandaient qu’est-ce que je voulais manger. Ça m’a pris un moment avant de se souvenir que “tomar” veut dire boire. Je ne vois pas autant de chiens ici que j’aurais pensé, mais ils semblent apprécier les tortillas! Les nuits sont froides ici, et je me suis couchée avec mon sac de couchage, 4 couvertes et ma toque!

Ce matin j’ai rencontré Kelly, une bénévole avec le Peace Corps, qui m’a introduit à quelques members du bureau municipal. Je suis également allée récupérer des matériaux nécessaires pour le marquage des chiens (fusil d’eau et du colorant) de la maison de Benita: une femme très acceuillante avec qui VSF laisse des matériaux du projet. Finalement, j’ai rencontré Andrés avec qui je vais faire le census des chiens. Il est en train de finir des sondages de chaque maison, alors je pense qu’on ne commencera que lundi. La pluie commence ici vers 13h00, étant la saison des pluies. Je suis contente d’avoir apporté une bonne sélection de livres!

Monday, May 11, 2009

2 days to go...

Wow, it seems as if this trip has come up out of nowhere! Everything is planned, organized, mostly packed, I'm vaccinated against everything... but still hard to believe that in 2 days I will be lugging around a big backpack and asking for directions in Spanish! I hope that you will all enjoy following along with me as I try to understand the rabies situation in Guatemala and try to make my way around on my first big solo adventure!


Il me semble que ce voyage est arrivé de nul part! Tout est préparé, organisé, mes bagages sont faits (presque), et je suis vaccinée contre à peut près tout... mais il reste difficile à croire que d'ici 2 jours, je me déplacerai avec un gros sac à dos et que je vais devoir demander des directions en espagnol! J'espère que vous allez vous amuser en suivant mes aventures au Guatemala pendant que j'essaie de comprendre la situation de la rage dans ce pays.