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!