Okay, guys, this won't be my best bit of writing. It's 11:00 pm on Thursday and I am tired, but I figure I'll forget some of the details if I don't type things out now. It's been an awesome trip so far, despite some inauspicious beginnings.
Getting up at 3:45 am Wednesday morning, I began my 3-leg journey to Guatemala, during which I would also switch airlines. It was...well, interesting. Let's start with my baggage check-in. An extremely ditzy and uninformed airline attendant told me I'd have to re-check my suitcase when I switched airlines, which I had definitely not figured into my schedule. Upon further inquiry (which her lazy ass couldn't be bothered to do), I found that she was wrong, but my luggage had already been sent to be loaded on the airplane. With a bit of panicking and a fair amount of glaring, I convinced another attendant to fix this problem, and arrived at my gate in time for my departure.
Upon arriving in Guatemala, however, my luggage was (duh duh DUH) missing. I'm quite proud of how calm I remained, however, as we trekked all over the Guatemala City airport in search of someone that could help. By "we," I mean me, the girl who had organized the trip (Danielle), and this random British fellow who had also lost his luggage and needed Danielle's translation skills. His luggage turned out to be easy to find, but mine was still MIA, so we filed a claim with the correct officials and prayed we could believe them when they said my luggage would arrive in a couple of days.
"Well, fuck it," I thought to myself. "I'm resourceful. I'll be fine." And fine I have been, although I emanated that special stank that comes from traveling all day. Thankfully, this awesome trip is sponsored in part by a Guatemalan family who shuttles us around, provides our rooms, and feeds us delicious home-cooked food. For example, our evening meal on Wednesday was a traditional Guatemalan soup called "pepian." Basically, the only inconvenience for me was a lack of my habitual personal hygiene, but I managed to secure a toothbrush and a bit of soap.
Waking up at 6:30 am the next day, I quickly realized how little time it takes to prepare for the day when all you have to do is put your hair in a ponytail. It was almost relaxing, actually. It was kind of comfy wallowing in my own dirt. I'd be ashamed of that, but I'm tired and I don't care. You should definitely try filthy wallowing, though--it's underrated.
Packing up our medical equipment, we headed out for our first day of spays and neuters in a local village called Santa Marta. As we bounced down a serpentine road from our home base of San Lucas, we stopped to pick up a group of villagers on their way to our surgery site with their dogs. With the van packed to the gills, we arrived in Santa Marta to begin the volunteer work. This was probably the first time I have been exposed to poverty on this level--running water was a luxury, to say the least. We certainly didn't have sterile operating rooms in which to perform surgery. Instead, we took over a room in the local school and performed under the close scrutiny of all ages of Guatemalans, pressed to the windows of the little room to see what we were doing.
Frankly, a lot of the day was a blur. We spayed or neutered 28 animals, and vaccinated many more. Our only spot of trouble came when it was revealed that two of the dogs we had neutered were not supposed to be. However, according to the villagers, the woman who was upset at her dogs being neutered was basically the local crazy bitch. She had sent the animals with her little son to a spay/neuter clinic, but had failed to provide clear instructions that only vaccinations were to be given. Once they were fixed, we were seriously concerned that she would abandon the dogs to the street, not to mention beat her child in anger. And if we ever want to be able to work with that community again, there's not a whole lot we can do about it. It's an interesting aspect of this work, that so much of our itinerary is uncertain and requires cooperation from a complex network of people.
So in summary, overall my first day and a half has been great. I'm getting to practice my Spanish, of which I remember far more than expected (THANK YOU HIGH SCHOOL CLASSES!), and I've learned so much more about spays and neuters, as well as basic things that can be applied to a variety of surgeries. I'm overwhelmingly happy to get to be a part of this. It's really helping me to remember WHY I'm going through the challenge of vet school. It's so easy to forget when you're studying so hard that you can't remember the last time you ate, much less showered. But this, THIS, is why I'm doing it. I won't always be able to work pro bono, but I definitely intend to dedicate substantial amounts of my energy to volunteer work.