This morning, we set out for our second village, Yalu (pronounced Jah-loo). Did I mention before how strange the juxtaposition is between our temporary residence here and these villages? We live in first-world accommodations, but a scant 30 minutes away we are plunged into a third-world area that's really just blowing my mind. Our little public building in Yalu had no running water at all, and we race the daylight in order to get as many spays and neuters done as possible (25 today!). Just getting to our surgery sites was a challenge--we left pavement far behind as we bounced over the rutted streets, narrowly avoiding villagers with their cows and horses, children scattering in front of us.
The interaction with the people is also amazing--first of all, they live in these dirty, dusty hovels, but their clothing is absolutely beautiful. The craftsmanship that went into the intricate embroidery, the colors incorporated into the shawls used to carry babies on their backs, EVERYTHING is beautiful. They are also EXTREMELY curious--so far, both of our surgery sites have had plenty of windows, and the Guatemalan faces press in to see what on Earth we could be doing with their animals. However, one of our group's members encourages this interest, at least in the children--Steve always brings small packets of Oreos to hand out to the children, and for some reason we also had pencils to give today. One little boy leaned in a broken window to whisper to me, "Quiero una galleta [I want a cookie]" with an impish grin. Suenos International only travels here once a year, but the reputation precedes us. Another thing--this kids are TOUGH. Herds of children flock around our surgery sites, rough-housing with each other in the rock-strewn streets and scaling the building as much as they are able. The first time I heard one cry was late yesterday when we had to tell a little boy that his puppy had died during surgery. A later necropsy showed us that the puppy's heart was very deformed, and that while the anesthesia shortened it's life, it didn't shorten it by much.
I forgot to write about this before, but it might be just SLIGHTLY useful if I actually explained how this whole undertaking came to be. Danielle, our head veterinarian, has only been out of the CSU vet program for about 6 years, but she spent her summers during vet school traveling to Guatemala to teach underprivileged children Spanish while improving her own grasp of the knowledge. She fell in love with the country, and decided to donate generous amounts of her time and money for this yearly trip to spay and neuter the hell out of local animals. She, along with her dad Steve, comprise the founders of Suenos International. Kristy. a classmate and close friend of Danielle's acts as the main surgeon for the operation. Danika and I are 3rd and 2nd year veterinary students, respectively, at CSU and joined this endeavor to learn as much as possible while assisting Danielle and Kristy. Danielle and I are the only ones who understand Spanish (she is fluent, I am NOT), but the other awesome thing about this trip is that Danielle has connections here that house us, transport us around, and translate for us. Right now we are staying with Darby, Sep, and Lehilla, a wonderful group of people who own this lovely bed-and-breakfast in a gated community of San Lucas. I don't think Darby ever sleeps--if you need something, he is ON IT, and that holds true whether you are family or a random person on the street. Sep is extremely useful as an assistant and translator, and Lehilla is actually beginning her veterinary program next week after successfully managing a large animal shelter for many years. Hint: she's going to rock at being a vet. She pretty much already does.
Ooh, here's a good example of how awesome our "host family" is--Darby has taken it as his personal mission to find another puppy for the boy who's puppy died yesterday, and to deliver it personally. These people do so much for us and the mission of Suenos International, and they do it almost entirely for free. In a country as poor as Guatemala, that is a beautiful thing.
Anyways, to try and jump back into some chronological order, we began our day at just after 7:00 with hot, strong coffee, fried plantains, papaya, local bread, beans, and fried eggs. It was just freakin' delicious. We got to meet the mystery behind our meals yesterday morning in the form of Sep's aunt, and you should have seen her little old face glow when we complimented her cooking. Extremely stinkin' adorable.
Then we drove back through Santa Marta to drop off the crazy lady's dogs from yesterdays. Surprisingly, it went very well--it would appear that she was afraid we were going to turn her dog gay, but when he began actively humping the other family dog, her fears dissipated. Next, we traveled on to Yalu, down a precipitous dirt road to a community building identical to our first site, sans water.
We were afraid that no one would show up as we have fewer connections in this village, but plenty of people did in the long run. We had a surprising number of animals that refused to be anesthetized (including some extremely scrappy cats), but in the long run, we achieved our goals. And nobody died.
I think the most fun thing that happened to me today was just interacting with the children in general. At once point, I felt little bitty fingers poking me randomly on my back, and turned around to find a group of giggling girls enamored with all of the "gatos" on my scrub top. These people seem very stoic in general, but when they return your smile they shine.
Random things I forgot to say and don't want to incorporate now:
--It's way colder here than I expected. I gather that we are currently in the highlands of Guatemala and that things will warm up considerably on the coast, but damn. Wish I had brought another sweater.
--The currency here is the quetzal, which is also a really pretty bird. And yes, Mom, I will bring back an array of coins for show-and-tell. :)
--We, as foreigners, face a certain degree of hostility here. Guatemala refuses to allow Americans to adopt, for example, because stories circulate about us stealing their children (perhaps well-meaning missionaries "saving" poor kids?). Still, the degree to which we are welcomed in these communities is an impressive testament to the good work that Suenos International has done--we don't come here to judge or change things, but simply to help with a problem that the people already recognize (an overabundance of dogs and cats).
--I am very tall. And very white.
--Danielle, Kristy, Steve, and I all come from backgrounds that involved a great deal of Nerts (I honestly have no idea how to spell the name of this game). I accepted this revelation with the assertion that I would dominate them, to which Steve replied something along the lines of "Bring it on." I have not indeed dominated, but neither have I dishonored my family. I will not have to fall on a sword in shame.
--As opposed to Santa Marta, a large number of people in Yalu don't speak Spanish. Instead, they actually still speak a Mayan language, the name of which I couldn't spell if my life depended on it. So, we ended up needing a local woman to translate Mayan to Spanish for us, and then for someone else to translate the Spanish to English. It worked out surprisingly well.
Okay, I've written a ton and still probably left out a lot of awesome stuff. I'm letting the other girls take loads of pictures of which I will later get a copy, and then there will be some photographic evidence of my adventures.
Mom and Grandmomma, thanks SO much for the words of support on yesterday's blog. It has indeed been amazing, Mom. Grandmomma, knowing that you're proud of me makes it infinitely better. I'M proud that such awesome women can see the value of what I do, and helped me to get here. All in all, we're just a wonderful bunch of people. :D