Guatemala: Day 4

Today we began with a meal that while delicious, did not severely challenge my sense of comfort--pancakes! Also, each meal has been accompanied by a fresh mystery juice. I call it a "mystery" because I don't ask what it is before I taste it, to see if I can guess. Today was papaya, and each different juice has been delicious.

Ooh, something I forgot to talk about yesterday--remember the crazy lady? In order to not be attacked by the machete that she famously wields, Darby enlisted a couple of kind village women to help as negotiators when he went to speak with her. They liked us so much that the next day in Yalu they invited us to have lunch at this well-kept institution up the hill where they take care of the local children (as far as I can tell). The fascinating part about this is to consider what an honor it was--with such sparse technology, especially for travel or communication, these villages are extremely isolated places. In those situations, there is a definite, palpable sense of strong, defensive community, especially directed against foreigners.

And still, they invited us to eat their food amongst their children, one of whom was brave enough to come over like he owned our table and wondered what we were doing sitting at it. His name was Brandon, and some sort of mental or physical issue made his smile one of the sweetest and most crooked I've seen. Steve, who is extremely fond of children but knows no Spanish, grabbed him at one point to pull him in for a picture-taking opportunity. Brandon's eyes went huge, and a woman cleaning nearby froze, staring hard at Steve to see what he would do next.

However, as it became clear that Steve meant no harm, both people relaxed, and a small crisis was averted. Though we were invited, people always watched us out of the corners of their eyes, in both fear and trepidation. When we finished eating, we thanked the village ladies profusely, and Brandon proudly led us from the building, rushing ahead to open doors and then leading us through his world. As we left the grounds, one of the children tentatively called out "How...are you?" I think it must have been the only English they knew, but Steve delightedly stopped and continued to have a conversation with them, although neither side knew what the other was saying. That's a good representation of Steve, though--friendliest guy I've met for a while, and willing to roll with every little adventure.

Anyway, our surgery site today was at Animals A.W.A.R.E., an animal shelter begun by an American named Anita and her husband Martin. According to Emily, another American employee, with 300 dogs and 65 cats Animals A.W.A.R.E. is the largest legitimate shelter in Central America. Knowing that, it is stunning to learn that there are only 4 permanent employees. They clean each cage every day, walk every dog, and basically keep the place in better shape than I would have believed had I not actually seen it. IT DIDN'T STINK. I don't remember the last time I went into a shelter that just felt healthy. Sure, the staff are overworked and underfunded, but they are doing an amazing job. This is the clinic that Ligia (which I previously spelled "Lehilla" incorrectly) basically ran as a one-woman army. My respect for her just grows by leaps and bounds.

We didn't treat as many animals today, but we were able to tend to the shelter's most crucial cases, which mainly involved lots of mange diagnoses and teeth-pulling. All told, our 2 vets pulled 59 teeth between them, leaving many animals with far fewer teeth and far less pain. Danielle was even able to concoct a medication with a maple syrup base to give to the cats for oral pain, because when your resources are as scarce as they are here, you get creative quick. I am endlessly impressed with the ingenuity I've seen. For example, one man came in who had fashioned his own "cone of shame" for his dog by cutting a hole in the bottom of a plastic bucket and securing a collar to it. I'm seriously recommending this to my family when I get home--we're gonna MacGyver that shit.

After a tour of the shelter, our day ended a couple of hours earlier than usual, and we rushed home to shower and get ready to shop in Antigua. The market we went to was basically a series of shops with the same general things in them, but it was colorful and sunny and pleasant. I even managed to try my hand at bartering, and did quite well (even according to our local Guatemalan friends). Then we went out for drinks and food, and now I'm flopped in bed, seriously looking forward to sleep. It has been a wonderful day, and I can't believe it is already our third.

Random things:

--There is a farming method here called "three sister fields". Basically, the farmers grow squash, beans, and corn in the same field to get the highest yield. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil, and the super-tall corn stalks provide a trellis up which the beans and squash grow.

--According to Anita, the jungle/forest around her clinic is home to a boa constrictor. I did not manage to see the beast, but you can bet I looked. Danika thought my fascination was just a tad creepy, but come on, a BOA CONSTRICTOR IN THE WILD. Too darn cool to be creepy.

--Danielle passed on this tidbit of wisdom from one of her old teachers in Guatemala: "Quesadillas hacen pesadillas." In other words, eating cheesy foods in the evening leads to nightmares. I am wiser now than before, but my stomach is sad.

--About the house where we're staying--I've mentioned that it's far colder here than expected, but it doesn't help that this house is so open. The boundary between indoors and outdoors is just much more vague here, and I'm pretty sure they don't have any indoor heating. They probably don't even need it often enough to justify the expense. Other interesting things about it--there are something like 20 dogs here and I have no idea how many cats. Some of the dogs are well-behaved and hang out down in the courtyard and are allowed to wander inside on occasion. However, there are also a large number of "roof dogs" that live on the fenced-in roof (I'm assuming they've misbehaved somehow, although they are super-sweet and friendly). The roof has large glass blocks incorporated into it that let in a nice ambient light, but when the dogs are excited about something it feels like I am being stampeded on as the shadows flash over the floor.

Good gravy, I'm tired. Buenas noches, people.

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