Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Three Amigas ...PART DOS

We were dumb-founded.  Had our Spanglish been misunderstood?  No, ‘Google Translate’ had clearly stated that the vet would return with our poor mangled dog in two hours, and yet he was not here.
Conversation was heavy that night, stilted.  I could hear my own laughter, hollow and guilty as—ever the clown—I tried to raise spirits and ‘reframe’.  But not even my bad jokes and Speedy Gonzales impression could dispel the worst case scenarios unfolding in my head.  Indra’s wide-eyed enthusiasm and usual ebullient appreciation of the sky, the ocean, the avocado was dulled.  Corine was similarly pensive, looking through her view-finder for some distraction, something less disconcerting to focus on. 
This was the night we had planned to see the famed Cliff Divers of Acapulco—the only ‘touristy’ activity on our itinerary.  This display of local daring-do was supposed to be amazing.  We ate sans appetite, overlooking the magnificent cliffs, watching the waves smack thunderously below.  The Divers, like bronzed geckos, scaled the rocks in their Speedos, bare-footed and without ropes.  At the perilous peak they acknowledged the cheers from the crowd, prayed to the shrine and waited for the waves to reach adequate dive-depth.
With arms raised, springing from toe-tips, they launched themselves from the craggy rock face into the hungry wave beneath.  It was an impressive feat of brave insanity and the crowd applauded.  We nodded and conservatively clapped our hands together, commenting, “their poor mothers”.  It was an interesting exhibition.  I watched the reverence (and tips) given to these gutsy men, risking their lives to dive head first into the elements. 

As the Cliff-divers finished their show and the retro stage show with sequins, g-strings and lip-synch began, I took comfort in the fact that we too had bravely dived into the unknown.  Mi amigas, Indra and Corine were not looking for applause, approval or financial gain, but to help a little suffering soul.  I looked out to sea, casting positive thoughts that our efforts and hopes would not crash amongst the rocks.
Next morning the concierge telephoned on our behalf and we waited, on pins, to hear news of the dog.  After several unanswered attempts to reach the ‘vet’, the Concierge reported back to us that the dog had indeed two broken back legs and the vet would need more money to do the surgery.
Indra had a plan.  She wouldn’t, she couldn’t leave the dog to this questionable ‘vet’, but instead we would take her to another one.  She set me the task of looking up local veterinary clinics.  Finally!  A purpose!  Something I could do to contribute to the effort!  I went a-Googling and mapquesting the local clinics.  I narrowed it down to three, but one stated ‘English spoken’.  Bingo (was his name-o)!
Indra phoned the clinic, explained our story and secured the last appointment of the day at 4.30pm.  Now, it was up to us.  We hailed a cab and I sat in the front, guiding our driver through the back streets to the store.  Corine and Indra sat silently mustering their Spanglish and their strength.  We anticipated angry scenes.  I knew it would be good to have a local ally, so I chatted to the driver non-stop, in the hopes he would be chivalrous if called upon.  His name, he told me was Napoleon, or ‘Napo’.
What a gentleman he was!  Without a peso passing my palm, he happily agreed to wait and help us on our mission.  So, with getaway vehicle idling outside, we enter the dark cave of the pet store. 
Our crippled dog was lying in a cage on the ground, looking as thin and pathetic as she did 24 hours earlier. 
Indra bent down to her.  The dog’s eyes brightened and her tail wagged. 
“It’s okay, little girl.  I’m here.”  Indra righted herself and strode towards the ‘vet’. 
A restaurant promoter, who had tried to lure us into his establishment several nights before, asked us what star signs we were.  A cliché tactic, but we played along, letting his words gush passed us with more than a pinch of salty air.  When he got to Indra, he nodded rapidly stating, “Leo, yes.  You are small but mighty.”
I thought of that then and took such pride in the power my ‘mighty’ amiga exuded.  Without a crossed word, she calmly explained that she would be taking the dog to another vet, an English-speaking vet.  The ‘vet’ tried to protest, he asked for extra money, he claimed that the cost of x-rays and driving the dog to the vet where the x-ray machine was, had already exceeded the amount we had given him yesterday.  With quiet assurance, she thanked him for his efforts.  She told him that, as she ran an animal sanctuary where contact with the Vet is frequent, she knew the real cost of things.  He did not even attempt to pursue his argument.
Indra gathered the dog in her arms and we left the dark store to resurface into the sunshine, a grinning Napo eager to open the car doors and shuttle us to the new vet. 
I read the directions and directed Napo and our precious cargo to the place where Clinica de San Franciso was supposed to be.  ‘Supposed’ being the key word.  Where the bloody hell was it?  I had written the address down correctly, I know I had.  I could feel myself start to sweat.  This was the one thing, the one thing, I was entrusted to do and—oh please, no—I had screwed it up. 
Napo wound down the window and spoke to a local.  The Clinica, it seemed, had moved to an area 20 minutes away.  Ugh!  Why hadn’t the internet updated?  Why?  No time for sweaty recriminations now.  We checked the time.  We were already late for the 4.30pm appointment!  It was Friday, would the vet stay and wait for us, or would he lock to door and head home for an evening of leisure? 
We couldn’t think of that!  We had to make it there!  With gears grinding, Napo turned the VDub and we sped off, weaving through the traffic, our heads whipping back and forth, desperately searching for street signs and then house numbers. 
“There it is!” I exclaimed, delighted to see the official-looking, clean, white building.  But as my heart leapt, so did it plummet.  There were no cars, no open doors, no signs of activity.  We were over 40 minutes late for our appointment.  Chances of finding another qualified vet on a Friday night?  Hmmmm…
We knocked on the door and looked anxiously at each other for reassurance.  Had we dived into this situation only to meet a dead end? 
After a few moments the door was opened, and there stood the white-coated, wide-smiling man welcoming us inside with open arms.  I wanted to high five and cheer, can-can and kiss the good doctor!  (I didn’t of course.  I am English.)
Indra led the way, through the waiting room to the well-lit examination room.  She showed Dr. Eusebio Gomez Duque the x-rays and discussed a course of action.  He immediately put us at our ease.  As he felt over the dog’s emaciated frame, his brow crumpled; his concern and compassion were obvious. 
We explained her story, or as much as we knew, and he listened intently, nodding and stroking his capable hands over the dog.
“And what is her name?”  He asked.
“Senorita Marisol Esperanza de Acapulco.”  Indra replied, smiling at the name we had created for her.  A long name for a small dog, but so fitting: Miss Sea and Sun, Hope of Acapulco.
The required surgery, four months of therapy, injections and spaying would cost a small fortune, but Marisol was suffering and Indra would do what had to be done to make that change.
As we strolled from the Clinic back to the main Costera, heels, heads and hearts were lighter.  We were excited to see the difference that food, water, a bath, and injections would bring our little Marisol and to see her gain strength before surgery.  As we exchanged observations of all the ways Dr. Duque’s clinic was so far removed from the dingy little back street ‘vet’ and how he was eminently more qualified to care for Marisol, Indra stopped dead.
“What is it?”
“Clinica de San Francisco!  Oh my goodness.”  She rummaged through her handbag and pulled out a folded piece of paper.  “I found this in my purse the other day.  I couldn’t think how or why it got in there.  This bag is new and was empty when I packed it!  I;m positive I didn’t pack this.”  She passed the paper to me.  “It’s the prayer of Saint Francis.  San Francisco, Saint Francis.”
Corine nodded recalling the prayer.  Indra smiled.  I frowned.  The three Amigas: the Catholic, the Spiritual and the Agnostic, shared the prayer of Saint Francis and each found something in it.  As my eyes drifted over the first lines, two words jumped out at me: ‘peace’ and ‘love’; I bit my cheek at the strangeness of it all, those were the same words, united by a third on my Indraloka Sanctuary ‘T’ shirt: ‘peace, love, animals.’
EPILOGUE: Indra is in weekly contact with Dr. Duque, monitoring the steady progress of our beloved Marisol.  The surgery was a success and now the therapy begins.  Of course, Dr. Duque’s care and attention is not free and Indra has been delighted that so many kind-hearted people have read her blog and donated to help with her treatment.  A local business Char&Co www.charandcompany.com have donated discounted hair and spa services on April 10th, when all proceeds will go towards Marisol’s treatment.  Tax deductible donations for Marisol’s care can also be made online at www.indraloka.org or by sending a check to Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, PO Box 155, Mehoopany, PA 18629.

Monday, March 21, 2011


We are an unlikely grouping, that much is certain, and around the pool, restaurants, bar and beach a convoluted explanation follows when asked the perennial question, “So, how do you three know each other.”
It didn’t really occur to us before that this triumvirate would appear unusual, but here we are: one blonde American, of Polish and Italian heritage, a Catholic and a carnivore, a somewhat bohemian style, layered in lace and adorned with genuine gemstones; one brunette hippy, an American of  Dutch/Indian origins, Spiritual with Hindu leanings, a vegan, sometimes happiest barefoot in cut-offs and sometimes in cocktail dresses with 4 inch heels; and then there is me, one red-headed British American omnivore, with religious apathy, most often suited, heeled and feathered. 
Imagine then this Pennsylvanian-based posse, more different than alike, walking along the beach promenade in Acapulco, Mexico.  We had indulged in a long, lazy lunch and, with stomachs happily digesting the great daubs of daily avocado, we agreed a leisurely sail to Isla la Roqueta to lie in the sun, would round the afternoon off perfectly!  Our well-fed, warm-skinned, sandy-footed, self-indulgent bubble burst abruptly, however, pierced by loud howls of pain.
The cries were so pitiful, we could hear them over the sound of the Costera’s six lanes of traffic—not traffic moving in a smooth and soft, modern Germanic or Japanese way.  The traffic on the Costera roared with the rattle of thirty year old VDub engines; armoured jeeps, fully-loaded with machine-gun toting Federales ; buses decorated as if for Mardi Gras and playing party belters as if they were celebrating it too . 
There, wailing from the bushes, crawling, almost army commando style, her two front paws heaving along the spread-eagled hind legs, was the most sorrowful broken pup I have ever seen. 
Most people would have probably tutted pitifully, moved two steps towards her, thought better of the fleas, mites, potential rabies, and turned their heels, hearts, and heads sharply.
“Well, there are so many street dogs, aren’t there, Martin!  It’s a shame!   But, ah well!  Can’t save them all.  Oh!  Ice-cream!” 
But mi amiga, Indra, isn’t like most people. 
She bent down to the mangled mutt, hushing and cooing soothing greetings as one would to a frightened child.   “It’s okay.  There, there.  It’s okay little girl.  I’m here.”
She ran her practiced hands over the emaciated frame, the grooves between each jutting rib fitting her fingers perfectly.  The hollow of the starving creature, from ribcage to hip, was like the nipped waist of a violin, the pinched skin forming such severe arcs.   Indra’s fingers felt further, around the painful peaks of the dog’s hind-quarters, gliding gently over limbs that pointed at unnatural angles.  Indra’s nimble hands could ‘see’ the dog’s every tick, every sore, every jack-knifed bone. 
The dog had had puppies.  How recently I couldn’t tell, but from her thin frame the only skin that hung loose was that from her nipples.   As she howled and Indra cooed, Corine and I searched the bushes for her babies.  Fruitlessly.  They were not there.  I wondered if she was howling for her pups or from the pain. 
A local lady with broad, glistening face and pink lipstick approached us, and in our Spanglish we learned that indeed there were two pups, both gone now she thought.  We swept the area to double check, but disappointingly satisfied that no babies hiding, we hailed a taxi and appealed to the driver to help us.  Thankfully, he agreed to speed us to the nearest veterinarian.  It was such a relief to know that she’d get help and be safe.  Or so we thought.
As I hustled into the dim store, hell-bent on our mission, my heart plummeted.  This was a Veterinary Clinic?  The closet-sized shop was lined with cages.  Wire cages, maybe a foot across, two foot deep and two foot high—I’ve never been good with judging lengths, but suffice it to say, cages that were too bloody small for their occupants.  I watched the German shepherd and the boxer, unable to stand, stoop-shuffling to move position.  I took in the empty water bowls, the 90 degree heat, the pitiful occupants in the sun-lit corner-cages, the smell of shit and the general air of festering, neglect and death.  My heart was not light.
The ‘Vet’ and his family clustered behind the counter, shifting their bulk as they jostled to see these loco gringos with a street dog.  Eager to get the cradled creature immediate attention, Indra and Corine were all business and took the dog to the examination table.  With no Spanish on the resume, I’m afraid I was next to useless.  I held the bags and tried to stop my eyes from betraying my disgust and my shock.  Everywhere I looked, was another sight to make me gag: the obese six year old, filling his mouth with handfuls of what looked like raw chicken; cardboard boxes, which were not full of dog chews or hamster wheels, but instead very young puppies, baking in the heat, sans mummies and sans water. 
Perhaps that’s how they do it in Mexico, I tried to rationalize.  I tried to reframe.   I knew that Indra had seen these things too, that she would have been repulsed, but she would have prioritized the need for urgent medical attention.   And so I watched, thinking the best thing to do was to stand my full height and show support by my presence.
“He wants $1800.”  Corine said, reading the Google Translate that glowed from the computer screen.  Indra didn’t miss a beat, and, as different as we are, I could sense what she was feeling: tend to the dog now, argue later, so I counted what pesos we had.  My internal alarm was wailing—not because I didn’t want to pay for the dog, but because this ‘Vet’ could say anything and, judging by his unsanitary practices, he could, and probably would, stitch us up like patchwork Americana.  Corine communicated that we would give some money now for the cost of the x-rays and pain medication, but we would withhold the full amount until the course of treatment had been decided.  He rapidly accepted the part payment and reluctantly agreed to wait for his next installment.  He promised to take her immediately for the x-rays and asked us to return in a few hours.
We retreated to the beach, breathing fresh air and agonizing over what was said, what was done, and what in the hell type of ‘vet’ was he anyway?  This, surely, was a little shop of horrors.  But what choice did we have?  With the situation and with limited Spanish could we be all that picky? 
Two hours could not pass quickly enough.  We returned to the store, as agreed.  We were eager to see her, to put our minds at rest, to see that the antibiotics, the painkillers, the water, the possible meal might have improved her.  But the ‘vet’ was no longer there.  And neither was the dog. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fishy tales in Me-hick-co

"You're going away again?"  He repeated incredulously.
"It's been planned for a while." I cast off in the direction of the cell phone, marooned on the carpet amid the swirling tornado of clothes, travel adaptor, passport, books and Tylenol, its speaker confirming to the caller, that 'yes, this would indeed be the fourth country visited in as many months.'
"But I haven't seen you for ages!"

Ah.  It's true. I suppose I have been rather negligent of friends at home, and, I suppose, some would say I have been fairly greedy, but travel!  Travel! ADVENTURE!  It's not that I am on some Elizabeth Gilbert type quest, of Eating and Praying and Loving--although there has been a fair quantity of one verb, and it doesn't necessitate devotion to anyone or anything but carbohydrates and avocado; rather more, I have just been 'Being'.  That's a verb, right?   And by removing Self from constantly 'doing' at home, and giving Self a week, a month, or maybe four, to just slow down and 'be' has awoken my senses with a citrus punch.

Imprinting actual sights that are not from a book, magazine or TV show, reinforcing them with earfuls of sound, lungfuls of indigenous scents, inhalations of fresher, cleaner ocean-filled air, mouthfuls of flavour, sand and dust and rock beneath my feet--OH! It just makes my fingers tingle, latent with possibilities.  And then, speaking to locals, learning what used to be, what was, what is, and the prediction for the future, it's the stuff a burgeoning writer lives for.  So Friends, Readers, Countrymen, lend me your Patience.

Yesterday, for example, we spent an indulgent afternoon lounging, books in hand, by the swimming pool.  Surrounded by white colonades and rangey palms, the ocean at a distance and the tempting cool cerulean blue water barely feet from my own, I could hear the city of Acapulco: its birds, its buses, its tropical hum, the familiar agricultural churning of a VW beetle engine.  In the midst of this tropical melee, I dozed.

His booming Chicago accent cut through the bird calls and VDub poots and any dreams that could be weaving.  I prised open a sleep-absconded eye.  He was wading through the water, only his shock of thick white hair, and matching rimmed sunglasses visible, as he found a convenient bay of the pool to rest, directly opposite our sun loungers.  Although his mass was underwater, there was no disguising he was hefty.   His much burned, peeled, and burned-again nose was pointed into the sun.  I turned the other way, thinking of the trips to the aquarium and the blubbery walruses, grunting, lolling and smelling of fish.

After several sun-soaked, deep breathed hours, it was decided we needed shade and a margarita, so we swam up to the bar unavoidably close to the still-basking walrus.  The Chicago boom hailed us as we swam by and polite 'Buenas tardes' were exchanged.  Sitting on the blue mosaic tiles of the swim-up bar, I could feel the shift behind me, the gentle movement as the water parted, making way for an unstoppable force. 

His name was Walter.

Walter had been coming to Acapulco for over 30 years.  He told us tales of the city in its heyday, when Villa Verra was frequented by Liz Taylor, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin; when Marilyn Monroe swam naked in our very pool; before the drug cartels had killed not just its people, but its tourist industry.  It was a sad reflection that, 30 years on, we were the only ones in the pool, and, much to Walt's disappointment, even a shot of tequila was not going to make these ladies' clothes fall off.  Although he did mention that, time was once, there would be three topless women at the swim-up bar and they would be buying him drinks.  I had to wonder if that was before the abundance of gut and gum, but no!  Walt, 68, divorced, father of two, was indeed currently dating various strippers.
 "But, ya know whad I learned?  I dated beautiful women and I treated them good, I held doors, I paid for them and then I decided to date ugly women. Maybe they would treat me better.  But ugly women want the same attention you give a beautiful woman.  Go figure."  Chivallry was indeed pronounced dead yesterday afternoon.
"You should treat all women like Goddesses!" my traveling companion retorted loudly, but Walt raised up like a rearing Odobenus, hearing only his own barks.
"And you girls, I'm telling you, I see these girls coming here, looking for romance. Don't look for what's not there.  Just enjoy the weather.  These men, they are like peanut butter, smooth and sticky; they'll have you in bed in a day." 

After an hour of Walt's stories, silent SOSs were cast between the three of us.  *Retreat! Retreat!*  And one after the other my fellow captives made their escape, but there was something faintly sad about this beached, burned, and blubbery man, desperate to hold court and tell us about the good old days, and it pulled me in and held me there; so, whilst sun sank in the sky and the water turned my fingers to flesh-coloured prunes, I stayed.

"My mother left me $10 million when she died," (the exact number of millions did seem to change over the course of the afternoon, sometimes being $1 million, sometimes $10 million, but it seemed rude to interrupt and clarify this point) "I come here, I enjoy the weather, I cook myself a great lobster with pasta and garlic, I have beautiful girlfriends, but you know what makes me happy?"
"What's that, Walter?" I asked, not really knowing what a millionaire in the sunshine, complete with collection of strippers, could possibly long for.
"I wish you'd tell me."
And there it was.  I was tempted to refer him to my blog and tell him about 'The Happiness Project' and that he should reframe, or maybe he should just take his own advice and 'not look for something that isn't there,' just enjoy the sunshine.  Before I could formulate a response, he crashed on,
"Anyway, I'm not trying to impress you with my wealth.  If I was, I woulda put my teeth in."
I couldn't help but laugh, and he laughed too,
"Wel,l Walter that's just about made my day!  Can I quote you?  I don't need my wealth or my teeth to impress you!"

And you know, I think for that short afternoon, just listening to his bizarre and somewhat fishy stories, he felt important and that made him happy.  For me, just taking the time to listen was horizon-broadening too--strippers, drug cartels, fortunes, oh the drama!  A writer dreams of such riches!  (It's just usually, they come with teeth.) 

Until next time, with jar of peanut butter and spoon in hand, E.