The Northern Coast

The Northern Coast
The Northern Coast--photo by Zack Thieman

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Forbidden Love

Everyone in my town wants me to fall in love with a Peruvian and stay forever. Or maybe they don't even want this, but they assume this will happen regardless of the fact that I have a boyfriend back in the US. If I love Peru, I will surely fall in love with a Peruvian and never leave.

Well, despite myself I have indeed fallen in love with a Peruvian. His name is Piter (Peter), and he is my host uncle's dog. 

Piter is a 9-month-old mutt, and my host uncle bought him June 2012. I remember being surprised that he got the puppy and skeptical, yet hopeful that he would take good care of him.

The thing is most Peruvians have a very different relationship with animals than people in the US do. In general (meaning I can't in any way speak for all Peruvians, because I do know people that have pets they care for) "pets"  live in a state of neglect. Dogs are seen more as pests than man's best friend.

I couldn't really tell you if all the emaciated dogs I see roaming the streets eating trash are strays or just uncared for pets, because I haven't seen them in any other way than just running around in packs. Many Peruvians I know have an inherent fear of dogs, giving them a wide birth while walking past them, or preparing to hit or kick them if they get anywhere near them.

Indeed, dogs are kind of scary here. They have lived a hard life and don't really love humans all that much either. One of the reasons I stopped running was the constant issue of being chased by dogs and having to carry rocks with me. 

If someone does have a beloved pet dog it is not uncommon for that dog to be poisoned by a neighbor or someone else in town. My host family once had a dog that lived on the roof until someone threw it some food with poison in it. They also put glass in meat. It's sad. Many volunteers have lost pet dogs to these cruel methods. Sometimes the dogs are blamed for killing chickens or other livestock, sometimes they're just seen as a nuisance.

So you can see why I was skeptical for this puppy's future.

A couple months ago I went to an event for my host family at the discoteca that my host uncle owns, and that's when I saw Piter for the first time in months. He was tied up behind the discoteca (a building that is a block away from my host uncle's house) by a leash that allowed him maybe a 4 foot distance to pace. He had a food bowl filled with rice and potatoes; leftovers from my host family's meals. When I walked around the corner and saw him he literally freaked out with excitement. He was shaking and yapping and so excited to see someone he ran at me, causing him to hit the end of his leash and fly straight on his back. But he was so excited he did it again. 

Piter is a puppy. A puppy with a lot of energy, so much energy that he jumps and barks and whines, and he is so happy to be around people he can't control himself. You know, just like puppies usually are. But instead of this being seen as a phase he needs to be trained and worked through, my host uncle saw it as a nuisance and annoyance, my host family deemed him "loco" and put him in the back of the discoteca where he wouldn't bother anyone. Thus, making his anxiety of not having attention even worse. I knew if he just got some exercise he would probably be a lot better behaved, not to mention if someone took some time to train him.

I see a lot of stuff that is hard to see that I can't do anything about. And while Piter's situation is by no means the worst of these, it was one I could possibly help with. So I talked to my host family and told them I love walking, would it be okay if I started taking Piter on walks with me?

And thus began my relationship with this little dog and my decision to train him. I thought to myself, "If only I could show my host family what a good dog Piter is, they will treat him better." So I started taking Piter on walks, teaching him simple commands (in Spanish, of course) to get him to stop jumping all the time, to come when called, etc. I also started buying dog food, giving him a small portion of it whenever I saw him so I could feel better about him eating food meant for him.

It's a little hard because Piter has so much energy and he just needs a field to run and run forever until his little legs give out from underneath him. But, because I worry about losing him or him getting into poison I can't just let him loose in a field. There aren't parks where he can play or grassy areas in general where he can run free. So, we go to the cemetery.

Piter's a little guy, and probably not getting any bigger
Hanging out on top of a tomb. Hope they don't hate dogs.
The cemetery has become our place to go to where he sprints around tombs and runs after lizards and birds and wind-blown trash. It has been a process, but he has made so much progress in our short time together. I have been so proud of him, telling my host family what a good dog he is, how he just needs attention and training and he will shape right up. Since I started walking Piter they moved him back to the house where he can at least see people, even though he has been banned to the back of the house where all of the fighting roosters are kept. 

One afternoon I let Piter hang out in my room and I made him his now favorite toy from an old gym shirt. Then I started getting fleas on me and I freaked out and took him home. 
Well, my plan has kind of backfired for a couple reasons. A) I love that dog, B) My host family thinks he only listens to me, therefore not elevating his abilities in their eyes, but instead implying that by freewill he is crazy towards them and good for me.

And, Piter is kind of crazy for them. They ignore him, they yell at him, my host cousin screams and runs away from him. And then he acts out by destroying things. And then he's get attention alright…by getting beat. 

The other day my host family was talking about pobrecito Piter and this situation, how he is essentially a dog that isn't wanted by his owner and is often beat, and Piter and I have created a bond.

And then my host cousin asked if I could take him back to the USA. 

I could take him back to the US. It would cost a pretty penny, but with the right paperwork it is possible. But whether or not I am personally able to do that is the question. Where would Piter live? Where I am moving back to doesn't allow dogs. Am I willing to spend up to $1500 on getting a dog home that I don't even necessarily have a home for? And if I were to take Piter, I would want him to become 100% my dog while I'm still in Peru, living with me with my host family so that I can work with him on his behavior and make sure he is "US ready." My host dad has already made it clear he hates all animals that aren't on his dinner plate. 

It's a tough situation I have gotten myself into. I can't just go saving Peruvian dogs because I hate seeing what's happening. Yes, I have access to this one dog, but there are millions of dogs getting treated this way if not much worse. So I decide to "save" this dog and then my host uncle gets bored and sees another cute puppy somewhere and thinks this time it will be different?

And, if I'm completely honest, since my host cousin asked me if I could take Piter to the US I haven't visited him. I am too attached. This situation is getting complicated, and I don't know if I am capable of seeing Piter as just a dog I walk. 

Piter is a good dog in a bad situation. Piter represents everything in Peru I wish I could just swoop up and love and take care of and save. I don't know where to draw the line. 

Photo by Sue Song. It was so hot outside Piter laid down and refused to walk any further, so I carried him. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

This is the year

Well holy moly, cow-heart-on-a-stick, it is February and I have no posts for 2013!

This has largely been because I haven't had a working computer up until about a couple weeks ago, and then just this week I got internet back in my room again. I have so much I want to tell you all. Like about my incredibly awesome, never-gonna-top-this New Years vacation in Ecuador with some fellow volunteers and my boyfriend. Or how my projects turned out, and the projects I'm already working on for the next school year. Let's not forget that I have enough material to write two "Sh*t My Host Dad Says" posts saved up (I think some of the best yet).

But above all of those things, this is what I want to tell you right now:

This is the year I come home!

It's here! I left the USA in 2011, and here we are two years later. I can't believe it! Friends and family, I will see you this year!

It is bizarre because I still have a lot of time left (around 6 months) but that is nothing compared to when I started. Already my host family and I talk about what it will be like when I leave and discussions are in the works for a replacement volunteer. It's pretty emotional. I am jumping for joy inside that I will get to go home and that I have accomplished a life goal, and then I choke up and sometimes cry because of what that means for my home here.

Last week my regional coordinator (a Peruvian who is kind of like a go between for the Lima office and volunteers) came to my site to talk to my socios. I first took him to the municipality and after some niceties I told my socia (the secretary of the mayor) about the possibility of a replacement volunteer. She looked at my regional coordinator and said, "Are we not allowed to request that Amanda stay an additional two-years instead of getting a new volunteer?"

I was actually taken aback by that comment. I didn't imagine that people wanted me around that much. After my RC explained to her that staying was a volunteers choice, everyone in the room turned and looked at me so expectantly. I was a little shocked and all I could stutter out was, "You family, my friends, my boyfriend." It was a strange moment. I never expected I would be asked to stay.

We then left to go talk to my amazing socia, the obstetrician, at the health post. On our way there I was doing my usual "Hola, ¿Como estas?" to people as we passed and my RC said, "Wow, Amanda, everyone knows you!"

"Of course they do," I said. "I'm the only white girl in town."

I guess that's just how I've seen myself; the ever conspicuous white girl in town who everyone sees running from one end of town to another with a satchel and papelotes, but no one really understands her purpose.

Having an outsider, a Peruvian nonetheless, come into town and to see these connections so clearly made me realize that maybe I am seen as more than that. You know, Peace Corps is a pretty thankless job. Sometimes (a lot of times) you work your ass off creating a project or a presentation, and no one shows up. Some days you get asked, "Hey, what is it exactly you do?" by people you work with. Or, if you're me, at the end of the school year after fighting tooth and nail to keep the Pasos Adelante group afloat, the director who turned it down time and time again asks, "What is this Pasos Adelante group?" It makes you wonder if it matters that you're here at all.

When my RC and I got to the health post the OB was with a patient, so he took a phone call outside while I waited. And as I was standing in the hallway of the health post, like I had so many days that year waiting to make plans with the my socia, I started to cry.

It is the year I come home, and the year I leave another home. The only thing I can do is enjoy every moment as it comes and appreciate it for what it is, because while I may be able to visit in the future, I can never return to this experience.

Bring it on 2013!