Wednesday, July 4, 2018

1226 Pesos, 3 lightbulbs and a cell phone

About a month ago Carlos and I went to the Zaachila Dog Refuge and there was no water. We had gone by chance mid-week because there was an opportunity for one of the puppies to be adopted. Whenever we arrive, there always seems to be some sort of drama. Either someone left 7 dogs tied to a garden fence with wire, and those 7 dogs were then attacked by the resident dogs and several died, or there was no food for a while, or maybe a dog had a litter of puppies and did not have her own milk so we went out and got milk to feed the little baby puppies with. On this one day a month ago, as wonderful as it was that a little black fluffy puppy was going to be adopted by an adorable girl who loved this little fluff ball as soon as she held him, the other dogs were suffering. There was no water.

We asked Tia Migue if she had a number for a pipa. (A pipa is the water truck that comes to deliver water when there is no water that is pumped by the city directly.) She did not have one, but said if we took this one side road and went to the very end, there we would find a pipa company. We understood that although the city is supposed to deliver water to her, they had not (yet) come. We left her with 150 pesos and said we would arrange for water to be delivered into the two tinacos (holding tanks). 

I am a girl of the modern world, and although sometimes this serves me poorly in Oaxaca, my first instinct is to go to Google and ask "pipa Zaachila" and see where that gets me. It got me a number, so while driving through country roads on the outskirts of Zaachila, stopping at a corner store to ask about a pipa, getting another number, not having accurate directions, calling one place that could not deliver the smaller quantity of water we wanted, we did eventually get water delivered. The company called us back to let us know they had delivered it, and of course, the city delivered more water that night. 

I live in a priviledge I never thought of. I have a phone, electricity, and 150 pesos (about 10 Canadian, 7 US dollars) is not beyond my reach to pay for water. I can read and write. On that day, I was struck by something I considered to be such a simple thing to take care of seemed insurmountable for Tia Migue. She did not have 150 pesos. She did not have a phone, because she has no electricity to charge one, even if she did.

I managed not to cry, though writting this today I am flooded with such emotion, such gratitude. On that day, it got me to thinking. She has no light. She has no way to charge a phone, which in turn means if she needs help, she has to walk for it. Walking means leaving the refuge, which often means she has no less than 10 dogs walking with her. The pipa is about 5 kilometers away from her house. At least a 2 hour walk and only if she had 150 pesos to start with.

Carlos is an electrical engineer. He and I have often talked about solar power and its possibilities and uses. He has installed panels at his house. We decided to install a solar panel for the dog refuge. We talked back and forth about the costs, different parts, and then as we were headed down to the market we passed a shop that had a kit. For 1226 pesos (about $80 canadian or $65 USD) we got a kit - a solar panel, a converter and battery combo with 3 lights each with a 5 meter cable connector, and one USB charger. Carlos tells me we could have gotten it cheaper by buying the parts separate, but we were there, and some days I give in to an easy option. 

I had an old cell phone at the house, so the following Sunday we went out to install the solar panel and the lights, as well as bring Tia Migue the cell phone and we loaded it with 50 pesos (about 2 weeks worth of credit on the pay-as-you-go plans from TelCel). You could see by the look on her face she did not really understand why we would spend money buying this, time installing this. How was this going to impact and help the dogs?

Carlos and I knew. We knew that having lights at night would be safer. We knew that having lights at night MAY mean less people dump dogs at random in front of the gates. We knew that having a phone meant we could call and ask if she needed anything as we were on our way. We knew that a phone meant calling the city to ask about water, maybe even ordering water. We knew. We knew that her having a phone may mean more dogs get adopted quicker, or that a vet could call before going by. We knew.

And on the following Sunday when we went back to clean and fix another casita, Tia Migue knew as well. It was the very first thing she said when we got out of the car. Before we left, she told us that her neighbour had come over asking about these lights, where did these come from? The glow on her face was obvious, The little cell phone she keeps in her bra, away from the dogs who will eat your car keys if you let them. 

Last night a lady who works primarily with Spay and Neuter called. The very first thing she said was: you installed the solar panel. 

We installed the solar panel, and for 1226 pesos, we changed things. I am eternally grateful that I can give back in ways I never ever knew would be possible. I am filled with gratitude for the people in my life who help me give back. And for dog love, which fills me up and makes me smile.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Dog Refuge

Where to start this story... 2 years ago, I had heard about this dog refuge in Zaachila, a town about 12 kilometers outside of Oaxaca city. I went and brought a few bags of food out to them and walked in their little dog-a-thon. The lady who is in charge of this refuge is called "Tia Migue". Her story is that 12 years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer and promised God that if she recovered and lived, she would dedicate her life to dogs.

I watched this lady while I sat there struggling to follow the Spanish announcements from the town representatives. She pet a dog who had come to sit next to her with a tenderness and gentleness that was so blatant it made that lump rise in my throat. You know the one.

I started to go out to the refuge about a year ago. It had moved, the municipality had donated a plot of land a little further out. The first time I went, I cried. When my friend Kim came, she cried. When my friend Trina came, she looked a little wild eyed so we handed her a puppy. Bonnie came and pet every single one she could. It's crazy. Dogs are everywhere. It's dirty. It smells. Imagine over 100 dogs cohabitating with one lady and occasioanly her husband and another lady, Rocio, who used to go to volunteer to feed them.

So I brought food, often with money friends donated, often my own. They were being fed 50 kilos of kibble per day. They weren't skinny but they weren't healthy, either. They were also not dead by the side of the road. They generally had someone who cared for them. Even if they were covered in mange.

A few months ago there started to be a little unrest at the refuge. Another organization had gotten involved and there was some politics. One person said one lady was stealing. Another person called one lady a liar. Another lady thinks the refuge should be closed. Some other volunteers went with additional food. Some accused the Municipality of not taking care of their population, human or canine. There were reporters. Social media ugliness.

Bonnie, Carlos and I ended up in an article.

I'll be frank. I had stepped away for a bit. As a permanent resident of Mexico, I cannot be involved in anything political. Recently, I went back, after not having been there for several months. Since this political nonsense started, things have improved a little. A little. The day I went back, I knew I needed to stay engaged and involved. Even though the dogs were no longer covered with mange and they seemed to have more food and there seemed to be less fighting, there was so much to be done that it seemed overwhelming. Tia Migue had a sort of frantic feeling. So many people involved and yet, no plan. The Municipality has tried to put in enclosures but the metal sheeting they used to separate the rooms in the strip of 6 pens was exposed, meaning dog paws were cut and one anxious dog who tried to eat his way out of the sheet metal died. Dogs had been put in the enclosures with no thought to their behaviour and how this change may impact them. Exposed metal widely available to poke dogs and humans alike. No one's fault, just a lack of knowledge.

Inside bottom of a door sharpness. :(

When Trina was here in December, she said it didn't matter how little money there was, you still needed a plan if things were going to improve. And she's right, I was just afraid.

So. I decided I was needed. Like it or lump it, I was going to spend some time making this place safe, for the dogs, for Tia Migue, for those of us who volunteer our time there. For anyone who wants to come and adopt.

The journey began.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

500 Miles

He looks lovely in this light...
Last weekend (was it only last weekend?) my friend Sarah and I went to the Sierra Juarez Pueblos Mancomunados to do two village to village hikes. In a little over 4 years, it is our plan to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. About 4 years ago I had signed up for a half marathon in Chicago in an attempt to feel better physically and loose a little weight. Sarah signed up with me, and on one of our first training runs, she said she had always wanted to walk the Camino. A bucket list thing. I said I would do it with her, and last weekend was the beginning of a training of sorts. She came to Oaxaca and we were going to do two days of walking in the forest. The first day was 24 kilometers from Cuajimolojas (3100 meters above sea level) to Lachatao (1900 meters above sea level). The planned second day was 18 kilometers from Latuvi (2900 masl) to Lachatao. Ralph was our driver - wine, beer, pajamas and the next day's gatoraide in a cooler, waiting for us on arrival.

Sarah and I both worked in HR together at AMD, and we are "data" HR girls - we like information. We question how things are going to work. We evaluate thoughts and ideas. Maybe too much, but we had questions about this walk. This walk in 4 years. 1000 kilometers over 40 days. How much gear? How would we feel after a day? What time of year should we go? How did we want to sleep - in a group hostal type environment or a bit of luxury in our own room?

Day 1 Selfie
And so, we're off. I am not sure if this is the point to tell you if walking downhill for about 6 hours and nice steep climbing for short spurts in between for the other 90 minutes does to your toes. I know I cannot describe in words the feeling of utter and absolute exhaustion we felt when walking the last 20 minutes in the hot afternoon sun down into the village. Maybe these can wait...

Doesn't this trail look nice? HA!
Day 1 Things: What you think is too much snack food is just enough. Fall gracefully, if you must fall, and have Sarah nearby to grab your gatoraid as it goes flying into the bush. Pine needle beds suck. Stick to the road well traveled unless you have a guide to move logs for you to traverse boggy ground. Seeing animals never gets old. Take pictures even when you are tired. Advil is good. Having your own room - priceless.

Francisco moves a log. Seriously.

Day 2 we changed up our plan. We decided for a local in and out hike of  roughly 11 kilometers. It was the right choice. There is no way my toes were going to support another almost completely downhill day. So, we changed the plan, and it was the right thing to do.

A view. It really is this beautiful.
Day 2 Things: My backpack for this long walk needs front pockets of some sort for water and my camera. Your body does not feel as bad as you think it is going to feel on the morning of Day 2. Even your toes, but they still hurt more than other parts. Maybe selfies only on Day 1?

Did we even wash our faces?

Kind cool gap in the rock.
On the bridge with Juan, our guide.

Fauna Notes - things we saw: Woodpecker, Field Mouse, Squirrel tail (unattached, seriously, we didn't touch it), Some Red Bird, Wild Horses, goats crossing the road, Cicadas, Dead green scarab, dead centipedes, Oxen, Kitten, Puppy, Turkey Vulture, Martins (Bird), Donkeys

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Y tu esposo?

Ralph is away in Edmonton. He's been gone for a week to support his brother who just lost his wife. I would want his brother here to support Ralph if I were the one to pass along as well. So off he went.

Last Tuesday, I went to Apoala. Of late, we have had a few tours there and we recently spent an overnight there exploring a longer tour possibility. From 5 different people, I was asked: Y tu esposo? which means: And your husband? The guy who signs us in, the lady who graciously accepts my leftover salads, the guy in charge of the cabins, the guide David who I am pretty sure I have not worked with before, and then the older man who we often give a lift to, 500 meters almost straight uphill. This older gentleman walks down into the lower Apoala village every day to work at the health care centre there, and then back up at the end of the day. There is a doctor once a week and perhaps a nurse on other days, but he goes to make sure it is open and available. He had the very best comment: "You can drive, too!". Ralph usually drives. Mexican women drive but somehow my being able to drive had surprised him.

Apoala - from up above

On Thursday we had a booking for Hierve el Agua. It was a single traveler so off we went. It's always different touring without Ralph because usually he drives and I talk, so guiding solo means driving (always an adventure) and talking both to the guest AND telling them about Oaxaca. I managed to not hit any speed bumps at high speed. The guy at the front gate asked why I was alone today, was my husband OK. Maria, the lady at Hierve who kindly accepts my leftover salads asked: Y tu esposo? I smiled and explained: He is gone to Canada. He should be back next week. She seemed reassured. Touring alone means I have to channel my inner mountain goat and bring guests to all the little nooks and crannies that Ralph usually explored with them. It's a fun change.

Ralph at Hierve el Agua.
Although I thought that would be it for touring for the week, Jen had such a good time at Hierve that she asked if we could do the Yagul and Tlacolula market on Sunday, It was half marathon day,  and I had not thought about doing anything that day, but Erin is visiting and she said we should do it, it was a short easy day. And so, off we went. Arriving to closed gates in typical fashion, I texted Pedro the caretaker to make sure he was on his way. We sat and chatter for a few minutes and Pedro showed up on his motorcycle. As always, he opened up the tomb for us and while we were waiting for Jen to be ready to head into it to explore, he asked: Solo hoy? Alone today?

Artsy Yagul.
After a short break at Yagul in the shade we headed over to the Talcolula market. It was a great day there, not too crowded and some fun new things. I stopped to talk to Maria, a lady we are acquainted with, who makes beuatiful red pottery I use for cooking (and almost everything else!) to aks about a recent piece I had purchased (not from her) that had a small chip in it. She told me the test was to put it in water. Good to know! Before I headed off she asked; "Y el senor?". El Senor Ralph went to Canada. Ah,she nodded. For how long was her next question. I supposed another week, more or less. She nodded again. It was acceptable.

Always room for another basket. Always.
Yesterday I went to run a few errands after my massage and one was in the plaza where the Starbucks is. Erin wanted a latte, so Perseo, our usual Starbucks barista who knows my name took my order and said: The latte is for Ralph? He usually has an Americano...

It is interesting what things can make you feel part of a community. I always felt welcomed here in Oaxaca, but now I feel looked after and cared for, too.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

DHL, Drama & Process

Yesterday I bought a bag of chocolate chips and then left them in the heat of the car for a few hours. I now have a massive chocolate chip in a resealable bag. (Yes, I damaged the bag in the taking of this picture...)

I attribute this moment of sheer lack of brilliant foresight and incredibly un-intelligent thinking to the fact that only hours earlier my brain nearly exploded in my skull due to the incredible stupidity on behalf of DHL. Well, let me in fairness not paint the entire company with the same brush. I generally get outstanding service from the delivery people who work for DHL. Really outstanding. Like the driver who was set to deliver by package calls my cell phone and comes three blocks over to deliver it to the bar where I am having a cocktail. Yes, like that good. Memorable.

But the people behind the desk are a whole other story. Hence this blog post. I should warn folks that this incredibly dense behaviour, although occasionally illustrative of the mind shattering checklist inside-the-box process bureaucracy experienced in Oaxaca, I am positive this can sometimes be a global experience.

It was one of those experiences where you want to find the person in charge of the stupid policy and just shake them. Maybe, if the occasion presents itself, a light open hand slap upside the head.

For back story, I am sending a small gift of 2 pair of too-small-for-me-brand-new-except-one-run workout trousers (not pants, as they are destined for England, you see), 2 watter bottles and 2 packages of M&Ms. I know this seems like a ridiculous bit of stuff to send but just go with it for now.

I walk 9 blocks to the closest DHL office to buy a box to pre-package my stuff and get it ready for shipment. I will not seal the box because DHL has to see the stuff you pack to comply with their customs and import/export policies. (See what I just did there - I recognized a good, solid, makes sense policy.) I will also mention there is currently a small heat wave in Oaxaca and although only 11 in the morning and already close to 30 degrees (86 in the other measurement).

I arrive at the DHL office to a small line up, but this gives me time to evaluate which box I need. I decide on the smallest yellow DHL express one. It is 41 pesos. (2.17 USD or 3 CAD). I get to the counter to a whispering service person.

Customer Service Hint #1: Speak Up. I have no problem with your Spanish - IF I CAN HEAR YOU.

And then:

  • I ask the service person to sell me a small box.
  • She asks me if I am shipping something.
  • I tell her yes, later today, I need to box to pack it.
  • She tells me I can only buy a box at the time of shipment.
  • I just look at her. I leave.

I calm myself by counting the blocks home and wondering what the distance is (2 kilometers, 1.26 miles, round trip. I checked when I got home).

Here is what I have learned. Obviously, I had no idea that those little yellow DHL boxes were such a hot fashion item. I usually stay away from fashion news but the likes of BeyoncĂ© or a Kardashian MUST have been seen with one of these gems. Maybe they added a shoulder strap? Either way, they are obviously such a thing that having one if you are not immediately shipping your goods could not possibly be tolerated! I may well likely try and sell such a coveted item. Maybe, wait - maybe I will try and ship something in it via Mex Post or FEDEX! NO!

Customer Service Hint #2: Just tell me not to seal the box because the agent taking my package is going to need to inspect the contents.

There is a brain cell I am obviously lacking that does not allow me to understand the value of irritating a front end customer to this extent. No. You may not have a box in advance of your shipping time. Don't be ridiculous. EVERYONE knows this. Silly girl. Silly, silly girl...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

54 Hours

As so many of you know, we have a revolving door of guests, which we love. I love that 2.5 years/3 winters of living in Oaxaca and we still have guests visiting and enjoying Oaxaca. We love Oaxaca, so it is never hard to show people our adopted home. Most recently our friends Erin & Jodi left (Sunday morning at 8), we subsequently did a fun (paying) tour to Yagul, Lambityeco and the Sunday Tlacolula market, arriving home around 3 in the afternoon.

The Last Suppoer at Origen.
Pete & Barb, Ralph's sister and brother-in-law, arrive tonight, Tuesday, at 8:30 p.m. From the time we got back from tour to the time when we will go and pick up  P&B, we had 2 sleeps and a rough 54 hours or so on our own.

Whoa. What to do?
  • I gave myself a pedicure. Long overdue, the last one I had was about 6 weeks ago, in Florida, with my sister.
  • We had nothing but junk food for dinner - chips, cookies, ice cream, chocolate. 
  • We slept naked. I got up in the early morning and walked around naked.
  • I took a 12 hour "alone time" break and went hiking in the mountains. People think because I am an extrovert means I need no time alone. Incorrect. Extroverts also enjoy their alone time so they can enjoy their together time even more. How true this is. I went for a hike at La Cumbre. About 10K, and I now have my technique down for managing roaming herds of horned cows with calves. Took a picture of a blooming bromeliad and my "authentic" cup of mint tea.
    • Ralph tooks naps. I took naps. We napped.
    • Ralph did some volunteer work for the Oaxaca Lending Library.
    • We made mango chutney.

    • We sat in our little new service patio outdoor space and chatted over breakfast and coffee.
    • We dropped our van off to get cleaned.
    • We had tortas (big sandwiches) on a bench in the shade at Conzatti park.
    • We attempted, once again, to pay our "tenencia" - the annual tax on our car. Maybe Thursday...
    • We'll go over to friends a little later and have a cocktail and a visit.


      Time for a nap!

      Tuesday, March 14, 2017

      A Oaxacan Princess in Disney

      I run half marathons. The latest was a few weeks ago, February 25th, at Disney World. I train in Oaxaca, the land of shitty sidewalks and diesel buses and more hills than I care to think about when putting on my sneakers. Running in Oaxaca, where stepping in donkey or goat poop is a real hazard. Where one runs with a rock in her pocket to toss at angry barking dogs. I have often thought the rocks would work on drunken men, too, but I run early enough in the morning that the drunken men are usually still passed out on the sidewalk.

      But back to Disney. This picture sums up a lot about the race.

      A few things to note:
       - I am running with my eyes closed. As the race was supposed to start at 5:30 a.m., I decided that sun glasses would likely not be critical. Wrong.
       - My tiara stayed in place for the entire 13.1 miles. A true testimonial to my princess-ness.
       - There is a woman running in costume behind me. More on this later.
       - There is the ultimate selfie being taken - can you spot the tell-tale arm?
       - There appears to be a character behind me, with a line up of people wearing race numbers near this character.
       - I still appear to be smiling.

      I had a wonderful time. Let me start with that. I felt prepared, excited, ready for the challenge. My sister came from Montreal, my amiga Sarah from Whitby, Ontario and my amiga Marian from the UK. Yes, all the way from the UK. We stayed at Disney's Animal Kingdom and Marian and I sat on our balcony the first morning and watched giraffes saunter by. High on the very cool list. It was so effing expensive it was ridiculous. But being together and knowing we would run together and then celebrate together was this extra amazing feeling of not only running and being these four amazing women, but the simple easy joy of having someone else who trained, suffered and traveled to do this thing with you is very special. A shout out to my girls. We are better than rock stars.

      Now, on to some logistics organizers will never share and this blog post will likely get pulled for:
       - Stay at Disney property. As we boarded the bus at 4 in the morning from our resort and rounded the corner to a line-up of traffic, cars and buses, trying to get to the race start, all four of us thanked all the gods that we were not driving that morning. In addition to usual pre-race jitters, driving ourselves would likely have just been awful.
       - The "race start" was 5:30, and we were supposed to be in our corrals around 5. I am a slow runner, so I was in the second to last corral. I actually started to run at 6:39. I also seemed to walk for at least 2 kilometers from where you get off the bus to where you corral, and waited in line at the port-a-potties twice. For added training support, I would recommend, therefore, getting up at 3:15 and eating something, put on your running clothes and shoes, remembering not to tie your shoes too tight yet. Then sit around in your kitchen for 45 minutes. Go outside and walk around aimlessly for 2 kilometers, stopping to pee a few times and ensuring to re-adjust everything about your run outfit so there will be no chafing. Then stand, basically in one spot, for an hour and 15 minutes. THEN, and only THEN, start your training run. When you are about ten minutes from starting, re-tie your running shoes and wonder about if you need to pee again.
       - The best advice I used this race was to purchase a second-hand throw away sweater, at Good Will, not one you actually like, and then you can toss it off just before you start to run. Pick one with a hood if you find one.
       - There were 20,000 people who ran this race. That is about 10,000 too many. Many of the roadways you run are narrow and cannot accommodate the volume of people.
       - You run three miles inside the parks. The other 10.1 is on the highway/service roads. Yes, seriously. There is very little crowd support, lots of water stops, and the only bathrooms without line ups start at mile 7.
       - The race is pretty casual. Lots of walkers. People stopping to take pictures with their favorite characters who are at various spots throughout the run.
       - Turning the corner in Magic Kingdom to a view of the castle was spectacular and almost worth the race price.
       - Disney recommends no earphones. Bring music and earphones. There are a few bands along the way. The brass band at mile 2 was great, the DJ on the bridge was super fun, and the gospel choir at mile 12/13 was so amazing they made me weep, but the rest of the time, I was thankful for my own tunes.

      A few tips for the non-serious runners who plan on running Disney:
       - I get you want to run/walk. But putting your little hand up as you stop and walk RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME is really not cool.
       - I know, I know, you want to keep all your friends posted on your latest status during the run. Step off to the side to update your status, don't stop in the middle of the road. The very same applies for selfies.
       - Slow traffic usually moves over to the right. This includes you when you are running or walking and slower than others.
       - Try to discard costumes OFF the raceway. This includes stopping to remove the tutu. Although watching you struggle to run, not trip keep your shirt and race number on and toss the pink fluffy skirt was amusing. Thanks for that.
       - Figure out your play list BEFORE. You signed up for this darn thing MONTHS ago. You really need to meander down the road looking for that special song NOW? Oh, wait, maybe you were just checking that text from your mom... Of course, please, do that.

      The next group run is the Rock 'N' Roll is Lisbon, Portugal, in October 2018. Who's coming?