Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pana Shock

I was prepared to be lost-in-translation, to work with limited resources, to live without the same products I have in Canada. I was even semi-prepared to accept that occasionally, a giant, horrid looking spider would cross my path (and they have). I was mentally prepared to deal with the culture shock process, which surprisingly, has yet to take me on an emotional roller coaster. Cuso warned us in our pre-departure training to "be prepared for the unexpected". Pana was my unexpected.

I noticed a dog wandering through the forest at a distance as I walked to work one day. I saw it again a couple of days later dart across my backyard. The third time I saw it, it was lying at the bus stop in front of the student residence Panamericano. It had the kindest face, cutest mix of brown and white spots and was very pregnant. It was at that moment that "it" became "her" and "her" became "Pana" and "Pana" became "our dog". My friend Victoria and I tried feeding her some rice and beans, apparently the widespread Costa Rican affection for rice and beans doesn't extend to dogs.

Over the next few days she learned that she could always find food, water and a blanket outside my door. She would be waiting, wagging her tail when I arrived home, always eager to put her paws in my lap and try to sneak a lick on my face. She stole my heart.

What I couldn't understand was how someone could abandon their pregnant dog a week before giving birth? How could humans be so cruel? So irresponsible for their actions and commitments? So inhumane? 

What shocked me even more was how desensitized everyone else was. I would tell them the story and they would look at me with a blank face and kind of shrug. This was a cultural shock I had never predicted, and I was completely unprepared. I felt angry, stressed, helpless for Pana, how could no one care? 

I only realized days later when I had calmed down and stopped taking the situation as a personal attack on my value system, that it wasn't that people didn't care, in fact people cared a lot. It was that this is an issue that is so widespread in most of Central and South America that it doesn't phase people anymore. Kind of how -15 degrees doesn't phase Canadians, but would seem utterly outrageous to anyone from here. 

Once I got passed my little bout of culture shock, I opened my eyes to realize that Pana had not only stolen my heart, but the heart of so many people at CATIE. Pana is now "Pana neustra perra"(Pana our dog), so many people offering to help in any way they can for her wellbeing. 

A week and a half ago she disappeared. She didn't come back for two days. I was worried and relieved at the same time. I knew that I couldn't take care of her puppies here, but at the same time I didn't want her to have them in the forest and not be able to come for food. But she came back. She comes back about 4-5 times a day, and she is eating so so so much! Her favourite is the hardboiled eggs, and knowing how much I hate eggs, it is a true gesture of my affection for this pup. 

Hopefully in a couple of weeks we can meet the puppies and interact with them enough to start finding them homes. 

This whole experience has given me such a strong reaction to human nature. How is it that we humans can be such compassionate, empathizing, loving beings? Yet at the same time have the capacity to be so cruel and unjust? Especially towards a dog that just wants your affection. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Panama City

It felt like a boa-constrictor had wrapped itself around my neck. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't think. Wonderland's beauty had deceived me, the birds singing and luscious vegetation seemed like decoys for the serpents of gossip that were slowly suffocating me. I thought I was about to be its next meal, engulfed by CATIE's insatiable hunger.

CATIE is a bubble, or burbuha en espanol. As I have stated previously it is a beautiful place, it feels like a wonderland. But we all know that fairytales have their dark sides. CATIE's is that everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows everything.

Just as I felt my esophagus closing, the snake released itself. Panama.

Unfortunately...or fortunately, we have not yet been able to sort out our volunteer visas with the Costa Rican government. From what I understand, last year the whole process changed departments, and when that happened, things got complicated and lost, and no one knows, who's responsibility is what. Thus, I unfortunately have to take a four day trip out of the country everything three months.

Josique and I landed in Tocumen International Airport, Panama City on a Friday at 2pm. We had just flown in over the city, the buildings with glistening windows, towered over the shore of the Pacific Ocean.

We had arrived to tax haven of Latin America, and having essentially packed only the clothes on our backs, we were ready to indulge in some very materialistic activities....shopping, shopping, movie...and more shopping.

Now I wouldn't say that I love to shop or spend any great length of time browsing around malls. The idea of walking around for hours in flats that make your feet hurt, with florescent lighting that gives you a headache and shows all your skin imperfections is usually not my idea of a good time. However that day, Josique and I were like kids in a candy shop.

Not only for the selection of clothing stores available but for the grocery store. I think we were shrieking like 13 year old girls at a Justin Bieber concert. Dark chocolate? Pesto? Curry paste? Fresh pasta?

Sure you can find a lot in Turrialba, but there are things that I never knew I took for granted...such as Greek yogurt. I know I know, first world problems.

Anyway, I digress. I will not bore you with my various purchases and will skip right to our day(s) ( 1 1/2 days really) of sightseeing.

The Panama Canal

Josique, giant ship & I
It takes 8-10hours for one of these ships to pass through the entire Canal from the Pacific to Atlantic with each lock using 100 million litres of water. I know that I should have been overwhelmed, perhaps I just couldn't fully comprehend the historical significance or impact that this canal has on daily world trade, but I couldn't help but think "it looks like the locks in Merrickville, just bigger".  What I think was most impressive, that I never would have thought of is that the ships are raised on the Pacific side and then lowered on the Atlantic so that the point in the middle is highest (check out this link to see what I mean). Any idea why? I am ashamed I didn't think of this really, but it so that the Pacific and Atlantic oceans don't mix and there is no (or minimal) cross-contamination of species, so the water of the canal is actually all (or mostly) fresh-water.

Casco Viejo - The Old Quarter 

Approaching Casco Viejo from the boardwalk, you may as well think you are in the south of France or Italy. The boats lazily swaying in the breeze with the backdrop of colourful buildings with chipped paint and flowers. This touristy peninsula of the city is undoubtably beautiful with its colonial buildings, many of which are being restored into the cities chicest restaurants and quaintest hotels. There are Italy worthy Gelateria's and your generic markets boasting all the usual Arts & Crafts. Sounds like it could be anywhere right? It partly reminded me of Europe, partly of Montreal's old port and partly of a ghetto. What made this touristy spot so unique from any other, was that these beautifully restored buildings were like islands in a sea of abandoned, decaying, illegally inhabited ones.

Reggae vibrated the already frail foundation of this more-than-chipped-paint building. Teenage boys casually hung their arms over rotting balconies with beautiful flowers. Men with leathery hands covered in plaster worked at a slow pace in the afternoon heat to restore some of this beautiful ugliness. 

Central Square, Casco Viejo

After three full days in the extreme humidity while shopping, sightseeing and filling my stomach, I was looking forward to going back to the bubble. I was excited to hear the birds in the morning instead of traffic, feel a cool breeze rather than hot heavy air. The big city was fun, but we all know I am a small town girl at heart. 

Fisherman's Dock, Panama City