Those are excerpted lyrics from one of my favorite songs.
It has been a while since I have blogged. Now that this is stated, let’s move on to our Sunday feature.
Having attempted to update you periodically over the last 10 months with stories of success, challenges, frustrations, exhilarations, declarations, and realizations has not been so simple as simply sitting down and writing. A lot (and I do mean A LOT) has happened since my last post. As time went by, I found it daunting to try to convey so much. But, the one thing I know for sure out here is that time does indeed pass, and there is no better time than the present to act.
In a nutshell, I moved from the Leeward side of the island to the windward, my assignment changed from working with a community based organization in a rural village to a nation-wide (including our lovely Grenadine islands) animal welfare initiative through the formation of the first SPCA in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG)- one of the last Caribbean islands to formally support non-human animals. My mom visited in May. Nick visited in July. I went home for Christmas and New Years (Ahhh-mazing!). I now have three dogs who roam freely on my fenced in property- equipped with three mango trees, a paw paw (papaya) and Bequia plum tree, and the potential for a really kick ass garden if I can convince a friend to make a fence for me so that the dogs don’t prematurely harvest… And after a long while of being vegetarian, I kicked it up a notch to full on vegan. I also figured out what I want to be when I grow up. Yes, I am 26!
It’s not so hard out here by any means- peanuts, beans and legumes are indigenous to SVG, and seasonal fruit and veggies abound! Currently, guavas (Vitamin C powerhouse!!), soursop, oranges, plum roses (little starchy fruits that taste just like a rose would), bananas, watermelon, string beans, sweet peppers, bok choy (called “pa choy” out in these parts), hand shelled peas ($10/bag, but oh so worth it!), pumpkin, and the list can go on! Pineapples are also due out pretty soon, and my mango and plum trees are budding with loads of potential! All in all, I feel healthier and lighter and I think what you eat really impacts how you act, think, move, and live.
So, to summarize, in my 13th month of service I am doing good. There are challenges of course, but our APCD (associate peace corps director) always instills that attitude is key to success and happiness. I’m really taking this second course of Peace Corps with a more observational and self-growth approach. I know that through every experience (big and small) there is something to take away- a life lesson, a better sense of awareness, a deeper sense of self, and simply an opportunity to grow. Life is for living, and I am practicing being in the present and experiencing all that this moment has to offer- good and bad, happy and sad.
The Vincentian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (VSPCA) was incorporated as a non-profit organization in August of 2011. A group of Vincentians I reached out to through the assistance of a local veterinarian and I decided it was time to make this dream we all had (some locals since childhood) a reality. We knew from our first meeting in June that it was not going to be easy, but with initiatives like this, you simply must start. So to make a long story short (I am happy to make a short story long if you would like- just email me!), we have had two very successful fundraisers, for the most part, a welcomed response by the communities and public, and have big plans to begin to shift the culture towards one more compassionate, kind, empathetic and understanding of non-human animals. The leadership group and myself (as founding President) decided that our priority issues are a) humane education and community outreaches and b) a spay and neuter program in which we subsidize costs of the operations and post-operative care for human companions who cannot afford to do so otherwise. We hope through these two focuses to reduce animal over-population (i.e. roaming owned and un-owned street animals, diseased, neglected and abused animals), bring up a new generation that is more sensitive to animal companions, and offer a service to communities that has never existed before for the benefit of all. The details are well, detailed, but in essence I feel so fortunate to use my Peace Corps experience nurturing my passion, developing my program management and organizational skills, and working towards a kinder world for those who cannot speak for themselves. It is truly rewarding when we bring an animal in off the street, or one that is in a home that has never even considered “animal care” before, and begin to see an impact one animal at a time.
Now, I am not going to sugar coat it, VSPCA is challenging. I am learning more about myself than anything throughout this process. How do I work with others? How do I motivate others? How do I work within a culture whose professional setting is very different than what I am used to? How do I deal with inter-personal issues among members? How do I take criticism, praise, pressure, and payoff? How do I stand up for myself to those who only see me as “free worker” for two years? How do I close my eyes with cemented images of sarcoptic-mange infested dogs picking through garbage for scraps of KFC and bitches who have given life to 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 litters?! On the streets in horrible conditions all the time being cautious of their surroundings with memories of abuse, reckless drivers intentionally swerving towards them, and no home to retreat to for comfort.
It’s hard. Real hard. But it keeps me here. In fact, it might be the only thing that keeps me here. I’m being real honest right now, but I feel I have to, because there is not an hour that goes by that I don’t recall images and stories of cruelty. I look down at my three dogs- all rescued street pups, and I see hope. I see potential. I feel gratefulness. I feel love and un-tainted affection. Nothing makes me happier here than approaching my gate whistling “our signal” and being greeted by their wagging tails, excited whines, glistening eyes and pink tongues. Nothing. Close to that is maybe a third grader in the first row of one of my humane presentations saying that he wants to be a vet one day. I will forever be connected to VSPCA, and will never forget nor let the memories lie idle of the horrible conditions millions of animals are in here, and other places.
If you are reading this in America, consider yourself fortunate that you can ring up (and get a generally welcome response) your local animal services division to report a stray dog seen around your neighborhood… or that you can visit a local animal shelter to volunteer and adopt.
Imagine living in a world where if an animal is hit on the side of the road, it is left there until claimed. And as they are not seen as “pets” for the most part but guards tethered on a short chain below the house to notify of a passerby, when they die on the road, I have seen them left so long that they either a) go into a state of rigamortis (under this hot Caribbean sun) and swell until they pop, or b) a person is so repelled by the stench that they move them to the gutter so they can decompose- fur (if any was there initially) leaves, then skin, then muscle, then bones eventually. I have seen this whole process and recorded it in the village I used to live in. And these are dogs that die by motor vehicle… I will not get into the practices of cruelty I have seen and heard of here. But if you want to know, ask me.
VSPCA keeps me busy. Along with my pups and cooking. This is pretty much my life. I clean every Sunday, watch the Bachelor every Monday (guilty pleasure documented), go to yoga every other Saturday (but have developed a self-guided practice to supplement), go to the market every Friday, and try to use Sundays as reflection days- writing, reading, walking, etc. Most mornings I wake up to the sunrise and enjoy my morning tea on the porch with Roo (short for Kangaroo) at my feet. Most evenings I come full circle with a cup of tea (or juice depending on the day) watching Isla, Roo, Wolf and sometimes Dora (a neighbor black lab puppy who is tethered all 24 hours a day I bring over for exercise and socialization) play under the mango trees- catching lizards, chasing balls, and wrestling in the grass. I wish I could save them all, but I do what I can.
So, do you remember, two pages ago…I said I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up? When my real life resumes and this world, this bubble, I am currently in feels like a dream… Well, as for the exact title and starting salary, no clue. But I am 100% positive that I want to work with non-human animals in any and every capacity. Realistically, I see myself implementing my MIIS degree in public administration (think organizational management/needs assessments/evaluation-type stuff) in an animal welfare organization. Ideally one that is already incorporated and running :) I am not going to list organizations now, but I have my eyes on some that I will begin seriously pursuing this summer for post-Peace Corps employment. I can think of nothing in life more rewarding than working for an organization, with a group of people of like and often “crazy”) mind towards a world that treats animals with respect and love. Whether I am based in DC, Boston, San Fran or Seattle, I know this is what I want to do forever.
So what else? You are caught up on all the big stuff, more details upon request.
The next group of Peace Corps Volunteers (group “EC84” (I am EC83)) arrived yesterday. That marks one year exactly that I have been on this little island. Looking around at them during the breakfast gathering yesterday, I can’t help by feel nostalgic already for this time. Passing time is the only thing without fail these days. The past year went by both quickly and slowly, depending on the day, week, or month. There were times when I could not believe it was “x” month already, and times when I thought the week would NEVER (ever ever) end. Instances where I saw myself living here (or at least having a cute summer cottage in Bequia) to instances where I was flirting with Bing and checking the costs for transporting my three dogs home ASAP (this usually happened after a horrific van ride home or seeing a street animal I knew I could do nothing for…). But all in all, this is my Peace Corps experience. It is unique, all mine, and will be an influencing factor in my life forever.
I finish this latest blog update with a goal, not a promise, of writing to you more often. Of sharing more regularly, so that ideas and thoughts are conveyed in infancy- vulnerable and raw- so that you may not cast judgment, but embrace those sparks of dreams you have in yourself too. My posts will not always be happy and uplifting, promising or encouraging, but they will be real. So real I might even need to bold the mandatory statement that “The views expressed in this blog in no way reflect those of the US Peace Corps or government…”
La dee dah ;)
Until next time: be happy, be peaceful, be loving towards all (fur and no fur).