No two places, nor ourselves in them are ever exactly the same. The exchanges provided from travel and migration show us that when we are pulled away from the well-worn fabric of our lives and woven temporarily into that of another, a lot is discovered.
Major aspects sketch the outline of our experience…
…landscapes, language, typical foods and the cost of living…
Which more subtle differences then colour in…
…people’s attitudes, public transport frustrations, coffee quality, time deemed appropriate to eat dinner, how people dance, bizarre coins and fashions.
Without question, becoming aware of these nuances is my favourite thing about travel. Indeed, this need to observe, cross-pollinate and permeate the mind with other cultures is inherently human. It is, after all, what caused our ancestors to leave the comfort of their campfire and cross the darkness, in order to share with those in the distance warming their hands over similar flames.
And generally, the experience is one of growth. Or at least one which gives you food for thought. A little snack for your mind to chew over.
But this week, I’m struggling.
I have just moved to Chile.
At first, my experience was sketched out by the macro:
…the popping, bullet-like pace at which Spanish is spoken. The gaping social inequality. The omnipresent mountains and ocean.
And then coloured in by the micro:
…the scarcity of espresso coffee. The extortionate tolls. The excellent vintage shopping. Its terribly sensationalist news reporting. The red hot passion for corn and chilli.
But another macro aspect I noticed sa year ago has finally come to affect me now: the country’s relationship with dogs.
Major South American cities are dotted with stray dogs; the product of poor ownership and a hideously nonplussed attitude towards sterilisation. But Santiago, and Chile in general, has gone past dogs as mere decoration.
The place is crawling with strays. Dogs abandoned by their owners. And, of course, their endless streams of puppies.
While many strays are informally fed by residents and live as well as pets, others manage to scrounge a living from plazas, rubbish piles and marketplaces. Still more do not. And when hunger sets in, desperation takes hold, and people can get bitten.
This was not the case of my dog. She was born on a half hectare in the countryside before the land around it was divided up, and became accustomed to following her nose downstream towards the farms along the way. Born with the same spirit as the man who raised her, she preferred adventuring over jealously guarding her allotted space.
It had happened before that she and her brother would spend half a day away in the greenery beyond our yard – and while at first I found it hard to get used to, I was told that it had always been that way: these dogs were free spirits. Well-loved, shining-coated, good natured free spirits.
Free spirits…who sometimes nabbed a wild rabbit. Or a hen.
She was from the country. As were the chickens she had been known to catch.
As was the person who saw it fit to do away with her.
Her mother and other explorer dogs who called our place home met their ends at the hands of rat-poisoned lumps of meat thrown over the fence. Having eaten their venomous lunch, they would curl up to die under the house below their master’s bedroom, where the heater created a pocket of warmth in the winter air to cushion their last hours.
But she hasn’t made it home. The dust below the house is clear. And the farmers’ gunshots ring at night.
I understand that she would sometimes catch a daydreaming hen. And I know that I would be distressed to find a hen of mine dead in the garden. But I struggle to accept the narrow-mindedness of many people here. Crop farmers who regard animals as little more than plant matter.
Those who abandon a pet on a highway after the novelty wears off.
The men who underfeed their dogs to keep them hungry for the rabbit hunt.
Those who chain up their animals day and night.
Those who blot out problems with rifles rather than conversation.
UPDATE: We found our dog – run over rather than shot. We were really glad to meet and talk with the neighbor who’d been causing us alarm with his gun shots at night, and he has told us that he does it to warn off potential intruders.
While our dog wasn’t the victim of cruelty, many others are. Amazingly, as we arrived to remove her body from the roadside, we found another dog lying near her. He was horrifically malnourished, so much so that he couldn’t stand. We are caring for him now, and hope he makes a steady recovery. His symptoms aren’t looking good though – and possibly point to canine multiple sclerosis.
We will have to see what happens….