Monday, March 30, 2009

March 28, 2009

Being in Rio has been a mixture of beautiful sights, warm sunshine, sandy beaches and quaint markets. Despite being spoiled living in Victoria, BC, they aren't lying when they talk about the incomparable beauty of Rio. It's a palette of vibrant green mountains, soft brown beach lines, deep blue skies, and mosaic sidewalks. It's been a wonderful place to visit and we've very much enjoyed our week here, but Rio is also a very large city that seems to have more than it's fair share of crime and violence, making me feel on edge whenever we were out and about, which was a lot of the time. There are aggressive vendors, scary neighbourhoods that pop up when you least expect it, and the constant reminder ringing in your ears to carry only the necessary cash/valuables... enough to appease a robber, but not enough that you'd lose your shirt. All the tourist books we read and friends we talked to warned us of the crime problems that plague Rio. My fears have been unnaturally fed further since picking up a Brazilian novel called, “Elite Squad” by Luiz Eduardo Soares, Andre Batista, and Rodrigo Pimentel. It's a book that shares some of the 'adventures' of the BOCE police squad as they've dealt exclusively with crimes in the favelas. Not peaceful reading... But in spite of all these fears and warnings, we have not had a single problem with crime during our stay, and have not even seen any crime outside of the TV news.

When we first arrived off the airplane, we hopped a bus and located the little bachelor suite in Ipanema, which we were lucky enough to borrow from Livia, Chris's girlfriend, who was coming to Florianopolis for a visit. A bit of a house swap... We got some groceries and scouted around the neighbourhood a bit, but didn't do anything too exotic that first day.

The following day we decided to make our way to the Christ Redeemer statue, despite some low cloud which threatened to hamper visibility. At the base of the mountain, we hummed and hawed about whether we should go up to the top, as the spy-cam at the ticket booth showed a pretty fogged-in Christ Redeemer. A woman approached us and told us she would be happy to take us up the mountain in her tour van for less than what the 'official' train would cost us, plus she would show us some other sites as we ascended the mountain. With another look at the spy-cam, we could see that the clouds were intermittent, masking the enormous statue one moment and letting it go the next. We figured that after making such an effort to bus our way across town to the mountain base, combined with the likelihood that we'd be up the mountain long enough to catch good glimpses in between cloud cover of both the city below and the statue above, we would take the chance and go up the mountain.

We wound our way up and around, learning a bit about some of the smaller sites we would have missed had we taken the train. Our first stop was on a mountain peak beside the
 Redeemer statue. From here we could see tremendous views of Rio, stretching out in all directions. It was also interesting to see the neighbouring peak and statue from a close but not immediate perspective. There was a sign posted asking us to not feed the monkeys. We would have happily obliged had we seen any monkeys, however we were told they often take to the hidden trees once the day starts heating up. Too bad, as that would have been exciting to see wild monkeys.

The next stop was the highest point a car could take us before needing to transfer to the 'official' tour van. From here, they regularly shuttle people up to the statue and back down to their original tour van or cab, to make arrivals more organized and mountain top travel less congested.

After that short shuttle, we found ourselves climbing the dozens of stairs required to get to the base of the Christ Redeemer statue. There are elevators, but the line up for them was pretty lengthy, so we opted for some exercise. It was all quite mystical taking in such an enormous work of art as clouds both hid and revealed it's magnitude. The overwhelming effort it would have taken to hoist up piece by piece, assemble and then erect the stone is mind boggling. It really does deserve the title of being one of the modern wonders of the world. The kids thought it was quite something, though I suspect they couldn't completely comprehend the entirety of what it was they were looking at. Quite frankly, I'm not sure I could, either. It's something that defies words, amazes the senses, and begs for some alone, quiet reflection time which cannot happen in a crowd of people or when you're trying to not lose your children in all the movement.
The next day we took in a favela tour. A favela is another word for the shanty towns that line the hills in and around Rio. It's interesting how homes
 overlooking the city with ocean views are highly valued in North America and cost a great deal, but here in Rio, because of slave history and later, tradition, many of the 5-star ocean view neighbourhoods that overlook the city are favelas, put together into rather crude communities, and most run by one of three powerful drug lords. The tour was done very tastefully, setting out to eliminate myths, confirm realities, fund favela schools with tour fees, and patronize local handicraft makers, so we ethically felt good about signing up for this kind of tour. We also wanted to help the kids see how things are for other people in the world- to want less and share more. Unfortunately, there had been some very recent violent activity between some feuding drug lords, so one of the favelas was unavailable to tour. The police were there searching for some king-pins, and had all the entrances and exits closed off. Later than night, we saw there had been several killings there that day. Instead, we visited another smaller favela, one not tangled up in that particular brawl. We toured the school that our fee's helped fund, we saw the deep and almost underground neighbourhoods people had developed within the community, we briefly wandered around their main street and observed the regular life that carried on, and along the way heard many of the stories and facts that the tour guide had to share. 

Jillian was quite bored by the end, but perked up when the tour guide shared stories about kids. Sadly, they weren't happy stories. One that particularly sticks out is the concept of 'fire cracker boys'. The drug lords hire young boys to be look-outs for either police activity entering the favela or for the arrival of their drugs. When either approach the favela boundary, the kids are to light off fire crackers as a signal to their bosses. Some shifts require kids being awake all night, while others require attentiveness all day, despite distractions that would be quite impossible for a 10 year old to resist. If, or when, the young child falls asleep or become distracted, letting something important slip by them, those boys are either tremendously beaten or killed. The kids on the “night” shift often need to use drugs to help keep them awake, sparking other more complicated problems and getting the kids more deeply involved in a future with the drug world. She also shared stories of some of the positive things the drug lords have done for their communities (ie: improving water conditions, offering some monetary compensation for loss of life, etc.), however she was quick to point out that these men are
n't 'good' men, but simply men who will sometimes do good things when it's convenient for them. A very complicated life, and one I am profoundly grateful to not have to be a part of. I hope our kids learned how lucky they are to lead a free, safe life in quiet Victoria. Their worries consist of whether they'll remember to do laundry in time to have a spare pair of clean underwear, or if they'll enjoy the warm meal prepared for their dinner. A distant life from that of a fire cracker boy...

We have greatly enjoyed the beaches around Rio, in between site seeing. Both the Ipanema and the Copacabana beaches are lovely and bustling. The surf is fairly strong, so we had to be vigilant to not let the kids get out too deep for fear they'd get sucked out, but they have learned from their previous scares so it wasn't difficult to remind them to keep close to the edge (though Matthew continues to straddle the 'safety' fence by regularly going to the outer limits of where he should...). There is never a vendor too far away who is eager to sell you towels, bikinis, shrimp kebobs, cold beverages, sweet treats, sarongs, earrings, henna tattoos, soccer jerseys, etc. I can't count the number of times we had to say, “Nao, obrigata”. However, it was nice to be catered to, even if we rarely purchased anything. Beach life is easy to get used to, and these beaches are some of the best around.

Another day we decided we would enjoy visiting the Sugar Loaf, which is a large, tall rock formation that is in the shape of how they used to ship sugar loaves.
When you arrive, you take a cable car several hundred feet up to the first of two look-outs. The cable car is made of glass, so you have a tremendous (and scary!) view of the mountain you're ascending, as well as the land you're leaving behind. At the first look-out, you can wander around a large walking area, getting a view of the city from every angle. It was there that they offered helicopter tours for those interested (or wealthy enough). We watched several helicopters land and take-off. Some of the kids were sad they couldn't 'support' that portion of the tourist industry, however, after Emily getting motion sick on the bus the previous day (and puking in her hat... ewww...), I'm not sure the steep down dive they did shortly after take off would have been wise, even if we were willing to fork out several hundred dollars to do it. It was here, also, that Jillian came upon a retired couple from Washington state who were finishing up a 3-week cruise before flying home later that day. They were missing their grandchildren, and Jillian was more than happy to stand in as a proxy, lapping up their love and attention, which spilled over to the other kids once the rest of us caught up with our five year-old leader. They were a nice couple who were very patient with all our kids, making them feel special and loved. We always love running into people like that.

The next cable car takes you to the mountain summit, which, from a distance doesn't appear to be able to hold much more than a few people at it's peak. However, once you're there, you see that it holds not only many people, but also several look-out tiers, a few gift shops, and a snack bar. We got to see some amazing views of Rio from atop, and 'get the lay of the land' so-do-speak... We also ran into a local teenage school group who had been studying some English, but were out for a field trip that day. They immediately took to the kids, especially Jillian, and tried to practice some of their English words. It was fun watching our shyer children get swept into a spontaneous social interaction with peers. Outwardly, 4/5's of our children did not appear very 'outgoing' but because I know them, I could see the efforts they made in participating in a conversation with someone when there is a language barrier. The school teenagers took photos of each other posing with several of our children. It took some encouragement for our two older boys to look interested when surrounded by slightly older and very pretty girls wanting their pictures taken with the “Canadians”. It was great to see such bright, happy, positive teenagers who, it turned out, don't come from a 'good' part of town. These were kids who seemed to be replacing what would be very easy to fall into for a future life, for something different, something better.

The descent down the mountain was equally thrilling, and I was grateful to touch solid ground again upon our arrival. My stomach does icky things when I see great drops so closeby, especially when my kids are involved. I felt a perceivable stress release once we stepped out of the cable car and away from sharp cliffs and moving objects that suspended us in mid-air. A great place to visit – an even greater place to get down from... Oh, and we did, finally, see some wild monkeys at the look-out in between the two cable car rides. There was no sign asking us not to feed them, so perhaps they got tired of stingy tourists at the Christ Redeemer site, and traded it in for some lovin' at the Sugar Loaf?

One night we visited a market down by the Copacabana beach. It was three long lines of individual tents set up by local vendors, selling everything from lingerie to drums to gems, and everything else in between. The prices were usually quite reasonable, and the kids were able to find some treasures they wanted to purchase with the birthday 'advance' they received from their Grandma and Grandpa McCue. We ran out of bills before the kids had settled up, so we plan to hit the “Hippie Market” Sunday afternoon. I would take the unique handicraft markets any day over the large, overpriced shopping malls here. Granted some of the shopping malls have free wifi and air conditioning, but still, I love the meatiness of a bustling market place where you can get a good deal, you can support local talent, and come out with some very lovely treasures.

Tonight, Rich has taken the kids to a club soccer game in Maracana Stadium. I elected to stay home with Jillian, as the game didn't start until 8:30PM, meaning it would likely end around 11:00PM, and after subway rides and metro buses, they wouldn't be home until around midnight. Jillian wouldn't last that long, and honestly, I was eager for some quiet time to myself after spending a week all together in a small bachelor suite. After a Curious George movie, several “Guess Who” games, and some hair do'ing, Jillian is now asleep and I will anxiously await the return of my soccer fans. Until then, though, I will do what I do best, which is worry about them coming home safely... Rich here, adding my $.02 to Heather's blog... It was a great game. They have a section of the 90,000 seat stadium set aside for families and the elderly, and even offered a “child find” service where you can register your children and have a identity bracelet put on them in case they get lost in the stadium. Given my track record of losing our children, I knew Heather would be relieved with this service, so we took advantage of it. The game ended with Flumanense winning 2-1 over Botafogo, and about 35,000 fans watching the game. There was much singing and chanting during the game, which continued on the way out of the stadium, all the way to the metro station, and then onto the train for almost the entire way home, complete with a percussion 'section' that banged on the roof of our cart to the rhythm of the song. It was a wonderful experience!


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

March 23, 2009

It's March 23rd! Happy Birthday to me!! ;o)

It's been an extended party, beginning a few nights ago with a celebration with our neighbour, Chris, and his mom, Margaret, who also shares a mid-March birthday. They came over so Rich and Chris could make delicious pizza's for everyone. Following dinner, Margaret and I both opened up gifts. Rich and the kids gave me a cloth wrap that doubles as a beach blanket and a cover up, as well as a bracelet and an IOU for a dress. Ryan had thoughtfully picked up three large chocolate bars... he knows me well... Chris gave me a little fishing boat souvenir that also holds photos, and in the photo holder he placed a postcard of an absolutely beautiful beach he wanted to take us to the following day. He also gave me a magnet that I've seen in many stores and have wanted to pick up, but hadn't yet. It's a rather round woman sunbathing on a beach towel... Something to remind me of the beaches in Brazil! Margaret gave me some beautiful dangly earrings made out of coconut, and a necklace made out of Brazilian seeds. It was very thoughtful of everyone and I enjoyed both the company and the kindness extended.

Early the next morning, we all piled into Chris's car to head out to the beach. Literally, we piled in, as he has a five seat compact car and there was eight of us. Because it was a hatch back, we put two kids into the 'trunk', three along the back bench, two in the front passenger bucket seat, and of course, one driver (safety first!). About an hour later, we arrived at the base of the trail where we were to begin our 45 minute hike over a mountain to the beach. After a few photo opportunities, we started up the jungle trail, but no sooner had we begun, when swarms and SWARMS of mosquitos descended on us. I've never seen so many hungry mosquitos in my life! To help reduce bites, we swatted our body constantly and moved quickly through the trail, but with a five-year old in tow, we couldn't make optimal 'out run the mosquito' speed. Chris being the helpful gentleman that he is, picked her up and tried to make time carrying her through the harder climbing spots. That helped us get up the mountain in a more timely fashion, and to the peak clearing where there was enough of a breeze to keep the mosquitos at bay for a time. That is when we met up with a stray dog who, evidently, had been longing for love. And not the 'pat on the head' kind of love... the reproductive kind. The dog mistook Michael's leg as a long lost lover and tried to mount it. Poor Michael did not appreciate the attention and tried to shoo him away. Instead, we had a companion for the majority of our hike, though thankfully, the humping ceased.

After a long hike, we made it over the mountain and ended up at a most breath taking beach. The kind of beach that you can only get to by boat or via a long hike, so it weeds a lot of the crowds out (though evidently not the surfers who were spending the weekend camping and surfing). It was a strong beach and we didn't wade out too far. But it was amazing to just be there amongst such natural beauty. A small group of us did some scouting around and found a quiet little lagoon not too far off. With no waves or tidal pulls, it was a no-brainer where we should do our swimming. Jillian appreciated being able to swim and do handstands, etc. with no fears of being knocked down or swept away. After about an hour of playing, it was time to head out as Chris had to work that afternoon. It was about the hottest time of the day by now, so we broke into a good sweat before we had even reached a ¼ of the hike up. And when we weren't in the scorching heat, we were in the shade of the jungle being swarmed by those jumbo mosquitos. A bit of a love/hate relationship with the elements... But all in all, a wonderful experience. Chris even took one for the team when he slipped hiking down the trail while holding Jillian in his arms. In order to not squish her as he fell, he did some fancy footwork and managed to land somewhat on his feet, after bouncing off a few other rocks first. A bit of a flesh wound for him, but overall, his ninja moves spared both of them much injury.

The following day we began our trek to Rio de Janeiro. It began with a bus ride to Curitiba, where we could get a cheaper flight to Rio than we could from Florianopolis. It was only a four hour bus ride, so after purposely booking seats at the front of the bus to help avoid motion sickness for a few of us (no names used to protect the innocent), we began the first leg of our trip. It was surprising when, at one of our pit stops, we were asked to give up our primo seats for some further back in the bus. Rich translated for me that someone was coming onto the bus who could really use the front seats. I was a bit ticked off, as we had sweet seats and were all together in a little pod. But most of my irritation melted away as two paraplegics were carried onto the bus and placed in the seats Ryan and Jillian gave up. I would take motion sickness over no use of my legs anytime. They only rode the bus for a short portion of the trip before getting off, so it really was no inconvenience. I was so busy concentrating on the tail gating bus driver we had that I barely even realize upon our arrival in Curitiba that no one had vomited the entire trip! Yeah for us for keeping our bodily fluids to ourselves!

We were picked up and then spent the evening at Luciano's house – the incredibly kind man who took care of us when we were in Sao Paulo when we first arrived in Brazil. He had BBQ'ed an amazing meal, made a mousse for dessert followed by a birthday cake, and imported some of his english speaking friends for us to get to know. It was a good night and the kids especially enjoyed his dog, “Mel”. Mel is a big bear of a dog, who also happens to be a pitbull. I tend to shy away from pitbulls, but by the time I left, I was giving Mel ear-noogy's and belly rubs. She was an enormous dog and you could see how powerful she was simply by looking at her, but especially when she jumped up on you. I will never own a pitbull, but if I did, I would hope for one like Mel.

After a good night sleep and a very tasty breakfast, we were on our way to the airport for our Rio flight. As we were checking in at the ticket booth, Rich realized he had brought along his Leatherman knife in his carry-on backpack by mistake. He didn't want to lose it so he made the quick decision to check Jillian's backpack and put his Leatherman in it, as you can take knives in checked luggage. Phew... crisis averted. Sadly, Ryan didn't realize he, too, had made the same mistake until we were going through security. After x-raying his backpack a few times, they asked him to remove the knife from his bag. They then asked him if was prepared to abandon it. With few other options, he reluctantly agreed. Sad lessons in life... What was odd though, was my bag made it through security carrying a razor blade... Hmmm....

And here we are now, hanging out it Rio. Let the games begin!

- Heather

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March 19th, 2009

There's been some interesting 'critter' news around here, lately.

The other morning, when George (the gardener) was trimming the hedges around the pool yard, he discovered a small bee's nest built within the branches. Considering the close proximity it was to where the kids play in the pool, George felt it was best to exterminate his discovery. After getting all the kids inside and closing the windows, he started to eye up the nest more closely. Rich went out to see if he could help... because what's better than watching one guy get stung when you can watch two... ;o)

They discussed various approaches they could take, finally settling on the most exciting... I mean effective method of elimination... fire. They fashioned a torch by using a broom stick and newspaper doused in alcohol, and with a quick touch of a lit match, the torch was set. Rich stood by with a water hose in the event the entire hedge caught fire while George carefully weaved the flaming stick through the hedge branches until reaching the bee's nest. Within a few moments, the nest was aflame. We were expecting a swarm of angry bee's to start darting around at any second, but oddly, there were really only a few. How anticlimactic for those of us watching from the safe side of the window. Rich used a bit of water to ensure the fire was out, and George reached in to pull out what was left of the nest. It was an interesting honeycomb type of nest, with little spaces where baby bee's were waiting to hatch. I suppose a nature lesson is better than a trip to ER for excessive bee stings.

We have found several geckos around the house for which we've been grateful as they eat mosquito's which have also been unusually abundant here lately. They are fairly fast critters that can be difficult to catch, despite the kids best efforts. However, Michael was successful the other day, but not without it's costs. As I was closing a window for the night, something dropped down from the window sill and landed on my hand. Not one to let unexpected critters linger long on my body, I quickly shook my hand. Whatever had landed on my hand then fell to my foot, which reacted in kind, sending the unidentified critter across the floor. When it landed, we all moved in for a closer look. It was a gecko (sorry, Buddy!), who seemed no worse for wear, if not a bit stunned, after doubling as a hacky-sack. Michael decided that while the gecko was getting his marbles set straight again, this was his big chance to finally catch one. He leapt forward to cup it in his hands, but it darted away, and then stopped a few feet away. Not wanting to use the same failed approach twice, this time Michael thought it would be good if he could just pin the gecko down by the tail. He leapt forward again, and this time successfully pinned the tail down with his fingers. Michael's moment of victory evaporated quickly as the gecko decided it would be better to part with his tail than his life, and tore away (literally) from the catch. Michael was quick enough to stop the escape and cupped the gecko with his hand (apparently having their tails ripped off can slow them down a bit), but all eyes were on the abandoned tail still twitching and writhing around on the tile floor. The kids now know a bit more about regeneration, but we're still not sure how a gecko tail can move like that when there's no gecko attached to it any longer.

Later than night, I was tucking the younger kids into bed. There is a large bean bag chair in their bedroom which seemed a bit in the way that night, so I picked it up to move it more tightly into the corner. As I adjusted it, I noticed a lot of movement on the bottom of the bag. It caught my eye enough to warrant a closer look. As I drew closer to the action, I realized I had stumbled upon a large ant colony that had very recently sought cover in the bedroom. With their location being disturbed, they scrambled every which way, many of them grabbing their pupae's. In horror, I threw open the window and chucked the bean bag chair outside. I yelled for Rich and together we wiped up as many ants as we could find. Ryan went outside to knock as many ants off the bean bag as he could, and we then found a new home for the item in the garage. We all felt a bit wriggly after that find.

On some of our comings and goings on our street, we've seen some interesting critter finds. We watched a horse get branded a few days ago. The man had a blow torch going nearby, and would heat up the brand until it was bright red hot, and then slap the horse a bit in the area he was to brand, followed closely by the hot brand itself. The horse flinched a bit for the first one, but upon subsequent ones (they apparently need to brand the same spot a few times to get it deep enough...), he seemed to be very stoic about it all. After watching a few “sizzles”, we started to feel a bit nauseous so we decided to move on and continue our walk home. Before we got too far, the horse was set free in a pasture near where we were walking. He ran all around but got close enough we could see his new tattoo. It looked like the branders had poured water over the area, as it was wet looking now, and the horse seemed understandably a bit unsettled. We all decided if we were horses, we'd prefer an ear tag over being branded.

Another time, Rich and I were walking down our road at sunset. Our trusty canine companion, Lucy, had come along to escort us safely. She is not a small dog, but not very big, either... maybe weighing in at around 30 lbs. As we made our way along the road, from off to the side, an owl screeched loudly at us all and then made a swooping dive at Lucy. Lucy fended the owl off, and set about to continue her trot, when for a second time, there was another loud screech followed by a taloned dive. By this time I was fearful we were under attack. I didn't think Lucy could be picked up by these fairly small owls, but I also wasn't 100% sure she couldn't. The owls kept a close eye on us for a while, but we kept waving our arms and making enough noise that I think they decided to move on to another prey. We were glad it was Lucy who came along with us and not To-to, as To-to is a whopping 10 lbs. soaking wet... perfect owl bait material.

That's most of the critter news for now.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

March 12, 2009

We've had some really warm days lately, interspersed with some cooler ones. Unfortunately our timing isn't always great when we plan our activities to work with the weather.

Last week, we took a bus ride out to visit Morro de Cruz, which is a local mountain that, when you're at it's peak, provides you with an amazing view of the entire city and beyond. It was a breathtaking spot tarnished only by the fact that we could barely stand out in the sun but for a few minutes. One of the kids placed their face up to a mounted pair of binoculars to see the sites close up but pretty much burned a tattoo of the binocular eye rims on their face. We managed to pick the hottest day of the year to go to the top of a mountain. Whoops...

On a cooler day, we headed to Barra de Lagoa for some beach time. It was perfect weather that didn't leave you hiding in the shade of an umbrella. We enjoyed the calmer waves and warm water. Some of the kids took some more surfing lessons. But slowly yet steadily, dark clouds made their way down the hills towards us. No one else on the beach seemed to be packing up and leaving, so I figured they knew something we didn't. Maybe the clouds would bypass us somehow? Unfortunately not. Just as a premature dusk settled in, the heavens opened up and released the kind of rain that drenches you in moments. Thunder and lightening flashed and clapped all around and the lifeguards quickly whistled all the swimmers and surfers out of the water. Most of them came out, but there were a few die-hard surfers who refused to leave. After sufficient warning had been laid out, the lifeguard ran for shelter to let nature take it's course. We did a quick pack up and ran for shelter nearby. After several minutes of waiting with no let up in rain, we realized we were just going to have to get soaked going to the bus stop. So off we tramped, to huddle with the dozens of other beach goers in the tiny bus stop shelter. We thought that was cramped, but it was nothing compared to the body sandwich we enjoyed once we got onto the bus. I'll never complain about a 'full' bus in Canada, again! Literally, no one could move. It was wall to wall bodies which isn't too bad if you're surrounded by sweet smelling dry bodies, but no... we were all soaked, smelly and sandy bodies holding onto whatever bolted down handle we could reach. What made it fun despite all this was the singing performance by some of the beach vendors who had also caught the bus. It was some kind of light hearted choir that completely changed my mood. It served as a good reminder to relax and not let little things get you grumpy.

Matthew has turned into a Capoeira king. Several of the kids are continuing on with lessons, but Matthew seems to have a particular talent in this area. He can regularly be found asking Jillian to stand still as he kicks one leg over Jillian's head, clearing it by a few millimeters... So far so good...

We're preparing to take one of our stray dogs to get spayed next week. We made a trip to the municipal animal shelter who will do the operation for free, and got all the paper work in order. While we were there, we visited the kennels FILLED with dogs. There were easily 50 dogs in just the area we could see, and who knows how many more where we couldn't. And these were just the few lucky dogs who had been picked up as strays. There were all sorts of breeds, but mostly they were a mixture of several breeds together. Of course you'll never have that many dogs all getting along, so there were regular squirmishes between dogs as they established who was the boss. We saw one older female dog who particularly broke our hearts. She was pretty much skin and bone, was deaf, and had lost almost all her teeth. Someone told us that her owners had used her simply for breeding, over and over again, and then when she couldn't get pregnant anymore, they tossed her out on the street.

We found out the municipal animal shelter has opportunities for people to come and help out on Saturdays, so for the remainder of our time here, we will be spending our Saturdays there. It feels a bit 'less' to be helping out animals when there are people in the world who need food and shelter, but at the same time, you serve where you are in the capacity that is required. This is the best way to help out where we are. And truthfully, I can't help but want to do what I can for these lovely dogs who have been so betrayed by their humans.

On a positive note, Rich is getting much closer to having most of the critical work done that he needs to do while we're here. He's been working hard to finish this project for so long, breaking to play when he could. The rest of us have limped our way along with our weak language skills as we've gone out without him, hoping to cross paths with an English speaker to help us out with buses, directions, and such. As fun as it is to be lost and confused, we're all excited to have Rich join us more often soon...


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

March 4th, 2009

In the past, I've referred to the three dogs that we regularly find hanging around our front yard gate. Limpy (aka: To-to) the smallest of the three, was taken to the groomer a week ago to be cleaned up from top to bottom (and inside out), and has since been allowed to come into the yard. Here, she peacefully hangs out, free from the ongoing stresses that come from being a street dog. She has now come to expect regular feedings, shade from the heat, cover from the rain, and protection from the several of other stray dogs that roam nearby. She is showing her age, but not to an extreme. I guess we are an unexpected part of Limpy's retirement plan.

She did seem a bit lonely being apart from her trio pack. When we would spend the entire day away from the house, we were told she cried a large part of the time. So it seemed like a good idea to clean up her bigger buddies and invite them into the yard, as well.

Blondie (aka: Lucy) patiently awaited her grooming appointment, which wasn't able to be booked until the following week. However, Spotty suddenly seemed to disappear one day. Being street dogs, we weren't too worried, as they are free to come and go as the wind takes them. But it was a bit unusual because Spotty wasn't one to venture far from our gate.

The date of the grooming appointment came and Blondie had to go solo. She received a good cleaning, much like Limpy, and was then welcomed into the yard where she has been enjoying a reunion with her buddy. I walked the neighbourhood looking for Spotty, calling for her, knowing full well she neither knew our name for her, or the English commands I was demanding. It just seemed like the thing you do when you're missing a dog.

I couldn't find a sign of her anywhere, so we actively hoped that either she had found a new 'forever' home, or was on an extended adventure, bound to return shortly.

Well, this morning, as Rich and the balance of the kids were walking the street over to their Capeiora class, they found Spotty. Only, Spotty wasn't moving. In fact, she wasn't even breathing. It looked like she had laid down for a rest under the shade of a large green tree along the side of the road, and fell into a very deep sleep... one that cannot be awoken from. Some of the kids ran back home to let Jillian, Ryan and I know what had happened. In disbelief, we threw on our sandals and walked to where our little friend was laying motionless.

Sure enough, Spotty's eyes had a vacant emptiness about them, and the flies were beginning to swarm her quiet body. She couldn't have been lying there for very long – possibly from the day before at most. We gathered around her, wondering what had caused her to pass away, wishing she had come home sooner so she could have been able to come into the safety of our yard, and remembering her wagging tail and happy eyes.

Rich headed up to the Capeiro class to collect a wheel barrow and some gloves so we could pick her up and move her to a place where she could be buried, while Ryan went to get a shovel from our home. When Rich returned, he brought back one of the other students from class, to help out. With tender care, Rich picked up Spotty from her sheltered spot, and placed her into the wheel barrow. The other student took a moment to close his eyes and pause before carefully picked up the wheel barrow handles and together, we all made our way to where Ryan had been digging. As this gentleman pushed Spotty in the wheel barrow, he sang a most interesting and haunting song. I had no idea what words he was speaking, but the tune seemed like the perfect sound to respect the sadness we were all feeling.

Another student just arriving for class also joined our procession, and soon we approached Ryan and the deep hole he had been working on.

Rich, again, gingerly picked up Spotty and laid her into the hole. Anyone who wanted to was given a chance to say goodbye to Spotty. Jillian, Emily and I were crying, the gentleman was still singing his enchanting song, and when it was time, Ryan began to slowly fill the hole that now contained our Spotty.

Once she was appropriately buried, we started to make our way out of the park and back to the street. The gentleman who had been so helpful, kissed a sobbing Jillian on the head and placed a necklace he had been wearing around Jillian's neck. It was his way of showing the gift that Spotty was to her. Jillian was most grateful. The girls weren't interested in their Capeiroa class any longer, so Rich took the other kids to class while I took the girls home. We found several flowers we wanted to leave at Spotty's grave, Emily made a grave marker that simply said, “Spotty”, Jillian scooped up a small handful of kibble to spread over Spotty's grave, and I collected a bunch of rocks to decorate.

We headed back to the place where Spotty lay, and with our treasures and decorations, went about the business of grieving. When we were done, Spotty's place looked perfect, and the girls felt a bit better about Spotty's death.

We visited the site once more to show the others what we had done while they were at class. They seemed to agree Spotty had been buried well. It was a tremendously sad thing to lose Spotty, even though she wasn't 'ours'. But we took consolation in knowing she was no longer going to have to live the life of a street dog. She was at peace now.

In talking with Chris, our neighbour, it sounds like one way that people help 'control' the stray dog population is by leaving out poison for the dogs to consume. We do not know if this is what happened to Spotty, but a water container was found right by her body. Perhaps someone had put something into the water with the intent to eliminate her. The water container was dumped just in case. Or perhaps she had some disease that claimed her during the night. Or..... The list goes on. In the end, it doesn't really matter. Spotty has no worries now. Food, love, shelter... all requirements she doesn't need to seek out any longer. Now, she just rests.