I wrote last month about visiting Oaxaca and taking a week-long Spanish class. It actually reminded me of ballet class as a kid, in which I typically needed about five more choreography run-throughs than my classmates. In both instances I fell back on some trusty coping mechanisms – namely smiling and playing along until things got desperate, at which point it was necessary to engage in a little hushed whispering with a neighbor to fill in the holes.
My one respite from the discomfort was a 20-minute stretch of class where we fell into a casual conversation about animals. My Spanish vocabulary for animals outpaces any other category, which is pretty unfortunate for the purposes of daily conversation but not entirely unexpected. The first word I ever said as a baby was “duck”, the only Swahili word I recall from two weeks in Kenya a decade ago is “ndovu” (elephant), and even 8 months pregnant I am far more likely to notice every dog within a 50 ft. radius than a baby passing me in a stroller.
Happily for me, the past few months have been filled with animals. First there are the murals that R. is studying. We’ve visited 20+ convents from the 16th century and photographed the 400-year old murals, some in their original form and others that are restored. There are a lot of religious figures – Jesus, Mary, saints, friars – and scrolling scripting borders with flowers and symbols for the various mendicant orders. But tucked between are critters: birds, jaguars, snakes, rabbits, fish. After R. photographs his stuff I photograph all of the animals. Here are some of my favorites…
And of course as anyone who’s visited Mexico knows, the place is teeming with actual dogs. Our neighborhood is no different, starting with the abundance of roof-dwellers. When you wash your hands in our bathroom you can say hi to a boxer and her two puppies who live on the roof across the alley.
The roof dogs monitor passersby, which include a large number of street dogs. In Thailand the street dogs were more feral and traveled in packs, but here they work solo and I suspect have owners. Many wear collars or bandanas, and I’ll see the same dogs outside the same gates or businesses. Most can’t be bothered or distracted from the mission at hand, but at this point there are a few who recognize me as a friend and appreciate an ear scratch.
This is Ruby, who lives near the pyramid and sleeps in the sun from 7-9am before moving inside her house gate. She’s filthy and usually has to interrupt getting petted to scratch an itch.
Dogs like Ruby don’t make me sad because I know they have homes and owners. But sometimes it’s not so clear. A few weeks ago this puppy followed me home from the market, came through the gate, and then slept on our steps for hours. It was excruciating…
We’ve passed more than one dog at a taco stand or bus stop, only to have it bolt awake and escort us home, sometimes for a half mile or more. “They read the neighborhood newsletter,” R. says, “about the gringa in 104A who hands out affection.” He has concerns, not unfounded, that it will be hard to get out of this country without an adopted dog. I mean c’mon…look at that sleeping puppy. But for all of our sakes I’ll continue to try and get by with only a rotating cast of street dogs, supplemented by daily visits from Fantasmon the landlord’s cat.