Reeking and Freezing In Paradise/Boulder Interlude: An Australian Playlist Swap

Reeking & Freezing In Paradise

The last thing I did on my way to the airport in Florida was mail a big box of stuff back to Colorado. When I had been stuck there dealing with my mother’s accident Florida had been going through an odd cold snap. Luckily I had some extra warm clothes with me. Clothes, I thought, I would not need in Haiti. So I packaged up my laptop, most of the remaining warm clothes, some books and shipped them all back to Colorado.

Big fucking mistake.

I am now freezing my ass off in paradise.

When I get to the surf camp the temperature in the DR drops – an unexpected cold snap. Trouble and cold, it seems, are following me around. It’s rainy and damp and chilly and my warm clothes have been reduced to one pair of warm socks, jeans and a thin sweatshirt. My first night at camp I head off to dinner wearing this, sneakers and about four shirts under the sweatshirt. Incidentally all my warm clothes smell like Haiti. They were in the pack with what I salvaged and even though they had retained the smell I knew I would need them for the flight back.

Welcome to summer camp for adults. Let’s meet everyone in clothes that smell like rot and despair when you’re half dead.

I didn’t know yet about the amorphous dinner time. Elena told me dinner was at 7. Stephane, who shows up to come to dinner with me, says get there at 7.30. When we get there at 7.30 there is almost no one there. Slowly people start to trickle in. Much to my relief pretty much everyone is grubby and layered. The only exception is people who came with no warm clothes at all and had to raid the surf shops and souvenir stands. Apparently there’s not even that many places that sell sweatshirts here so a couple of people are wearing the exact same sweatshirt.

That said there’s about twenty strangers, one very long table, and a lot of benches. And I am tired and unsure about my ability to eat or stay awake. Intimidating.

As people come in everyone greets Stephane, orders a beer, sits down. I’m on orange juice. Most everyone is European, in their twenties and thirties, tan and healthy looking. A lot are here for longer stays – two weeks, three weeks, a month. A few, like Stephane, are on the multi-month plan. Some are here for a kite boarding instructor course which takes about ten weeks. While there are a few surfers and windsurfers almost everyone is here for kite boarding. More on kite boarding, which is insane, later. But the kite boarders need wind to get out on the water and there has been none for days. Now it’s cold and windless.

Like regular camp there’s a lot of talk about the food – speculation as to what we’re going to get, what dishes turn up regularly. Taco night is exciting. Goulash night not so much. I’m keeping quiet, listening to everyone talk. It’s a tight knit group and I am the new kid. Apparently on weekends the table swells with people who just come for a few days but during the week the majority of the people are the long termers.

Everyone is friendly. A couple of people ask and I give the abridged version of the Haiti story, explain that I’m a little sick right now. It’s easier than I thought it would be. The conversation is light and funny. No one really talks about their lives back home. After the intensity of Haiti it’s a relief. Sitting there in my reeking clothes I think I have made a good choice, that this is what I need.

It’s taco night. There is some sort of machismo contest about who can eat the most. I make it through two. Stephane makes it to eight. The win goes to a disarmingly goofy and friendly young British kid who bears a startling resemblance to Kurt Cobain. He makes it through ten.

The two tacos do me in. As everyone else hangs out and drinks and boo-sheets I head back to my room. It’s ass cold but Elena dug up a blanket for me. I fold it double, find my clean towel and throw that on top of it, too. Then I crawl between the sheets and crash out under my pile of improvised bedding.

This is what my life will look like for the next five days or so: I read. I sleep. The cold snap sticks around for a few days and I eat in my reeking clothes with everyone else. Washing anything is impossible – there’s no dryer and it’s wet for clothes to dry on the line. I get moved to a nicer bungalow with a bathroom. This one overlooks the lagoon too. Sometimes Stephane stops by with coconuts and a pocket knife and we sit on my porch and drink the juice straight from the coconuts and smoke cigarettes. Occasionally I walk out to the internet café or to the store for water but mostly I sleep. I live on the periphery of the camp, not really joining in but being friendly and getting my strength back.

And it is good.

Boulder Interlude: I Put You On A Pedestal, They Put You On The Pill

As we get closer and closer to the end of the story – or at least the part about being in Haiti and the DR – I have to interlude more and more. I don’t know what will happen to this blog once I get to the end of the story. Do I let it go and start a new one that’s just domestic stuff? Do I cut the ‘Haiti’ out of the title and keep it? If anyone has suggestions please feel free to email me. I have no frickin’ clue.

I am sitting on the patio of a bar on Pearl Street in Boulder with Chance and Aimee drinking toxicly strong margaritas and trying to avoid having a conversation with the creepy guy sitting behind me who is desperate to tell me about his ‘intuition’ and what ‘my body is telling him’. I had been refusing to turn around and even look at him, thinking this meant my body was telling him ‘stay the fuck away from me’. Apparently I was dead wrong. Creepy.

And then there are Australians.

I have a theory about Australians: when England created a prison colony there so many years ago they didn’t just send the prisoners, they sent the most charismatic, social prisoners – the ones that might charm themselves out of jail. Big strapping lads with the ability to have a fun conversation with a tree stump. Drop dead gorgeous women who could make a corpse laugh. Australia has created a race of the uber-charismatic. Australians are like American Express cards – they’re everywhere you want to be.

And now the patio has two of them. Both named Paul.

Immediately we go from being a congregation of separate tables to a big circle with the Australians at the center. Then we are in a contest – even creepy guy, who cannot peel his eyes or his intuition off of me – to name ten Scottish bands. Ten Australian bands. Top ten love songs.

Then somehow me and the taller Paul are frantically scribbling playlists on napkins. The shorter Paul promises to send me the ‘Dogs in Space’ soundtrack when he gets back to Melbourne. The top ten songs on our iPod turns into ‘songs you need to buy right now’ and gets into the twelves and thirteens and fifteens. ‘A New England’ by Billy Bragg makes it onto both of our lists and we are out front smoking and singing “I put you on a pedestal, they put you on the pill….”.

Then it’s time to go find cupcakes and Chance and Aimee and I head off down Pearl St, my back pocket stuffed full of scribbled-on napkins.

This is what I gave him:

  1. Exit Wounds – Tim Barry
  2. Going Once Going Twice – Ramona Falls
  3. She’s My Ride Home – Blue October
  4. 4 AM In Texas – 7 Seconds
  5. Shut Up & Listen – The New York Citizens
  6. Can’t Feel A Thing – Lucero
  7. Trying – Dag Nasty
  8. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley or Leonard Cohen version
  9. Zippers and Jeans – Harlan T. Bobo
  10. Into The Open – Heartless Bastards
  11. 156 – Mew
  12. Monkey’s Gone To Heaven – The Pixies
  13. Rainy Night in Soho – The Pogues
  14. Who Are You? – Tom Waites
  15. Pal Norte – Calle 13
  16. Oh! Libertine – Viva La American Death Ray Music
  17. The Night – Morphine

This is what I find on the napkin,  the Australian playlist:

  1. Greetings To The New Brunette – Billy Bragg
  2. I The Kite – Centromatic
  3. Black Angel – Black Cab
  4. Trouble Weighs A Ton – Dan Auerbach
  5. Mansion of Los Feliz – The Eels
  6. Sequestered In Memphis – The Hold Steady
  7. Get To Leave – Howe Gelb
  8. Brand New Angel – Jeff Bridges
  9. Restless – Longhorne Slim
  10. Little Lion Man – Mumford and Son
  11. Chicago – Rogue Wave
  12. Help Yourself – Sad Brad Smith
  13. Where There’s Son – Thrift Store Cowboy
  14. 5 Years Time – Noah and Whale

I don’t get all of it – I’m too cheap. And some of what I do get I’m not crazy about – Jeff Bridges, for instance. But for the most part his playlist is damn good. I’m obsessive about music – when I find a song I like I’ll listen to it over and over again. Noah and the Whale and Black Cab wind up on my repeat list. I love new music – finding a good song to put on repeat is like making a new friend. The napkin is full of shiny, sparkly little treasures.

Since I started this blog I’ve gotten some mail off of it. Not as much as I did off Sarna Dogs, but I do get the odd stranger email. If you’re one of those folks that feels inclined to send me a random email, send me a playlist.

***This entry is for Lindsey – sorry it’s a whole lotta nothin’, an interim one, really. But you told me this distracts you so I sat down today determined to keep tellin’ the story, even the boring bits.  All my good thoughts***

Photo notes – 1) my bungalow at the surf camp. You can’t see the lagoon but the porch overlooks it.  2) Restaraunt with long dinner table at left and bar at right. 3) Australian napkin playlist.

In Which Going To The Park & Interrogating Local Shelter Workers Constitutes Being Useful While Waiting

I didn´t even notice Faith had three legs until we got to the park. I was talking to Carlos, a volunteer at PADELA, and looked down to notice she was hopping a bit. I started to say ¨she has something in her paw¨and then realized there was no paw.

Either I´m enormously distracted or I have fallen seriously out of practice in vet tech-ery since June when I fail to notice a missing limb on a dog.

Prior to arriving in Santo Domingo I looked up animal organizations here. SODAPRECA is the one helping in Haiti but I found PADELA as well. As it was literally three blocks up the street from where I was staying I took the liberty of stopping by to see if they had any contacts. Laura, the vice president, didn´t but she invited me to stop by the next day while I am waiting to help take the dogs to the park.

All the dogs go to the park every weekend. True, they only have twenty dogs – capacity for their small storefront space – but I´ve never been in a shelter where everyone goes to the park. Let alone a very small, beleaguered shelter in a third world country. It´s also true the park is fifty feet up the street. The dogs, mostly adolescent third world street dogs with generic tan coloring and black noses, know the way. Only Faith and one or two other dogs wear leashes. The rest, accompanied by two or three volunteers, literally bolt out the front door directly to the park the minute the door is opened. It´s amazing.

PADELA has a small vet clinic that offers low cost services and spay and neuter and kennels/cages in the back that house the twenty odd dogs and two cats waiting for homes.

Faith got hit by a car. Carlos tells me. They did surgery to save the leg but it didn´t work and they had to take it off. She´s been here two years.

Faith is breaking my heart. She is the sort of dog that would fly off the shelves in an American shelter. Small. Sweet faced. Slightly timid but very, very personable. Walks well on a leash. And missing a leg. Sort of like a mellow version of my dog, Merc, only without the massive homicidal tendencies. Which is really nothing like my dog, but they look semi-similar.

Everything about PADELA is amazing. The space is small but well lit and spotlessly clean. ¨We don´t warehouse¨ Laura tells me ¨but we don´t euthanize¨. Indeed, the quality of life is higher than pretty much all American shelter dogs I´ve seen and probably higher than most owned animals as well. Yes, there are cages but today none of the dogs are in them. Before and after the trip to the park all the dogs romp around the small office, playing with the volunteers, wrestling with each other, ripping up newspaper and towels and stealing beds. ¨We keep them out as much as we can¨ Laura explains. And there are daily trips to the park, managed by a cadre of dedicated volunteers.

I didn´t even think this was possible in a third world country. And on no budget. They have two paid staff members – a kennel tech and vet tech. Everyone else is volunteer. The volunteer vets, recent graduates, are seeing low cost patients today in the small table area. They close the sliding doors to keep the romping, rolling horde out of the room.

The stories are the same – mother dog and four puppies found dumped in garbage. Sweet Faith and another dog, Loki, found hit by cars. Two very tiny puppies that keep getting swallowed up by the horde, found with worms eating their tails. They now have half tails and homes waiting when they are ready to go. One of them eats my flip flop while I take pictures and talk to the volunteers and Laura.

¨There are laws to protect animals¨,  Laura explains and Carlos, who has been volunteering here for three years and works in a bank laughs, ¨There are laws for everything, there are no laws, nothing is enforced¨. There is another organization, SODAPRECA, that works on animal issues but the government is no help. ¨They poison them¨ Laura tells me.  She tells me they killed about eighty of them in the past week, probably in preparation for their Independence Day, which is today and is marked with a huge military parade, and Carnivale, which is tomorrow.

PADELA is working on stronger laws to protect the animals, trying to get a house with a yard for the dogs – the neighbors dislike the barking and there is never enough space for all the dogs that need care. They burn through money with their low cost clinic. ¨We don´t turn anyone away¨she tells me. While I am there a woman who works for the American embassy brings in two dogs she and her brother rescued off the street and are caring for. The vets vaccinate them and give them flea stuff. She´s trying to place them privately but it´s hard. Even though these dogs – and all of PADELA´s dogs – are well socialized and sweet most of them are gangly adolescents. Puppies, even tail-less ones, go quickly. The older kids have a rougher time.

When I´m walking back to the hostel later in the day I notice a street dog in the square with purple on it´s ears. Gentian violet? Antiseptic?  I ask Laura about it later. She tells me that´s their work, too – treating the dogs on the street for skin infections and injuries.

When we are done at the park Carlos, another volunteer named Laura and I re-leash the three dogs who have to be leashed. The rest run in a herd back to the storefront and wait in a cluster at the door to be let in. An odd little haven of happy dogs in the middle of a third world city.

I don´t know if PADELA does out of country adoptions but they definitely need all the help they can get. Check them out at http://www.padelard.org/. There´s a link on the side for the site in English. Befriend them on Facebook. And if you happen through Santo Domingo go check them out.

When I leave I tell Laura if I´m still here tomorrow I´d like to come back and go to the park again. You are always welcome, she says. Keep us in your heart and you are in ours.

****Some photo/etc notes – in the absence of my laptop I am having to run all my pictures and entries on internet cafe computers. This takes forever and does not allow me to edit pictures. So there´s gonna be some super crappy pictures goin´on. Sorry about that. First pic -PADELA dog in park. 2nd – Faith hanging out. 3rd- Flip-flop eating puppies. I am also up against the dread Latin American keyboard with it´s odd keys. If it´s weird punctuation, it a combination of the keyboard and me being too lazy to figure it out. Big thanks to the PADELA people for letting me follow them around and ask a million questions and take pictures***

HAITI NOTE: I am, in all likelihood, leaving for Haiti tomorrow morning with a group from Boston. But that is a whole other entry that will be up tomorrow. While cooling my heels here, though, I am attempting to be semi-useful.