Monday, February 20, 2006

A Poem For Current Events

I randomly picked up my Wislawa Szymborska poetry collection (you may have magazines in your bathroom, but today I had poetry). And I opened the book at random, which is my favorite way to read a poetry book, since you will always have unread gems to find later. And a poem that might not have struck me on any other day kind of hit me; I was skimming through it and then in the middle I stopped and really started READING it, and I thought of Iraq and Iran, and even the proposed wall against Mexican immigrants.

Wislawa Szymborska

You can't move an inch, my dear Marcus Emilius,
without Aborigines sprouting up as if from the earth itself.

Your heel sticks fast amidst Rutulians.
You founder knee-deep in Sabines and Latins.
You're up to your waist, your neck, your nostrils,
in Aequians and Volscians, dear Lucius Fabius.

These irksome little nations, thick as flies.
It's enough to make you sick, dear Quintus Decius.

One town, then the next, then the hundred and seventieth.
The Fidenates' stubbornness. The Feliscan's ill will.
The short-sighted Ecetrans. The Capricious Antemnates.
The Laricanians and Pelignians, offensively aloof.
They drive us mild-mannered sorts to sterner measures
with every new mountain we cross, dear Gaius Cloelius.

If only they weren't always in the way, the Auruncians, the Marsians,
but they always do get in the way, dear Spurius Manlius.

Tarquinians where you'd least expect them, Etruscans on all sides.
If that weren't enough, Volsinians and Veientians.
The Aulertians, beyond all reason. And, of course,
the endlessly vexatious Sapinians, my dear Sextus Oppius.

Little nations do have little minds.
The circle of thick skulls expands around us.
Reprehensible customs. Backward laws.
Ineffectual gods, my dear Titus Vilius.

Heaps of Hernicians. Swarms of Murricinians.
Antlike multitudes of Vestians and Samnites.
The farther you go, the more there are, dear Servius Follius.

The little nations are pitiful indeed.
Their foolish ways require supervision
with every new river we ford, dear Aulus Iunius.

Every new horizon threatens me.
That's how I'd put it, my dear Hostius Melius.

To which I, Hostius Melius, would reply, my dear
Appius Papius: March on! The world has got to end somewhere.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Playing catch (up)

The best intentions of mice and men...sigh. As for using this blog as a way to keep in touch with my inner self, I must say that she seems to be out for tea and crumpets (well, maybe not tea. I don't think that my inner self is a tea person, since even my outer self likes to pollute tea with as much milk and sugar as possible. Maybe hot cocoa, or lemonade and crumpets) with incredible frequency. But I finally got around to posting my aforementioned Dominican Republic trip photos on Flikr. Who loves you, baby? I always come through eventually.

First, a little bit more about the trip. This trip is under the auspices of the MVMA (Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association) and goes twice a year to the Samana region of the Dominican Republic. This is the peninsula off the east side of the island. The trip has been in existence for 9 years, and by all reports has made a great deal of difference in the region. The vets donate time and many supplies, and offer low cost to free spaying and neutering of dogs and cats and castration of mules and horses. If you are a veterinary student in your fourth year (me, for example), you will be given plenty of practice in these surgical skills. I spayed two or three dogs and helped with other spays, neutered a few dogs and castrated or helped castrate many many horses and a few mules. Mules are the trickiest, being much smarter than horses and often more aggressive.

I flew into Santiago with two other people who were helping out on the trip. It was startling to realize that, at least at night, traffic signals are entirely optional. And there's nothing like being a tall white chick on the streets of Santiago to make you feel slightly out of place. The trip out to the peninsula was a pole-position video game made real. Luckily(?) for us, the male of the group had always apparently dreamed of living the game, and cackled gleefully as we catapulted down partially paved roads and passed as many people as possible. We never did figure out how many points you got for the double pass (you passing someone who's passing someone else). If you were hard up for a goat there were plenty of stands on the way out of Santiago to replenish your herd. We did watch some poor guy on a moped get whacked by the front bumper of a car trying to pull out. The guy was ok, but some strategic part of his bike did end up on the pavement.

I had a conversation with a visitor from Spain about the trip before I left. He was sort of betting that I would be shocked by the poverty on the island as compared to America. We were having this long conversation about how Americans view pets and how much money they spend on pets as compared to the rest of the world. (It is surprising to most--our new roommate has recently arrived from Beijing, and she was amazed at how much time I spent in the hospital during small animal surgery, and how many people would pay for surgery on their dogs.) And if you care, America, why is that in all these conversations do I feel obliged to defend you, shamefacedly, as if covering up for an alcoholic uncle who's just shown up drunk to a fancy party? I mean, I can happily admit you have a problem, but I just can't quite leave you in the cold.

I have to say my reactions to the poverty level were more mixed and complex. Shock seems like a worthless emotion. It seems an easy pitfall; another cliche; pampered American goes "oh, how horrid, or oh how sad." Both patronizing and soon forgotten. My first reaction was more one of "who am I to come in here and say such things? What use would you have for my pity or shock?" People around me seemed happy (will I be hung for my use of the word, for my subjective and outsider's brush?) and busy, living lives that could not be condemmed as sad or hollow simply for lack of STUFF. Where in America are your social gatherings after dark? Your entire community sitting outside, talking or listening to loud music? These things are SCHEDULED in our country, penciled in on calendars and arranged by soccer moms or the neighborhood association, because god forbid you see your neighbors at random, or leave the air conditioning or your internet. Arguably once the Dominicans have air conditioning or internet they too will stop putting chairs out by the road, but I hope not. On the other hand, you had to notice the lack of infrastructure; the trash on the streets and in the medians, even in little towns; the menace of the new hotel built with bribes and no built-in waste disposal, which threatens to eat up the water supply for the residents. No answers.

As for the trip, the local residents have found out over the years some of the usefulness of castrating their mules or deworming their dogs. It's still harder to get a man to cut off his dog's cojones than you would imagine, but the idea is gaining acceptance (and I gotta say, you do notice. I mean you're driving down the street and you see some dog and you think, holy ****, that dog has really huge testicles!). The dogs of Samana are smallish, mostly 20 to 30 pounders, and clearly someone's German Shepherd was once making free with some local mutt. There's the occasional terrier looking thing, and sometimes a Dalmation (!!?). They are mostly free of mange, and mostly fed enough, although never fat. The horses are small, maybe 14 hands, with plenty of Paso Fino thrown in. And I have to be amused thinking of the fancy dressage barns with their natural wood paneling and lack of turn-out, where coiffed and breeched ladies are horrified at the idea of leaving a lead rope on in the stall, and comparing this to the horses tied by the neck on the roadside, left there all day to graze. Do those horses go around breaking legs and running off? Not often. Now, they're not being asked to do upper level movements, either, and the dressage people do give their horses free access to water, but the horses on the island are also not considered useless if a little lame or ill-made. While I wish the one culture would recognize pain and husbandry issues, I have to ask the other to stop being so damned precious.
I'm not sure either place has it right. It's the same thing with the cars. Cars that someone in the US would have thrown to the junk yard were all driving along just fine. More dangerous? Probably in some cases. Due to inabililty to afford new cars rather than some sense of pride in reuse and recycle? Yup. And yet I still hate the hideous buy a new car and toss the old one that we can afford here at home more.

We also were the proud owners of three flat tires. Separately. And while the rental car did have a spare, it HAD NO JACK. That's what happens when you take a Honda CRV down an unpaved, unleveled and ungraded road. But that's when you provide amusement as silly gringos, as the entire community of young men try to outdo themselves looking for a jack. And then there's the guy with the roadside auto "store" who will drive you himself to your destination, drive back, fix your tire and then bring your rental car to you. Sure, he's making money, but who here trusts some guy they've never met to take their car and bring it back? You probably can trust strangers more often than not, but the point is, who would?

So we don't live on an island, and we mostly obey traffic signals and we don't usually carry propane tanks across our laps while driving 45 miles an hour on a moped, but sometimes I think we are lacking in a lot of other ways.