Saturday, September 19, 2009


Just when you think you know yourself, try moving to the Bolivian campo. Here, you realize all sorts of things about yourself that you never thought you were capable of doing...or thinking or feeling.

Considering all I've learned, I think one of the things that has surprised me most is the notion that I could perhaps become a "dog person."* This is what Tyson has taught me. Tyson is a mid-sized, unidentified breed who has made my tiny canine-Grinch heart grow a couple sizes during the past year.

As my friends and family can attest, I am not an animal lover. And, in particular, I've never been a fan of dogs (especially here in Bolivia where mangy mutts keep me in fear of impending and unwarranted attacks and/or bites). But somehow Tyson has nuzzled his way into my life and, to my surprise (and everyone else's raised eyebrows), I've taken a bit of a shine to him.

I'm not sure where Tyson came from, how he ended up roaming around Carmen Pampa. But Doña Panchita, one of the women who provides regular lunches and dinners for UAC-CP faculty and staff at the Campus Leahy kiosk, told me he just showed up one day and she started feeding him. I took a liking to Tyson about a year ago when he started accompanying me on my evening walks home from work--I especially appreciated his bold, machismo when it came to warding off his barking, four-legged counterparts.

Since then, Tyson has been a permanent fixture in my life--and the lives of the other volunteers. While he isn't allowed indoors (though, for a while, it was difficult to keep him out of my open-door-policy office), most mornings I wake to find him laying outside the front gate of the house or sitting under Hugh's doorstep. He's the friendly face we come home to after a long trip; he's the energetic body that accompanies us wherever we go.

To be clear, he isn't "my" dog. In fact, I usually claim him when he's good and deny knowing him when he's bad (he has a nasty habbit of attacking motorcyclists and chickens). Really, Tyson seems to kind of "belong" to everyone--or, at least, anyone who will give him attention. Though most people, I will wager to bet, attribute Tyson's existence to the volunteers.

I can't explain it, but he's a different kind of dog. He has a little doggie persona that exudes kindness and confidence, loyalty and excitement; it's a persona that somehow supersedes all other wayward pups in Carmen Pampa. Which, I think, is what makes him special--it's what makes me like him.

In this place where I have learned (and continue to learn) so much about things, like the virtues of patience and understanding and the finer concepts of cooking and the details of Spanish grammar, I have surprised myself most by finding a special sort of love for a flea-infested pooch.

*Just to clarify, I'm not saying that I have officially crossed over to becoming a "dog person."


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