Saturday, February 28, 2015

The People We Meet - The City of Children

Welcome! Read on...

Yep, still in La Paz. Somehow the place has a hold on us and after a very hectic 2014 I guess it just feels good to hang out and meet interesting new people and meet up with old friends. 

We often listen to the La Paz Cruiser's Net at 08:00 a.m., where other cruisers discuss the weather, advertise goods for swaps and trades, and make general announcements to the fleet. One day in January I heard an announcement that a woman, Nancy, was going to be teaching English classes at the local orphanage/children's home and she was looking for volunteers to help with one-on-one tutoring of the students. Hmmm...

Later that day Nancy was at our marina hoping to meet with potential volunteers, and several of us were recruited to help with her classes. It would be easy; all we had to do was show up one day a week and speak English. Nancy ended up with something like 15 volunteers total, 4-5 from our Marina Palmira and the rest from town and other marinas.

The following Monday a few of us from Marina Palmira made our way to Ciudad de los Ninos y Ninas, (City of Children, aka Boys and Girls Town), located at the Santuario de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, a big church in the center of La Paz.

The church as seen from the playground.
The catholic church has sponsored the orphanage since 1952 and currently houses approximately 80 children, boys and girls. The facility is bright and clean and is an extremely pleasant environment. 

The English classes are a voluntary extra-curricular activity for the students. Most of the kids were in Nancy's classes last year and they were all delighted to see her, crowding around her and giving big hugs. There were 5-7 students in each of two classes (M/W and T/TH classes) with at least one volunteer for each student. 

Nancy teaches every year.

This year Nancy's theme was growing plants, so she taught planting terminology as well as plant parts, flowers, fruits and vegetables. Obviously while the kids were learning English I was learning the Spanish counterparts. The first day of class we even got to plant some seeds in cups so we could watch them grow. Nancy also used flashcards, class participation drills and games, and special "tickets" for correct answers that could be exchanged for gifts and candy. I really enjoyed being in school again!

The students proudly display their seedlings.

I was reminded how hard it was for me to learn some of the Spanish fruits and vegetables when we were teaching the students difficult words like mushrooms, watermelons, and strawberries. It's really hard to get your mouth around some words when your language doesn't include those sounds!

In one week our seeds sprouted into little seedlings so off we went to the local organic gardens Raiz de Fondo (intended for educational purposes and local enhancement) for a field trip to learn more about plants and gardening skills. It was a great garden! I learned that several of the students are already volunteers at this garden, learning about planting, watering, composting and harvesting among other things.

The students get name tags and hats for their visit.

It was fun for the students to see what their tomato plants will look like if they take care of them.

Garden volunteer gives tutorial on transplanting seedlings.

Nancy had arranged for some of the volunteers to build planter boxes back at the orphanage, so after the garden tutorial the kids were able to transplant their own seedlings, water them, and watch them grow into plants.

Usually Nancy's classes extend into March, but this year she had to end them early due to other plans, so before we knew it our last class was upon us. To celebrate, the Padre bought us a bunch of pizzas from Dominos, some soft drinks, and a big cake. 

Student Jesus shares some cake with me. He's been living at the orphanage for about 7 years.

The pizzas came with big french fries called papotas, different types of spicy salsas, cheese sauce and a chimichurri sauce that was suspiciously like thousand island dressing. Very different condiments from the Parmesan and red chili flakes we are used to. 

In true teacher fashion, Nancy asked the students to identify the different ingredients on their pizzas to make sure they'd learned their lessons: mushrooms, peppers, pineapple, spinach, etc.

Jesus, Nancy and Sherry from the sailboat Sol Seeker
These girls loved volunteer Adam and his bicycle.

Nancy told me that the students get a lot out of the one-on-one class sessions, but I came away feeling like perhaps I had gotten even more out of the classes. It was a great experience and if I'm in La Paz next year at this time I'd like to do it again.

Ciudad de los Ninos y Ninas is sponsored by the Catholic church and exists on donations and volunteer help. It also supports itself by running a print shop which accounts for 50% of its annual budget. Some of the children are not actually orphans, but come from families that are unable to care for them. None of the children are up for adoption because, 1) some might be able to return to their families one day, and 2) the City of Children functions as one big family. The students may live there as long as they are in school, and a couple of university students still live there. They have an "open door policy", meaning the children are not forced to stay and may leave the orphanage any time they wish, but few elect to leave this safe and pleasant sanctuary.

Photo Album: Ciudad de los Ninos y Ninas

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Saga of Bandito - The Tiny Puppy With a Huge Heart

Reporting from La Paz, Baja California Sur

The puppy had a frightening introduction to life. No more than two weeks old, his litter-mate was squashed on the highway and his mother ran off into the hills. The tiny puppy was abandoned next to the entrance of Marina Palmira, so he wisely ran away from the scary highway and into the compound where there were aromas of food and lots of kind people walking around. 

Will you help me??
The people didn’t seem to care that the puppy was dirty, skinny, and had patches of fur falling out of scabby spots. They petted him and gave him treats and, eventually, real puppy food. 

The puppy had a cheerful disposition in spite of his traumatic beginning. Truth be told, he was quite a scamp, and he immediately endeared himself to the people who lived in the marina. Some of the nice people took him to the veterinarian to get shots and special cream and shampoo for his skin.  

Soon his fur looked healthy (almost) and he even had a bit of a tummy. For a while the puppy lived a life of relative independence, sleeping where he wanted, trotting over to the restaurants, workers, and cruisers to beg, and poking his nose into the businesses that lined the marina. But he would never, ever leave the marina and go near the highway.

I'm staying right here!
The puppy especially liked to hang out at Cross Marine Works, because Kim Cross played with him and took care of him, Rob Cross let him play with his tools, and there were always people stopping by who would scratch his ears, hold him, and let him nip at their toes.

One night when it was cold, Kim found him shivering in the dirt behind the buildings, so she wrapped him in a towel and took him to her boat for the night. She was officially his temporary mom.

 After a couple of weeks the puppy had become a part of our marina community, and it was time to give him a name. Rob said the puppy was a little robber who was always sticking his nose into Rob’s tool bag and trying to carry off tools as big as himself. He tried out “Bandito” and the puppy looked right up at Rob, as if to say, “Yes sir, that’s me all right. I’m Bandito!”

Rob and Bandito
Kim and another nice lady contacted the Baja Dogs Society, and found a very nice home for Bandito. The adoptive parents wanted a dog to cuddle, and Bandito LOVED to play and cuddle. They also had a big house and a fenced in yard with lots of room and another dog for Bandito to play with. As soon as Bandito’s skin fungus was completely cured he would be allowed to go to his new, permanent home. Meanwhile, Bandito lived with Kim and Rob. He spent his days playing around their workshop and nights on their boat, where he had his own bed and bowls.

If this were a fairy tale there would be a wicked witch, but it’s a true story and witches don’t really exist, do they?

Way at the end of a dock there was a big motor yacht owned by a very rich lady. 

She rarely smiled, didn’t like to say hello, and she had a lot of big bodyguards (with guns, although they were hidden) making sure that nobody could hurt her or even talk to her. People said she had experienced great tragedy in her life, and her heart had turned to black ice. This lady decided she did not like seeing Bandito running around the marina, so she complained to the office and requested they send a dog catcher to capture Bandito and “throw him away”.

Luckily, the office told Kim. She immediately put Bandito on a leash and informed the office that Bandito was not a stray but had a real home waiting for him. Kim made sure Bandito was never off the leash. Even though he didn’t like it at first, he soon became used to it. 

It's better than being thrown away!

The leash was long enough for Bandito to sleep in Kim’s office, play in Rob’s workshop, and scamper around in the yard behind the shop. People stopped by during the day to play with him, take him for walks, and throw his squeaky toys for him. Life was happy for Bandito because Kim had saved his life.

Kim and Bandito
But one day things changed 100%, and not for the better. Kim and Rob came back from lunch and called for Bandito like they did every day, but he wasn’t there. His leash was still attached to the building, but Bandito and his collar were gone! Many of us searched everywhere for Bandito, Kim put out a general radio alert to the fleet, but Bandito was nowhere to be found. His leash had a strong clip on it, he would never, ever leave the marina, and so we knew he had been stolen. We were all heartsick and sad.

Kim was diligent and questioned everyone at the marina, and finally a clue materialized. Two people, reliable sources, had seen a truck drive into the marina just after Kim went to lunch and park next to Bandito. Then, a couple of people got out and unclipped him from his leash, tied him into the back of the truck, and drove away. And the witnesses said that the thieves looked like two of the rich lady’s bodyguards! 

Some people surmised that maybe they stole the dog to give it away or sell it. Some people feared that the rich lady ordered her guards to steal the dog and “throw it away” (or worse) as she had previously demanded. We were very concerned, and I cried that first night with worry as to what had become of Bandito. 

Kim made a sign – ROBADO/STOLEN!! – with a picture of Bandito and a description of the truck and people who had stolen him, and she posted it around the marina. She went down to the big yacht and spoke to one of the bodyguards, and he claimed to have no knowledge of the theft. Kim went to the marina office and asked them to inquire with the rich lady to see if her guards had taken the dog. Kim pursued it the next day as well, and was supported by the cruisers who owned pets. Many of them went to the office to express concern about the safety of their own pets.

Two days after Bandito disappeared Kim spoke to more of the guards and told them that Bandito had a contagious skin condition, he needed his medicine which only she had, and that she was going to report the theft to the police. Bandito was returned within an hour. The story the guards told was that they thought Bandito needed to be adopted and so they had taken him. Kim said “No, you stole him from off a leash when you knew I was gone! He has a home and I’m his adopted mom until he goes there.” 

Bandito went crazy with relief when he was returned to Kim. He was dusty, dirty and very thirsty, so wherever he was they hadn’t taken very good care of him. Kim wanted to take Bandito to her boat so she could give him a bath, and he was so excited to be back he wriggled underneath the gate before she could even open it, and he made a beeline straight for “his” boat. Kim lifted him up to help him into the boat and he leaped out of her arms, ran into the boat, and snuggled into his bed. Bandito was home at last.

Kim and Rob cleaned Bandito, fed him, and brought him to where we were all gathered watching a football game, and Bandito got a hero’s welcome. I called him and when he ran into my arms I cried again, this time for joy. It was time to celebrate. Also, Seattle had just miraculously beaten Green Bay, but everyone was so happy to see Bandito that even the Green Bay fans wanted to celebrate.
Time to celebrate! Is that why we're wearing near-identical outfits?
Bandito had another great week living at the marina, but eventually it was time for him to go to his new, permanent home, high on a hill overlooking La Paz. (Pretty deluxe, actually.) 

Wow! Check out Bandito's new neighborhood.
One afternoon Bandito got picked up by his new parents and Kim said goodbye to him, probably for the last time. She was sad to lose her little pal and adopted puppy, even though she always knew he would have to leave.

Bandito’s new family said they might change his name because their other doggie was named Bonita and they thought the dogs would get confused.
Maybe Bandito’s family will change his name, but to us he will always be Bandito, the little bandit who stole our hearts.

Bandito thanks everyone for helping him out.

The saga of Bandito has a happy ending, thanks to a doggie’s tenacity, positive attitude, and a person’s (and people’s) ability to see a big heart in a little package and lend a helping hand.

Unfortunately we see many strays in La Paz and there are several organizations dedicated to adopting them and trying to help them have better lives. You might recall that Tom spent a day last year donating his time at one of the animal rescue shelters: February 2014

We have met numerous cruisers who have rescued strays and found new homes for them or adopted them onto their boats. Most recently:

Jennifer and her boyfriend Lance found Enya thrown (literally) on the rocks near our Marina. Enya had cuts on her head, a swollen brain, was starving and covered with ticks. She was in doggy ICU for several days and we didn't know if she would make it.

Enya is still a bit skinny but getting healthier every day. She's very shy but if you give her a treat she'll sit in your lap. Jennifer is looking for a permanent home for this sweet, quiet little girl.
Gilligan is 3 months old, 2.5 pounds and was found abandoned and hiding under a car. Our friend Geno adopted him.

Epilogue - Let's just say it was a misunderstanding with the bodyguards and leave it at that. They are always nice when we say hi to them, but they are still bad-asses and I think Kim was pretty brave to confront them.