Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Story of My Dog, the Wolf

     When I first arrived in Guido Almada, the community in which I would be living for the next two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was immediately confronted with a situation to which there is no easily diagnosable solution. My prospective host family, the family with whom I would be staying for my first 3 months in the community, had experienced a death on the evening of my arrival. The older couple I was to live with was suddenly cleaved becoming simply an older man who had lost his wife of over 50 years during the night. I moved into a house consisting of Don Zaccarias (the widower) and his daughter and her family which had moved from Guarambare to help with the transition.
    The household was evidently a grieving household and I was thrust unavoidably into the midst of it all as an awkward spectator. I often walked in on the daughter (then my host mother) crying while she cooked the evening meals over the open fire. The children seemed hesitant, especially around their frustrated father who had given up his job in the city to move to the country side to assist his father-in-law. Don Zaccarias himself displayed his abrupt acclimation to widowhood in other ways. He woke each morning before the sun and sipped his maté reflectively, taking time to walk through his fields alone.
    Sometimes I would join him for his tea and on these walks, but company can be both a blessing and a curse for someone who has experienced a loss, so I tried to give space as much as friendship. I like to think the language barrier, that which I was and am still trying to overcome, helped to a certain extent. Deep feelings could not be communicated to a person who speaks the language (Guarani in this case) at the level of an infant--not that anyone was rushing to talk to me, a complete stranger, about these feelings anyway--so my conversations with Don Zaccarias were simple, entertaining and hopefully, distracting.
    Despite the emotional toll that this loss had exacted on the family, there was even further collateral damage within the household. Don Zaccarias and his wife had two dogs. The first, Tony, a Paraguayan mutt specialty, was designated as the Don’s dog. The second, Lobo, a mangy, matted some-thing-or-other breed of dog, was designated as his wife’s. Tony seemed to be very much still a dog--happy, excited for food, barking at passing motorcycles--the usual dog-like behavior. Lobo, on the other hand, was also in grieving. He was quiet, dejected and he passed his days moping around the house as if he were a person who had lost his way home.

Dirty, muddy Lobo following our recent excursion through the local estero in search of crocodiles.

    After I moved into my own house, a small brick building directly next to Don Zaccarias’s house (less than 20 feet away from it, in fact), a relationship began to build between me and Lobo. He had taken to sulking between our the two houses so that at diner time, when I was done cutting bone and fat out of the meat that I would cook for my meals, Lobo would get the scraps. I often tried to save some for Tony, but as he was often off doing dog-things, Lobo usually got the lot of it. Within a month, Lobo had begun following me to the bus stop in the morning when I would head into the city. More then once he had to be turned away sadly by the bus driver at the door. When I would visit neighbors, he would follow me from a distance and wait for me at the gate, making sure not to enter so as to avoid upsetting neighboring dogs. This past weekend, when I went for a 10 kilometer hike into impenetrable marsh, trudging through knee high mud, wading through water to my chest, and even swimming some parts, Lobo followed me the entire way, braving the cold and the obstacles despite his clear and vocalized protests at points.
    Every morning now, I wake up to find him curled up under the table on my patio, nestled in a little depression where the concrete has broken away and only dust remains. We drink our coffee together and he gets a sausage or two from my breakfast. He waits at my house when I am gone to the city or to pueblo to teach a class and his tail is always wagging on my return. In the evenings, we listen to music, drink wine and smoke a cigar together...or at least I do those things while he lays under my hammock. At night, he is the vigilant, if not also comically undersized, guardian of my house.
    Make no mistake, Lobo is the mangiest, dirtiest dog I have ever met. His fur is matted and dread-locked and falling out in places. He smells pretty bad, although this usually goes away after a big storm (this is the best Paraguay can do for giving dogs a bath). Often, as is the case with dogs in tropical climates, his feet have parasites from lounging around in the dust. Still, I cannot deny that in him, I have found a best friend, an unquestionably and unwaveringly loyal companion. He asks nothing more from me than food scraps, a scratch on the belly (which I do give him often, but only while wearing work gloves, seeing as he has pretty bad fleas), and friendship. Lobo is just another way, another immensely special and irreplaceable way, that this strange foreign country is beginning to feel much more like home.

From Home,
little hupo and Lobo

1 comment:

  1. Dear Son,

    You have a good heart and I love you. Be safe, and not too many cigars!

    Love Dad

    Dearest Mario,

    Nothing can take the place of a true friend even if he is a dog. You have always had good friends, of course it takes one to have one.
    My Dad died a long painful 10 year death because of those cigars, please don't smoke too many.

    Love Mom,