Aka the story of how I went to inquire about getting a portrait taken and ended up with two tables and a dog.
So here in Nicaragua just about every family who can afford it has at least one “professional” portrait framed on the wall. There’s little portrait studios all over town that will snap your picture and then put your likeness in front of the background of your choosing. It’s definitely not a novel or strange concept, but the backgrounds for these photos range from slightly amusing to pee your pants funny. You walk into a house and BAM! Picture of naked baby surrounded by clowns. Or their teenage son posing in front of a beat-up truck. Grandpa, giving his best deer in headlights pose, with a dilapidated donkey in the forest behind him. Of course these backgrounds are all digitally added after the portrait is taken, and as you can imagine the quality of the subject superimposed on the digital background makes the whole depiction that much more fantastic.
So Nikki, my sitemate who lives in Ocotal also, wanted to get a picture of us made for the new house she just moved into. We walked into one of the photo studios in the center of town to try and barter our way down to a fair price. We live here, so we’re paying the Nica price, not the gringa price, damnit. So we’re haggling and chatting with the owner when I notice a really cool looking little table in the store. Because me and Nikki both had been trying to buy a cheap little nightstand, I ask him where he got it. Before I know it, he’s loading us into his truck with his wife and baby to take us to the man that made the table. We start driving towards one of the further away barrios. We go past it. We keep going. We left any hope of a paved road a long time ago. Finally, we stop in front of a little house in the middle of nowhere. (Before you freak out mom, it’s totally normal and safe for someone you just met to offer to drive you to the middle of nowhere to ask a stranger about a table. One of the many wonderful things about Nicaragua.)
So we walk into the house and out back there’s a little wood shop. Out walks an incredibly old and incredibly sweet old man. He can hardly hear, his family has to help him around a little, but he’s telling us all about his furniture and his woodshop. He’s obviously been doing this since the country was a part of Pangaea and still takes a lot of pride in his work. After meeting the entire family, hearing their life stories, answering questions about America, etc., we are able to haggle our way down to C$150 (or about $7) for each table, the Nica price! I suddenly notice that one of the sweetest, most beautiful dogs I’ve seen in the entire country has entered the room and is staring at me just begging to be petted. This is a small miracle for a number of reasons. First, almost all dogs here are just plain funny looking. They’re a little too short, or a little too long, they all have enormous ears and terrible over/underbites. I like to joke that there’s just one super stud bandito dog with huge ears, long body, and short legs that just runs from town to town knocking up every single dog it sees, and that’s why they’re all so funny looking. Second, dogs here usually aren’t friendly or nice. It’s really sad, but most dogs are beaten from the day they are born and often left tied up outside all day every day to just bark. And bark. And bark some more. They’re more of an alarm system than a living creature. The treatment of animals is just one of the many things you have to numb yourself to a little bit or you’ll never make it out in one piece.
But here was the cutest little blonde cocker spaniel playing with the family, obviously well fed and well treated. I commented on how sweet the dog was to the equally sweet grandmother of the house and she replied, “well, if you like him, we have another of the same breed and she just had puppies.” Ummm, what?
So as a side note, I’ve definitely though about getting a dog while I’m here. Lots of volunteers choose to adopt dogs during their service. They’re great companionship, another level of security, and really easy to take back to the states. It’s also much easier to train a puppy here when you have a much more open schedule than back home when you have to be at work all day. Although I was open to the idea of a puppy, I’ve maintained from the beginning that I wasn’t going to look for one, but if one found me so be it.
I asked the grandmother a few more questions about the puppies, purchase my table, and agree to meet her at the bus station tomorrow morning to go see them. So we meet at the bus station the next morning and start walking away from town across a field. Before I know it we’re trekking down into a huge ravine/valley into a totally hidden and desperately poor barrio. No electricity, no water, dirt floors, impossible for cars to reach, the works. I’m sweating like a pig in a donut shop, out of breath, can hardly keep up, while grandma is chattering away and hauling ass. I still have no idea how she does it. After what feels like an eternity but was actually about 15 minutes, we arrive at a very simple but clean house. And out walks a mama cocker spaniel that is just as sweet and beautiful as the dad. Then, two little puppies come bounding out after her to greet me. I’m hooked. After making sure they’re just as healthy and well-treated as I had hoped, and a few days of thinking it over I returned to the house and was able to haggle my way to the Nica price, and brought home Lola.
Now I’m sure I’m going to get some flack for not adopting a dog, which is something I would definitely do in the states, but let me argue my case. Because veterinary care is not really affordable on a Peace Corps salary / not really existent anyway, you can’t really just take a stray off the street that isn’t vaccinated, deparasited, etc. And because almost all dogs are treated so poorly anyway, any dog is really a rescue dog. Plus, the family I bought her from was one of the nicest, most welcoming, and genuine families I’ve met (and definitely in need of some extra cash), so I feel as though the money went to really deserving people. OK, I’ve absolved my conscience and don’t need to say anymore on that subject.
So now I’ve had Lola in my life for the past couple days. She’s two and a half months old, a light golden cocker spaniel, and the cutest pile of love I’ve ever seen. (Visit www.picasaweb.google.com/Jessie.rachford to see pictures of her.) She loves being petted, is insanely good-natured and obedient, energetic, loves my host family and all the neighborhood kids (even when they incessantly poke, prod, and pull at her), and has already learned how to fetch, although we’re still working on actually bringing the ball back. She spends most of her time alternating between wriggling around the garden in my host family’s house and lying on her back trying to get her belly rubbed. I could go on for a whole other page, but I’ll spare you the details. She’s a good dog.
And so that’s the story of how I went to have a picture taken and wound up with two tables and a dog. We still haven’t had the portrait made.