We thought the hardest part of living in Mexico would be biking and driving on the roads. Or that the hardest thing about Mexico would be learning Spanish.
All legit challenges.
But the hardest part of living in Mexico so far is the dogs and the people.
Specifically, the beastly strong dogs that belong to my uncle and his partner, and some people in the neighborhood.
Puki is a young pit mix, and seriously, he's just stronger than the rest of us. Even our cousin Ben who visited for a couple weeks, one of the strongest people we know who bikes up mountains to get "a little" exercise - even Ben had trouble walking Puki cause Puki is one strong dude.
Luna isn't as strong physically but still has pit bull in her and even her large belly and short legs don't disguise it.
We've been worried about Puki and Luna mixing with our dogs, not wanting any jealousy or cultural misunderstandings. Puki wants to play and our dogs don't understand, but no problems yet. Max has been nursing a big bruise and all his usual aches and pains, so he growls at Puki and Luna when they're crowding him, and they just back off. Knowing that Puki or Luna could end our dogs with a powerful bite, we're staying vigilant, but so far all five are getting along.
We're not leaving them alone together. While my uncle and his partner are in Argentina we're dogsitting. I leave on my bike at 8:30am for Spanish class, Phillip joins me a couple hours later and we share one hour of class, then I come home to the dogs while he stays for two more hours. Our dogs wait in the van those two hours, sleeping then whining, and Puki and Luna have the house to themselves. Pets...los amamos.
Un Dia Muchisimo Malo
Yesterday afternoon we wanted to take compost out to El Terreno, the land where we'll be living after dogsitting. Taking all five dogs seemed like too much for one vehicle, esp since Puki likes to roam the car and Max falls down a lot.
But as we prepare our three to go, all five think they're getting an adventure and enthusiastically jump all over each other. Happy they're teamed up in glee, I don't want to break the momentum and leave Puki and Luna to feel jealous as our three go. Unfortunately I suggest that Phillip start walking Puki and Luna while I walk our three to the pickup, and then I'd join him to help with one trip around the block, then we'd go in the truck.
Max gets caught in his leash, Booker needs to sniff everything, and Puki is just raring to GO, so I'm behind Phillip half a block when I notice a loose dog heading toward him in the street. He sees it too, and knowing it could agitate Puki and Luna, he moves them to the far edge of the sidewalk. What he can't see on the other edge of a brick wall is a dog (turns out his name is Honey) gearing up to engage Puki and Luna. He sticks his head through the gate and barks something like "get the hell off my sidewalk" and Puki and Luna respond ferociously.
I hear it before I can see it: yowling, barking and Phillip shouting "no!" again and again.
By the time I catch up Phillip has Luna and Puki away from the fence and a man and woman are screaming at him in Spanish. The man is holding Honey, and there is blood on the sidewalk. We both say "lo siento" (I'm sorry) again and again and Phillip asks in awkward Spanish if we can take the dog to the vet. Amidst their shouting I recognize "vaya" and even without "con Dios" I know that means "go" so we start walking home with five scared dogs.
Phillip is taking two dogs inside as the woman catches up with me at the corner (their house is perhaps six doors from ours) and speaks angrily in Spanish. I repeat "no hablo Espanol" and she switches to English to say "we need to talk more" and I say, "okay, let me take my dogs home." She says, "Okay, we'll talk at your house."
I don't want her to follow me into the house so I put our dogs in our van, parked on the street, and she keeps talking to me on the sidewalk, in Spanish again. I can understand she's asking for vaccination records, and Phillip goes inside to look. Someone must've called the security guards of the neighborhood and one comes down and stands there listening as she tells the story again and again in Spanish. I try to be patient and sympathetic, knowing I would be petrified if one of our dogs was hurt. But I don't know how to express any of this and she won't listen to my poor attempts at Spanish. So I just wait.
We don't find vaccine records but do find the vet's phone number and call him, then hand the phone to the woman (turns out her name is Gina, by the way). She explains to him that his patients bit her dog and she wants their vaccine records. Of course I can only understand the gist of what she said but recognized that she was complaining about the breed "la raza" and how strong "fuerte" the dogs are. We agree, lo siento.
She tells the security guard to get "el presidente del vecindario" or something that sounds like "president of the neighborhood."
Gina summons a neighbor passing by and recounts the story to her, and the woman apparently already dislikes Puki and Luna and agrees heartily that these dogs are "fuerte" and "incontrable." We agree, lo siento. They both look at me as they shout but I can't understand enough to enter the conversation.
The security guard returns and explains "el presidente esta trabajando" so he wouldn't be coming.
Another woman arrives who seems to be there so Gina can use her cell phone to call her husband and find out how Honey is doing. (Gina has a cordless phone with her but told us "no tengo linia" so we assume she doesn't have signal.) The security guard is still there, too, and they all hear the story again in angry Spanish and we just keep watching and waiting, while they talk about us but not to us. Gina talks to her husband "Nacho?" and tells her friend and the security guard the news about el perrito and we can't understand what she says.
Now it's just the three of us again and she alternates between glaring at us and shouting at us in Spanish. We really do feel terrible about her dog but our sympathy is getting buried under frustration because we can't seem to communicate anything to her and don't know why we're all still standing outside together. Phillip asks for vaccine records for her dog, since we haven't had a chance to examine Luna and Puki and they might be injured too. She says "si" but then says something about calling "la policia." It doesn't seem like they'll show up, but if they do maybe someone could translate? She says they'll come "ahorita" and we say "muy bien." We go inside as she walks away.
Puki and Luna have mournful eyes, ruffled hairWe've emailed our uncle all this news and are still waiting - for police, for the woman to return with vaccine papers, a vet bill.... We decide to go to El Terreno and get some groceries. The fresh air is great, though it doesn't blow the queasiness from our stomachs. We write a note to the security guard and have time to look up phrases in Spanish, so we can say "We're sorry for all the trouble you've had today and would like to be good neighbors and help the situation. We are studying Spanish but don't know much. Can you write down any information you have so we can look it up and translate it? Thank you."
We hear back from our uncle and he gives some helpful perspective:
Here comes the "isimo" part
We head back into the neighborhood at dusk and hand the security guard our note. He reads it for longer than seems necessary, then hands it to someone else, who then takes it to someone else, who then gets an older man wearing a white t-shirt (not a security guard) who comes up to the truck window to talk with us. He doesn't speak English so we do our best with Spanish. Turns out this is the neighborhood president and he says the family is asking for us to pay the vet bill or they're going to take us to court. We tell him we'd like him to talk with our uncle and he agrees and writes down his phone number and name. Before we have time to send this info on, the man and woman show up shouting at us. We're still in the entry gate to the neighborhood, and the security guards ask us to drive further in and park along the curb so we're not blocking traffic. A crowd gathers:
For awhile they'd yell at us that we needed to pay them 5000 pesos. We would respond we didn't have that much with us, and would do one or more of the following
They surround the pickup and tell us we aren't leaving until we gave them the money. About an hour into the yelling they seem ready for a solution - they put us on the phone with the vet who confirms it will be 5000 pesos for stitches and two days in observation, but he won't accept credit cards. The family says one of us must go with them to a bank and the other has to stay. We aren't willing to do that. They say since we're gringos we'd just leave and not come back. Never mind that we're house and dogsitting for 10 more days and our van and all our stuff is at the house....
At one point Hugo says, "we are educated, we're just acting like this because we're so upset." Interesting! We say, "of course you're upset, you're worried about your dog." Empathy doesn't work, especially when the story morphs to "Phillip did nothing to stop the dogs," that Honey's owner was the only one trying to stop the fight, and Hugo was particularly angry because his dad has diabetes and if he'd gotten bit it would have been particularly bad for him. We said of course Phillip was doing everything he could to stop the fight, but they said I wasn't there, that Phillip was lying and I didn't see it and that they had witnesses. Hugo started calling Phillip an asshole and demanded "get off" which was a little funny (later) because he meant "get out" as in, get out of the truck and fight me. Phillip said no.
I do wonder why they think they need to lie to be taken seriously. We have been taking them seriously all day. Gina accuses me of understanding Spanish and pretending I don't so we won't have to pay them. I do understand more than I can speak, but not nearly as much as she seems to believe. She also says that we just walked away rather than having a conversation with them. But we spent at least an hour with her earlier that day, even though it didn't help! But Hugo's been told that we just walked off while she was talking to us.
They show us pictures they've taken of our van and said they are going to report our vehicle for not having the right tags and it will be impounded. Of course, we do have the right permit for the van (see earlier post) and know it's an empty threat. The daughter is taking pictures of us, the truck, etc. and we realize we should've been recording this whole exchange (next time, though please, please, let there never be a next time).
Hugo keeps saying "you don't want this to get worse, they're going to make this bigger, you don't want that." We keep saying, "we don't want that, how can we resolve this?" and instead of responding he'd just translate the latest insult or threat, including when his dad says, "I could've stabbed your dog if I'd had a knife" but Dante (university student home on break who occasionally translated) says it wasn't really a threat, just an explanation that since it was "his house" he had the right to stab Puki.
Finally we ask the neighborhood president to ride with us to the bank, as assurance that we'll return. Hugo translates and Senor Garcia says, "si, claro" and starts walking toward the truck. Hugo's dad stops him and says, "no, not in their vehicle" but that Senor Garcia can drive one of us to an ATM while the other stays. I send Phillip since the family has been more threatening toward him than me. While Phillip is gone the family talks among themselves and Dante talks to me, about his own dog, about his medical studies. He seems to finally accept that we're not cruel, uncaring monsters.
I've been emailing with my uncle throughout the evening and he's trying to get his phone to work from Argentina, and also gives me a phone number of a friendly neighbor. By the time Phillip returns with the money, Hugo is on the phone with my uncle and his partner. The conversation goes from tense to friendly, and Hugo even chuckles a few times (what the hell?). But the rest of the family still glares like ice picks at us, and the daughter makes a huge show of counting the money that Phillip hands her. Then they tell us that it will probably end up costing more money and will bring us a bill so we can pay the rest.
Hugo actually apologizes, saying "you have no idea how hard it is to be in the middle, translating, but it's also my dog and my family." We say we just want everything to be resolved. Then the mother decides we have to sign a paper promising we'll never walk the dogs in the neighborhood again. We say they'll have to talk with our uncle about that - they're his dogs, it's his neighborhood, but we do take suggestions from Dante about places outside the neighborhood where we could walk.
The mom says she's going to pray for us, that nothing like this ever happen to us. We don't know how sincere she is, but we say we'll pray for Honey to heal and for the family to be able to rest tonight. Then they let us drive away.
The friendly neighbor comes by to talk with us, and she speaks enough English that we can explain the whole situation. She calls the vet and confirms he's charging 5000 pesos and that the dog will be fine. She tells us "that's a lot of money, more than enough money," and offers to go with us to the Honey's house and help us talk with the family. So we go around the corner, she rings the bell, we all stare at the bloodstain outside the fence, she rings the bell again, we give up and she says she'll return and talk with them again the next day. When we say goodnight I give her a hug because it is so valuable to have someone listen, actually listen and want to understand our story.
We skype with my uncle and his partner and that is truly cathartic, as we pour out all the details and analyze the dogs and the people and the culture and the language. They're supportive and looking forward to coming home and looking these neighbors in the eye. My uncle's partner, born and raised in Morelia, says "it's better to be feared than to be respected" That simply isn't my worldview. And this isn't my world.
They say this is typical behavior of certain cultures in Mexico, and the family expects to take advantage of us since we're outsiders. Their attitude reminds me of certain cultures in the US, and I'm relieved fewer people have guns here.
Everyone is wrong - my uncle and his partner for having such strong and aggressive dogs, us for walking them together and letting them anywhere near a fence, Honey for instigating a fight he couldn't win, Puki for using his strong jaws on other creatures, Honey's people for letting him put his head through the fence.
Sometimes I think we're wrong for trying to live somewhere without speaking the language, but we're learning. Sometimes I think we're wrong for living in a foreign world, but we build bridges by living together. My uncle and his partner return in 9 days and we'll be glad to get out to the land and wonder what the neighbor conflicts will be out there. Serious motivation to acquire Spanish skills and practice yoga.