Sawyer is Home! (My Real Life “Lassie”)

When you apply for the Peace Corps, the interviewer asks how you will deal with loneliness, isolation, and boredom. Your job is to convince them that you will not become a cautionary tale about the volunteer that went a little bit crazy deep in the bush- which happens to us all in one way or another- and will be a champion through it all. I completely underestimated what it would feel like to move to a town only reasonably accessible by prop plane, where you know only one person (your Counterpart), and where everyone you meet sees you are a foreigner.

As soon as the wheels touched down on the tarmac, I had one immediate goal in mind: to acquire a puppy. Every time I left my house from the beginning to the end of my service was a mental challenge, to face head-on the overwhelming fact that I was an outsider. Having this goal gave me a purpose to go talk to people. The first person I met, my conversation began somewhere along the lines of, “Hello, my name is Samantha. I am the new Peace Corps Volunteer. Do you know anyone that’s giving away a puppy?”

I must have asked twenty people but it wasn’t a puppy season at the moment, (the dogs go through hormonal cycles where they are all in heat around the same time,) but everybody knew of a pregnant dog. So, I had the likes of 50 potential puppies coming my way! I told myself that whichever dog came to me first was the one I was supposed to have. As it turned out, the man I asked the very first day was the one to deliver.

I was walking home one day from the school and he caught me in the street, “when can you pick up the puppy?”

I vividly remember that day. This pup was chosen specially for me out of the litter of six. It’s funny, I always pictured myself with something like a skinny collie or the runt of the litter, but in a culture where a fat dog is the most valuable and healthy choice, I was given the fattest one. And it was love at first sight.

I walked home with him sleeping in my arms at one month old on the nose. (I understand that usually you wait two months for puppies to wean them off their mothers, but this “large breed” dog was highly desirable and would have been taken by any number of people.) I held his ear against my heart and made a promise to him, that no matter what happens next, I would always take care of  him. I told him that I loved him.

Over the next eight months we went on fantastic and terrifying adventures together. Just to name a few:

  • Castration at the hands of possibly the worst vet who ever lived
  • A holiday-time bus trip that resulted in him vomiting in my lap seven times
  • Bonking his head on a concrete post and receiving a pupil-dilating concussion
  • Chasing countless of the community’s chickens and killing one baby rooster
  • Eating an entire loaf of fresh, homemade bread- my dinner- while I wasn’t watching
  • Getting attacked by a pack of dogs, bitten by one, and developing a cyst the size of my fist that burst when I inspected it
  • Catching a poisonous puffer fish that, if swallowed, would have killed him
  • And the grand-daddy of them all, my premature separation from the Peace Corps and my ensuing custody battle with the country of Guyana to get him back

I was Med-evaced from the country on June 17th of this year after six weeks of failing to fight off a mystery disease. Also around this time, I was trying to move into a different house after being sexually harassed by one of my landlords, who was my next door neighbor. So, needless to say, this was a very hectic and stressful time.

I considered taking Sawyer home with me during the 45 days but at the time, the money and stress wouldn’t have been worth it. I was, after all, planning on coming back within that time frame. Another issue was that every time I had left Sawyer for any length of time, usually overnight with a dog-sitter, something would happen to him and he would fall very ill. Once he ate an entire bag of dental treats and didn’t eat for three days, another time he cut his paw and couldn’t walk on it for a week. I did not have much enthusiasm for finding suitable sitters for this length of time. But, as fate would have it, the perfect family of pilot missionaries came into my life and took him in.

Forty five days later on July 31st, when I was unable to completely recover and return to service, I was Medically Separated from the Peace Corps. Thus, began the battle of getting Sawyer back to me here in the States. Through every step of the process the family that watched him was the most generous, kindhearted, and patient couple that I have had the privilege to meet. We talked nearly every day, spent a lot of money and put in exponential effort to coordinate Sawyer’s travel home. For anyone else that wants to transport a pet from a developing country into the U.S., this was what it took, including all of the mishaps along the way:

  • As per U.S. regulations, a rabies shot has to be administered 30+ days before dogs can enter the country, as well as an inspection for screwworm, a tropical parasite, within five days of entering the U.S. (Pushed back his arrival date to September, $47 for vaccinations and inspection.)
  • The crate he is shipped in needed to meet numerous, very technical, airline standards. There was not a suitable crate in all of Guyana, so the couple had to build one. This is not an easy task living in a remote area, there are no Home Depots to buy all of your materials from. ($35)
  • I mailed down special supplies purchased from a pet store to ease the stress of travel. ($130 and 3 weeks)
  • The couple has their own plane but can only fly it when they have a mission to complete for their organization, so booking a flight becomes extra tricky as the travel schedule is unpredictable.
  • Upon our first attempt to fly him to the international airport in mid-September, we were told that he cannot leave the country because he has no export permit with the Ministry of Agriculture. Also, if you can believe it, the day before they had planned to fly him out of the bush, the plane wouldn’t start.(Pushed back his arrival date two more weeks, $75)
  • At this time, I was expecting him to travel but I had not been able to get in contact with the international airline’s cargo office, so I made a trip to JFK specifically for this purpose. Because sending a pet on this flight was so rare, there was essentially no protocol to follow from this end, either. ($180 trip, $58 in NY tolls alone)
  • The couple spent the money and took the time to process the permit with the Guyanese government. When they contacted the international airline to book the flight again, the airline told them that the paperwork needs to be processed in a certain way, and an additional medical inspection of the dog has to be completed before the flight is booked. They were told they needed to hire a broker to complete this. (Pushed back his arrival date another two weeks, $135)

Having experienced life in this country, I know that a lot of it is corrupt. You can pay off police officers to let you get away with crime. Hell, while I was there a police officer murdered a man in the bush and everyone in the town knew, but nobody did anything about it. At this point, I am sure this is all just being made up! This is one drawn out corruption scheme. But the couple, being the saints that they are, jumped through the hoops and followed the procedures without complaint for the sake of getting my dog home to me.

  • The broker took care of the paperwork and the plane was repaired, we were almost ready to fly! That week the couple contacted the airline once again to book the ticket for last Thursday, October 19th. The response they were given, after the airline did not return calls and emails for a few days, was that their request was too last minute and there wasn’t enough time to process the paperwork. Also, the broker apparently forgot to put a certain stamp on the papers and you need special permission to land at the international airport with an animal.

NOT ENOUGH TIME? TOO LAST MINUTE? A STAMP! At this point, I had spent the entire day, for the third time, preparing to make the seven+ hour drive to JFK to receive my dog. To find out this was not the day I had been waiting for left me crying in the driveway before I could pull myself inside to wail some more about the injustice of this world. I made an international call and spoke with the woman who, in my eyes, was the one person left keeping my dog from me, and I nailed that call. I was polite, inquisitive, and burst into tears at just the right time to get her to find a way to board him on the plane the next day, Friday.

  • That morning at sunrise Sawyer and my friend, the pilot, took off from the bush on the prop plane and landed at the international airport. The pilot has purchased Sawyer’s ticket ($378). The cargo offices do not open until eleven but the mission that the pilot is on required him to be flying out of a different airport at 10am, so the couple had to hire the broker again to watch Sawyer until the cargo offices open and can check him in. With any luck at all, Sawyer would be in the care of the cargo offices until 5:25pm when the flight from Georgetown to JFK took off. Six hours later, he would land in New York. Of course, nobody will be in the offices to clear him to enter the country so what’s another mandatory $70 to pick him up off the tarmac and $150 to keep him overnight at the airport for good measure. He hasn’t been inspected enough, anyway.

My mother and I planned on leaving home at noon to journey South. We would have been at the airport at 11:30pm for any chance of seeing Sawyer before his was taken into JFK’s overnight custody. Unfortunately, the broker didn’t deliver. He showed up 3.5 hours late to provide that missing stamp that he forgot to include. Sawyer didn’t fly that Friday. Since nobody at the airport was legally responsible for him and the couple was back at my Peace Corps site out of the city, he was left in his crate in this cargo office from dawn until 9:30pm, after everybody but a security guard had left. Finally, the pilots found a family friend of a friend to drive to the airport and pick him up for the night.

The next morning, with all of his paperwork in order Sawyer still couldn’t fly because the cargo office was closed. This information was not disclosed to us the day before, either. The same went for Sunday. Monday rolled around and I racked up international call minutes on my phone trying to sort things out with the woman booking his flight and she said it just wouldn’t be possible to send him on passenger flights, even though we were planning to do that on Friday, because cargo was backed up and Sawyer was too heavy to fit on this international plane… She decided that we needed to fly him on a cargo plane through Trinidad, which required a permit to land him there and a fee for the layover ($60). I fought this, not trusting the system or sending him through another developing country where I knew nobody. But she would not budge and I was at her mercy.

  • The cargo plane through Trinidad was leaving at 5:25am Wednesday morning, with animals checking in five hours before the flight. The man who had watched Sawyer all weekend, had taken off three days of work and lived an hour away, brought Sawyer to the airport at midnight and was kept there through the wee hours of the morning to make sure that the plane actually took off with Sawyer on it. I am so grateful to this man for being so selfless and empathetic- characteristics that I was finding increasingly rare during this whole process ($195). And you know what? The plane finally took off with Sawyer on it.

The date was October 25th, his first birthday if you can believe it!! My mother and I went to JFK one last time (the third time’s the charm!) and arrived early to fill out the customs paperwork and pick him up as soon as humanly possible!

  • We arrived at 1:15pm at the cargo department, the plane was landing in a half hour. They told us to come back when the plane lands, since the passengers will be let off first then the cargo, we still had a bit of time. We left and wasted some time at a gas station then returned at 1:40pm.
  • They told us they would need to collect the paperwork from his crate which will take a while. We waited.
  • Sawyer arrived in that very building, just behind a wall from my mother and myself. He was still zip tied in his crate and hadn’t been out since 3am that morning but we couldn’t see him or let him out until the customs paperwork was complete.
  • A bunch of cargo workers came and asked for their own paperwork, and they all received their services while we waited. What was going on? We were starting to get anxious.
  • It turns out, Sawyer’s paperwork was left on the plane, we were told! Somebody would need to go back to the plane and pick it up. We waited.
  • A half hour later they supposedly located the paperwork. We waited. Where was the paperwork?
  • Forty minutes after that nothing had happened. We started raising hell at the cargo desk, it was almost 5pm at that point and we would not risk offices closing and letting them keep him overnight. They then told us that most of the paperwork- that we were certain he had boarded with- was missing. The airline had lost it and were telling us that without it we wouldn’t be able to receive him. He was just on the other side of that wall!! He had been in his crate and alone all day.
  • We started to panic. I called the missionaries and they sent all of their copies of the paperwork, which I forwarded to the cargo office. They told us they can’t and will not take copies. We made them find their boss and get permission, which they did and he agreed to. So, they printed off the copies and we were sent to the customs office.
  • The sun was setting when we arrived at customs and after he called cargo and asked about accepting copies, the man there told us that all of the paperwork was not useful. He went through the packet one by one and tore off the pages that customs didn’t need until there were two documents left. I tried my best sweet talk and told him stories about Sawyer and I and what this process has been like. With a stroke of luck, this man had a heart. He cared about Sawyer, my mom and I and he deemed the little amount of paperwork that we actually had (stupid broker didn’t know what he was doing after all) to be acceptable. He called cargo and told them to release my dog.

When we arrived back at the cargo office, I gave them one signature and ran outside to see Sawyer’s crate being driven out by a small fork lift, and thus came the 1st birthday reunion video!!! (file:///C:/Users/Samantha%20Rock/Desktop/Reunion%20Video.html)

After almost two months and spending 1/3 of my Peace Corps income, Sawyer and I were together again. On the drive home I leaned against him, but my head next to his and made a second promise. I told him that I would never leave him again.

Now, Sawyer has been home with my family and I for three days and we have a lot of training to do, to get him used to being an American dog. I haven’t slept much, but I am so grateful and full of love for everyone that helped me along the way to getting my puppy back into my arms.

 

 

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California Wildfires- How you can help!

This picture is from the Goat Rescue Center of Sonoma County GoFundMe.

To share a little bit about myself, I am a recently Returned Peace Corps Volunteer in the process of applying to graduate school. (Many of my short stories that will be posted on this blog will be from my experiences abroad.) To me, and to the annoyance of my parents, money ain’t no thang. My year of service abroad left me with some massive earnings around $3,500, with of course my tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. Yet, I know those will someday get paid off and once I’m working doing something I love, the money will come. #Optimist

I’d like to use that to preface the fact that for the holidays this year, when consumerism is at its highest, I am giving myself a certain amount of money to donate where it is needed. It will not be a ton, but in my mind I will be doing my part as a fellow citizen of our global community. On days when money is scarce I will either make a decision to not spend a small amount of money, so I can feel comfortable about donating it, or contribute in some other way. This isn’t something I am doing to feel like I am better in any way than anyone else, I am doing it because I think it will help make the world a better place when we all do it. Also, this blog has made me realize that I can’t write it and not do anything about the world’s problems- that makes me a hypocrite.

So, without further adieu, today I am focusing on the California wildfires that have been ravaging the western corner of my country. I did some research and compared strategies of how to do my part, how anyone else can do their part, and compiled a list organized into low, medium, and high levels of effort (not resources, a.k.a. money). As it turns out, the outpouring of love, support, and resources has already been fantastic, so I am proud to help keep that going! The information below was collected from the following resources: CNN, The Huffington Post, NBC, Curbed San Francisco, ABC7, and SELF.

Low Effort (But just as meaningful!)

Donate money to one of these GoFundMe accounts! 

https://www.gofundme.com/raise-funds/CAfirerelief

This one GoFundMe page has hundreds of accounts in the form of specific families, businesses, volunteer and rescue crews, and much more that are in need of a certain amount of money, listed as their “goal”. Scroll through to see how many amazing people are donating, as well as to find a page that speaks to you. I chose a goat rescue run by a family in the deaf community. Some of their farm was built last year but not yet insured, and it burned to the ground. They have a bulleted list of exactly what they will use your money for. All of the pages are just as incredible as this one and the process is really simple! The website is secure so you can feel comfortable putting your information out into the abyss that is the internet.

Medium Effort

Donate to local food pantries!

http://sonoma.networkofcare.org/mh/services/subcategory.aspx?tax=BD-1800.2000

http://sutter.networkofcare.org/mh/services/subcategory.aspx?tax=BD-1800.2000

http://napastorehouse.org/

When your entire house, business, or maybe even both are burned down imagine how stressful it is to spend money, and how frustrating it must be to feel this way about necessities like food. If you are local you can drive non-perishable foods to a food shelter, if you aren’t local you can always mail food. I know that in my downstairs pantry there has got to be something useful! The links above provide addresses of tens of food shelves, from what I can tell they are right where the action is, but it is in no way all-inclusive. I am sure there are tons more!

Donate some essential supplies for comfort and hygiene!

https://loveonhaightsf.com/          https://rysecenter.org/

Love on Haight and the RYSE Youth Center are collecting and dispersing clothes, especially new undergarments and socks, pillows, baby food, female hygiene products, gift cards and much more. There were often times that I saw, whilst living abroad, young women staying home from school because they didn’t have access to feminine hygiene products. I’m sure for countless women and men out west, buying those products along with basic comforts is something don’t want to be a major obstacle right now.

Give blood!

I give this option the creativity award for how people around the United States can help! It turns out all of the blood drives- including mobile units- in Santa Rosa and Nappa county have been shut down due to road closures, poor air quality, and close fires. The horrible irony is that these are the hardest hit areas, where people need medical assistance the most, and now injured victims of the fire can not get blood locally. The good news though, is that you can donate anywhere in the country and excess blood can be shipped to those people who need it!

High Effort

Volunteer at a local food pantry, animal shelter, or for the Red Cross!

I am sure anyone who is local and able-bodied has already considered and/or acted upon this option. Thank you for everything that you are doing! If I was there, I would be joining you.

Foster or adopt an animal from northern California!

http://www.hssv.org/what-we-do/pet-care-services/other-resources/wildfire.html#feature

http://nevadahumanesociety.org/           http://sonomahumane.org/

Some shelters hit by the fire had to evacuate further away, putting a lot of busy animal shelters already strapped for resources in an even more difficult situation. To add salt to this wound, the Petaluma Animals Shelter is one shelter that had recently taken animal evacuees from Louisiana to aid in Hurricane Harvey relief, who then had to be evacuated again to three separate Humane Societies nearby. The websites for those Humane Societies are listed above but again, this list is not all-inclusive. If your initial instinct is that you don’t have the ability to adopt an animal, consider fostering or donating. Anything helps!

Offer your land to host campers through HipCamp!

http://hipcamp.helpscoutdocs.com/article/87-how-does-it-work

This program is typically utilized to provide unique camping locations for Boy Scouts to learn more about nature and their community, which is lovely in itself! In recent days, this organization has opened up for the thousands of families that have lost their homes to the fires. These families are now living out of tents and HipCamp can connect them with anyone willing to let them set up camp on their property.

     Choose how you want to help (low, medium, high) with this open GoogleDoc!

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1868Nb0sMONFZR_D5G-uSeQeSxUG0XXDloGodTI3VpBw/edit#gid=0

An open GoogleDoc is accessible for anybody that has an account with Google- a gmail address counts. This document has lists and contact information of places to donate, organizations looking for volunteers, organizations opening homes to evacuees, and a bunch of other ways to help locally (such as helping reunite families that have been separated). It can be updated by anybody in real time so it is a really good way to keep up to date with what is going on.

 

This is the best list of ways to help that I could come up with. If you have anymore ideas, contact me or comment! Thank you for joining me to do our part as fantastic global citizens!

 

“I know! I’ll call ya Topper!”

The lessons I learned from this experience did not come easily. If anything, I had to convince myself to learn them as an alternative to succumbing to a crushing sadness.

I believe that if there is something that sets me apart from most other people in the world, it is my empathy for anything outside of myself. For the longest time, I didn’t realize that a lot of individuals, including close friends and family, either choose not to or aren’t capable of feeling the wide range of emotions that I do- and that’s absolutely okay. Now that I understand this part of me, I am doing my best to use my power for good!

Here’s the story:

I was visiting my neighbors one afternoon, a big family of good people, and while we were chatting by the front door I noticed a small creature on their porch. It was so small that I thought it was a mouse at first, but upon closer inspection I found that it was a kitten.

“There’s a kitten here on your porch!” I alerted them redundantly.

“Yes,” said the nine-year-old, “I put her out here because she was messing in the house. We had her mom who had kittens and we tried to give them all away but nobody took this one yet.”

Without hesitation, “I’ll take her!! Do you have a box?”

I brought her home, crushed up a canned sardine and put it on a plate. It was half as big as her body but she found a way to eat it all. I put out water and she drank from it to fill any space she had left in her stomach. When she finished, I didn’t have to prompt her, she waddled over and sat on my foot. I remember noticing how cold she was. I also thought this was silly because I’ve never had an animal do that. It reminded me of the movie Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the scene where Chris Kringle befriends a penguin and out of nowhere says, “I know! I’ll call ya Topper!”. That scene always made me laugh, so I named her Topper.

I didn’t have anything to do that day so I sat with Topper, pet her, and gave her my love until the sun started to set. During that time, she “messed” on the floor and I realized how sick she really was. If I had to guess I would assume she was eating any kind of scraps or garbage she could find on the ground outside of my neighbor’s house.

The next morning, I went to the market and bought her antibiotics, which I administered to her before I left for work. At lunch, I stopped home to see how she was doing- she seemed fine. When I returned home for the evening, I gave her a bath and combed the fleas off of her. She started purring so loudly it was hard to imagine that the sound came from her tiny body. After that, when I was home she was always between or on my feet. With food, water, medicine, and a bath, I gave her comfort. Having never felt comfort or affection before, this seemed to have meant everything to her.

We kept moving forward like this day to day, and her health seemed to be turning for the better. One morning though, I woke up, called her name and heard nothing. I leaned over the side of my bed and there she was, dead. I jumped onto the floor and placed my hand on her body, seeing if there was any chance of reviving her. Her body was stiff. I saw tape worms squirming next to her, and her face was frozen with her teeth bared as if she died in pain or was trying to get my attention when it was happening. I realize that it was rigor mortis but I couldn’t help my mind from thinking the worst.

After sobbing uncontrollably and feeling like my heart had turned to ice, I pulled myself together and dug her a small grave underneath my apartment. It was a thick red clay that I couldn’t get more than a few inches down through. As I was digging, neighbors and stray dogs walked by, staring shamelessly at me and the small parcel on the ground.

I then, still without changing out of my pajamas, went over to the neighbors to apologize for not taking better care of their kitten. At first, I could barely get the words out that Topper was dead.

I rephrased, “The kitten that you gave me, she died last night.” I looked to the mother.

“Oh… That’s okay, we can get you another one.”

I stared at her.

“You probably killed it by giving it too much antibiotic,” she continued.

I didn’t have a response in me suitable for either of those statements, so I left. Maybe I did kill her. I walked back into my empty apartment, now fuming about the insensitivity that this very nice family was capable of. They are a well-known, religious family and active community members. How is it possible that they can be so… inhuman?, I thought. For days this disturbed me. When this experience seemed to be all too much, I decided to set aside time to write down every frustration in dark, bold ink into a notebook that nobody would read. Tears and cries of rage fell out of me during this process. Then it was done.

It took me this time of reflection to realize that in the case of Topper, and all of the other domestic animals that were sick or dying around me, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Nobody is actively trying to make their animals sick or abuse them, there just aren’t enough resources to go around to take care of more than just your loved ones. In too many cases, there aren’t enough to do even that.

I wrote as a tool to accept the fact that Topper did die, but that did not mean that myself or anyone else had failed. That she knew love before she died, that I had tried, made a difference. That was my lesson. No matter how much it might hurt, it is always worth it to try for the sake of making a difference.

When people don’t care, that makes the world worse. In other words, it doesn’t matter how you express these feelings of empathy, just know that when you act on them it does make the world a better place.

 

The Cupcake Credit

IMG_3761I am a firm believer that it’s not too late for the world to be a better place, especially with help from all the people in it.

While I was living abroad, I became friends with a very special young lady, (although she wouldn’t agree that she is a “lady”). Officially, I was just her after school program teacher until one afternoon, once she decided she that approved of me, I heard her calling on the other side of my fence.

“Miss?”

“Hi! What can I do for ya?”

“You like sweets?”

“Of course I do.”

Thus, began our professional relationship, where she would come to my apartment once a week with a sack bigger than she was to sell me junk food. All of the snacks were pretending to be American but had wacky names and tasted like they were made out of rice and cane sugar instead of corn and white sugar- subtle but you could tell.

As time wore on, she stopped by more and more often- a few times a week, at least. Sometimes, she would bring her two little siblings who would stare at me silently and gratefully receive my business. We began to talking about her life and my life, our likes and dislikes, etc. We never talked about money or things she wanted to buy even though she knew I had more than her. Eventually, I showed her some of my favorite things that either I had brought with me or that had been mailed to me. She especially liked my books and magazines; she called the magazines “books” as well. I remember the day I offered to let her borrow one with the agreement that she bring it back when she’s finished with it, otherwise I couldn’t trust her to borrow another one. She flitted wide-eyed through the pages, clutched it to her chest and promised.

A few days later she returned to my apartment and held an ominous silence between us.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

And the words came spilling out: “MISS. I read the book and liked it so much that I was talking about it and this boy heard me and asked if he could borrow it and I gave it to him but told him that if he didn’t give it back I would find him and beat him up.”

“Uh huh… He didn’t give it back did he?”

“No Miss, I went and found him the next day and I beat him up but he said he lost it and can’t find it.”

“You beat him up??”

“Yes, Miss. He is the second biggest kid in the grade.”

This fighter is quite small for her age both in height and weight. She is now 14 years old, stands around 5 ft and can’t weigh more than 90 lbs (excluding her marvelous head of hair). The thought of her beating someone up, let alone one of the largest kids is funny and unnerving all at the same time.

“Alright. First off, promise me you will try to avoid beating kids up in the future?”

“Yes, Miss. But that book was really nice, Miss. And also, that boy stole my pen this year, too.”

“Did you let him borrow it?”

“Yes, Miss.”

“So, what can you learn from that?”

Silence.

I continue, “You should learn that you can’t trust him to return the things you let him borrow, right?”

“Yes, Miss…”

“What is it?”, I ask.

“This means no more books?”

“… You’ll just have to earn the next one,” I decided, “it’s getting dark, do you want me to walk you home?”

“No, Miss! I’ll be fine!” she said gleefully as she walked toward the gate.

That was the moment I realized that I loved this girl. She has such charisma! As time passed she let me learn more about her little by little. Her walls finally came down enough to illuminate a defining aspect of her life.

On Mother’s Day weekend of this past year, our after school program put on a fundraiser and sold holiday-themed cupcakes. It was a huge success among the students, my guess is that most of the kids bought the cupcakes and gobbled them up before they left school for the day, which is fine, too. The cupcakes cost the equivalent of $1 USD.

At the end of the day, Ruth approached me with her best businesswoman persona and requested matter-of-factly:

“Miss, I would like a cupcake credit, please.”

“A cupcake credit?”

“Yes, Mother’s Day is this weekend so I need the cupcake now, but I don’t have the money for it on me now, so I can pay you back when I get the money.”

“Oh,” I say, “well, of course you can have a cupcake credit. I won’t forget so neither can you!”

“Yes, Miss!”

I watched as she chose a cupcake to her liking and told her to have a good walk home. As she walked away, so proud to be giving her mother that tiny pastry, I realized how much respect I had for her, as well as how much she and her family must struggle financially. I thought of her two little siblings staring quietly up at me. The most infuriating thing about it is that it’s obviously not her fault, but being the eldest sibling she visibly carries a lot of responsibilities for her brother and sister.

Throughout our friendship, I discovered that she and her family live down a hill, behind a wall of trees and out of sight. Their home is just not good enough for what they deserve and what I desperately want for them. And, there is a significant number of men, women, and children on the surrounding hills that live in similar arrangements. There are houses all around that are concrete structures either with multiple floors or on massive stilts that will keep you dry and shaded during the two main seasons. Yet, where she is standing, none of these comfortable houses could be hers. She’s just stuck with what she’s got and I’m stuck knowing that she could have better.

The moral of this story is that we have so much to give each other. I sit here on my laptop in my own bedroom, with a college degree and a promising future while she sits there in the country I left waiting for life to continue rolling along. She taught me so much about tenacity, passion, and unknowingly, perspective, just by allowing me to get to know her. In return, I gave her learning materials and with luck, hope that the future will be brighter than the past.

Living in a developed country, I go through the motions of life with these constant reminders of how much I have to give and how much I have to learn. I wish everybody realized how much they have to give, how much they have to learn, and acted on it to- little by little- help save the world.