Friday, January 22, 2016


If you’ve been following my blog for just about any amount of time you’ve probably read about the little puppy that wrangled his way into my heart and home during my first week in site...

As a refresher: I’ve loved dogs my entire life, and knew that I would want a furry little companion to keep me company throughout the ups and downs that every Peace Corps volunteer knows all too well.  On my very first day visiting my future site in Bocas del Toro, Panama, my host siblings eagerly showed off a litter of newborn puppies to me.  I picked one for myself and named him Massy after my dog from home who had recently passed away (switch the S and M and Sammy becomes Massy).  I lived in that village for two years, and it didn’t matter whether I was hanging out in my house all day or hiking 15 miles to go camping, Massy never left my side.  Villagers became accustomed to always seeing us together, and would happily volunteer to watch over him when I had to make trips that he couldn’t come along for.  It wasn’t long before everyone knew that there was no way I would be able to leave my spotted little sidekick behind. 

My dad met Massy during his trips to Panama, and just like the villagers who knew and loved my sweet, funny pup, happily offered to let Massy live on our East Tennessee farm.  Knowing that there was a place where he could run around and be happy in the United States made everything easier, but it was still to be determined exactly how and when the international move would take place. 

Fast forward to this past July, when I moved across country to take a new job in Darien. Contrary to the rural village that I was previously assigned to, Meteti is a sizeable (for Panama) city of about 5,000 people with busses and cars that blow right past my house throughout the day.  For my new job I’m frequently traveling, usually on busses, and have no fenced in yard.  Leaving my village, facilitating the export of furry hijo, and starting a new job was more than I wanted to take on, so Massy came along. 

We spent two miserable days convincing bus drivers that no, he wasn’t a bad dog; yes, he is clean; and please, please, won’t you please let me take him with me before I cry…

Finally, we made it to the Darien and I was surprised at well he adapted to his new home.  Massy is extremely social and loves to visit both people and dogs, so keeping him locked in my house was impossible.  He seemed to know to stay out of the road when making his visiting rounds, and my new neighbors thought it hilariously endearing that my dog, true to Panamanian form, liked to pasear.  We learned how to smuggle him onto busses by slipping him into a woven bag so that he could accompany me on my work trips and we realized that dogs, especially dogs disguised as babies or groceries while on a bus, would always make great conversation starters.

Although I would have loved to keep him with me until I finish my service in September, I always felt that I was just one step away from a tragic accident that would take him away from me- the sound of buses hitting a speed bump too fast had me running outside, the nights where Massy didn’t want to come home until late had me wondering if someone had simply taken him, and knowing that there were way too many potentially toxic things that he could eat on the side of the road was more stressful than I imagined. 

The final straw was when I had to take a work trip without him due to transportation limitations.  The friend who was taking care of him suddenly fell sick and had to be taken to Panama City for treatment, and just like that, Massy was alone in a city where I didn’t have anyone to watch out for him.  The next four days were tortuous- was he getting anything to eat?  Had he been hit by a car?  Had he simply run away because there was no one for him to go to? 

Thankfully, I returned to find Massy sitting in my front yard, scanning faces until he saw mine.  Although I knew I would miss his goofy antics and his constant company, I realized that knowing he was safe was more important.     

As it turns out, dog people are drawn to each other- we’re a friendly crew that can’t resist introducing ourselves to strangers in order to pet their dogs.  In such a manner, Massy and I met Candido, a veterinarian working for the Department of Agriculture.  He told me that he had worked in the Panama City airport overseeing the import and export of animals, and that now he has a small business on the side to help foreigners navigate the headache that is sending their own pets home.  We exchanged contact info, and a few weeks later I gave him a call. 

Regulations and costs for importing animals into the United States vary greatly depending on location, breed, and size of the animal.  Lucky for me, Panama is one of the easier countries, the flight is a short 3 hours, and Massy is a pretty small, very well behaved dog. 

Though there isn’t that much paperwork you have to complete ahead of time, it’s all very specific and easy to mess up.   They must be translated into English and Spanish (but line by line, as a separate page is invalid), some certifications must be dated within 10 days of departure (but others must be dated at least three months ahead of time), the dog must be present to receive some papers (but other offices will not let you bring animals inside), some certifications are free (but others you will need to first pay inside a random bank), and the list goes on.  It’s doable, but very, very stressful.  That’s where Candido comes in- for a small fee, he completes all pre-departure preparations so that all the pet owner had to do was to show up at the airport at the specified time.  I would say that means no hassles, but if you have the luck I do, your taxi driver may decide not to pick you up in the morning, you may have incorrectly estimated the weight of the crate (causing more problems than believed), and you may have misread the line about getting a copy of the receiver’s (my dad, in this case) ID. 

Hassles aside, Massy arrived safely to the United States at the end of October and my dad drove to Atlanta to pick him up from United’s PetSafe division.  I was the frantic dog mom that almost cried when his crate was picked up by a forklift and taken away and also requested the live tracking information that I would spend the day refreshing.  But, at the end of the day, Massy was safe.


I had been planning on flying home for one of my best friend’s wedding, so my dad and I timed it so that I would depart for the states a few days after my dog in case any problem arose.  It was my first time back in America in over 14 months, but instead of food, driving my own car, or other exciting things, the moment I was most excited for was to be reunited with Massy. Judging by his reaction, I think it’s safe to say that he was pretty excited too. 

Massy now lives on my dad’s farm and loves hunting for crawdads in our creek, running laps around the 15 acre property, and ensuring the other 3 dogs he lives with get their daily amount of exercise.  I was recently on home leave for a month and loved the time I got to spend introducing Massy to his new country.  We went to outdoor restaurants, walked through the park, and even picked out a coat for his first winter.  Since then, he’s learned how tasty American dog food can be, how many laps of running it takes to burn trails into the grass, and how comfortable sofas are, much to my dad’s feigned chagrin. 

I’m back in Panama and these 8 months will be the longest time we’ve ever been separated.  It makes me a little sad, especially when I hear about him sitting on the front porch, scanning the people that drive by, or sleeping on the pillowcase I used when I was there, but ultimately I know it was the best thing for both of us and am eagerly awaiting our second reunion.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

What To Do When You're Alone on Your Birthday

This past Friday was my 25th birthday, and for the first time ever, I was alone on my birthday... or so I thought.

Since we had just returned from a gloriously long vacation in the United States, my friends and I all had to return to our respective Peace Corps sites a few days before my birthday.  Even though we made sure to celebrate early, I still felt a little weird knowing that I wouldn't be around the people I loved most on January 15. 

I spent Thanksgiving alone too, and had planned to cook myself a fabulous meal and savor the time to myself.  Unfortunately, that turned out to be a pretty sad and lonely day, and I wasn't about to have a repeat on my hands. 

So, I made cookies.

Armed with little packages of pink, freshly baked cookies and wearing a birthday cake printed skirt, I
walked around town and handed them out to all of the people I regularly talk to- the people at the development agencies, the mother who lives down the road and loves to text me, my fruit and veggie stand owners, and even the guy that sells clothes at a booth on the side of the road.

I thought that it wouldn't be a fun birthday if I wasn't with my best friends, but I severely discounted how much fun can come out of sharing cookies with people.  After all, who doesn't get excited when they get surprised with free dessert?

Some of the people sang to me, some offered birthday wishes, and one lady even prayed with me for my upcoming year.  Their kindness gave me the much needed reminder that sometimes you have to go the extra mile to enjoy the friendship that could be there waiting on you. 

So now, I just hope they'll bring me cookies on their birthdays too.