Todos Santos on my mind

Most of the team hadn’t worked with each other or even met each other before meeting up in Guatemala City but we pretty quickly got into an easy working relationship that felt very comfortable and mutually supportive. We had great team leaders in Marjo (head tech and Todos Santos guru) and Kate (our head vet) and when we lost Kate, who was due back in Canada after 1 week, Enid (Vice-President and VWB/VSF Coordinator of Canine/Feline programs) very capably and seamlessly stepped into Kate’s shoes for the remainder of the project, bringing her own special warmth to the team.

Back in Canada for a couple of days now and I do find myself thinking alot about Todos Santos. There were challenges working in Todos Santos, not the least because of the different languages (Spanish and Mam) and conditions, but there was also unexpected joy and fulfillment there as well. While there, we were up by 5:30 AM and going steadily all day until we climbed the hill back up to Las Ruinas after dinner, and fell into bed.
It was an all-immersing experience.
We had 2 amazing translators from Todos Santos: Benita who speaks Mam and Spanish, and Andres who speaks Mam-Spanish-English – his English much appreciated by those of us with more rudimentary Spanish.

Andres also got to accompany us on many of our hikes as we carried patients home after surgery or did housecalls to follow up on all of our medical and surgical patients.
Both of these people were essential in communicating pet histories and homecare instructions as well as medical advice.
As mentioned in previous posts, various Todos Santos community leaders were also very helpful and supportive – helping with electrical supply, water, truck transport, keys, locating rooms for the community clinics or even speaking with pet owners and answering their questions or concerns.
Two other people from Todos Santos were also a huge support to the team during our stay. Roman and Christina (and their family) opened up their home in Las Ruinas to the team and made us feel incredibly welcome
– and their generosity continued throughout our stay with much-appreciated thermoses of coffee, with loan of a gas heater to help keep our post-surgical patients warm, and many other kindnesses. They also gave us the opportunity to to see 2 documentaries on Todos Santos Cuchumatan that gave us a little insight into some of the history of the community over the last 30 years. Their tienda (store) across from the municipal square was always a welcome place for coffee and chat during our downtime.

One of the unexpected pleasures (for me at least) of the time in Todos Santos was the enforced return to very basic medicine. With one of the VWB/VSF-Canada mandates being sustainability, we worked with equipment and supplies that are or would be locally available, not with what we were used to at home. Surgery and medicine became much more dependent on our 5 senses and on the “art” of veterinary medicine – and many team members commented on how rewarding (though challenging) this was. Walking up and down the mountainsides on our housecall rounds, and focusing on basic factors such as homecare and TLC, was a very peaceful and uncluttered experience.
The people of Todos Santos were very gracious and I hope I’ve learned from their patience and stoicism. I very much appreciated it that they have been willing to let us come there and work with them and that they have entrusted us with their pets’ care. The relationship with their pets can appear quite different from ‘back home’ but their affection and bond with their pets was clear
There are many pets that I met that I continue to wonder about:
Terry the Rottweiler who was doing incredibly well as we left; Terri the gentle little black & white dog who stole my heart; Nosey our mascot who was always so happy to see us and who could never get enough love and attention – as well as her little black buddy, dubbed Fritz, who appeared at 4 AM on our second-to-last day in Todos Santos and made himself right at home at Las Ruinas and at Roman and Christina’s tienda … Tuzo and so many other pets that we met.
To my team mates, it was truly a privilege to work with you all
(Merci beaucoup – gracias a todos).
Erin and Jeff – you both pitched right in seamlessly and helped where needed, in what must have been a doubly-strange environment (Todos Santos and the sometimes graphic world of veterinary medicine – sorry again about the dinnertime conversation Jeff!!).
Marjo, Kate and Enid, thank you for your inspired and always supportive leadership. It was a great experience working with VWB/VSF and the memories will endure.

What I’m left with is a strong desire that the work, which started several years ago in this community, continues to build on what was accomplished last January and continued this November/December. We saw many people who asked us when we are coming back, and there are many issues that could be worked on together with the community, and with other international partners and funding. It al leaves me with a very strong sense of hope and possiblity for the people and animals of Todos Santos Cuchumatan, and I’m grateful to have been allowed to be a small part of it.