Category Archives: Animal Abuse

Beautiful City in a Sad World

Colombia has been in the news lately in the US.  Last night there was this story on the PBS News Hour about the election, which is taking place the day this posts.  Near the end, it talks about all the activists who have been threatened—and more than 50 who have been killed—in the ongoing conflict for power.

So I wasn’t overreacting when I worried about our tour guide in Bogota being at risk.  I wrote that Lynn and I would follow him on Facebook and maybe raise a stink if anything happened to him but in reality, what could we really do?  If he suddenly stopped posting, what would we do—call the police in Colombia?  I’m sure they would get a good laugh out of that.  We could contact Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International.  I don’t know.  It’s another thing to worry about, along with all the plastic in the ocean and the violence in Gaza and Russian interference in the US elections.

Just for fun, I made a list of the first three titles of emails I saw in a typical morning at work:

And here is a sampling of my daily dose of funding opportunities from the US government:

  • Bureau of International Narcotics-Law Enforcement, Combating Wildlife Trafficking in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Health Services and Economic Research on the Treatment of Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Use
  • National Technical Assistance Resource Center for the Prevention of Sexual Violence
  • Investigation of the Transmission of Kaposi Sarcoma-Associated Herpesvirus
  • NIH Collaborative Cross Mouse Model Generation and Discovery of Immunoregulatory Mechanisms

That last one is kind of amusing, until you really think about what will happen to the poor mouse.

In one of my daily international news digests this week, there was an article (behind a paywall so I can’t provide a link) about the Colombian government conducting a census of Venezuelan refugees. A few excerpts:

“Exact numbers of people who have arrived are hard to come by and it is difficult to ascertain if people intend to stay in Colombia or move to another country in South America or the Caribbean.

“The lack of accurate data influences the way the United States State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and NGOs can plan for and respond to the crisis, a problem the Colombian government hopes the census will help solve. According to [Felipe] Muñoz, there are 30,000 Venezuelan children in the Colombian public school system, and 25,000 in the child care system. Twenty-five thousand Venezuelans have been provided free medical care by Colombia’s public health system.

“The Colombian government also intends to set up a formal process for Colombians who had fled their own country during a decades-long civil war for Venezuela, but now seek to return home. This includes children that have a parent from each country but were born in Venezuela and do not have Colombian identity papers.

‘They have the right to be Colombian,’ Muñoz said.”

This almost makes me weep.  What a contrast between how Colombia, where the average monthly salary is $692, treats refugees vs. my country—where the average monthly salary is $3,428.

We are a country living with an epidemic of fear and hatred.

Lynn and I slept the sleep of the dead after our five-hour drive and two-hour walking tour.

Breakfast was on the rooftop restaurant, which had great views.  That’s the Cathedral in the distance.

We noted that the hotel had witch points on some of the rooflines.  Nora had told us this was a Colonial-era building requirement by the Catholic Church—to keep witches out of buildings.  I guess it works, because we never saw a witch, inside or out.

Soon we were out on the street.  Here’s the Cathedral again, in the distance.  Such a beautiful city.

The interior was cool and quiet.

Lynn led us on to Iglesia San Pedro Claver.  St. Peter Claver, as we know him in the US, was a priest from Barcelona, the first saint of the new world, and—so the legend goes—a champion of slaves.

See How I Resisted a Horse Pun?

I hadn’t been on a horse since I was eight years old, at Campfire Camp, where we had probably received two hours of lessons before we even mounted.

The walk into Tayrona National Park had been billed as one hour by foot.  How long it would take on horses was anyone’s guess, but it would have been impossible to bring our suitcases if we had walked.

As I lurched up and down and back and forth on my horse, I tried to recall those horse riding lessons as Lynn screamed behind me.  Not to get too graphic, but I had to firmly lay my left arm across my bosom to prevent giving myself two black eyes as the horse pitched up and down. God help any woman with double DDs.

“Let me down this moment!  Stop hitting the horse, you awful man!” Lynn kept repeating.

Hie, hie!” was his response, as he urged one horse, then another, onward.  I’m sure he was as eager as we were for this to be over.

I was a terrible friend.  I started to laugh.  I tried to do it silently, but thought it a good idea to yell back to Lynn, “This is the craziest ride I’ve ever been on!” so she would think I was laughing at the situation, not her.  I haven’t laughed that hard since Lynn ran over the boulder in Cornwall.

“Stop right now—I demand you stop this horse right now!” Lynn shouted.

I knew she was terrified.  “Try to stay relaxed,” I yelled over my shoulder as my horse suddenly jerked over to one side going over a hill of bowling ball sized rocks. “Don’t tense up!” I had read somewhere, maybe in Black Beauty when I was 10 years old, that horses can sense you are nervous and will take advantage of it by behaving badly.  It was also advice I’d received in similar situations like a Jeep ride on a potholed road in Jamaica and a boat ride on the squalling sea in Italy—don’t tense up, it’ll make everything worse.

While all this was going on, I kept seeing this scenario: One of my horse’s shoes would slip on a rock, his leg would fly out from under him and break, and I would hurtle onto a boulder or off a cliff.  Then the guide would have to shoot the horse in front of us and I would have to crawl on my elbows the rest of the way with two broken legs.

Several days later, I found a horseshoe on another path.  Ignoring the airline rules about not transporting livestock items, I brought it home.  It’s pretty much as worn and slippery as I assumed they all were.

As I was imagining my future on permanent disability benefits, I also knew my horse had done this hundreds of times.  He was not thrilled about it, because the horrid man had to keep urging him on, but it wasn’t his first time at the rodeo.  Ha ha.

“There’s a bridge!” I cried out to Lynn.  “Bridge” is a very generous description.  The riverlet was only about 15 feet wide but too deep to wade.  Someone had laid rough-hewn planks across it.

Nooo!  I am never going across that … that!” Lynn inarticulated, and instinctively pulled up the reins to stop her horse and somehow got down.  “I am not going across that river.  I am not ….”

Lynn is not a fan of water.  I heard her bargaining with the guide, who had slapped my horse so hard that it galloped headlong across the “bridge,” and on into the jungle.

I don’t know what transpired behind me, but Lynn arrived at the lodgings shortly after me.  We each tipped the guide something and he skedaddled.

Did I mention it was 90F/32C, and 90% humidity?  We were covered in sweat and dust.  Lynn probably did stink at this point but I could no longer smell because my nose was clogged with dust.

“Welcome to Tayrona!” A young man with braces came to greet us.  There should be something called “The Braces Index” to measure countries’ economic development.

Soon we were in our luxury hut, post showers, enjoying cold beers.

No Experience Needed

I went back and forth with the driver in Spanglish, he explained the situation to his friend in the passenger seat in Spanish, and I tried to translate it to Lynn.  Meanwhile I was also, mentally, pulling essential items out of my suitcase and stuffing them into a plastic bag to take with me into the park for the weekend.

“You cannot take your luggage into the park,” he repeated for the umpteenth time.

Finally, he phoned someone related to some tour company connected to Responsible Travel.  He explained the situation to her, driving with his other hand, then turned and handed me the phone.

The English of the woman I spoke with was about as good as my Spanish. I didn’t say it in exactly these words, but I made the point that we didn’t want to leave our luggage with someone we’d met 10 minutes ago, especially after the disappearing act of the driver in Medellin.

Did I sound like Donald Trump, accusing Latin Americans of being criminals?  I hope not. It seemed like a reasonable expectation, to go with what was stated in the itinerary.

“Our bags aren’t even that big,” I said, and they weren’t.  Lynn travels everywhere with a carry on, and magically, never smells bad.  My bag was a bit larger.

Whoever I was talking to on the phone had never been to the park.  Lynn and I had never been.  Our driver said he’d never been inside, only to the entrance.  All of us were flying blind.

The driver dropped his friend off in Calabazo, the last town before we reached the park.  Then we drove on to the park entrance, where security guards stood watch over a closed gate.  The driver turned and asked for our entrance voucher.  Thankfully, for once I had read all the fine print when we’d paid for this trip and I had printed out the voucher.

At the park office, we were greeted by an extremely cheery young guy with braces.  “Welcome! I am so happy to practice my English with you!  I love the United States and I want to go there—to New York City!”

Oh dear.  I have mixed feelings when people in other countries have an idealized notion of the US.  I’m so cynical and disillusioned right now, so I guess it’s good to be reminded that other people think wonderful things about us.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, I asked about the luggage.

“No problem!” ruled the young man.  I thought he and the driver would stand there and debate it for 20 minutes but no, the driver vanished, and our host waved over another guy leading three horses, who quickly strapped our luggage onto one of them.  Somehow I had the presence of mind to throw my purse into my suitcase.

I knew Lynn was sweating bullets.  “I’ve never been on a horse before,” she pleaded.  The guide had already helped me up onto a horse, then slapped its flanks and the flanks of the horse with the suitcases, and off we plunged into the jungle.

“I’ll need some lessons,” I could hear Lynn behind me, then she let out a shriek as he slapped her horse and it began to run.

The guide didn’t know any English and he must have been paid by the ride, not by the hour, so he pulled out his whip and started flogging the horses on.  He wasn’t so much a horse whisperer as a horse whipper.

The trail quickly turned into a boulder-strewn nightmare.  Since I had packed my camera away, I have no photos from this episode but they would be blurs anyway.  The path below is a tame version of what we did.  Wherever we were was, literally, just piles of football-size rocks strewn along hills and valleys.

I could hear Lynn behind me, screaming. “Stop!  You horrid little man!” in a crisp English accent.  I may have imagined the “horrid” part but her accent had suddenly become like the Queen’s, not her usual casual London.

I wasn’t sure if she was furious about the horse being whipped, or terrified about being pitched headlong onto a boulder—both valid concerns.

A Long Day

I had six days left in Eton before I flew to Aberdeen to join Lynn’s household.  The weather continued hot and sunny.  I resumed my routine of work and walks.  A friend from Minnesota was coming to England for the first time so we made plans to go sightseeing in London.

I had spent a lot of time sitting on the bus and in meetings during my two-day trip to Oxford, so it was time for a long walk. Or should I say, The Long Walk.

There is a path leading away from Windsor Castle called The Long Walk.  I could Google it to find out exactly how long it was, or I could walk it.

The Long Walk is part of Windsor Great Park, the Queen’s 5,000-acre backyard.  There were no amenities. No signs, picnic tables, food vendors, or even toilets. I kept walking because there was something at the end of it.

As I later learned, The Walk was 2.65 miles (4.26 kilometers), one way.

There was no signage identifying the statue, but Lynn’s husband Richard informed me later that it was “George II, the second Hanoverian King, the last British monarch to lead his army in battle.  Luckily he kept his horse, unlike another monarch who ended up under a car park in Leicester.”

He is referring to Richard III.  I have a hard time keeping the kings and queens straight, but I remember Richard III because he had scoliosis, as I do, and there was a PBS documentary about him where they made this poor guy named Dominic—who has scoliosis—stand in for Richard III to see how much suffering and abuse he could withstand.  It really makes me cringe, watching the teaser for this show.

Back to The Long Walk.  The statue was graceful, as statues of monarchs go.

I heard Polish, Spanish, and Japanese around me; only we foreigners were suckers enough to walk all the way to the end.  There was nothing else to do then, but turn around and walk back.

Undoubtedly the place will be throbbing with revellers for Prince Harry’s wedding in May.

Eton College has three museums: Antiquities, Eton Life, and Natural History.  It was Sunday, and though I was weary from my walk, the Natural History Museum was only open Sundays from 2:30-5:00.

It took me a while to find it, but I enjoyed some more sign-seeing along the way.

I’m not sure what bollards are, but there are a lot of signs about them.

I found the museum before I got swept up in any bollard-related escapades.  The museum was founded in 1875 and was just as I had hoped—small and jam-packed with 15,000 displays of dead things.

Someone had meticulously collected, sorted, categorized, and labeled everything from shells to moths. Someone who needed OCD medication.

There were lots of birds.

And dioramas of dead birds doing life-like things, like eating escargot.

This was a nice little scene of a ship chasing a giant puffer fish.

A glassed-off room contained a horse skeleton and dozens of skulls.  Were they human?  Apes?  There was no explanation.  But I did learn that horses’ front legs aren’t attached to the rest of their skeleton.

This poor owl, named Ollie, was sucked through an airplane’s somethingorother duct. He seems to be in awfully good shape for having met such a tragic end.

Who doesn’t love a hedgehog, especially with a hawk on its back?  Really, my photos should win a “World’s Worst Photos” contest.

A badger, fuzzier than normal due to my poor focus.

There were students there, on field trips. This young lady was learning about the journey of the Beagle and Darwin’s discoveries in the Galapagos, which led him to formulate the Theory of Evolution.  If you believe in that kind of thing.

This painting depicted a 14-year-old boy, Horatio Nelson.  While on a journey to the North Pole, he fought off a polar bear with his musket because it wouldn’t fire.

Like natural history museums everywhere, there were freak animals.

It was a tiny place, which was fine with me because I can only take so many long walks and four-legged ducklings in one day.

Two Hundred and Thirty-Seven

VINCE

This marks the two hundredth post that my mother and I have written. It’s been quite a journey. Almost daily I look back through the blog and see such a wide variety of emotion, struggles, triumphs, and memories. Today also marks another important number, 37. For the second time in a year, it’s my 37th birthday, only this time it is actually real. You may have read recently about my miscalculation with my date of birth. Well, it was nice feeling young again when I realized 11 and a half months in that I was only 36. So, my two weeks is over and I’m old again. Boo-hoo.

 

A year ago today, I was sitting alone in a cold cell in St. Cloud prison where nobody cared about me or my birthday. I remember trying to make a big deal out of it with the other swampers (house cleaning crew) but nobody was interested. One person gave me a cup of Folgers instant coffee, and that was the highlight of the day. I sat. I read. I wrote. And I pondered where I would be a year from that day. I had no clue what was in store for me with boot camp. I actually received my acceptance letter a few days later which was dated Oct. 24th. I was so excited. I showed it to the swampers, the offenders, the guards. Again, nobody cared. I knew there was a good chance that I wouldn’t be in prison for my next birthday if I put everything I had into this boot camp thing. And did I ever.

 

It was shortly after that I was moved to Moose Lake into segregation, the single worst experience of my incarceration. Well, enough reflection, I’ve already lived it, written it, and read it. What’s new?

 

In my last post I talked about my new tooth falling out. I didn’t really mention why. My student dentist had actually forgotten to put on the bonding agent which would have secured the plastic onto the broken tooth itself. Oops. She did try to contact me, but we didn’t actually talk until a few days later at which point she explained the mistake she made and we set up a time to get it fixed. She said she felt like an idiot and she was so sorry, and couldn’t believe she could have forgotten…. I interrupted her and explained that it was okay. I learned a lot at C.I.P. And I explained that everybody makes mistakes no matter what. And when you do, you fix it, and move on. I have made some terrible decisions and made some huge mistakes in my life, and people still love me. So, I bet after she fixes my tooth, she will never forget to put the stuff on again. And that’s how we learn. Right?

I cooked vegan fajitas with my cousin tonight. Her mother was in from California, and I hadn’t seen her in roughly a decade, just like everybody else. We had a good talk, a good dinner, and we played with kittens. My cousin is a vegan and I love to cook, but I had never really given anything that wasn’t meat-based a shot. I didn’t turn into a zombie, and the desserts she brought were actually pretty good, too. I’m not saying that I will be a vegetarian tomorrow (or ever), but I did realize how much I actually enjoy veggies. Tomorrow I will realize how much I enjoy meaty, cheesy pizza for my birthday celebration. Win-win?

 

I’m really excited to see my dog Willie on Sunday. My friend Seth is talking to me on the phone right now confirming that he is actually coming. So, I’m done for now. I will write about the reunion in a couple days. Goodbye for now.

 

 

A Break from Breaking Free

ANNE

Vince says he’s hit a wall with the blogging, and I need more than 10 minutes notice to come up with new material.  After over a year of blogging and nearly 200 posts, I’d say we’ve earned a break.

We’ll be back.  If you haven’t yet binge read the thing from the beginning, start here and click on the right-pointing arrow at the bottom of each post to proceed.  Feel free to share with others, and thanks for reading.

 

Prison News Round Up Part II: The Good News

ANNE

In the same weekend as all the depressing news stories I listed two days ago, there were these two uplifting ones.

The Week published an excerpt of this article in Runners World.  Yes, Runners World—about a program at the Oregon State Penitentiary that allows outsiders (even women) to go inside and run with prisoners.  They even race half marathons.  For some inmates, the outside runners are the only visitors they see.  I am not a runner, but I’ve always been an exerciser—I go nuts if I skip my daily walk and I’ve been pretty faithful to weight training for 25 years.  I swear by exercise as the best medicine for everything from depression to anxiety to all sorts of physical ills.  So way to go, Oregon!

Second good news article: The good old New York Times can be depended on to run something about America prisons almost daily.  Usually it’s extremely depressing, but this past weekend there was this one about dogs in prisons that will make you dog lovers out there weep.  It made me weep, when I got to this line: “One older inmate cried when he met his puppy. ‘I haven’t touched a dog in 40 years.’”  It made me wonder how heart-wrenching it must be when these guys have to turn their dogs over after they’ve been trained to detect bombs, which is what the program does.

Vince and I wrote about the dog-training program at Moose Lake, where he was before boot camp.  Only about six prisoners out of a thousand get to participate, so it sounds good but it’s not exactly at scale.  As I’ve mentioned, I do foster care for kittens through the Humane Society.  Every day from about April through August, I get dozens of emails a day from them looking for fosters for cats and kittens.  Below are just two photos from the 13 emails I received today.  For some reason the world doesn’t seem to be flooded with stray puppies or dogs so much, except those taken in from domestic violence situations, which require months of special care.  Could it work to have prisoners foster kittens?  Is that a cray-cray or a win-win idea?

478cfb96-ca59-41c4-88e8-4f7206e744d1Kittens

I got some good news—my visitor request was approved!  That means that after I get home from Berlin I can visit Vince.  By that time, it will have been eight months since I’ve seen Vince.  The ban was for six months, but due to me being denied a visit, and to two chunks of international travel, it’s stretched out to eight.  And yet on every visitor application and in the information for families that the Department of Corrections publishes online, they tout the importance of family connections.  Ha.