Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Favorite Dogs in the World

Over the years this blog has featured a few good lists. Some of you might have been there for the first one, “5 Things I Missed About Guahan,” which I concocted upon returning to the island after a month-long stay in New Zealand. Then there was my personal favorite, “A Few Good Words,” which was a crash-course in survivalist Johannesburg slang. On the more sentimental side, “5 Things I’ve Missed About Home” revealed my reflections while preparing to head back to California after an amazing three months in South Africa. Within that list there was a less sentimental, but equally important sub-list, “Drew’s Favorite Eat-Spot Awards,” which still stands as an ode to the wonders of Bay Area Cuisine, both fine and frugal. But judging from the feedback, the most popular lists on this blog tend to be the bibliographies (2010, 2011), which serve as a snapshot of all the worlds that I visit while I’m visiting the world. So, in the spirit of a good old-fashion list, I present to you…

“My Favorite Dogs in the World” (in no particular order)

5. Cheeba

Breed: Rottweiler
Father: Unity Lewis
Relation to Me: Nephew
Special Move, Skills or Ability: Insists that you walk up/down the stairs first, then proceeds to run into the backs of your legs.

This full-sized canine looks like a killer, but he wouldn't bust a grape in a fruit fight. On the other hand, he did almost eat Dino that one time. What do I like about Cheeba? He’s just like his daddy: just chillin’ in the studio.

4. Sparky & Bailey

Breed: Cairn Terriers
Mother: Carmen Anthony
Relation to Me: Cousins
Special Move, Skills, Ability: Staying Alive

Sparky & Bailey score major points for longevity. They can be found in
the Oakland hills, taking their morning and afternoon walks along with the other local elderly couples. They look similar, but Bailey (the lady) is the one calling the shots (“pee here, sniff there, skip that bush, poop here, and we’re heading back now”). Hang in there little guys!

3. Chance & Charlie

Breeds:Boxer & Terrier Mutt
Mother & Father: Sarah Bloom & David Hallinan
Relation to Me: Godsons
Special Move, Skills, Ability: Putting up with Charlie (Chance); driving everyone crazy (Charlie)


This dynamic duo covers ground from Oakland to Humboldt County, and they really know how to make a guest feel welcome in the house. Every time they see me, they jump me like it's been two years... even when I am just coming back into the room after using the bathroom. It's just a good thing that their personalities are not switched, because if you put Charlie Bear's energy (and attitude) in Chance's body, we'd all be in trouble.

2. Dino

Breed: Yorkshire Terrier
Mother: Mara Reinhardt
Relation to me: Son
Special Move, Skills, Ability: Soccer, Hide N Seek

Son, don’t tell your mother (or my family), but I miss you more than any human in the United States! Please behave yourself, and keep working on your “soccer stop” and dribbling skills. And DO NOT let Grandma dress you up for Halloween this year… you’re too old for that now.
Love, Papa Bear

1. Mia

Surprise everyone, I have a new daughter! If you have been wondering how this list has anything to do with my life here in Cape Verde… now you know!

Two Saturdays back I finally graduated from "Trainee" and was sworn in to become a Peace Corps Volunteer by the Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d'affaires for the U.S. Embassy in Cape Verde.

After hugs, tears, and goodbyes to our host families, language instructors and training managers, we headed to the capital city for a final night together before going our separate ways to our respective site assignments.

Later that night a nice-sized group gathered for an impromptu goodbye party at a bar near the beach. Early on during the night I noticed a boy following a little puppy around the bar’s outdoor patio, but I did not think much of it at first. A few times throughout the night the puppy wiggled under our tables or brushed past our legs—eventually it became clear the she was constantly trying to get away from the little boy who was pestering her out of boredom. I held my tongue, that is until the boy started throwing rocks at the puppy.

Pa Modi?!” I eventually snapped at the boy, who couldn’t have been much more than 10 years old. “Why?!” Not surprisingly, the boy didn’t have an answer, so he shrugged and walked off, hopefully in search of some more wholesome entertainment.

For the second time that night the puppy fell off my radar screen, until I noticed her curled up in my friend's lap a few hours later. My first thought was, “is Gracie drunk?” I love me some puppies, but this dog was NAAAAAASTY, and borderline fugly in its cracked-out state. Granted, our Medical Officer had confirmed during training that rabies was not found in Cape Verde, but there’s a whole wide world of stray-dog pathology that goes beyond rabies.

After several friends informed Gracie that she was nucking futs, she brought the puppy over to me to “hold” while she ordered a drink. My response… “no dice.” I was NOT ready to take the plunge. After a mini-guilt trip, we compromised, and the puppy curled up next to me on my chair.

To make a long story medium, the puppy is now my daughter. Her name is Mia. It was "Junior" for a few days until, upon closer inspection, I confirmed that she is a "she." I’ll spare you the details of how Mia actually made it from that bar in the capital city to my apartment on the island São Vicente, about an hour’s plane ride away. I can proudly say that we made it to the vet last week, and Mia is going to be just fine. She's taking her meds, and she is looking less and less haggard everyday!

So here I am in my new place, bare walls, minimal furniture, and miniscule finances to change that situation. But with Mia in the equation, it’s feeling like a home already.

Pura Vida,


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Physical Therapy

I remember being warned that Peace Corps service might be physically challenging. At some point, on some form, I checked off a bunch of boxes to verify that I could walk up flights of stairs without passing out, carry fifty pounds, and handle various other demanding tasks. I was naturally more concerned with preparing myself for the psychological and mental challenges of the experience. Now, having been here for two months, I can fully appreciate how closely related the physical and mental challenges actually are. This may seem obvious—in fact, I myself have always been a strong believer in the mind-body connection. Still, my biggest struggle so far has been to stay mentally fit in the midst of so many physical changes.

It’s not that any single part of my new environment has knocked me out—it’s just that almost nothing is the same. I could spend all day listing everything that is different, but that is not what this post is about. Instead I’ll just give you a snapshot the little and large changes that have affected my body: food, weather, daily schedule, medication, and much more. This post is really meant to share some tactics and experiences that have helped me cool off and avert a core meltdown.

Ever since the fall 1987, football has been my number one source of physical therapy. One of the hardest adjustments for me during the last two months has been not being able to play as much as I am used to. You might be scratching your head, thinking, “don’t they love football in Africa?” Yes, they do—unfortunately, my schedule during training only leaves time for me to play on the weekends. I’ve tried to make the most of that window, so every Sunday I make my way down the hill to the plaka in my neighborhood to get in a few games of pick-up bola. The games are 4 v 4 plus goalies (guarda-redi), on a basketball-sized asphalt court—somewhere halfway between the American indoor game and futsal. Over the last year or so I’ve been getting more serious about trying to retrain myself as a goalie, mostly because their careers last longer, but also because I’m starting to love it. Most of the time I start off between the posts, then hassle one of my teammates into switching with me.

Another bola-related activity that normally helps me blow off steam back home is my work as a professional cat-herder*. There is definitely a way for a coach to run a practice without breaking a sweat themselves—it’s just not my way. That being said, I was blessed to finally get a chance to run a clinic when I visited the town of Pedro Badejo in the conselho of Santa Cruz a few weeks back. Thanks to an introduction from a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was invited by the local coach to run a clinic. I was momentarily stuck when I showed up the next morning to find more than thirty kids and no ball. Fortunately, I was able to dig into my bag of tricks, which includes a whole bunch of fun “no-ball” activities designed to develop psycho-motor skills (shout out to Coach Peter at East Bay United Soccer Club!). We were also able to ranja** a ball from one of the Volunteers that was hosting me, so we kept the kriansas occupied for a good hour until their coach showed up with more balls. The session was fixi (pronounced "feeshee"), and the kids were kanpion, and when we wrapped up two hours later, I felt completely diskontra. All I could say was, “damn, I needed that!”

Before moving onto other means of physical therapy, it is only fair that I admit that my relationship with football is a double-edged sword. While playing and coaching helps me blow off steam, the stress associated with watching the game is probably shaving whole weeks off my lifespan. It was particularly bad for my mental state when the power went out in the middle of watching the Super Taza match between Barcelona and Porto. Fortunately, I knew who was going to win before the match started. I might have also done some damage while watching a slightly smaller “big game” in my neighborhood. Two Saturdays back, a team from the capital city, Praia, came to our neighborhood for a “friendly” match at the plaka. With a little luck the city-slickers in fancy uniforms managed to knock off our home side—our boys put up a good fight, but in my opinion we could have done better. I’m not saying that we would have won if I was playing... but that’s more or less what I’m insinuating. I guess part of sustainable development work is knowing when to let people fight their own battles.

Beyond bola, I have found a few more ways to stay active. The least fun example is the infamous bati ropa, otherwise known as doing your laundry by hand every Sunday morning. Good for the triceps, but not fun. At all. Also, I’m a little embarrassed to say that after two months of living in a country where virtually every family grows food, I’ve only pulled a few weeds.

My trip to Serra Malagueta Natural Park was good for the body and mind, and a lot more enjoyable than kicking the sh*t out of a pile a dirty clothes (no joke, doing laundry by hand, Africa-style, could easily be referred to as domestic violence... it’s that physical). I’m not a huge hiker, but I do enjoy granola and shopping at Whole Foods, and nothing could have been better for my psyche than climbing that mountain and checking out what the island of Santiago looks like from above.

This post on the psychological benefits of physical therapy is timely, as my fellow Trainees and I are wrapping up our respective community projects. One of the two projects I worked on was to help organize an exercise / aerobics class (faze trena) with the aim of encouraging healthy living. I would love to say that I had a great workout, but most of the heavy lifting I did involved holding my iPhone camera.

My last thoughts on the subject of physical therapy and mental health are not about exercise, they concern medicine. Those that know me well know that I am not a huge fan of the stuff. I tend to think that the cure for most common ailments consists of hot tea and sleep. Nevertheless, part of my responsibility as a Peace Corps Trainee is to stay healthy, and on the island of Santiago that means taking my malaria prophylaxis (sorry for the big word, but I’ve been trying to work that one into a sentence since I first heard “Bonita Applebum”). You might be asking how popping a Doxycycline pill every night at 9:00pm sharp could improve my mental health. Peace of mind in knowing that I won’t get malaria? Nope, that’s not it. Instead, I realized early on in the process that there was a certain grounding quality in establishing a new routine. After all, the changes in my old routine are what have challenged me “up top” in the first place. As I made my way through the first 10-pack of D-candy during my first week here, I started to feel like an inmate scratching tick marks into his cell wall as a means to keep track of time and stave off complete disorientation. I decided then and there to keep the empty packs and use them as my Official Calendar. Anyone who has had his or her daily routine turned upside down or inside out can appreciate how concepts like “Tuesday” or “today’s date” can lose all relevance or meaning to the actual patterns of life. Now, as I look down at five emptied packs, and a sixth pack containing only one more pill, I can honestly say that I am just one step away from finally becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer. And tonight, that is the source of my peace of mind.

Pura Vida,



*Youth Soccer Coach

**The Kriolu word “ranja” is startingly similar to the South African use of the word “organize.” Please see my previous post for an explanation.