From Oct 19-27th, I am traveling with the Equitarian Initiative to Veracruz, Mexico. Our project here will be visiting several small villages and providing veterinary care for their horses, donkeys, and mules. These animals rarely receive veterinary care, as the veterinarians in Mexico almost always live near the big cities, where it is easier to make a living. We are working in conjunction with The Donkey Sanctuary and UNAM, which is the Mexican veterinary school based in Mexico City. Their research ranch is located in Veracruz, and it is where we are staying for the week. Our group consists of twenty-two individuals ranging from board-certified dentists and internists to PhD researchers in donkey welfare to me! That doesn’t count the professors and students from UNAM. I’m looking forward to the experience, as I know I will see things I wouldn’t see for decades in the United States.
The first thing that strikes me about Mexico is the incredible diversity of environment. We landed in Mexico City, where everything is high density, covered in graffiti, and rampant with stray dogs. I am now sitting on a ranch that’s practically in a tropical rainforest. Granted, it took 6 hours to drive here. But as we traveled through the countryside we passed expansive plains dotted with mountains, grassland, and spent a somewhat terrifying journey through a winding, twisting mountain path shrouded in fog. I have been told that our experience with the villages will be similar – that each will face particular challenges to the health of their animals, dependent on their individual ecosystem.
I’m also struck, as I always am when I travel abroad, by how this place is simultaneously so similar and yet different from the United States. The mountains we passed today are not unlike the mountains of the plains of the United States. In fact, they are actually the southern continuation of that exact formation. Culturally, I am constantly reminded of how pervasive American culture can be. Today I saw a Mickey Mouse sticker, graffiti of the Angry Birds, and ate a Looney Tunes themed snack of crescent rolls filled with caramel sauce.
I encountered a stark cultural difference in meeting one of the Mexican veterinary students. As he introduced himself, he moved in to kiss my cheek, and even as I understood what was happening, and returned the kiss on his cheek, he undoubtedly noticed my reflexive recoil. I say undoubtedly because he apologized, as though he had forgotten that it would be strange for me to meet him this way, even as I told him it was alright.
I have been lucky already to find some individuals who have generously forgiven my countless errors in speaking Spanish and have endeavored to help me practice anyway. The first of these was before I even made it onto the plane to Mexico! The second is a member of our group, and I look forward to knowing that I can ask him my stupid questions without worry of rejection at my misunderstandings and mistakes.
It is incredibly exciting to be starting this journey and I look forward to all the upcoming adventures!