One of the things I don’t expect to get used to about life in a poor country is witnessing suffering without being able to do much about it.
No country is free of suffering, of course. Abuse, isolation, cruelty, hunger – there’s nowhere in the world that gets a free pass on such things.
But at least in countries like Canada and the U.S., there’s some organization or government body that you can protest to, some cage to rattle on behalf of whatever suffering person or animal has got your attention. Not here.
Yesterday morning, for instance, I came across a bony, sick horse while on one of my bird rambles in the hills. She had several festering sores on her back that were covered in flies, which she couldn’t even brush away because her tail was snarled around a big thorny stick she’d picked up while wandering through the bushes.
Back in the city where I came from, I can think of five or six different groups I could phone to do something about a sick, abandoned horse. Victoria responds to suffering animals with significantly more compassion than it does to suffering people, so with only a couple of phone calls I could probably get a poor old horse like that a front-page media story, immediate veterinary care and a happy new home before day’s end.
Here, the best I could do was approach the wary horse gently from behind and pull the thorn stick out of her tail. Even if I’d had a halter at the ready and a place to lead her, chances are she has an owner – a lot of the pathetic, starved looking livestock and pets around Copan have owners, many of them rather pathetic and starved-looking themselves – who wouldn’t take kindly to me leading his horse away. And it’s not like there’s an SPCA to lodge a complaint with or to step up with a home for an underfed horse.
I saw a skinny pig a couple weeks ago on one of the subsistence farms I visited through my work, drained by the eight piglets it was nursing. Trust me, you never want to see a skinny pig. Any creature that has just given birth around here – pig, dog, cow or impoverished villager – tends to look pretty skeletal. Virtually every day I see hungry-looking people and animals that could really use a good meal, a hot bath and a few kind words.
But there’s nobody to come to their rescue. There’s me and whatever resources I might be able to bring to a situation in the moment, and any other passing strangers who react in similar ways. I’m certainly not alone in trying to step up to alleviate some of the unnecessary suffering that goes on here, but it still comes down to one person and whatever they're able to do.
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