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Thursday, 12 April 2007

Flea Market Pup - Page 4

Written by Kip Sikora
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I had decided against going to Cuenca, but then Vince told me he had just arranged a ride with his neighbor, Oswaldo, in the back of a vegetable truck leaving Saraguro at 4 AM the next day. He was heading there in search of a turkey chick, and had plans to fatten that bird for a home-style feast come Thanksgiving in the jungle. Turkeys are somewhat rare in Ecuador, but Oswaldo was bound for one of the larger markets in Cuenca, and it had been reported anything could be found there, save the homemade shotguns sold much further north in Saquisili.

Two stalls down several ladies ran a comedor, or small restaurant. Zoning? Health codes? Hell no. At that point I had not been in Ecuador long enough to consider eating at the market, but later I came around and am oddly proud of having integrated to that degree. I learned that one way to really gain the respect of people is to eat whatever they offered. Nowhere does relativism thrive more than the taste buds, but eating what is shared by often very poor people means acknowledging a gesture of friendship. For example, grilled intestines: imagine slightly charred steak fat as bubble gum and you'll get an idea of its flavor and texture. Sure, it may leave you with explosive diarrhea, but it bridges the culture gap, builds trust and strengthens credibility.

Leaving the covered area that was the butcher market I walked outside into fresh air and saw Vince's 6'5" frame towering above several poultry pens and buckets filled with feed. It looked like he had found the turkeys. The large pens on the ground were filled with tiny chicks, ducks and cuyes. On a table, in a smaller cage, were more chicks, but also cats. That didn't seem like a good idea, but the lady running the show didn't see anything wrong with it. I still can't put my finger exactly on it, but something about keeping cats and chickens, predators and prey, in the same cage told me this lady may have a dog I would be interested in.

I asked her if she had any puppies and she reached down to grab a dirty rice sack. Untying the knot, she slung two black puppies from it and onto a table. Both were sad cases. They each looked around with confused, vacant eyes, but one was covered with ringworm and missing patches of fur. Clearly oblivious to the fact that he was on display, he flopped down, exposing a bloated stomach no doubt filled with worms and other parasites. Fleas milled about in what was left of his matted fur, and a crusty puss lined the bottom of his right eye. How much, I asked her. Twelve dollars. Twelve dollars? Look how sick he is, I said. You should pay me to take him or at least give him away.

Shopkeepers and artisans generally assume that gringos are wealthy tourists, and more often than not, they are right. However, since I was technically a resident of Ecuador, ostensibly working for the benefit of Ecuador, I didn't see myself as a tourist. I knew how much things were supposed to cost, and although paying a bit more at the market on account of this stereotype rarely bothered me, in this case, my understanding was stretched past its limit. Whereas price gouging was often subtle, say $1.25 versus $1.00 for a dozen apples, I knew that Ecuadorians rarely paid more than two dollars for a dog. From my point of view she was, at best, overcharging for damaged goods; she saw me as a rich tourist and told me so. Twelve dollars for a sick puppy? This gal was bold and seemed blatantly resentful of me. Fair enough, even logic and reason, especially the social manifestations of logic and reason, can be culturally relative.

We haggled a little more and she came down to ten, which was still too much. I tried to explain that the dog would probably end up dead if it weren't taken to a vet, but Ecuadorians have a remarkable ability to remain detached from animals and the humanitarian angle wasn't going to get me anywhere. I wasn't going to budge, so I thanked her and she scooped the pups back into the sack.

otisThat night I took some codeine cough syrup to nurse the burn of a nagging respiratory infection and dreamed about an orangutan falling out of a tree somewhere in Borneo. Perhaps it misjudged its leap from one branch to another. Perhaps the landing branch was rotted and weak. These things happen. Upon impact, the hairy brown body morphed into a black puddle, which soaked into the jungle floor. When I woke, I decided it was a sign I should buy the dog. I caught a taxi to the market and found the lady with the sack. Still covered in ringworm and still confused he tumbled onto the metal table. Picking him up by the scruff of his neck he yawned, and in wagging his tail, I became aware of a detail I had overlooked the day before. The tuft of white at the tip of his tail, the white socks on his feet and the inverted pentagonal white patch on his chest contrasted with his otherwise black fur, thus mirroring the color scheme of Saraguro traditional dress. In the end, I was hooked by the highly subjective interpretation of details and opiate induced dreams. After another round of haggling, she came down to a reasonable price; I paid five bucks for him and named him Otis.

(Page 4 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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