Santiago and Miki — A Tale of Unconditional Love

I never quite divested myself of the “Lassie, Come Home” or “Rin Tin TIn” era. Somewhere in my brain’s archives, kids and dogs still resonate as a major part of a perfect world.

A two-year old boy named Santiago brought it all back to me the other day. He visited our Casa Lupita Animal Clinic with his mother, Suzanne Pryor, who was in search of a dog-pal that could grow up with her son.

Suzanne caught wind of a dog named Miki being sheltered at Casa Lupita. She was touched by the dog’s history of harsh abuse and neglect in San Juan del Sur, a beach town south of Granada.

Rejane Rojas, a San Juan del Sur resident, first brought Miki to us a few months ago. She found the dog laying on a dirt road. It was the large vaginal tumor that shocked her, and she realized that here was yet another victim of an easily-spread canine cancer.

As she moved closer, she saw an even more complicated problem: an inflamed burn on its back. This, she later learned, was the result of boiling water thrown on the dog. Add to this an infected eye, later removed because of irreparable damage.

“Between the infected eye, her burns and her tumor, this poor dog must have been in constant excruciating pain,” says Rejane. The tumor was removed at Casa Lupita followed by a chemotherapy schedule.

In spite of Miki’s unrelenting agony, Rejane remembers her as having “one of the sweetest dispositions that I have ever seen in a dog, even though humans had been very cruel to her.”

The continued chemo treatment by the Casa Lupita vet team along with eye surgery and treatment for back burns turned her around toward good health and back to San Juan del Sur and her original owners — until Rejane noticed the dog licking a large wound on her leg.

“Getting closer to her, I could see that her front leg had been skinned to the bone. I found out that someone had cut her with a machete,” explained Rejane. “The wound was at least 3 days old and other than washing it, nothing else was done for it.”

Rejane returned Miki immediately to Casa Lupita where the vets decided to keep her for ongoing care.

Unfortunately the only option to treat the shattered leg was amputation. Miki would stay at Casa Lupita until she had recuperated, but her future wasn’t considered a bright one. Three-legged one-eyed dogs were not usually considered adoption material.

But Miki never winced, whined, or refused our attention. It took her little time to navigate on three legs, and a missing eye certainly didn’t deter her either.

It was the non-stop tail wagging that impressed all of us. Anything was a reason for that appendage to whip back and forth. Just saying her name….entering the room…or even saying goodbye. The tail moved. Always,

As a mother, Suzanne could imagine the tremendous value for both her son and this dog growing up together. This, she thought, was a fur-covered lesson in life for her little boy.

A meeting was arranged at Casa Lupita.

Suzanne shows Santiago how to gently pet Miki

As soon as Santiago entered the clinic and caught sight of his future playmate, he slid on his knees to her side. Suzanne helped him to pet Miki gently on her head. Love at first sight, and more. Respect, joy, trust, camaraderie. It was all there.

Suzanne casually mentioned that their new friend had only three legs. And then the math test began. Santiago counted the legs…….two…..three. He was delighted. Three legs seemed more than enough to him. Besides, he wasn’t sure he could count higher than that.

Then he reached behind him for the hand of their housekeeper, Julieta, and guided it to Miki’s head. His hand on hers, he showed her how to pet gently, very gently. The tail picked up momentum and whacked the floor.

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I backed away to take some photos, hoping to capture just a small piece of the dauntless spirit of a dog minus a leg and an eye — and the unconditional love of a little boy who could care less what his new friend doesn’t have.

Now they have each other, and nothing is more important than that.


Ritmo en los Barrios

This may be the sweetest 10 minutes of your day.


Please view this short video of one of our Building New Hope projects “Ritmo en los Barrios.”  This was produced, shot and edited by a group of four U.S. students who elected to come to Granada to do a video project. We are honored that they chose our music program as its focus. (They also produced a short video about Casa de Esperanza as well ——and it too is outstanding!)

The piano was a gift from our generous friends  of  Connecticut Quest for Peace, shipped here via a truck several years ago. Could it have been put to better use?  Your comments would be appreciated.

Thanks, everyone, for your never-ending interest in the work of Building New Hope here in Nicaragua.


Miracle or Coincidences…

Miracle or coincidences.  My story about a 9 year-old Nicaraguan boy is full of whatever you want to believe. All I know is — I was there when it all unraveled before my eyes.

Nine year old Roberto Romero suffered damaged corneas since he was two with no hope for a transplant that would give him his sight again.

Roberto Romero didn’t have eyes, per se. His had been ravaged by a wicked  infection when he was only two. From then on,  his corneas were no more.

When I met him,  he was sitting in a dark room, suffering his daily horrendous headache.  Without corneas, he couldn’t tolerate sunlight, nor could he attend school. Actually he couldn’t do much of anything. His only world, other than his family, was a radio.

That was back in 2000.   So let’s start at  that point:

It was because of my stolen computer that I met Roberto’s father, Jose. He was the cop who answered my frantic call early that morning and listened to my scattered rant. The loss of the computer was traumatic enough. It was the lost information that was truly devastating.

On its disk were stored medical records of a 4-year old Nica child needing a specialized surgery.  This story will come to light down the blog road. But for now, suffice to say the info was that minute sliver of hope that could possibly save her life. It could be recouped, but not without a lot of time. And her time was short.

I pleaded with Officer Romero to  find my computer so we could get her the needed help in a U.S. hospital . He promised to do his best. Then as he stood to leave, he pulled a folded paper from his shirt pocket and handed it to me. No words were spoken. But his steady stare told me that this was serious business.

Note the “coincidence’ at this point: an important paper in his pocket at a chance meeting with me.  Here was the story of his son Roberto and  the diagnosis  of  a Nicaraguan ophthalmologist:  Roberto would only see again with a corneal transplant. This, it stated,  would be impossible in Nicaragua.

Officer Romero’s unwritten question was obvious;  If there is medical help in the U.S. for a little Nicaraguan girl, could there also be help for his son?There was no chance that this civil servant in blue could hope to restore his child’s eyesight.  Not on a salary of $75 a month. And not in Nicaragua.

I shrugged my shoulders. I had no answer. I could only say I would try. But I kept my doubts to myself.

He  left for the police station. There he would type my story with his index finger on an antiquated Remington with missing keys. He would make the triplicate copies with the help of carbon paper and a bottle of white-out.  Those would no doubt be filed away in a dark drawer, never again to see the light of day.

I then called Brett, told him the story, and we were off in different directions in one day.  I was in e-mail search of ophthalmologists in the U.S., asking for medical advice. Brett took Roberto to Managua to be examined by visiting U.S brigade doctors. Was Roberto a transplant candidate, we wanted to know? The consensus was more than likely —- No.

Our contact with Officer Romero became less and less as time passed. We leaned toward situations where we  could see a possible successful result.

And nearly a year passed before Brett heard the first hopeful news:  The Flying Hospital had touched down in Augusto Sandino Airport in Managua. This gigantic metal bird was just that — a hospital with wings that carried medical teams to developing countries to serve the poor.This mission would…coincidentally….address eye diseases. More coincidences.

Brett made the call and told Roberto’s story. Bring him in, he was told. The boy could be squeezed in for a 15-minute exam.

We hoped that this visit could at least put this case to rest, even if the verdict was that Roberto was  not a suitable transplant candidate.  But if  we got the hoped-for thumbs up, we would start the long process of trying to get him to the U.S. for surgery..

We found Officer Romero at the station and arranged to pick him up with his son early the next day. Brett and I would have to make the arduous drive on  gully-gutted roads  into Barrio La Prusia to the Romero home before dawn. That drive was difficult even in broad daylight.

Little was said on our way to the airport. Neither Brett nor I wanted to build up hopes that could be dashed by a doctor’s conclusion. But then we really had no expectations since we had already been told that a transplant wasn’t a feasible option at this stage

The sight of “The Flying Hospital”  stilled us.  We stood in a reverent silence, staring out to the foggy airfield at a magnificent creation sent to this impoverished country to restore the sight of  its people. That Roberto would be one of them was doubtful. But we were here and we took our places in the long line of hopefuls.  Some came to have crossed eyes straightened. Others hoped to have cataracts stripped off.  We waited only for an answer.

Officer Romero’s face was a billboard with a big question mark on it.  “What the hell are doing here?”  it seemed to ask.  Brett and I kept explaining the concept of the plane. But its relationship to a hospital was a mystery to him. At this point, he was here only because of trust in us.

Then it was Roberto’s turn to be checked.  A nurse held a small flashlight that poked its glare into his blind eye.  And from that moment everything  went on fast forward.

The nurse was on a walkie-talkie within seconds, waving with her other hand to follow her.  As we sprinted across the tarmac toward the Flying Hospital, she was shouting into her mouthpiece:  “Dr. Marks!  Your corneal transplant just walked in!”  But by now, we weren’t walking, we were running, clutching Roberto’s hand as he stumbled to keep up with us.

Jose didn’t understand English but he could read our faces.   Between huffs and puffs, as we sprinted across the tarmac  toward the plane, Brett explained that  we were going to see a doctor. We said nothing more because we knew nothing more. Except that good news might be waiting for us inside that giant with wings.

Inside the plane, an eye surgeon, Dr. Marks, announced that there was a cornea, just one, on the Flying Hospital.  He was a religious man, he told us, and he had prayed that someone needing this gift would come in.

One young man had already been in the line and needed a cornea, but in the surgeon’s opinion, the boy didn’t qualify. He could  see with his other eye.  This valuable tissue would go only to someone who was fully blind. Roberto, he felt, was a perfect candidate.  Surgery would be the next morning —– the last day that the Flying Hospital would  be in Nicaragua before it flew to Gambia.

(Are you still following the “coincidence trail” here?)

The next morning we were at the airfield  at 6:30. We watched a steady stream of cataract patients and cross-eyed children pass before us, into and out of surgeries.

Then finally, it was Roberto’s turn.  He was led into the surgery suite in the back of the  plane while prayers, cheers and signs of the cross filled the room.

Jose watched his son disappear behind a set of white curtains. Then we were led tp seats in the passenger section. It was then that we noticed the giant screen facing us in  front  — and within minutes we were staring at a giant eyeball staring back at us.  It was Roberto’s blind eye, wide open, ready to accept the most valuable  gift of his life. Sight.  A stationary camera was trained on his eyeball so that we in the passenger section could view the surgery, stitch by stitch.

Ah yes, a fight attendant actually passed through the aisle and served lunch as I wondered who wrote this way-too-perfect script!  The audience commented among themselves that we all were witnessing a miracle as the surgeon’s steady fingers applied hair-fine stitches along a cornea and fastening it to Roberto’s eyeball.

Only one cornea meant only one eye. The surgery was short. And then, Roberto was wheeled out of the surgery suite and to a recovery area. Cheers and applause broke out, not just for Dr. Marks, a true hero that day, but also for a brave little boy.

Soon after Brett and I gathered at Roberto’s bedside  with the medical staff, many of them praying for a child whose life could change dramatically that day, if all went well.

It was then that Dr. Marks offered one yet another coincidence: As he prepared to leave the hospital in the U.S. to join the Flying Hospital team, a nurse handed him a small ice box to take with him.   “There’s one cornea in here, ” she told him. “Just in case.”  Then Dr. Mark was out the door and en route to Nicaragua, wondering what he’d do with one frozen cornea.

When Roberto was fully awake, we drove father and son home.  Once in their barrio, it was slow-riding over the deeply-rutted path, taking care not to disturb the fragile stitches around the new cornea.  His mother, grandmother and neighbors were waiting in the dusk ahead of us, looking for signs of our headlights.

Roberto’s mother, Adela, began to cry, partly for joy but also for fear.  She took a sleepy boy with an eye patch into her arms, then led him into their dark shack.


Brett took father and son back to the Flying Hospital for a final examination with Dr. Mark before the plane’s take-of later that day.

“How many fingers do you see, Roberto?”  asked Dr. Mark.

“One. I see one.”  There was a hint of pride in Roberto’s shy voice.

“And now?”  Asked the Doctor.


“Right on both counts.”

Roberto Romero , with his aunt and grandmother, holds his anti-rejection medication.‏

It’s eleven years later now, and Roberto can see.  His vision is blurry, and it’s only through one eye.   He will use anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life. Though there is no guarantee that his body won’t the reject the new cornea at some later time…even ten years from now….we believe  otherwise.  He has no need for a dark room each day. Instead he goes to school and hangs out with his friends in his barrio.

Coincidences?  Maybe.  A miracle?  Perhaps we were invited to help it happen.  But the answer isn’t  as important to us as seeing Roberto Romero smiling in the sunlight.

Brett was a young American from Oklahoma who worked tirelessly for the health and welfare of poor Nicaraguans, especially single women and their children,  during his time in Nicaragua.

Chepe’s Story

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Recently my good friend Chepe (Jose) Cuadra returned to his nest, Granada, Nicaragua.  A talented artist, Chepe left us some years ago to live in St. Albans, Vermont, with his wife, Olga, and their two sons.   After teaching there at Johnson State College, Chepe is now writing his thesis as he works toward his Masters in Fine Arts degree.  He continues to paint, but when he came to visit us in Granada, he arrived without canvas or brush.

Instead he brought his IPAD2 and a request to work with our young students at Escuelita Yo Puedo.

The rest of this blog post is Chepe’s story.

“I have been thinking of how to put into words my iPad 2 experience with the kids at Escuelita Yo Puedo .  I was exposing them to this high-end U.S.A  first- world technology, yet I  was the one exposed to a  great living experience through working with them . It  was an EXTRAORDINARY experience for me!”

“These kids are deprived of so many things .  Through my North American eyes:  No technology, no fast food, no new chemicals in their nutrition, no new gadgets , no money  at all.  So many are from broken families  with a missing parent,  they have very little everyday food….just the basic rice, beans, plantains, tortillas, no new clothes or toys.

What they  ARE exposed to is a lack of everything!

The minute the children saw me they gave me a nick-name: Senor King Kong Gigante! , They were so excited that I brought them some attention and some of my time, and they were willing to work with me and my IPAD2.”

“I was expecting them to see this as a great FUTURISTIC experience,  But no —- I was just someone from the outside their realm who came to them with some of his time, his attention and no “halarlas de las mechas” (dragging them by their hair)!”

“Working with these beautiful children was a lesson of love and compassion for me.  With such great potential they were like very pliable Play Dough ready to go in any direction! ”

“Thanks to all who made this wonderful experience possible for me.”

Chepe Cuadra
Saint Albans, VT

Saturday Diary: Nicaragua is beauty and ugly, braided like hair

It’s with pleasure that I present the following newspaper column by  reporter Diana Nelson Jones to my blog.    Diana, my long-time friend, is also a  three-time visitor to Nicaragua. Here she captures the essence of  Granada as she writes of her most recent visit.

–   –   –  –   –

Written Saturday, March 06, 2010
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Our driver to the airport couldn’t believe anyone would go to Nicaragua on vacation. He assumed we were on a humanitarian mission.

Many people think Nicaragua is still a hot spot, but there hasn’t been a revolution there since the Pirates last won a World Series. (Granted, there was that decade of fighting afterward, thanks to the Reagan
administration’s “Contra” subversion efforts.)

As it is, with the Sandinistas in and out of power over the past 30 years, life is better for some, the same or worse for most. The tourist might be a victim of airport baggage kleptos, the occasional carjacking or police shake-downs for gringo money, but these pose no more risk than on any trip to the Third World.

The hardest part is the heartbreak. UNICEF reports that 65 percent of the people are poor or extremely poor, 40 percent have no access to health care, a third have no reliable source of drinking water and 24 percent of children don’t attend school.

And then there are the hungry street dogs.

Photographer Annie O’Neill and I left on Feb. 8 for 10 days. It was her second trip and my third to Nicaragua. And while it was sort of a vacation, we went with the purpose of someday publishing the story of Donna Tabor.

A former Pittsburgh TV producer, Donna joined the Peace Corps in 1996 and stayed in country. With support from Building New Hope, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, she directs the work of two schools, a music program and an animal clinic. She also serves as the nonprofit’s face for a colony of coffee farmers whose organic beans are sold here under the Building New Hope label.

I’ve had a slew of little adventures with Donna in and around Granada, a colonial city of 110,000 founded in 1524 as part of the Spanish empire. On my first trip, we saw a street vendor attacked and robbed, and I tagged along as Donna, in her tornado-ish way, whisked the guy to someone with a car and to the hospital, where his head bled into a cloth in the waiting room.

He was making a few dollars a day selling flimsy jewelry spread over a sheet on the street. He had no health care coverage. Donna made a contribution.

Many Americans think we’re struggling. In Pittsburgh, we’re worried about the police pension fund. In Nicaragua, the police make so little that their “pensions” are supplemented by roadside stops.

At an intersection near San Marcos, an officer wiggled his finger for Donna to pull over. We were DWG — Driving While Gringo.

He asked where she lives and what she does. When she said one of her jobs is overseeing two schools, the officer said, “My daughter needs notebooks for school.”

“How much?” Donna asked, shielding the opening of her wallet. He accepted 100 cordobas, about $5. At least in Nicaragua, bribes are cheap, like everything else except school.

School is a luxury for families who can’t afford supplies, uniforms and, most of all, their children’s time away from earning money. Children shine shoes and sell cigarettes and Chiclets, of all things, to tourists. Donna raises money to give parents so their kids can attend the schools she oversees.

At the animal clinic, peasants who can’t spare two cordobas drop them in the basket while some gringo expats leave nothing. The young Nicaraguan vet and vet tech make less than burger flippers make here in the States.

One day during my visit, a woman called the clinic to report a dog near death nosing around the language school where she is learning Spanish.

Claudio Mayorga, the vet tech, grabbed a stretcher and a muzzle and we piled into Donna’s Jed Clampett pick-up to troll the streets for a listing, almost hairless, skeletal creature. We saw him along a rubble sidewalk and jumped out. He began a furtive jog away. I was 20 feet from him when a taxi coming toward us swerved and hit him, just hard enough to roll him over the concrete.

Too furious to think in Spanish, I screamed at the guy in English as the dog kept jogging and turned the corner. I knew I wouldn’t catch him, but I ran as hard as I could, forgoing a ride from Donna and Claudio. With aching legs and a face streaked with tears, I burned with that aching sense of injustice I remember as a kid.

The dog headed up a dirt-packed hill between shanties and disappeared.

Back in Pittsburgh, I got an e-mail from Donna. They finally caught the dog and had to put him down. I picked up my own dog, Nica, and buried my face in her thick, shiny fur. She had looked as bad as that dog once, before her plane ride in a bag on Donna’s shoulder.

In 2001, when I first alit from a bus in Managua, arriving from San Salvador, the smell of burning garbage burned into my memory. Obnoxious at first, it has become a nostalgic odor, like the awful perfume of my grandmother.

I can now summon that smell and the feel of the air there and the cacophony of clanging church bells and clopping horses and yelling fruit vendors.

Nicaragua is beauty and ugly braided like hair: flowering vines spilling hot pink over corrugated-tin shanties; a peasant’s hand cupping the ear of his hound as it lies in the clinic under a drip bag tied to a rusty fire escape; a pharmacist strumming his guitar and singing love ballads with his door open to a deafening street.

The country is firmly in my heart by now. It’s a place where vacation sometimes can’t avoid becoming a humanitarian mission, however brief.

Puta de Los Angeles

I gave her the name “Puta” 12 years ago when she was just a kitten.  As soon as she discovered the outdoors, she’d saunter next door to her nighttime haunt, Hotel Granada, then sashay back to me in the morning. Thus, the name Puta seemed to fit. It was later that I discovered that the good people at the hotel would feed her the good stuff…..leftovers! Not Whiskas in a can which, by comparison, must have been terribly boring.Just to dignify it a bit, I added “de los Angeles”.  So, Puta de Los Angeles was her name for most of her life.

Precious Puta

Sadly her life ended today.

Three days ago, Puta de Los Angeles limped home, dragging her hind leg.  It was broken, hanging by what seemed to be a thread.  At first I suspected a car. But no, she wasn’t known to venture into the street. Only from my house to the casita in back…just a few steps away, at the most.

Perhaps a fall, though she is a cat and therefore surefooted.  Now I believe she was injured on purpose…with a stick,or stone, or baseball bat.  For some, this is a pasttime sport. Today, Dr.Jasson, our Casa Lupita vet, euthanized her while I held her. She died so peacefully, and as difficult as it was to let her go, I’m thankful that we were together, that she feels no more pain or fright.

For those who had the pleasure of knowing her,  I wanted you to know.

Godspeed, Puta de Los Angeles!

The Day The Kids Cured Hunger

Francisco Javier raps with the farmers of San Ramon after delivering food to their families.

In August 2002 the headlines in the daily newspaper, La Prensa, screamed

Hunger Kills 12 in Nicaragua!

Some 1500 coffee farmers, reeling from a sagging world wide coffee market due to   plummeting coffee prices and drought, were camping along highways in the northern province of Matagalpa to beg for food and coins.  Government officials who visited the region reported bone-thin children “so weak they couldn’t open their eyes.”  More children, they said, would die in the next few days.    The few health centers in the isolated region were ill-equipped to help the 6,000 people who were suffering malnutrition and the related illnesses that come with it.

If an ugly situation like this one could hold even a speck of beauty, it floated in the minds of six boys in our school, Quinta Los Chavalos.

Volunteer teacher Pia Plant read the news highlights to them during lunch at La Quinta. I didn’t expect much reaction from kids from the barrios where a full meal is fantasy. Only a few years ago, they were selling chiclets or shining shoes on the streets of Granada, their contribution to the family’s one meager daily meal.  A news story about hunger, I thought, couldn’t raise much interest here.

But I was so wrong.

How could his government allow its children to die, Moises wanted to know? Obviously Moises hadn’t been privvy to the non-stop corruption piled on Nicaragua for more years than he had been alive.

For the Quinta boys, this wasn’t over: They wanted to tackle the atrocity. How could it be?  Boys, more prone to strong arming someone on the streets for a necklace or a pair of shoes, wanted to right this wrong?

Buy and distribute food, they decided. Children in Matagalpa were starving. Food was the answer. We quickly mobilized ourselves…six boys, two volunteer teachers and me.

Building New Hope in Pittsburgh, PA, sent us 500 dollars to purchase rice, beans, dry milk, flour for tortilla. Within a day, we had packed food packages for nearly 100 families. We borrowed a mini van.  We were off to the mountains of Matagalpa!     The 4-hour drive gave us time to air our concerns. We knew that our contribution was a paltry effort….enough food for 100 families for four or five days tops. One drop in the proverbial bucket.  And then what? Would we have to confront outstretched hands and big bellies when our food packages were gone? We decided that our distribution would have to be limited to families of five or more with small children.

Once in the region, we were directed to a remote back-road pueblo outside of Matagalpa….San Ramon  Once a lively community of coffee pickers and their families, it was now a wreck of colorless tarpaper shacks that barely sheltered its hungry people.

I parked along a road lined with the rubbled houses. The boys strung plastic bags of food along their arms and took off separately, knocking on doors, offering what one woman called “a milagro” (a miracle).   They couldn’t work fast enough.

I watched them from the top of the small incline where I had parked the van. They were carefully winding down the dirt trails in all directions, knocking on doors, explaining their presence, presenting their food gifts with a graceful gallantry. The poor helping the poor. If there has to be poverty, this was a respectful way to address it. No patronizing, no haves meeting the have-nots.

“Those people are poor….REALLY poor!” Enrique later reported after assessing a ramshackle hut brimming with children.  “We needed to give them food.”  Enrique should know poor, having lived on the streets of Granada with his twin brother Humberto for at least six years.     “One woman blessed herself when I gave her the food,” Leonardo told us.

“Everyone thanked us,” Ismael reported. “No one forgot.”

Rodrigo’s  gift brought an old woman to tears. Rodrigo hugged her.      At round-up time, I looked for Francisco Javier. We needed to head for home before darkness fell. And there he was, in the midst of a group of campesinos, telling his own story of life on the streets as a glue sniffer. Farmers nearly three times his age listened respectfully.  Francisco had become a part of the family. He was rocking a baby back and forth in his arms as he talked.

Back on the road, the atmosphere buzzed with their reflection. What else could they do to help the people?  They were appalled that one community had no school. “Let’s build one,” one of the boys suggested. A generous proposal since only three of them ever saw the inside of a school before there was a Quinta Los Chavalos.

Five hundred dollars. Meals for 100 starving families. So many children eating a meal , after so many days with nothing. A pathetic human catastrophe unravelled right before our eyes. Somehow we found that gift we could give ourselves—- the realization that we could do something about it….no matter if the “something” was small.

Francisco Javier hit it just right in his simplicity.  “Maybe it doesn’t seem like much to us,”  he said before nodding off to sleep .  “But when you’re hungry, food means a lot.”

Milo, The Story of a Survivor

Milo, Granada's Survivor

Milo roamed the streets of Granada and, like most street dogs, had a mysterious past. He was fortunate to meet up with ex pat Thalia Drori here in Granada who took him into heart and home, After several  years, Milo’s past came to light. Let Thalia explain:

Hi All!  Just wanted to share a great story with you. I just sent my laundry out for the first time to Mapache Laundry Service. The owners came to pick up the laundry and as I already knew, their business was one of my dog Milo’s hangouts when he lived on the street. 

What I didn’t know was the story that Jairo, one of the owners told me:

He found Milo six or seven years ago on Calle Santa Lucia near what is now Hotel Con Corazon, when Milo was a puppy. Milo had been hit by a car and his spine was fractured. They took him to the vet and the vet said he had little or no chance of survival and that he would certainly never  be able to walk.

Jairo and his family looked after Milo a/k/a Chago, for 5 months and slowly but surely Milo recuperated and they worked with him to help him walk again.The family is happy that Milo is in a home and off the street, since they always had to keep their doors open and didn’t have a way to keep him in.  But they always fed him and looked after him when he did come around.

Jairo had tears in his eyes when he said that Milo was the most special dog in the world to him, that Milo always stands for the Nicaraguan National Anthem! He said the only thing Milo doesn’t know how to do is talk and if he did speak, he’d be a lot more intelligent than most humans!

Besides the integrity of this family, their service is fast and great and they pick up and drop off your laundry. If you have visitors asking, tell them Mapache off La Calzada, near Roadhouse, is the best!

Sorry to be so long winded.  So many crappy things happen here, it’s nice to hear some good stories once in a while.


Luis Alberto Marchena, Age 13

Written March 2003, Naindaime, Nicaragua

It takes a day like this one to make one acutely aware of what it means to work in another world. Had 13 year old Luis Alberto Marchena had my luck to be born in Williamsport, PA, or anywhere in the developed world, he probably would be looking forward to a full life. Instead, just barely a teenager, this sickly, 70-pound child is limping along a downward road toward death. On Saturday volunteer Marianna Britten and I took Luis and his father, Fernando, to Leon where physicians from Duke University were working in a teaching hospital. We wanted Luis to have an echo-cardiogram so that he could be evaluated for cardiac surgery in the States.

But our hopes were short lived. It didn’t take the examining physician long to make his diagnosis: truncus arteriosis with irreversible hypertension. Nothing short of a heart-lung transplant would save Luis.  It didn’t help to learn that, had he been treated when he was a small child, chances are the diagnosis would have been more positive. But this was a situation without anyone to blame, except for a convoluted, unjust world that divides the haves from the have-nots. Fernando is a poor farmer, raising his three sons alone. His wife left him with three children several years ago and never looked back. Fernando had no clue that his oldest son was terminally ill…only that there’s a bulge in his chest where his heart is and that his left arm is numb from time to time. It was a neighbor who suggested that he see a doctor. How Luis and I connected is a long story. Yet in spite of Saturday’s devastating verdict, I’m glad that we did. I met a father who, though not able to give his son a fair chance at life, knew how to show his love and devotion in the short time they would have together. He never left his son’s side, his hand hardly ever left his shoulder.

Fernando’s disappointment at the outcome of our trip seemed less than mine. If his son was going to die, he said, it should be at home in Nicaragua…not in a hospital in the United States. No one was going to argue with that.

Marianna and I wanted to give Luis a whole lifetime in the rest of the day. Before we left Leon, we went to lunch where Luis had his first hamburger (and a good portion of my pizza). Not bad for a skinny 70 pounder. We headed for the nearest ESKIMO ice cream store…a staple treat for a lot of Nica kids, but a new adventure for Luis, and for Fernando too. They knew of the existence of these famous ice cream delicacies, but neither had ever tasted one.

Back in Granada, we raced through the supermarket so that the two could go home with a grocery bag of surprises: a roast, cookies, cans of chocolate ENSURE, bananas, rice and beans, and a 3-month supply of baby aspirin….what the doctors ordered.  Then,  best of all, a small mountain bike from Marianna.

Had Luis’ test results been different, this update would have been a request to help with donations. Instead it  has another purpose. Perhaps by knowing Luis and Fernando, we’ll keep them in our hearts so that Luis will live as long as we allow ourselves to  remember him. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.”

The (late) Monsignor Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador

Portia Makes Headline News!

Before She Became Portia

With a name like Portia, you almost have to count on going places. But this Portia had much more to catapult her into the public eye. In fact, one of HER eyes was history.  The “dead eye” was removed at our Clinica Casa Lupita after she was brought in from the streets of Granada….this shambles of a mutt that was so much closer to death than alive.

Finn Dowling, our ace vet tech, rescued her when she spotted her scavenging through garbage in the city’s busy bus station. One more day on the streets could have been the last one for this stray.  Finn brought her to our clinic where she was treated not only for her badly infected eye but also for a sorry case of mange.

But this dog’s story took an upward swing.  With Finn’s persistence, ingenuity, and coordination with other ex pats here in Nicaragua, Portia was finally well enough to make a public appearance. When she was finally on the adoption list,  a woman in Loveland, Colorado, was first in line for the brand new Portia. Off she went to the U.S. and settled happily in her new digs.

Yet Finn still felt that this special dog deserved her five minutes of fame.

She contacted local newspapers in Portia’s new hometown, and even after two years passed since her rescue , our Cinderella dog was finally placed in the spotlight that she so well deserves.  We’re elated and yes, so proud of her!

Extra! Extra!    Click here to Read All About It!

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Donna and Friend

Donna Tabor blogs about life in Nicaragua.