Yesterday, April 1, was my last day working at R3 Animal. Yesterday, it hit me that this is the end. I’d be lying to say there weren’t numerous times throughout the past seven months I thought about the month of April, the month I’d be going home. Moreover, I’d be lying to say there weren’t times I longed for April to come faster. Now that it’s suddenly here, I’m shocked by my unreadiness and unwanting to leave this place where I now feel genuinely at home.
As I rode the bus to work yesterday morning for one last time, I remembered my first day at R3 five months ago. Back then I felt like I was so far into my Brazil experience, having already spent 2 months in Imbituba. But looking back on my first day at R3, it’s almost amusing how much I had yet to learn. In November my Portuguese was lacking tremendously, so much so that I had absolutely no idea what it meant when I was told on my first day at work, “precisa trocar jornal nas todas as gaiolas das toucanos e papagaios, daí ce tem que lavar os potinhos da agua e comida.” Meaning “you need to change the newspaper in all the toucan and parrot cages and then wash the all the food and water bowls.” This is the first job most volunteers at R3 are given to do because it’s relatively straight-forward. Since I didn’t know the meaning of the words trocar, jornal, gaiola, papagaio, or potinho, it took me a bit longer than the normal volunteer to figure it out.
I learned much more than ever expected working at R3. Being an organization that helps rescue, rehabilitate, and release various types of wild animals, it didn’t really occur to me that instead of directly participating in the action of rescuing, rehabilitating, or releasing, I’d be cleaning (poop, cages, floors, food/water dishes) or feeding (by force or simply delivering food trays to the cages and enclosures). I’m ashamed to say that throughout my childhood, I was never one to help my parents wash dishes or even pick up dog poop, so this type of work was a slight shock to my system. I’m proud of my somewhat newfound ability to clean and perform a somewhat basic job, but I’m more satisfied with my improved work ethic. I used to be the type of person who would do something halfway, only to leave the rest for someone else to finish. It never really occurred to me that if I didn’t finish the job, someone else would have to do it instead. Working at R3 completely changed this, especially because there’s always more work to do than time or hands to complete it.
Don’t get me wrong, there were days I really didn’t feel like spending hours cleaning poop, getting eaten alive by mosquitos, and dying of heat. Yes it was undesirable at times, but yesterday as I did everything for one last time, I realized how much I gained from the experience, how much I actually liked it, and how sad I am to leave.
Never again will I change into my uniform in under 7 seconds to limit the amount of time I had to be locked in the mosquito infested locker room. Never again will I have to shine a flashlight into my boots each morning to make sure there were no baratas (cockroaches) living inside, or forget to check and end up with various cockroach parts stuck to my sock. Never again will my pants be soaking wet from washing and carrying crates upon crates of fruit and vegetables from the truckload delivered each Monday and Thursday morning. Never again will I get into fights with toucans while cleaning their enclosures, or get pooped on when I don’t realize there’s one perched above me. Never again will I stand in a cloud of mosquitos waiting for the turtle pool to drain, or have to stand almost knee deep in the disgusting water and use a liter bucket to empty the entire pool when the drain is broken. Never again will I literally chase seagulls around an enclosure, hold them between my legs, force open their beaks, and shove fish down their throats, nor will I ever have to pick up the warm, slimy ones they’ve regurgitated and shove them down a second time. Never again will I be able to hand feed a penguin, or ride to the vet clinic with a penguin in the seat next to me. Never again will I joke with all the vets about my relationship with the cutia that was hit by a car – the one that bit me resulting in numerous vaccines and injections, 2 trips to the hospital and medical clinic each, and a good amount of remaining scar tissue. Never again will I wait on the side of the road at the end of the day (in both torrential downpours and 100 degree Fahrenheit heat), hoping the bus would come and I wouldn’t have to wait over an hour from the next one.
Of course for the average person, some of these things just sound like hell. Yes, sure there were undesirable parts, but every single thing I’m able to look back on and smile. It’s not the average person who can say they have a love/hate (but mostly hate) relationship with various toucan enclosures in southern Brazil.
And finally, work aside, the aspect I most cherish from working at R3 animal is the amazing people I became friends with and was able to look up to. These people work harder than anyone I’ve ever met and all have such genuine hearts. I am so grateful to have gotten to know each and every one of them, from those with whom I worked each day, to those I simply knew on a more superficial level.
With this I say goodbye and thank you to R3. It’s impact on me is more than I could’ve ever hoped, and I’m so glad to have been a part of something that brought tears to my eyes as I left for the last time.
~R3 Animal, Salvamos Vidas~