The Dog That Broke My Heart

Annie Plotkin - Brazil

September 13, 2011

Sunday in Salvador is a quiet day for Brazilians to cook at home with their families and walk the beach. For Gringos who do not have a kitchen, Sunday is a day to search for the few restaurants that are open in order to get a hold of the typical big lunch. Six of us ventured via Omnibus to the Mercado Peixe to try moqueca, a stew which would have seemed preposterous in the Bahian sun had it been anything less than the best seafood I had ever eaten.

At the restaurant I grew impatient. The juice came half an hour after we ordered it and the stew came another hour after that. Wasn’t the point of a restaurant to serve food? Didn’t the family next to us happily chewing away arrive after us? I began to whine along with the rest of the table, “I’m starving”, I sighed and tried to peer into the kitchen where two women bustled over a stove. The food came just in time to prevent me from filing a human rights violation claim. As soon as the gurgling pot was placed in front of us I heaped it on top of my pile of white rice and raced through it, barely finishing one mouthful before replacing it with a new one. When the pot was empty, we sat back and looked at each other in satisfaction and resumed the conversation we had paused 20 minutes before.

After the waiter collected our reais, we ambled out to the back of the Mercado to use the restrooms. While Tonino, Mariah, Winson and Big Mike used the facilities Karina and I spotted a puppy lying under a plastic chair. Both of us had expressed our deep love for dogs and approached it despite the wary stare a nearby sunburned Brazilian cast at us as we got on all fours and began to scratch his ears and neck. His long black tail slowly began to thump with the slow recognition of a wary soul who wasn’t used to a stranger’s genuine kindness. As he stood up to come closer, I gasped. His black coat reflected the jutting bones of his body and his ribcage stuck out like the chin of an adamant child. He came towards us and rested his head in my cupped hand and looked at us, obviously hungry not only for affection but for scraps. To think that before I had complained of starvation made me feel childish, spoiled, and humiliated.

My eyes welled up with tears and I tried to turn my head away from the approaching Fellows. The image of this dog sniffing along the streets for some semblance of sustenance and wanting for a safe place to stay were too much for me to contain. Thoughts of this innocent puppy led to thoughts of all the innocent dogs who roamed the streets without the promise of a tomorrow, and then to the children who do the same and cling to our backpacks on our way to Portuguese class. “Leite, amigo?” they will chatter as we continue on our way to our lesson.

As much as I thought about the dog on our way back to the hostel, I couldn’t shake the idea that had been imparted to us by several Bahians. This is not a culture of pity; social stature does not determine happiness. Pity doesn’t solve problems, but compassion and innovation can go a long way. That dog wagged its tail when it got attention from two sympathetic girls, the children in the street play futebol on the beach when they can and Bahia keeps going.

Annie Plotkin