The moment I got "It"
It happened on the third working day of our annual FullBucket Giving trip.
I was standing 9,000 feet above sea level in a small village called San Juan Tepulco, deep in the interior of the central highlands of Mexico when it hit me.
It wasn’t as abrupt as a slap in the face or the shock of a sudden scare.
It was more a quick summer thaw that revealed new life below – an awakening.
It was akin to learning an important life lesson or grasping the bigness of our Universe when you see the stars at night in a giant Midwest sky.
Veterinarians, students and other volunteers were bustling around checking the poor body condition, wounds and sickness of hundreds of horses and donkeys that the villagers had brought for care that they could not provide because of ignorance, remote location and severe economic conditions.
The day was much like the first two; busy activity and semi-organized chaos on a large soccer field in the heart of town.
We use soccer fields because they are everywhere and usually the only flat area to work. A bonus is the heavy steel goal cages that we use as temporary dental stations.
Lack of organization is overcome by a common objective – to help working animals that, in turn, will help these people.
Although you don’t know exactly what is going on it is OK because you know you are here for a higher purpose.
You are in a remote village because you’ve spent your life helping animals, it’s your passion.
You are here to learn, to teach or to just lend a hand when the unruly horses flare during examination.
I wondered if any of the volunteers were feeling like myself – concerned but yet somehow “removed” from the situation.
The people of the village, though obviously poor, have a solemn pride. None act desperate but many are too thin, shoeless and live in very rough conditions.
Many of the animals are desperately in need of our care with open saddle/harness sores, parasite infestations and covered in ticks.
The working equids here are not for pleasure.
They are an important part of sustaining life in a third world country. Most vary in condition from poor to bad to OMG!!
They haul food, plow fields, deliver wood and spend too much time working and not enough time at rest with proper food.
High-energy feed such as maize (corn) or oats goes to food generating animals like chickens, turkeys, milk cows and pigs.
In our modern business vernacular, the working equids are considered non-revenue generating assets and therefore are the first to get the cuts – no matter how important their role.
A volcano looms in the background, coming alive several times a day to spit out a cloud of ash upon the villages and fields.
Every step I take produces a small belch of fine dust around my feet.
The volcano ash deprives the soil of essential elements needed for general health.
Many of the healthcare services we provide such as hoof trimming, teeth floating or harness repair, can be taught to the locals and thus sustainable without our help – one of our core missions.
However, there’s nothing to be done about the listless soil. The missing nutrients and minerals HAVE to be continually supplemented.
My role is to hand out the minerals & vitamin mix we had specially formulated and made locally for this region.
I think of the irony that top equine veterinarians and horse owners back home are the ones actually providing this relief with their purchases of FullBucket… and most don’t know about the good they spread.
It’s the culmination of our original plan to provide high-end, digestive supplements for horses in the US that in-turn pays for nutritional supplements for these animals in need… and here it is, in a bag, in my hand.
Yet, it still didn’t seem “real”.
It was a documentary in hardship and strife and I an observer seeing it through a TV screen.
I’m watching it all buzz around me when two young boys and a small girl walked slowly in from a cornfield with the sun at their backs.
The oldest, a girl being around the same size as my 5-year old daughter, leads a small, emaciated burro at the end of rotten rope.
They are layered in homemade or donated clothes. Only one has shoes.
All three are very thin and faces dirty.
Not the kind of dirt you see on children’s faces at home from eating ice cream, but a dirt that is so deep it is almost part of them.
They are scared, confused and unsure which direction to walk.
The donkey they pull is thin with harness sores over the withers and behind legs.
They push through the fear so their donkey can receive some help.
Their eyes hold a mixture of excitement and trepidation as we approach to guide them to the check-in station.
Their mother would not bring the burro for unknown reasons and they have no idea of their father.
The small burro is all they have and they hope we can help.
I hand each a breakfast bar from my pocket. It looks like Christmas on their little faces.
That’s when it happens.
That’s the moment I came to be present in the mountains of Mexico.
My body had been there for several days but my mind was not.
I had bumped the dirty roads in a van full of others, like me, who all viewed the same events as I.
But I had not actually been “here”.
I was looking at these people and the surroundings as if in a magazine.
The intense need of these three beautiful children is the warmth that thaws my winter of misunderstanding and causes my soul to awake.
My business partners and friends Rob and Keith knew this would happen to me.
They knew I would see it, no… feel it, at some point.
I had seen hundreds of photos and read all of the stories of prior giving trips.
I knew when I got involved, that it was good and it gave me pride to be a part.
But it took two full working days and three small, frightened children to finally be in the moment and understand that we are ALL human and there are so many who suffer.
These animals are truly a direct link to help the people they serve and that I play an important a part.
We work three more villages and finalize the giving trip with an education day for veterinary students at the University.
After returning home to Texas I am not the same.
I meet up with my wife and daughters at a big event in the Stock Yards of Fort Worth.
We have a tearful reunion and my girls cannot hug me enough.
The friends around are interested in the story and think well of what we are doing.
I do not blame them for turning back to their crowds to eat their BBQ and laugh with friends instead of trying to get involved, to learn more.
They were not on that mountain, did not see the other side.
I watch the buzz all around me - the food, the music, the happy people living and enjoying a good life.
Although I can see it, I did not, could not be a part of it – at least not yet.
I love these people, my country and the ability to be whoever I want to be.
But I sit as a spectator to the festival and feel a little sadness for their ambivalence.
My wife comments on how quiet I am… distracted.
I don’t tell her that I have changed.
I don’t tell her that my body is here but my mind is not. I’m again watching it all on TV.
I don’t tell her that, in truth, I have not yet come down from that mountain.