Meanwhile, at a vegan animal farm in Costa Rica…
Oh lord, another day has begun. The paradise of dream world was interrupted by the hellish screams of pigs: wild, desperate shrieks that trembled the soul. Lie-ins were not an option in this kind of ambience; one could only dawdle, praying for a different reality, before eventually putting on his boots and getting to work. My socks were coated in varying levels of grime: from the lightly mud-kissed, to the downright sodden. I tried to disconnect my nerve endings as I slipped on the cleanest pair I could find, then crept into my wellies and stepped outside.
The tropical air was fresh and dewey, and lush green leaves glistened from last night’s rain. Thankfully, another volunteer had released the pigs, and they snuffled around on the mud, content at last. A moment of calm was granted. The next half hour was dedicated to feeding the animals. As I chopped a mountain of vegetables, a trio of discourteous cats invaded the chopping board, demanding their shares in synchronised mews. This got the dogs going, rousing the farm with their barks, until the whole damn place was on red alert.
The biggest challenge was feeding the large animals, a mission requiring the strategic tactics of a lieutenant general. The goats had to be distracted first, or they would block your path with menacing horns. Then Palomo, the white stallion, would approach, neighing and whinnying for carrots. All the while a dark storm cloud had been moving in. It was Teresa, a colossal water buffalo with the appetite of a small village. A long, black tongue emerged, curling around a carrot and luring it into an abyss, where it was chomped to oblivion.
After the chaos of feeding time had passed, the farm became serene, and the word ‘sanctuary’ seemed more appropriate. The cats fell into beautiful sleep, and other animals wandered around aimlessly. The volunteers and I finally had time for ourselves, and we chuckled away making banana pancakes. There was no oil allowed in the kitchen, so the pancakes were black, but this didn’t matter. We had survived the morning; we had triumphed over the forces of hunger, and found peace.
At the farm I fell in love with a beautiful dog named Raja- pronounced ‘Rah-sha’- a young Pitbull with gorgeous brown eyes. She followed me everywhere, and slept on my bed at night. No quantity of cuddles was ever sufficient for her. In the past she was a street dog, and on arrival to the sanctuary she was hostile to the other animals. But the dog I met was gentle and affectionate, plodding around like a little princess. Caring for her made me feel whole. It took me out of my head, rescuing me from the depths of the misery I had created for myself. When I walked with her and she ran off, I was anxious, and when she finally returned a wave of relief washed over me. I wanted to keep her safe, well-fed and happy. At one point I fantasized about how to bring her back to England.
It felt good to be responsible. Caring for the animals forced me to put my own needs on hold and prioritise the needs of others. You’re tired and depressed? Doesn’t matter, it’s feeding time. Sore legs and tweaked ankle? Guess what, the dogs need a walk. It was like a trial for parenthood, having all these beings dependent on you, and things going wrong at any moment. Like walking into the kitchen to find a fresh turd on the floor, or having the vegetable shelves ransacked by an invading buffalo. It was foolish to blame the animals for misbehaving, as they were only acting in their nature; it was your negligence that gave them the opportunity.
Some say that life really begins when you have a child, when you give up your egotistical quest and dedicate yourself to another person. For millennia we lived in tribes, dependent on each other for everything. If you fell ill, you would visit the doctor next door, not the hospital. Your community would provide all your needs, from food to labour, and in return you would make your own contribution. Now, in the time of individualism, we are independent, requiring nothing from anybody- and providing nothing in return. This is empowering, but can be desperately lonely.
It is embarrassing to ask for help when you are struggling- it feels like nobody wants to hear it. A lot of people don’t have anyone they are comfortable opening up to. So pay it forward. If you need help, reach out to someone else and ask how they are doing. If you want to receive love, express it. Show others that you care about them, and maybe they will return the favour. I routinely forget my friends’ birthdays, and rarely call my relatives. Why should I expect anyone to check up on me? Building strong relationships takes work, like everything valuable in life. Be responsible.
Much love to the other volunteers who helped me from losing my mind completely, and to all the animals: crazy, cute, or hungry as hell. Thank you Maisy Wood for the excellent photos.