The Good with the Bad

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Valparaiso is a city of highs and lows.

I mean that literally. The picture above was taken from the bed and breakfast where I’m staying. The city is tucked against the ocean, built not on a flat space but on hills around the harbor. The low areas contain the business district, as well as markets, shops, and restaurants. The best views and museums are in the upper parts of the city. You can get there by foot, bus, orĀ ascensor–a rickety gondola on a train track. I rode two yesterday, and only feared for my life twice.

I also mean it metaphorically. There are bright and colorful houses, but there are also shabby and run-down areas. Beautiful churches stand in neighborhoods that are not safe to walk after dark. Dogs are everywhere, almost all friendly. Also, they are almost all living on the streets.

The dog thing is one of the bigger culture shocks for me. Back home, everyone owns dogs, and strays are treated like wild animals–which, a lot of times, they are. Strays are a nuisance. We call people to capture them and take them to a shelter. If the dog is lucky, it will get adopted. If not…

In Chile, stray dogs are not a problem. When asked about it, the locals say that the dogs belong to everyone. The dogs look healthy and well-fed. I’ve seen a few dogs barking at other people, but the ones I’ve encountered have been tame. More often than not, they don’t even seem to notice me. The ones that do end up following me up a hill, or down a hill, or for a few blocks. Some have blankets given to them by the locals for winter.

But it’s not perfect. There is dog shit everywhere.

The city of Valparaiso wanted to round up all the strays and put them down because of this. The locals rallied against the proposal. So they got to keep their dogs, but I have to watch my step.

Should I be upset about this? It’s inconvenient having to look down all the time. God forbid I actually step in it. My whole day would be ruined. Does that seem right?

It’s weird to feel something brush up against the back of my leg, look down, and see a huge German Shepherd-looking beast with one white eye. My carefully trained instincts tell me I should get the hell out of there. But I don’t. I reach down and pet it instead. And it’s strangely comfortable.

I have to take the good with the bad. All it takes is a shift in my perspective. Nothing is innately bad or good. These are just values that I assign to what happens. I can choose to see everything as an experience–an opportunity to practice for the real tests. And I will learn to appreciate every opportunity.

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