Our guest today is Jenni Gate, who has worked as a paralegal, a mediator, a small business consultant, and a writer. Born in Libya and raised throughout Africa and Asia, Jenni’s upbringing as a global nomad provided a unique perspective on life. As a child, she lived in Libya, Nigeria, the Congo, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the Washington DC area. As an adult, she has lived in Alaska, England, and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Her published work includes several articles for a monthly business magazine in Alaska and a local interest magazine in Idaho. She has written several award-winning memoir pieces for writing contests. Jenni currently writes fiction, drawing upon her global experiences. New adventures abound. To read more about Jenni's adventures around the world, visit her at Nomad Trails and Tales.
In Kaduna, Nigeria, at about the age of 8, my sister spayed our dog. The scent of wet dog wafted through the garage as she shaved Tippy’s abdomen, Susie was excited; eager to find out what our dog looked like on the inside, curious about the organs, arteries, and veins. She still remembers the coppery smell of Tippy’s blood as she cut into the abdomen with a scalpel. Our family friend, a veterinarian we called Doc, was standing nearby, giving her directions. Doc’s son was there because Doc hoped he would become a vet too. As Susie cut Tippy open, she was so fascinated she barely noticed Doc’s son running out of the garage to vomit. The operation was otherwise a success, and Tippy was soon recuperating with a lampshade around her head to keep her from pulling out the stitches Susie had sewn with such intense concentration. Doc told her she had done so well, he would teach her how to pierce her ears if our parents let him. It might seem a little anti-climactic, but she was thrilled.
|Tippy in Nigeria|
Tippy was a good companion. Outside during the day, she barked to warn us of snakes and pit vipers in the grass. When I was 7, and my little sister was 4, we played for hours in our sandbox or wandered in front of our house through the elephant grass where the Fulani grazed their cattle as Tippy kept a watchful eye out for us. When we were evacuated from Nigeria during its civil war, our household staff promised to look after our dog. We left without saying goodbye to friends, including Tippy. I don’t know if she made it through that war alive.
We then moved to Kinshasa, Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As we shopped in the market one day, struggling to understand the French and Lingala spoken all around us, my sisters and I discovered a basket full of wiggly, golden-colored puppies. Mom tried to stop us, but we ran to the box and reached in, petting their soft fur and feeling their wet little noses. One puppy stood on his hind legs, tail wagging more furiously than the rest. We worked on Mom and left with a puppy that we paid far too much for. We argued for days about what to name him. Sometimes, he walked in circles as if in a daze. He walked into table legs, ran and chased us wildly only to sit down as if confused. One of our houseboys called him Futu. We asked what that meant, and he laughed and said “all shot - crazy.” He thought the dog was a lost cause. So Futu he was. As he grew into a dog, he developed terrible mange. Mom tried every remedy she could think of, but his fur fell out in clumps. He never got very big, but he had a good personality and never tired of playing with us.
|Futu in Kinshasa|
President Mobutu’s corrupt policies were already leading to a sense of desperation among the Congolese people. Every night we had an attempted break-in. We awoke each morning to find metal filings around all the bars on our windows. Then one morning, we were robbed at breakfast. Two men showed up at the door showing false US Embassy identification, pushing their way into our house. Mom’s French was non-existent and their English was minimal. Mom yelled, “Get out of this house!” One of them said, “Après vous, Madame.” But out the door they went, and up the hill behind us, terrorizing our neighbors along the way. We got Fafner soon after that.
The Belgians used German shepherds as tools of oppression during King Leopold’s reign, creating fear and hatred in the Congolese people. Years later, George Foreman gained the instant antipathy of the Congolese when he showed up for the Rumble in the Jungle against Mohammed Ali with his German shepherd. Many believe it cost Foreman the fight because the crowds yelled so loud for Ali, and the hatred of Foreman was palpable.
|Belgian Shepherd Dog|
Photo by Olgierd Pstrykotworca (CC BY 2.0)
We knew nothing of this when Fafner came to us, but he was a great deterrent. Built for brute force, he was huge. He could even kill on command (not that we ever put it to the test), and he was viciously protective. Trained by his previous owner, Fafner took all his commands in French. He must have felt like a foreigner in our English-speaking household. Whenever we had French-speaking friends over, he listened intently, crawling on his belly to get closer, and looking adoringly into their faces, nodding at words he seemed to recognize.
My sisters and I often played in a frangipani tree by the wall in front of our house. One day we saw a camp site below on the other side. Soon a police sergeant appeared with a Belgian man asking to check around our yard. The Belgian’s air conditioner was stolen and the thief’s tracks led to the wall in front of our house. While my dad led them out to the wall, Fafner ran behind the sergeant and bit his calf.
"Merde!" the sergeant shouted. He rolled on the ground, shaking a finger at the Belgian. "See, I told you. You need a dog like this for protection."
What pet memories have you accumulated in your travels, and have you ever traveled or lived abroad with a pet?