Monday, March 4, 2013

Dogs of Africa



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?

16 comments:

  1. These are great stories, Jenni! I didn't travel extensively nor did my parents let us have pets when we were kids, but I got my first dog when my apartment in Chicago was broken into and the Chicago cops told me that hands down the best deterrent to a burglar was a small, yappy dog. I think, though, that a German Shepherd would be even better!

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    1. Hi Celeste, I don't know what we would have done without the pets we had growing up. They added a level of normality and stability to our lives. So sorry to hear about your break-in in Chicago. It's a traumatic experience. It's true that small yappy dogs can be a deterrent, but German Shepherds are extremely protective. Either one makes a burglar less willing to take the risk of a break-in though.

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  2. Your story is fascinating. I don't have any travel related pet stories, although I do have a pair of parakeets as my writing partners!

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    1. Parakeets make great writing companions! We had West African gray parrots as well when we lived in Africa, and they gave us endless entertainment.

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  3. Loved your stories, Jenni. In addition the the pets you described above, I remember that we also had parakeets, cats, a hedgehog, a baby dik-dik,and a chameleon. Funny, it always seemed so natural to have pets with us.

    Susie
    (The older sister who helped spay our dog)

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    1. I love that you spayed our dog! I don't remember the hedgehog, but I remember how we fed the dik-dik (a baby African bush deer) from a baby bottle. I think it had been abandoned by its mother. And of course I remember the chameleon, cats, parrots and parakeets. I remember we wanted a pet monkey too, but our mom drew the line at that!

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  4. Wonderful story here, reminds me of my 2nd dog when I lived down in Jamaica, we named him Bakeatron! Gordon Horseblader

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Gordon. I bet Bakeatron gave you lots of great memories!

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  5. Fascinating story. I love dogs, too. Right now I have an lovable tri-color collie, Maggie.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Gloria. I love collies! They are great members of the family.

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  6. Jenni, thanks so much for sharing your fascinating dog stories with us today. I have to ask, though: did Susie grow up to be a veterinarian, or did she get that particular curiosity out of her system by spaying Tippy?

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    1. Heidi, thank you so much for inviting me to share these stories.

      Susie did not grow up to be a veterinarian, but I still think she would have been really good at it. She worked as a dermatologist's nurse for several years though, satisfying much of that curiosity about anatomy and medically-related procedures.

      We've always felt our lives growing up were stranger than fiction, but many of these experiences have led to great story ideas.

      Thanks again,
      Jenni

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  7. Jenni, thank you for sharing, such an exciting life. As for Susie, I think she showed a little too much enthusiasm?

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    1. Funny, Susie has wondered about that as well in retrospect. I think she showed an active imagination and a healthy curiosity. We were in a place where we had television only for a limited number of hours a few evenings a week, and few other distractions. In comparison to a child growing up elsewhere with modern gadgets and internet, her enthusiasm might seem out of place, but for the time and place, I think it was appropriate.

      Sorry I missed your comment earlier, and thanks for commenting.

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  8. What a fascinating life! How fortunate that you had such companions and they looked out for you. We've had many wonderful dogs, but our only attack animal was a cat.

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    1. Hi Ellis, I'm sorry I didn't check back for comments earlier.

      How funny, our family had an attack cat too. It saved my sister from a cobra, but that's another story!

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