My four legged zambian family
One of the hardest transitions between my UK life and Zambian life was not having pets. In my family four legs were as important or more important than two.
I remember in a film an American tried to show affection to an English upper class lady. She said ‘don’t do that dear I am British, I only show affection to dogs and horses’ I can relate to that very well!
With much hardship I put my beloved horse Paddy on loan to a wonderful family and he became a friend on Facebook! Ed my big fat adorable cat remained in his house with my friends who moved in so that was a perfect solution. It was still a big wrench though.
Initially I did not have time to miss having pets as I was dealing day to day with new experiences and lived in a slight ‘what am I doing daze’ As I started to settle it did become apparent I was missing the patter on tiny feet and that was most certainly not a baby!
Having pets in the area I was living was not really the done thing. There were dogs and cats that based themselves in one of the villages and on the whole led a pretty good life and the odd chicken if they were lucky. Many in the really rural areas were used as hunting dogs which is strongly disapproved of by the conservation organisations still went on underground.
For a family in the community to actually have a pet, this was very rare. I however craved the company of a pet and although quite content with my solo existence in my little house a dog would have added to my life enormously.
I ummed and arred for a long time as a dog is for life and how long was I out there for and what would happen long term? It is a difficult question to answer and a lot of pros and cons. Many of the Lodges which were run by ex-pats had dogs and cats and the theory was that although they might have a short life due to the continual danger bush living caused but they would have a great quality of life. for animal lovers it was always a bone of contention.
The problem was once I had an idea in my mind it usually had to come to fruition and as you now know with me, very quickly.
A close friend of mine in the community (knowing I was missing something from my life) decided to surprise me one day with a little bundle of joy in his hand. So… along came Sam, a Village Dog that had lived his first few months in a vehicle workshop where a stray had bought up her puppies. Well we had lots of weeks of puppy fun and frolics as after worming, defleaing and some decent food grew into a strong, health dog (twice the size of the usual village dogs) and was full of boundless energy and want for adventure!
Living on the school grounds meant the adventures usually contained children and embarrassment for me as Sam thought it was great fun to empty out my dirty laundry basket and deposit items into the classroom whilst the pupils were having a lesson. The ever polite pupils used to come and see me at break times hand over their eyes and arm outstretched returning my purple bra or other personal items of clothing. They thought it was hilarious and the more encouragement Sam got the more he did it. He took the table lamp to the Head Mistress office once … Sam should have remembered there was no electricity at the school…
Sam became very well known to the children. They were not used to people having dogs as part of the family so it took them a while to adjust to a more domestic dog. Some were frightened but also fascinated that Sam had a name ‘Madam Lisa why does your dog have a human name?’ I explained that in England dogs are part of the family and often are named a ‘human’ name.
‘Why is your dog on a string?’ Sam sometimes was on a lead (improvised piece of string)when we walked to the shops due to his love of chicken chasing. This made the inquisitive children even more curious. A white person walking and a dog on a piece of string – what was happening in their village?
Sam and I were quite happy and no intentions of extending the family until a few occasions I had seen little brown and white dog trot up to the house, have a chat with Sam and go merrily on her way. She was in OK condition but had a huge bicycle chain around her neck. One time I saw her attached to a bike running alongside with her owner. I stopped him and asked if he could move the chain as it was cutting into her. He was shrugged and said he was taking her to village miles away to sell her as a hunting dog. Off he went and I started walking round in circles getting frustrated. She was such a sweetie and it would be no life for her. What difference would another dog make? Snap decision and I was in my car and in hot pursuit of a bike and a dog.
30 mins later Sam and I were proud owners of a new dog that cost me equivalent of 20 pence and that I discovered immediately got very very car sick…..
I called her Nellie – she just was a Nellie
Nellie being a Village Dog did struggle with the confines of the house a little bit and needed an escape route just ensure she kept ‘Village Wise’ this meant keeping my window open at night which was a little risky due to the untold other 4,6,8 legged creatures that might want to pay me a visit while I was asleep. I actually developed a very unrealistic theory that my mosquito was a ‘shield of steel’ and prevented a midnight attack. Nellie liked to drop in on me in the middle of the night generally taking down the mosquito net and scaring me daft at the same time – the things you do for your pets!
Nellie thought her new home was so good she went back to her previous home, told her brother all about it and suddenly there were three (well sort of) dogs in the household. There was a limit and luckily the brother decided two homes were great therefore he commuted between his old home and mine.
I refused to name him as if I did I would have to take ownership. He was a big gangly dog with huge ears and a good dose of fleas and full of love.
The kids were gleeful about another dog to play with. I kept saying ‘ he is not my dog’ New name for new dog = Notmydog.
‘Madam, here comes Notmydog’
I daren’t admit it but just to finish off my happy clan of animal joy entered the tiniest bundle of fluff called Jungle. A kitten who was abandoned and really too tiny to be taken from his Mum so I became Mum and had a 24 hour job of mummy care to administer.
Jungle was bought up as a dog and thought he was the biggest of them all. Sam took it upon himself to be the proud Dad and carried him around in his mouth. I often found him diving in to the middle of one of the dog’s energetic bundles and emerging later covered in salvia and dust.
Jungle experienced being picked up and flown off by an owl until I managed to startle it and Jungle was dropped on the roof. He also was sprayed by a cobra caused his eyes to bulge out and I thought he would die. he and I spent a long time in the shower rinsing his eyes and then diluting the poison with milk. He took it all in his stride. He certainly was a Bush Cat.
In a valiant effort to keep fit (ish) I used to go running around the football pitch at the school I lived in. As usual the dogs, Jungle and I went en masse and as usual we cause havoc and focus of football was temporarily lost.
The football was made up of a series of tightly wound plastic bags and rubber bands. So tempting for young dogs and once in Nellies mouth that was it and total destruction. Inflatable footballs and pumps were my order for the day on Amazon. Only issue was it took about two months to arrive...
‘Madam, Sam is following you’ a usual chant from the roadside as I drove into the village, looking out of my rear view mirror I could see him bounding behind the car determined to catch up. He just loved the car and could not bear for me to be out of his sight.
I shared some most amazing times with these dogs and Jungle and with the combination of the children virtually setting up camp at my house there was continual fun, laughter and chaos in my life and I would not have had it any other way.
Again – totally unplanned and reaffirmed to me that quality of life is not made up of material things that I used to think I needed to make my happy and content. Dogs and children do the trick!