Monday, October 12, 2015

Dogs in Africa

A slightly shorter version of the following piece appeared in the September 2015 edition of the Foreign Service Journal.  I prefer this longer version.

We acquired Mogi in Bangui. He was a feisty little puppy, part Shepherd, who grew into a fifty pound dog.  Admiring his size our Yakoma neighbors advised that he was safe on our eastern side of the city, but had we lived south, “those M’baka” would put him in the pot.  

Late on a Friday, the chargé got a call from former foreign minister Joseph Potolot advising that he was being sent (by irascible and unpredictable President Jean Bedel Bokassa) on an urgent mission to Washington, leaving the next morning.   I checked the files and discovered that the minister’s visa had expired so I went along to the meeting, collected his passport and promised to deliver it, visa included, at the airport the following morning.  I went home grabbed a quick bite, tossed the passport on the coffee table and headed to the airport to meet a visitor on the evening flight. When I returned some hours later, Connie met me with bad news, “Mogi ate Mr. Potolot’s passport.”  She held up a well chewed soggy mess with teeth punctures through several pages. 

I envisaged my imminent departure from the country, if not from life itself.  Bokassa’s government was not to be messed with.  I called the chargé to explain the issue.  I said, “We have a problem.” He heard me out, paused and replied, “Bob, you have a problem.”  I hunkered down with a hair dryer, some cardboard shims, glue and an iron.  Before long I had a more presentable, if obviously mangled document.   In the morning I put a visa in it and took it to the airport, thinking the minister could either laugh or explode. The latter possibility had me worried, but he took it in stride. He did not want to have to explain to his boss why he was not traveling as ordered.   I assured him the visa was valid and I would notify U.S. authorities that he was on his way.  Subsequently, I sent a cable describing the situation, asking for courtesies at the port of entry and noting that the minister’s passport had been “slightly mutilated by the Vice Consul’s dog.”
Two weeks later Potolot sent over a brand new passport for a visa.   

Unfortunately that was not Mogi’s only brush with officialdom. Later he got through the fence into a neighboring compound and killed at least one rabbit that was being raised by the woman that lived there.  The lady in question was one of Bokassa’s mistresses and her security was provided by the army.  Two armed soldiers appeared at the door holding a dead rabbit and demanding restitution and retribution.  Thankfully an adequate payment resolved the matter.  We got Mogi out of country before further mishap.  

Years later in Kampala, when I came home for lunch the gardener carted over a big trash can for my inspection. I assumed he had killed a snake, but instead he had a scrawny, filthy little puppy. He explained that a mother dog with two pups snuck through the fence to drink out of the pool. One fell in, but when he investigated the commotion the others ran off.  We had a new dog.  She was terrified of the world so we held her constantly, when put down she disappeared in a flash. So that became her name.  She grew into a wonderful pet, happy, loving and friendly, who rarely barked.  

Too soon, before we could act, Flash became pregnant - by the Marines’ dog, a fact of which they heartily approved - and had eight puppies.  My son Mark named them all; most with Greek mythological names that he was studying in school. We kept Nike who most closely resembled his mom.  Mark gave Cerebus to a friend, who obviously was not paying attention in class, because he renamed his dog Reebok. 

Upon leaving Kampala in 1991 and uncertain of our next posting, we found a home for Flash and Nike with a Peace Corps staff family.  However, upon my return to neighboring Rwanda five years later I contacted the family and offered to take the dogs back, when/if they might need a new home. Subsequently we did a dog exchange at Mbale in southern Uganda.  I know that Flash recognized me. 

So Flash, Nike and Mash, another part ridgeback, joined us in Kigali.  I quickly learned to tell folks that these were Ugandan dogs, i.e. they had not been in Rwanda during the genocide when local dogs went feral and ate corpses.  Nonetheless we penned the dogs up during events at the residence. During one July Fourth reception as the crowd quieted down for my remarks, Nike, hearing his master’s voice over the loud speaker, joined in - howling until the end. 

Dogs were part of our lives, and despite the hiccups, usually a bonus in interactions with the communities around us. We were blessed for having them.

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