|My beautiful boy Sasha|
I've had cats for so long now, that I'd forgotten how amazing a dog can be. There's a saying, I believe from Woodrow Wilson, that if a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience. I wonder how many people realize how true that is, and I wonder if Africans will ever get that concept. When I came to Mmathethe, I secretly wished that a black cat would find me to help fill the void that my precious, and soulful cat left after passing away over a year ago now. But just as an abandoned Sasha walked into my life 16 years ago, a young puppy with a similar soul found me here in Africa. Even though Keoki is a dog, the similarities in their being strikes me---he looks at me with knowing eyes, he's smart, he's as happy as Sasha was, he has a heart as deep as Sasha's, and he's as popular as Sasha was. But one thing he is, that Sasha wasn't, is African.....a dog that was born free! Don't laugh---he's as culturally different from Sasha as I am from each and everyone of my fellow villagers.
This week, I had the time to watch Keoki, and I realize that I have been domesticating a lion, an animal that was free, fended for himself, and knew how to be in the wild. But now I notice that my lion dog barks at bugs instead of attacking them like Sasha would, he herds cows and goats like a champ, and he barks ferociously at some men, but once they say something in Setswana, or take a rock in their hands, he cowers. So much for being my protector---so much for the lion in him! Maybe I'm wrong for feeding him, being his friend, showing him what the good life is about, maybe it's better that all animals are wild, but if you saw how happy he is.........
Although most everyone here has a dog, yet people are still afraid of dogs. If they see a strange dog, or even their own for that matter, they are usually inclined to react with fear or self-defense, to kick or throw rocks---and why would they not, if it's ok to behave this way towards women and children! People's animals may be starving both for food and affection. Many who walk onto my property, completely ignore the fact that a dog even exists, even though he's jumping all over them. It seems that almost no one has a well cared for animal, or experienced the love and bond that can exist. Therefore, many dogs are aggressive and bite, or look horribly depressed, just like some children do without proper nuturing. When people act violently, fearfully, or in other ways that make me cringe, it's become crucial to me to try and understand their motives. They are not knowingly trying to cause suffering, they simply act out of survival---replicating the behaviors that have been learned, and that seems ubiquitous.
Everyone in this village knows me and Keoki. Even the other dogs know us---some even come to lick out Keoki's bowl because they know he is fed. More importantly, some people are learning not to treat my animal in a cruel way, yet others look in disbelief of what they see. They can't comprehend why he looks and acts so good. When I leave here in 2 years, I don't know what will happen to Keoki. It will be like setting Elsa the lion free again, and hopefully, he'll still have some African in him to fend for himself, while keeping his spirit that is so unique, and oddly different than any other animal in this village. I'm supposed to be capacty building, so hopefully, in the end, enough people will look at their pets and see something more than a just a wild lion in their yard, they'll see a heart that yearns for just a little hello, a pat on the head, and maybe, just maybe, a piece of meat!