A tale of two dogs: When privilege and survival skills meet
What you need to know:
- One was a Zimbabwean dog that my grandfather used to own called Smart. Another is a Danish dog that is in this residence named after the historic Carthage Commander, Hannibal.
- Their diets are also distinctly different. Some weeks ago, I had to dogsit Hannibal while everyone flew to Scotland for a funeral. I had a list of instructions on his meals. Hannibal, you see does not eat that store-purchased dog food. He does not like it.
- Smart, on the other hand, always ate whatever scraps were left over. During drought, it would be the bottom crust of that yellow unga we call Kenya in Sadc mixed with water.
This is a story about privilege through the life of two dogs.
One was a Zimbabwean dog that my grandfather used to own called Smart. Another is a Danish dog that is in this residence named after the historic Carthage Commander, Hannibal.
Both dogs are Alsatian. Both, fiercely loyal and smart. But there, the similarity ends.
Back when I was growing up, Smart was a cattle herder. One of us would take him with us when it was our household’s turn to head out to the pastures with all the village cattle.
Whoever went would take a novel because, with Smart there, there would be no need to mind them. Smart would get the job done.
I suspect that is how my cousins and I learnt to successfully walk while reading, with just a little attention paid in the event that our notorious bull attempted to wander off.
Hannibal, on the other hand, cannot nearly walk the vast distances that Smart used to. Two weeks back, the Residency Director took him to the countryside for a weekend. An hour’s walk meant that for the rest of the week, our Hannibal was recuperating.
I also suspect if he ever came close to any livestock the size of a cow, he may turn out to be like my Sekuru K, who came from the city and when asked to chase the cattle from the field stood as far from the cattle as possible and clapped his hands fearfully, while saying “shoo.”
I suspect Hannibal is likely to bark in fear but this has not yet been confirmed. What has been confirmed by Yours Truly is that he will bark ferociously and has to be restrained when he sees small little dogs being walked, but he cowers when he sees dogs his size or larger.
Their diets are also distinctly different. Some weeks ago, I had to dogsit Hannibal while everyone flew to Scotland for a funeral. I had a list of instructions on his meals. Hannibal, you see does not eat that store-purchased dog food. He does not like it. So after a consultation with a dog diet and behavioural therapist — yes, they exist — it became clear that he needed a different diet.
So among my list of instructions I had to make two pieces of chicken breast, rice and peas, which would be served with a sprinkling of oats, extra oil for Vitamin D and some water. I tried really hard not to say anything but I could not resist mentioning that this, here, what they were asking me to feed Hannibal, sans the oats and extra oil and water, was just the meal I would serve them as honoured guests if they came to my home.
Smart, on the other hand, always ate whatever scraps were left over. During drought, it would be the bottom crust of that yellow unga we call Kenya in Sadc mixed with water. Smart was, of course, luckier than other dogs in the village because my grandfather’s brother owned a butchery and would bring some bones through.
The comparison of Smart and Hannibal came to mind as I am preparing for a project I shall be taking part in next week. In the project called ‘Art at Work’ and funded by my host government, a filmmaker, a theatre actress, a poet and I will do an empowerment workshop with externally displaced people. The point of the workshop is to give them some skills that they will be able to use later whether they get refuge here or end up being sent elsewhere.
So the writers will chat with them on how to present themselves in writing — resume writing. The actress will help them on presenting themselves with confidence, and the filmmaker will capture it all so that they see where they falter and need to boost themselves.
It is a well-meaning project and shows care by my host country. The cynic in me cannot help wondering just how this may appear to the men and women who crossed many countries to make it here to seek refuge. Many of them survived wars, were possibly stowaways on boats or planes and made it here. I applied for a visa and got on a plane without many problems and I am teaching them survival skills?
If this is not akin to Hannibal teaching Smart survival skills, I do not know what is. I am, however, looking forward to it because I know I will learn something from them.
Hannibal and his rice-eating privilege certainly could have learned a lot from Smart, who survived on unga scraps.