May 30, 2011

Wooti: Part 2 (still more coming)

So.  Here’s Part 2.  It probably won’t make as much sense if you haven’t read Part 1, but that’s a lot of reading, so your call.  It’s longer than the first, and I don’t think this one is as “riveting” as my last one (thanks, ladies of Facebook ;o), but it is what it is… Also, sorry for another “cliffhanger” ending—it just felt like a good stopping point.  Also also, sorry for the boring, boring, boring details…I have to confess that a large part of writing this is the catharsis, and this particular day is one in which each of the minutes felt like hours, so I kind of can’t help but to tell it that way, interesting or not.

Because I hadn’t slept that night, I was dressed and ready for action before dawn, but lingered in the darkness of my compound until that quiet moment, just before the sun wages its fiery war against the night, using the sky as its battleground for the onslaught of a new day.  Though I had the entire night to formulate a plan of action, no magic bullet or shining beacon had come to mind, and I suppose a part of me was hoping for a last-minute epiphany; besides, it would not have been safe wait alone for a minibus on the dark street, nor would it be useful, since I couldn’t begin my search until daybreak anyway.

Armed only with the note in Amharic from the veterinarian, which explained what I was trying to do, I set out.  Fortunately, I caught a minibus easily—which is not always the case, since the part of town I was headed towards was on the far, far outskirts of town, which means fewer busses travel there.  Also fortunately, since it was still quite early, my fellow passengers weren’t feeling especially chatty, so I had a few more moments to pray and prepare.

As I departed the minibus and set forth down the dirt road, I was relieved to see that despite the early hour, it was already buzzing with activity—I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Ethiopians are some of the hardest-working people I’ve ever encountered, and this is particularly the case in the agricultural areas, where farmers work their crops by hand in what appears to be a 12-month growing season.  This was good news for me, as it would be easy to conduct my search to determine if the dog had a guardian.

Initially, it was a little tricky—since dogs are not especially highly regarded, the first several people I spoke with, while perfectly happy to chat, did not seem to understand at all, even with my note, and I found myself spending more time talking my way out of generous coffee invitations than making any headway with the dog.   But, as luck would have it, as I was speaking with a kind elderly woman who ran a small market out of her house (and insisted on giving me a lollypop, which she had seen the students share with me in our earlier walks), I heard a familiar voice from behind, and turned to see one of my students beaming back at me, “Hello Chelsea!  You come to class?  Class at 4?  Yes?” he asked, visibly concerned that he had somehow missed our class, or that we were having class early that day.  I dispelled his concerns, and showed him the note.  “Ahh, this is the dog with the—“ he gestured toward his leg, “burning leg.  From yesterday.”  He then began speaking with the elderly woman and then told me that she said she had seen the dog around, but that he had no owner, and should probably be killed because of the pain.  Finally—an answer that I could use, without the concern that I was misunderstanding (and with the added bonus that it was the answer I wanted—this would be a far simpler process if it dog was, indeed, a stray).

Despite the fact that the boy was only 14 or so, I knew that his time was immensely valuable to his family—most farmers barely make enough money from their crops to provide basic necessities for their families, and most children’s morning chores are of immense importance—for example, making the several mile walk each way to get the family’s water for the day.  So, despite the fact that my student was of enormous help, I did not feel it would be ethical to ask him to continue.  But, fortunately for me, once again, Ethiopian hospitality came to my rescue, and the student insisted on joining me until my quest was complete (it is an extreme insult to decline such an offer in Ethiopian culture, so after checking several times to be sure it would not cause problems for his family, I agreed, secretly incredibly relieved).  Thanks to his help, we knocked on steel gate after steel gate, mud wall after mud wall, and kept getting the same answer—essentially, the dog is a stray; kill him.  After about a mile’s worth of questioning, I felt confident in this answer, thanked my student profusely, and told him that I was done searching. 

As my student began walking home, I was once again overwhelmed by a sort of aimless anxiety—I had no idea where to begin looking for the dog, or what to do when I found him.  Clearly, if I found him, I couldn’t carry him all the way to the main road, but this part of town was so remote, there was no public transport, and even if there was, even most tame dogs would not put up with being held that long, and I had no idea if this dog was even really tame.  So I started to turn around, scanning all directions of the cactus-dotted countryside and mud house-lined street, and (I swear, this dog is magic), at that very moment, the dog came limping around a corner.  He did not approach me this time—he was more concerned with trying to find a morsel of food left on a pile of bones—but I walked towards him, and he remained at ease. 

As I was nearing him, a man dressed in a business suit—extremely out of the ordinary for my village in general, and Debre Zeyit in particular—asked me what I was doing with the dog, and spoke in very good English.  I felt a pang of anxiety—what if everyone else had been wrong, and this dog was “owned,” and his “owners” wouldn’t agree to my assistance?  So, rather than show my hand, I asked if the dog was his.  Thanks to all that is holy, he told me the same thing everyone else had.  He said he was just visiting the area, but that his family there had actually expressed concern about the dog, and he felt it was best for me to end his suffering.  Of course, I had no intentions of taking that course of action, but nonetheless, it was a huge relief to have one final confirmation—in a language that I, myself, could understand—that there would not be any repercussions for taking the dog. 

(Writer’s interjection: Perhaps it seems that I dwelled too long on this particular portion of the story, but it actually becomes very relevant later, so I wanted to properly set the scene.  Or perhaps I’m just toying with you all by making this extra-tedious to trudge through… :oP)

So.  Now I had sufficient evidence that the dog was stray, and I had the dog.  But what next?  The sun had climbed the sky quickly, and was beginning to bear down, squelching the morning cold, so I took off my jacket, and kept an eye on the dog as he continued stumbling through the road, searching for food, and I continued stumbling through my sleep-deprived-mind, searching for a plan.

I was momentarily distracted by an elderly man, who saw me eyeing the dog, and, without even looking at me muttered “give him bread” as he clutched his cane and walked slowly past me.  For some reason, this struck me as strange, so the words stuck in my head, until I heard something I never imagined: the sound of a motor.  Not a large truck motor (the road was near a military base, and large military humvees would occasionally woosh by with the thunderous noise of their engine), but the slightly higher-pitched-almost-going-to-break-down sputtering noise that could only come from a bajaj.  And there it was, maybe 200 feet away, racing by, on a small path that crossed with the main road.  I immediately began yelling and waving my arms in the air like a total nutcase.  Fortunately, I had already made enough of a spectacle of myself, that the whole neighborhood instantly surmised what I was trying to do, and, though I was too far away to catch the drivers’ attention, one of the residents of the area was able to stop him. 

I ran to him, and asked if he could return to this spot once he had dropped off the people he was transporting, and take me and the dog to the veterinary college.  Before he could say no, I offered him more money than he would probably have thought to ask for the ride, so he agreed.  To my dismay (I hate reverse-racism), the people already in the bajaj said they were very close to their desitnation, and insisted on getting out so I could have the bajaj right then.  I tried to dissuade them, but, once again, Ethiopian hospitality far exceeds the comfort levels of many Westerners, and I had no choice but to oblige.  The driver immediately started off towards the dog, and I rather frantically yelled for him to stop (since my reputation as a lunatic was already fairly solid, no harm in sealing the deal).  I feared the noise would scare him off or cause him to become unhandleable—and as it was, I was extremely anxious about the prospect of picking him up. 

With the bajaj at a distance, and the entire neighborhood watching me, I walked toward the dog, reasonably convinced that in the next thirty seconds I would either faint, or be maimed to death.  But the dog soon to be known as Wooti was hardly ferocious.  He had plopped himself down near a wall, and slowly stood as I approached him—but not in a threatening manner, as he was slowly wagging his big poofy tail.  It was clear that he knew the whole neighborhood was watching, and since everyone had been staring and pointing at him all morning, he seemed to be quite aware of that fact.  Taking a deep breath, I asked him, out loud, whether I could pick him up.  I told him, again, that I was going to help him, and that it was going to be scary, but he needed to be brave.  I know it sounds crazy to talk out loud like that—in fact, probably this whole thing sounds crazy to a lot of people—but as with the first time we touched, I was taking a leap of faith for him, and I needed him to do the same for me. 

So came the “now or never” moment.  I reached out and pet him on the forehead, then slowly leaned over him, and grabbed his waist, careful not to touch his wound. To my astonishment, he didn’t struggle in the least, or even make a sound.  Shaky with relief (day two of stupid adrenaline rush), I speed-walked to the bajaj, and clung tightly to the dog (unfortunately this particular bajaj had no doors, so in addition to the obvious risks of transport, came the risk of him slipping out the side).  For the first time, I felt his bones protruding into his chest—his fur was quite long, and concealed just how emaciated he was. 

A strange man had decided to accompany us, and, though I would have much rather gone alone (I suspected he was trying to get me to pay him for his “help”—my suspicions later proved to be true; all he got was cab fare home, though—Ethiopians find it just as insulting when their fellow people try to fake hospitality for profit from “rich Farenji,” and it is beginning to be a large problem there), I didn’t have the time to object so he sat in the front with the driver, and our trip commenced.

To my surprise, once it became apparent that the dog was not going to struggle during our twenty-plus minute journey along bumpy, bumpy, BUMPY rocky roads, the doorlessness of our bajaj turned out to be a blessing.  In addition to inviting a cool breeze in the usually greenhouse-like passenger area, it also failed to keep out the obnoxious noise of the engine, which, in turn, allowed me to once again forgo the socially obligatory small-talk with the stranger who forced his way along.  (For the record, I typically enjoy these sorts of interactions—indeed, they are actually among my favorite things about traveling in Ethiopia…just not when I’ve got a wounded dog on my lap, and the other party to the conversation is unquestionably creepy.)

Instead, I was able to focus on the gentle creature in my arms.  The extent of suffering he was experiencing was slowly becoming apparent to me, making my soul feel as limp and ragged as his leg.  Though functionally dead—muscles dissolved, and totally stiff—his leg was still oozing a small amount of reeking puss, which covered the fur on his chest (when he lay down, his leg was frozen into a position where it rubbed that spot), and the stench was so immense that even the wind from the bajaj did not make it dissipate—and it was all concentrated right beneath his beautiful black nose.  He was filthy and covered—covered—in fleas and ticks, some of which I began picking off, and some of which decided I was an incredibly inviting piece of fresh meat. 

Drowed in my thoughts of what agony this poor creature must be in, I was shaken as the bajaj lurched to a halt.  We had arrived at the arched entryway of the veterinary college.  Because we had an animal, we were instructed to use the back entrance, where the horse and donkey hospital is located, so the driver diligently drove around, and our trip was completed.  Wooti and I disembarked, and I paid the driver the promised sum, as well as enough to cover the stranger’s ride home, and we parted ways, as the dog and I entered the back of the campus.

Now, dogs aren’t kept as pets in Ethiopia, at least not at all in the same way they we keep pets here in the US.  Things like collars and leashes and muzzles…well, they’re not easy to come by, to put it mildly.  So though I had been lost in the quiet moment, of processing Wooti’s suffering, I quickly found myself once again forced to use “creative problem solving”: how to contain an unfamiliar dog with no restraint devices in a large field, while simultaneously searching for the doctor.  So, I hovered over the dog, and herded him towards the concrete office building 50 or so yards away.  We found a spot of shade, and sat in the gravel, and I held one arm over his body, keeping him close to my hip.  As I pulled out my phone to try to reach the doctor, an onslaught of flies—literally dozens—came out of nowhere, and immediately began preying on Wooti’s arm, unmercilessly swarming him as he panted, and half-heartedly licked at his wound, trying to keep them at bay (I say “halfheartedly,” because, as terrible as they were, he seemed defeated by them—he had clearly been fighting so long, he knew there would be no relief.  He was here with me, and I knew he wanted to go on.  But it also really, really seemed that he had lost hope.).  As the ringing sound from the doctor’s line persisted in my ear, I plucked a long weed from the ground, and began fanning Wooti’s wound—he may have surrendered to the flies, but I couldn’t.  The robotic voice of the automated phone message began chiding me, alternately in Amharic and English “The person you are trying to call is not answering.  Please try again.” 

I tried several times, but the only answer was the condescending phone lady with a British accent.  We had been waiting for nearly twenty minutes, and I began to worry—the doctor had sounded incredibly compassionate and credible, but sometimes, just as students say “yes,” when they really mean “no,” because they don’t want to disappoint, people make promises that they cannot fulfill—what if this was just another one of those?  I couldn’t bear the thought, and dismissed it immediately.  So we waited. 

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