Watching Miss Kathryn wash has become a town spectacle. As I wash our clothes outside, a group forms outside of our fence and they lovingly (I hope!) mock how I wash. This has given me the brilliant idea of just paying the girls some money every week to wash for us. It costs about $2 for a week’s worth of wash, so I figure it’s not such a bad deal. This money also generally includes some mopping and overall scrubbing of my things, which I figure is always good. Usually it’s Paulina, Meameno, and Joly, three Grade 6 girls who might as well be my own children. They know exactly where everything is, from the sweets to the detergent to Dan’s socks. This new routine of them cleaning has made me lazy and this week I neglected to even sweep, and living in a desert makes for a quick build up of sand. Yesterday one of our younger visitors, Penelao, wanted to help, so she washed for a bit and then swept inside. While washing outside she and the girls began illustrating the way I wash: “This is the correct way to wash. This is how Miss Kathryn washes.” I got an incredibly cute video which you’ll have to wait 2 more months for, but it’s golden. Once Penelao came inside she was disgusted by the amount of dirt on the floor. As she swept around the house I just heard her, from whatever room she was in, exclaiming: “OH! Miss Kathryn’s house is so very very dirty! OH! Miss Kathryn’s house is too dirty!” When she emerged from the various rooms, she asked me if I ever clean. I sheepishly tried to explain how busy it is with school and a constant circus of visitors, but the truth is I’ve just given up on sweeping. I feel like Sisyphus. I used to sweep every room every day, and even before we had Bingo it would inevitably be dirty the next day. Now, with Bingo, EISH! There’s no keeping anything clean and I’ve pretty much just resigned myself to living in filth. Bingo spends his days digging holes in the sand outside, so when he comes in and I pet him my hands are instantly covered in a layer of filth. When he’s really dirty you can see where he’s laid down by the small piles of sand left on the ground. So yeah, this is just all an elaborate excuse for how I could have possibly been showed up by a 7 year old. I’m pretty sure she’s a 2nd grader… and she can clean better than me.
In other news, we’re in a bit of a predicament with Bingo. Next weekend we have our end-of-service conference in Otjiwarongo, which is about 5 hours south of here. We’re staying in a lodge and obviously can’t bring Bingo. I had just been planning on giving him to Paulina or Meameno, but 2 days ago they came begging for money for the church. Apparently the money is going towards some sort of Choir Workshop they’re offering NEXT weekend, which most of the village children are attending. This makes my pool of likely Bingo takers much smaller, so I’ll keep you updated on who I beg for assistance. Our last resort is Mekondjo. He’s one of the few kids not attending and we do love him, but he did kick Bingo like a soccer ball last week… UGH.
One thing that Dan and I have both noticed since getting Bingo is how differently we, as Americans, treat dogs. Before coming and after first arriving I thought of the relationship between the people here and their animals as this almost sacred thing, which I’m beginning to realize is not the case at all. Animals here are ANIMALS, which means they’re treated like property rather than living things. I feel conflicted about this. In America we have this sort of very contradictory relationship with animals. One of the first things that children learn are the names of animals and what each animal says, as if it’s really important that a one year old recognize what a cow or a pig says. We give them, from an early age, this tremendous sense of importance (again, how often do tiny children learn to recognize different farm animals which they never regularly see in their actual lives), but we EAT them. It reminds me of this story that the Taos tell of when Lauren was little. One morning she asked where bacon came from, and she was told that it comes from pigs. She literally didn’t believe it. I obviously don’t know her reason from disbelief, but I would imagine it stems from the fact that children are taught to view animals as these cute and almost human creatures. Farm animals are personified, like Piglet or Chicken Little, but we EAT them! I’m not saying it’s weird that some people eat animals—I understand I am totally in the minority on that one, but doesn’t anyone else think it’s a big strange that we teach our children to love these animals while simultaneously feeding them those very same animals?
The thing here in Namibia is that it’s completely straightforward. People own animals to use their meat, milk and skins. You take good care of the animals and watch after them so that they can effectively produce the things that you want… but they’re ANIMALS. They’re not awarded any special place in the hearts and minds of the people here. As a high schooler I couldn’t even bring myself to dissect a worm, but Grade 5-7 learners here slaughter animals without blinking. I remember at my bazaar I took a picture of two girls, not even realizing at the time that one was holding a gigantic knife and the other was holding a chicken. I guess I was raised to love and respect animals, and then I slowly became aware that I was also EATING them, and decided I’d rather not do that. Here the kids are never taken to petting zoos to see “the cute little farm animals.” They never put coins into a little feed dispenser to get some food for the cute little chickens or the goats. They’re not a source of entertainment or enjoyment here—they’re food. People here can’t even fathom why I choose not to eat meat, and I can understand why. They live so close to the source of their food, they have to slaughter the animals themselves, watch them die, and then clean the carcass, so how could they possibly learn to love and admire them?
Obviously I think all living things deserve to be cared for in a humane way, and here that is the case. But I also assign animals the ability to think and to feel emotions like people, which I’m sure is true to an extent, but it’s not like real animals go through stories like Babe or Charlotte’s Web. This brings me to what I actually wanted to talk about and then got totally distracted from, but it’s from this context that people see Bingo. No, not as FOOD, but just as another animal.
In America we buy our dogs special food and treats and sometimes even clothes and little bows for their hair. We have special shows where we parade our dogs around to show how beautiful and talented they are. Maybe it was just my family, but we celebrated the birthdays of our dogs (one year my sisters and I even made a wet dog food “cake” decorated it with dog bones—needless to say, our dog spent the rest of the day vomiting) and even had stockings for them at Christmastime. Dogs here just exist and are more often than not considered more of a nuisance than a member of the family… so people think we’re pretty weird. I’ve noticed on multiple occasions how uncomfortable people get when I talk to Bingo. I’m not sure why, but Bingo is really comfortable with children but not with adults AT ALL. When they even walk near our house he starts barking and growling. So when I hear this, I go outside to console him: “BINGO!! It’s okay sweetheart, those people are just walking by. They’re not going to hurt you. It’s okay, Bingo. Calm down. It’s okay.” Or if he’s barking angrily: “BINGO! Be nice to the people. That’s not very nice.” The looks I get are priceless. The thing is, I KNOW he can’t understand me. I know he has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, but I do it because I was raised in a culture where that’s what you do. You talk to your dog and dote on it and assign it so much more cognitive thought than it’s actually capable of. I think most people just think we’re crazy, but some people think because of the way we act that Bingo is somehow a superdog. Some of the kids think he can SPEAK English and many of them have gradually adapted to our style of dealing with him (talking to him, petting him, etc.). The other day I was asking some kids if they could take Bingo when we go to Otjiwarongo and they asked: “Can Bingo eat porridge?” (dogs here just eat the leftover porridge from the family’s dinner). Maybe it was just a translation problem, but it seemed to me that the kid thought Bingo was somehow a superdog and was therefore unable to eat anything but his superdog food (people here think it’s SO weird that a thing such as dog food actually exists, let alone dog biscuits and dog toys). Some learners at my school have started asking me incessantly why I love Bingo, and when I answer because he’s wonderful, amazing, and fantastic, they just seem confused. To them, he’s a DOG. To me, he’s my firstborn (what the oldest child is called here—I’ve started telling kids that Bingo is my firstborn and, although some kids laugh it off, others become disgusted that I would even pretend such a thing). And, in a culture where violence towards people is regularly practiced, it’s nearly impossible to get people to understand that violence toward our dog is not good. We’ve had to reprimand countless children who have just thought it would be good fun to poke, prod, or kick Bingo. They don’t mean to be malicious, it’s just what is culturally accepted here. I get frustrated dealing with it from my perspective, but when I take a minute and reflect on the experience of people here, I begin to see myself as a bit neurotic and almost certainly insane. Bingo is an animal that likes to eat poop that he finds on the ground and will gladly eat his own spit up… but I refer to myself as “Mommy” to him and constantly talk to and attempt to reason with him. Yes, I can understand the Namibian perspective on this one.