Casanova is the name of the dog who sits outside our front door during dinner. He is the dog who lives in our little compound of 8 homes. I assume he was a mutt pulled from the streets but he has the gentle eyes of a pooch looking for love.
He forages for food and scrounges for love. His ticks and fleas force him to scratch frantically day and night. He sleeps curled in a tidy ball behind one of the houses, waiting for day light and sniffing for crumbs trailed by the split rubbish bags.
One sunny day, when the sun beat fiercely upon the hot red dirt, we delivered some bones purchased from the “God Loves You Butcher” up the road. They came in a black bag, heavy, with a warmth and moistness I could sense. Trooper and Princess were thrilled to tip the messy coil of innards and bones onto the ground and Casanova, eyes bulging and face spread into a surprised grin, couldn’t believe his luck. Due to the intense sun I was happy not to carry these left over bits of carcass around in the tank of steel, known as Beast all day,
Casanova howls when we come home. He runs beside the car and looks hopefully at us. He gently approaches us when we sit outside. He is not our dog but slowly he is slipping under our skin. His eyes speak of a love scared to speak and rarely delivered,
When I was 9 my family moved from Hong Kong to Japan. I wasn’t particularly upset about moving to a new country other than two wholly devastating events. I had to bid farewell to both my best friend and my dog. My parents decided that leaving him behind would be the best thing, considering that Tokyo was a concrete jungle bereft of green parks and places for a long-eared basset hound to run free.
I can still recall the tears. My friend I could talk to on the phone, perhaps even see again but my dog, keeper of my secrets, lover of my bed? No. It was goodbye forever.
Now as we embark upon the Great Departure from Trinidad I look at my two daughters, 9 and 12 and see history repeating itself.
We have a gorgeous dog; brown eyed, long in the ear, soft to the touch. We brought her with us from Canada and wept as we watched her endure the 4 months wait in Montreal, the long flight and the 1 month in quarantine before she finally arrived. She is named Zola and we call her our bear. We spend many a moment staring at her in awe. She is sweetness incarnate.
Yet we have decided to leave our beloved dog behind. She will not be joining us in Africa. This decision is based upon many factors, mainly practicality and the quality of life for our dog. The logistics of shipping a dog from Trinidad to Kampala are horrific, but can be overcome despite expense, time, and discomfort for the dog. But once in Uganda we have no idea if our apartment allows dogs, who would watch her when we leave to travel and explore, nor how she could endure the 6 month quarantine that would be demanded of her when we leave and try to bring her back. It goes without saying that the nomadic lifestyle we have unwittingly adopted is wholly unsuited to dog ownership. It is hard enough to drag a whole family across two continents, let alone an innocent and sweet unwilling pet.
Practicalities and rational thought aside, this whole affair is breaking my heart. 31 years after the fact I am reliving the terrible farewell I bid to the first dog I loved. Here I am doing it again. I cannot say the words out loud “she is just a dog”. She is not “just” anything. I have raised her from a pup, cleaned up all of her bodily secretions, trained her, loved her, and slept with her. The bond between her and the family is one that travels deep.
We are all silently dealing with this in our own way. We awake sad and slightly shocked; we look at her, touch her and stare into her eyes as if for the last time. The next 4 weeks will be the longest goodbye.
Last night she slept beside my youngest, curled beside her head like a pillow. At night she likes to visit us, one by one in our beds, a quick check to ensure her pack is in place.
Will her heart break like ours?
Things that make me happy:
Since we live in Trinidad we can always have beautiful flowers at home.
This is what we do on a sunday afternoon.
If I walk out of my house, turn left and walk 5 minutes this is what I see.
This sleeps in my bed.
This is my view at work
This is work.
This is friendship.
Trinidad is not only about the people, the liming, the good food and the music. Trinidad is also home to a host of others. The Creatures. Of course these creatures need a place to live-Trinidad is a huge jungle where merely a fraction is taken over by humans.In fact, many times a year it is the humans who must machete away the encroaching forest. Were they not to do so the roads would be swept under a blanket of green. In this land of plenty; cars, maxi taxis, rum shops, school children and pothongs (stray dogs) all share the land. Some creatures are happy to crawl around underfoot, sight unseen; others prefer to come inside and listen to me freak out. In our garden we have the largest snails and the smallest yet noisiest frogs. We have enormous toads and a million geckos trying to creep up walls. In our friend’s garden beside the pool he has electric green giant iguanas. He wakes up to see frogs struggling in the pool and stray cats sniffing beneath the trees. If we walk into the Bamboo Cathedral which is an enormous stretch of forest beneath a canopy of bamboo we hear but rarely glimpse the wild cry of the Howler Monkeys.
Some creatures we have seen at home:
My first night in our new house I spotted small black and white droppings on the floor. Of course I immediately assumed we had a mouse or, horror, perhaps a rat problem. Minutes later as I entered my new bathroom I saw the quick flash of brown scuttle behind the toilet. Cockroach. There was some screaming, definitely some shaking. Once I had calmed down and had reached the point of reconsidering the whole move to Trinidad thing I realized that measures needed to be taken. The next day I purchased moth balls that I dropped in every drain. Cockroach problem gone. Until the one that flew through the window a flew months later. As for the droppings…some research led to the thankful conclusion that they were in fact the little gifts of geckos.
We have a had a million millipedes, both slow moving and curled up spiral dead. One night a bat flew into our bedroom, quickly reconsidered and flew back out. But nothing has quite got to me like the teeny tiny ants that appear out of nowhere the minute a crumb is left unswept. This has turned me into a crumb nazi. My husband and kids have taken to rolling their eyes when I glimpse the movement on the counter and begin my sentence with “WHO LEFT A CRUMB…”
A recent weekend at a beach house found us babysitting some 2 week old abandoned puppies. My daughter, bottle of milk in hand, gave me the “how can we go home without them” look. She spent two days nursing them back to life and becoming very attached. Between feedings we skipped over Portuguese Man ‘O Wars on the beach and hunted for crabs. Luckily before we left we found a caretaker willing to adopt the puppies but I knew the chance to save a puppy would come again.
Meanwhile our own dog, love of my life, sweet Zola continues to sleep on our bed, never noticing the wildlife in her midst.
There are many dogs in Trinidad, mostly stray, plenty guarding homes and lives but few pets. Dog ownership here is very different than in North America and Europe. A dog is not necessarily a companion and what you may do for your pooch is generally less important than what it may do for you. The majority of dogs sleep outside, a dog in the home is to many as strange as putting a tree in your living room ( something that many people in The States actually do.) So the fact that I sleep with my dog is, if not frowned upon, certainly looked upon with a degree of bewilderment. Dogs here tend towards the Rotweiller variety rather than the sweet and fluffy breed.
Many keep their dogs chained and only release them to prowl about at night. They are fed, have a home and are considered the privileged ones compared to the mangey strays. These strays do have an acute sense of street smarts, however. You see many, underfed but over birthed females, teats brushing the ground as they stand, look both ways and then carefully cross the road.
My friend Anthony has two dogs, named Santa and Satan. I have always given him a very hard time about his dogs, asking him if his attentions towards them ever went beyond naming them. I know he feeds them but let’s be frank, these dogs do not sleep on his bed let alone set a paw in the house. Recently I was over at his home and got to observe Satan and Santa up close.
Anthony is a British teacher of English literature married to a beautiful Trini called Amanda. He is also a screen writer, avid tennis player, father to twin girls and tells a good tale. He has a sharp mind, a witty slant on life and big muscles of which he is very proud. This is not a man who would shy away from any challenge be it a renegade house mouse or a fetid dead dog.
The story he had to tell was no shaggy dog tale. Anthony’s neighbour had a motley crew of dogs, so many, in fact, that it is doubtful he knew how many he actually had. A few weeks back, Anthony, drawn by a strange smell, climbed over his fence to explore the origin of said smell. There before him lay a dead dog. When he went to ask the neighbour if it was his he was offered much head shaking, shoulder shrugging and denials. So Anthony took it upon himself to dig a hole and bury the dog. He figured the owners must have just tossed it over the wall. Then the day of our visit Anthony woke up to a horrifying smell. As he described it, it was the very smell of death and it came crawling though the house until it inhabited every room. He realised he must investigate. This time, the dead dog must have been tossed weeks before because, as it was described to me, the animal was “leaking”. Knowing full well that a shovel and a hole would not work this time and aware that the rightful owners had barely acknowledged this poor dog alive, Anthony came up with a bright idea. He would set it alight. Burn it. Hold an impromptu cremation.
Not many people would have considered this option, fewer have gasoline at their disposal. But Anthony is not like other men. He poured gasoline all over the poor beast, threw down a match and POW! Anthony was surrounded by flames. Mesmerized he stood for a moment, that slow moment when the only conscious thought is “wow” , before he came to his senses and stepped back. By the time we arrived, the smell was gone, the dog had been dealt with and thanks to some comprehensive singeing, Anthony no longer had hair on his legs.
Few respect their dogs alive, let alone dead, but Anthony, who may pretend to be callous towards his own dogs, has revealed himself to care more than he believes. I know for certain that if Satan or Santa were to die he would not be tossing either of them over any fence. While they might not be house dogs, he has looked into their eyes and seen something there.
Only in Trinidad.