Archive for March, 2010

Puppies: Kids at Warp Speed!

March 25, 2010

This from John: Around Thanksgiving, 6 puppies were born on our homestead (3 male, 3 female).  A week later, their mother died, Jordan adopted them and before I knew it, I had become a new father. These little guys were an amazing gift! First bottle-feeding with eggs, milk and oil and then moving on to high-quality dog food, brown rice, lots of chicken and some fish. These puppies were better treated and certainly ate better than 90% of the people in our world. Seriously! A sad statement, but true.

Here is a short video of them when they were still quite small.

This short video is a slide show made from a few photos. Let me know if you recognize the music.

I had a wonderful time with these guys, taking them for hikes, watching them learn to swim, climb rocks and hunt together. It was an amazing thing to go through this process especially, when it came time to start letting them go. It’s like having children on warp speed. For just a few weeks, they’re babies, needing a lot of attention, sleeping most of the day and drinking from a bottle. There are conversations between the concerned parents about who had what kind of BM this morning and who needs special attention. Then the terrible twos come along, last for a month, then, the cute little angels morph into authority-challenging adolescents. You all survive these times with more than a little prayer and lots of worry. Just as you start to notice subtle signs of maturity and begin to relax a bit, they’re leaving!

The process of raising these six little guys opened my heart in ways that I would have never anticipated. The process of letting them go, especially the first two guys (whom we placed with our community’s headman) pulled up a lot of grief for me. I found myself re-visiting other times of loss and separation in my life. These past months have been a healing journey the likes of which I have not experienced since my time with the Shaman in Peru.

After having them all neutered, we placed 5 of them in new homes (2 sets of pairs, with 3 in the suburbs of our capital city).  I am confident that they will be well treated but I still send good vibes their way. Our Babe (pronounced “Bah Bay” meaning ‘father’) at the homestead is keeping the remaining one, Ntombi (Zulu for ‘lady’). So, I still have her to help keep me connected to that part of myself that these wonderful puppies have brought back to life.

During my time with the puppies, I came to understand that there are not many folks in rural Swaziland who like dogs and even fewer who have the resources to tend to them properly. It certainly makes sense, if you can’t feed your children or afford to send them to school, you don’t worry too much about your dogs. It was interesting watching the people in our rural community react to these crazy Americans who went on long walks with their dogs, bathed them, held them and talked to them as if they were children! They had clearly never seen puppies so well treated nor had they seen any so healthy. It was an excellent opportunity to share this aspect of the American culture (one of the 3 overarching goals of Peace Corps, BTW). Along the way, I had opportunities to share information about the importance of bonding and exposing young minds to simulation. I can only hope some of them got the message that treating their kids the same way would be a reasonable thing to do. You see, early childhood education, especially for the infant to toddler years, has not yet found it’s way to rural Swaziland. And, I know it will take a lot more than a couple of PCVs with a family of puppies to change the strong cultural conditioning that surrounds childrearing. There are some bright spots on the horizon though, plans for early childhood education centers and even someday, free pre-school. This is the first year that 1st and 2nd grade are being offered free. Students in other grades much pay fees, that for many, are prohibitively high. Slow progress, but progress just the same. Let’s pray that it continues so that one day all of our children will be treated with as much love and tender care as these six puppies have been.

Jordan and I  have been working to try to get a few “Early Childhood Education and Care” centers off the ground. This is a photo from a neighboring elementary school where we visited one of these centers that has been up and running for some time. Our community is gathering steam towards making these centers a reality in our area as well. Wish us luck!

We also have visited a local church and found it welcoming. The language barrier combined with the fact that the service runs 3 to 4 hours, has sent us to the hills to walk on most Sundays to “worship in our own way.” This shot is of a typical church in our area. They are without exception, very simple structures but that does nothing to restrict the flow of loving energy that you can feel moving through these “Houses of Worship. When someone starts a song and 10 or 20 others join in, I feel the hairs on my neck stand up. I don’t know what’s happening but it’s powerful and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of being in the presence of a group of Swazis singing gospel songs.

Here’s a shot of the interior.

I know that we promised some shots of the wildlife here in Southern Africa and we have had some neat encounters! But with the puppies to care for, teach to climb rocks and to swim and take hikes, we just haven’t found the time to pull anything together. We are planning another trip soon and will likely just combine the new photos and stories with the old ones and make a composite. You can expect a lot of elephants, zebras, lions and such along with stories of our adventures with them. Stay tuned! John

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