Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Return of the Prodigal Puppy

What would I ever blog about if I didn't have a dog? Here's Shaka's latest adventure.

When I left for school on Monday morning, I left Shaka in the yard. When I came home from school that afternoon, Shaka was gone. I wasn't too worried. I assumed the children had taken him out to play, or that my host mother had taken him to visit her friends. I expected him to follow my host family home shortly. However, as the hours passed and my family trickled back to the homestead, there was no sign of Shaka. He didn't scratch at my door, nor did he whine outside. Still, I wasn't too concerned. He was friendly with the new neighbors, I thought he might spend the evening over there. I put out his dinner and went to bed.

The next morning Shaka's bowl was empty and while Shaka was nowhere in sight, my host mother assured me that she knew where he was and would go and fetch him that afternoon. Any worries I had disappated and I marched off to school, fully expecting to see Shaka waiting for me at home at the end of the day. Late afternoon rolled around, I arrived home and my dog wasn't there. I was finally worried, although my host mother assured me that there was nothing to worry about and that Shaka would be found.

By Wednesday I started asking around the village if anyone had seen Shaka. No one had, but they promised to keep an eye out. While lost dogs are generally not a big deal to residents of Loopeng, most people were very supportive of my mission to save Shaka. Several of my students and colleagues volunteered to help me search and offered suggestions as to his whereabouts. By this point it was becoming clear that Shaka wasn't hiding just around the corner. I needed to expand the search.

Unfortunately, all of my cross-cultural training failed to provide me with the tools to iniate a "lost dog" campaign in a rural African village, so I relied on what I knew as a suburbanite American. I made signs. I whipped out Microsoft Word, inserted a black-and-white photo of Shaka, listed my phone number and offered a reward for his return. I surreptiously made copies at school, and nipped out during my lunch break on Thursday to begin posting them in tuck shops around the village. (Tuck shop windows are common places for local announcements to be posted. There are lots of notices for cattle sales, as well as local job openings and government notices.)

Outside one shop, I was hailed by a learner. His grandfather knew what had happened to Shaka. He had been stolen and taken to a cattle post outside the village, on the road to Kuruman. Not to worry, the learner would go fetch him that night and bring Shaka home.

I waited, and waited, and waited, and nothing. I was afraid the learner had gone to the farm, only to find that Shaka was dead or lost. Luckily enough, none of that was true. As I found out the next day (Friday), the thief had moved Shaka to another location in the village. The learner went to the new location, only to find that Shaka had already been moved back to the farm.

Saturday dawned, and my morale was low. It seemed that everyone knew who had taken Shaka, but the thief was hell-bent on not returning him. I went to school, taught a class, and then went on an epic journey through the village, asking everyone I encountered about Shaka. No one knew anything until I reached a tuck shop outside the school. A neighbor of mine who sells magunyas (fat cakes, similar to fried dough) was sitting on the porch. She had some good news for me.

The thief had agreed to return my dog that very day. If he didn't, she knew exactly which cattle post he was at and encouraged me to get a ride out there myself. As much as I wanted Shaka back, I wasn't keen on traveling to an isolated farm alone. I opted to stay home that afternoon.

Once again, I waited, and waited, and waited. The sun set, and I thought I would never get Shaka back. Then, there a quick knock on the door. I opened it to find a neighborhood kid excitedly pointing and saying, "Shaka's back!" We ran around the corner of the house, and there he was. Tied to the end of a disgusting rope was Shaka. As soon as I got the make-shift collar off him, Shaka ran to my door. I paid the man who returned him and went off to play with my returned puppy.

He's in pretty good shape, considering the level of abuse most African village dogs endure. He's got a rather large patch of bloody, matted fur on his upper chest, along with a few hairless patched. Whatever his injuries may be, they don't seem to bother him too much although he is spending most of today asleep. We tried going to a walk, but after a few minutes he turned around and went home. I'm just so glad to have him back! It took a real community effort for him to be returned, and I feel so lucky to live in a village where people band together to defeat the evil forces of dog thieves.

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