Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How I Know My Dog Is Malawian (story time)

At last, the long anticipated story post about everyone’s favorite Malawian, my dog, Patti Mayonnaise. Once upon a time, I was a newly sworn in Peace Corps Volunteer, dealing with the typical loneliness that sets in during our first few months at site. It wasn’t that bad, but adjusting definitely played a part in my heart when I saw a few little puppies roaming around my health center one day. I was sitting around with the nurse when I was the TINIEST puppies roaming around, staying close to their mama. They were so small!!! And of course, as what I am finding to be typically American, my response was ‘OH MY GAH PUPPIES!!!!’ My nurse asked if I liked them, and I said ‘OF COURSE!!!’, to which she responded that they were hers, and I could have one. YEAY!! They were so small so I knew I had to wait for awhile, but I was very exciting, anticipating the eventual arrival of the puppy to Casa de Renee.

My nurse went on vacation, but the puppies stayed around. Only a little time passed when I realized that the puppies’ mom was no longer anywhere to be seen. I brought this up to Laston (my now counterpart) and he suggested that yes, maybe I should take the puppy now, because no one had any food to feed it. That morning he said “Today, we capture the puppy.” I wasn’t totally psyched by the use of the word ‘capture’, but oh well. I went home, got a scrap piece of chitenje (fabric) to carry the puppy home in. My counterpart did indeed capture the puppy, and the puppy squealed as she wasn’t totally into humans (or being capture), and he put her in my chitenje covered arms and I carried her home.

I was mildly prepared in that I shelled out some extra dough to buy real dog food, hoping this would be the lure to keep the puppy at my house. This did not initially work, as I put the puppy down, she ignored the food, and immediately proceeded out the back door to escape. I caught her before she escaped thru my holey fence, and she cried which made me sad. ‘Why doesn’t she like me??’ I wondered. I liked her already, but probably only because she was a puppy. Puppies are so cute!! Anyway, I then decided to keep her inside the house with the door shut, taking whatever pee or poop came with it, until she was ready to commit to me.

The puppy never touched the food that night, which of course extremely offended my puppy sensitive heart. Eventually I was cooking dinner outside and came in to eat, and subsequently forgot to close the door. By the time I realized, the puppy was gone. The sun was setting, and she was so small I knew it would be hard to look for her. Also, it seemed like she didn’t like me (again, I was being extremely sensitive), so I decided to let her go. Not long after a neighbor came to my door and said ‘is that your puppy?’ pointing not too far in front of my house, where the puppy was snooping around. I said yes, and that it would probably come back for food, and I wasn’t worried. Of course, I was completely frontin’ and extremely worried, but I figured maybe she’d come back, so oh well.

I texted my friends who had been in touch with me about how the first day with the pup was going, and I said “the puppy ran away. I will wait to find a puppy who wants to live with me’. Seriously, Renee? I know, but I was hurt. I mean, the puppy was soooo cute!!!! When it got dark that night, there was a knock at my door- extremely strange, since no one ever knocks on my door (the Malawian way of getting the attention of someone inside a house is to say ‘Odi!!!’), but I answered and a group of kids were standing on my porch (also strange, few people come up the stairs to my porch). The big kid in the group said ‘Dog.’ And pointed at the pup, who was leaning against my house, looking sad, and as if she had run out of choices (she had, of course). I said thanks, picked up the puppy, and brought her inside.

I decided to keep her inside that night, and I cracked the back door just enough so she could slip out to pee if she wanted. Instead, while I was in bed, I heard her squeak- I got up and went to my living room, where I discovered she peed under my bike (where she was still hiding from me). I finally decided to stand up for myself, and put the puppy outside on the chitenje that I had carried her home in. If she stuck around, she stuck around. And so began me and Patti’s life together.

Patti was actually named on that first dramatic day- via text. I had been thinking of puppy names for a few days before getting the puppy, and I was planning on sticking with the Angelo family tradition of having pets with B names. I was planning on naming her ‘Bwana’, which in Chitumbuka means ‘boss’. My thinking was that if people called me a bwana (which many Malawians often call white people because they believe us to be rich) I could be like ‘No, I’m not a bwana, that’s Bwana’. I thought this was extremely punny. But I couldn’t commit, and then the idea struck me- one of my best pals, Stacey, had gotten a puppy the first week she moved to site. His name was Doug, which I just think is one of the best possible names for a dog ever. That’s when I realized… Doug… loves… PATTI MAYONNAISE!!! I texted Stacey about my brilliant idea, to which she enthusiastically agreed about its awesomeness, and then I proceeded to text my friends about my puppy’s clever name. Go me.

Anyway, as you know, and as I have told many of you, Patti is the best. We live a very happy life together, and although I think she should really get a job if she wants to eat fish all the time, things are going extremely well. Yes, I love my dog, and this leads many people to ask me if I am bringing Patti back to the USA. My answer (and my plan has always been) NO. ‘Why?’ you might ask. Or, ‘it’s clear you love her so much, how could you leave her?’ you might say. To which I say, I can’t take Patti to the USA because she is a Malawian, and she will never be as happy as she could possibly be here in Malawi. And below, are the following reasons why Patti the puppy is a Malawian (raised by an American, me).

Kubopa- is the verb that describes how women tie babies to their backs. When it was my birthday, only a month after getting Patti, I was travelling to meet friends in Nkhata Bay to celebrate, but I didn’t want to leave Patti behind. She was so small… and therefore, quite easy to tie to me with a chitenje. I was travelling to Nkhata bay with my friend Jay, who helped tie Patti to me that morning. It wasn’t that easy, but we got it done- and as we left my house, we prepared for what would sure be a lot of attention being thrown at us. And that is exactly what happened. As it turns out, bopa-ing a puppy is not that common, and also,totally hilarious. During our long journey from my place to Mzuzu and then to Nkhata Bay, people were constantly pointing out that indeed, there was a puppy tied to me. My favorite thing that I heard repeatedly that day (in Chitumbuka) was “That is not a baby. That is a dog”. So insightful. Anyway, like any true Malawian baby, Patti was a champ. She rode in two matolas on her way to Nkhata Bay, and two minibuses on her way home, without complaint. Actually let’s be real, she complained even less than a Malawian baby, because she never cried once. Way to go Patti, the best behaved Malawian baby around.

As you know, it gets very very hot here in Mlowe during hot season (and other times throughout the year of course). This past hot season, when I was slowly [unintentionally] progressing into serious heat exhaustion, Patti pretty much never ever moved. The pup who used to follow me everywhere, all over our catchment area, never left the house, the yard, nothing. And whenever I was in the house with her, she was napping (and panting). This is not so different from how many of the people of my village react to hot season as well- taking a near constant break from any activity. And let’s be real, I probably should have been taking more breaks from activity, instead of continuing to be active and contributing to my severe dehydration. So clearly, Patti’s got it right, the Malawian way- hot season, take a break. Now that rainy season has begun, Patti is in tune with the people of Mlowe yet again. It rained all night last night and into the late morning. Patti spent the night and morning in her bed (I left the backdoor open last night; I’m not so cruel that she needs to be stuck in the rain). But I mean seriously, she never ever moved. And my little ‘hood (as I like to call it) didn’t move or make a sound as well. It was amazing (and extremely Malawian). I however, began to get restless (and the book I was reading began to get less interesting) so I indulged the American in me, waiting until the rain wasn’t SO terrible, and headed to the health center. Patti stayed home. Just one of our many cultural differences.

Shade is hard to come by here in Mlowe, mostly due to deforestation (gotta make room for cassava planting) and well, I don’t know why, but there’s just not that many trees. The few trees that are around (mango trees! Hella!) are all surrounded by houses. It’s just the Malawian sensibility to have your house near a mango tree- I mean, you gotta sit under something that provides shade, or else... or else you wouldn’t be Malawian. As I previously said, Patti wasn’t moving during hot season, but now that it’s cooled down just a bit, she is back to following me on my journeys. When I make my walks around the village, there is no shade for me to hide under basically- maybe some straggling trees on the side of the road or some bushes. But Patti, as she follows, makes sure she hits every spot of shade created by trees, bushes, buildings, etc. She will speed up to hit the shadey spots, wait for me, etc. It is a very serious effort on her part, and a very Malawian trait of hers. Here’s a picture of Patti sitting on the porch of a stranger’s house as I was walking (in that great hot African sun) home from school. You can barely see her because she went so far off the road to get to that shade. Oh Patti.

I believe I have discussed sima before- the staple of Malawian food, a mush patty? Dende, which I think translates to something like 'relish', doesn't really mean relish, in America terms it means more like a side, usually greens. Anyway, one time when I was away, I guess Patti's food ran out (I believe she is putting in a concerted effort for me to go broke feeding her) so my neighbor made her some sima. But apparently, Patti would not take just the sima. She would not eat sima without some dende. Just like any good Malawian.

Usipa, are these tiny tiny fish that are usually served with sima after being dried in the sun. I haven't met many PCVs who are fans of usipa... but it is very popular with the Malawians, and of course, the Patti.

Okay, these are just a few reasons as to why Patti is Malawian, and believe me, there are numerous more. And maybe you still think I should bring Patti home, but you gotta trust me- Patti is better off here. She lives life without a leash, can come and go as she pleases, has lots of people who know her and care about her well being, and of course, she gets to chase chickens and goats all day. What more could a dog want?