For as long as I can remember K and I have wanted a dog. Our lives in Seattle were not at all pet friendly. We even had an incident of fish suicide on our hands, and it was probably due to neglect. So even though we have always wanted a dog, we both felt like it would be cruel to have one and keep it pent up for the better part of every day.
Our lives in Zimbabwe had a bit more flexibility and once again we tossed around the idea of getting a dog. We even went as far as visiting the dog pound and picking one or two of them out. But our plans fell through when the funding for our programming changed and we ended up leaving Zimbabwe and coming home for several months.
Now in South Sudan for almost four months, we began to pick up the dog conversation again. (You would think we would have learned by now) K wanted to find a dog once we got back from our first R&R. So now that we have been back nearly two weeks we sprinted forward in our plan. The “plan” was to find a stray dog in the market and make our own little Orphan Annie story. And surprisingly it worked out. K and I were walking in the market one lunch time and we spotted a little scruffy puppy roaming the market, with no one really looking after it. So we inquired about this puppy with the market ladies that were around and through a series of misunderstandings they told us to come back after 5pm to get the puppy because we could not take it now as the mother dog was close by. As you can imagine I did not have a lot of faith that this puppy would still be around after 5pm but we agreed and K planned to circle back to the market after work.
I chose to walk home after work with a college that night, but true to their word the market ladies had this puppy for K when he arrived. And so we now officially have a dog of our very own. However, I had not factored in the fact that a stray dog on the streets, even a puppy in it’s short life would have developed a serious trust issue with people. Dogs are not treated very well here, and a stray dog in the market would probably have been mistreated daily. So when we began to interact with the pup she would scream (I’m serious, I’ve never heard a dog scream before but she totally screams) even before we would touch her. She often would cower and cry as you picked her up and run from anyone she encountered.
That first night of having Birdie I was a little overwhelmed with the project that we had on our hands. But K being the patience and caring guy that he is continued to work with her and give her space yet hold her close on occasion and let her know that she was safe. It was a long first night, we got up often in the night to quiet her cries and calm her hysteria. The next morning we brought her to work and she pretty much just cowered under K’s desk all day long. She wasn’t eating or drinking much. But we did discover that she loved mangos and took it as a small victory.
The weekend began, and K still worked tirelessly with Birdie. By Saturday late morning Birdie was a whole different dog. I would not have believed it if I had not seen it myself. She was acting like a normal puppy. Running and playing with K, chewing on anything she could find, chasing after whatever K found to throw. She was even interacting with other people and loving being touched and snuggled with. It did not take long for her to warm up to her new life. She was as normal as any dog I’ve ever seen. Well mostly. As she began to warm to us and play she began to jump and bite. On everything and everyone. I was not okay with this behavior, but Birdie did not react well with the usual tap on the nose as correction. She became even more aggressive and would respond by biting more and jumping more. We changed our plan of correction and began to use a squirt from a water bottle. It was a magical response. She stopped biting and jumping, but was not aggressive. (She is super smart, but I could be bias.)
After this experience I began thinking about how similar it was to the protection work that Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) is doing in South Sudan. We are working with communities and individuals that have seen 50 years of war and violence. There are several generations who only know violence and retaliation as a way to solve problems. It is hard to wrap your mind around it, but when your only problem-solving example is fighting and violence then naturally this is the kind of response you will also have. Often in Juba a small fender bender car accident will result in one driver beating the other driver regardless of fault because this is how individuals solve problems. In my mind the worst part of this is that people around these drivers on the street will allow the fighting to continue, no one steps in to help the driver who is getting beaten. This is just normal behavior just as Birdie responding aggressively to being tapped on the nose. For her, this correction was seen as violence and she responded in kind. NP is working to teach other ways of responding to problems. Our work is to be the bystander of that car accident on the street and stand in the way of the fight as well as offer other solutions. We support those who are unarmed and caught in the cycle of violence. We visit water points and farm plots so that women feel safe to go about their daily activities without risk of harm. We train communities to report incidences of violence and provide ways for individuals to protect themselves. It’s a slow process, because unlike Birdie we cannot take people out of their violent situation, we have to work within the current context of continued violence. Unlearning violent behavior will take generations; it will be messy, and often extremely uncomfortable work. It will require a change of behavior and a change of heart, both are extremely hard to accomplish, but both are incredibly amazing to be apart of.