Monday, June 13, 2016

Why I foster

Top 10 reasons to foster kittens

1. The opportunity to max out the photo/video storage on your phone
2. Spread joy on social media with pics and updates
3. Enjoy purring at 3 am as you feed kitties with a tiny bottle
4. The mystery of whether what is on your shirt sleeve is kitten food, poop, or peanut butter.
5. The thrill of watching a struggling kitty turn around and thrive.
6. All your old friends want to come over.
7. The day kittens "graduate" out of your care!
8. Watching wobbly kittens groom themselves for the first time.
9. Watching kittens discover their tail (and those of littermates!)
10. The personalities, preferences and surprises of each one.

I've been a vet tech for about twenty years now. Sometimes I worked 80-hour weeks and some weeks I didn't work in the field at all. Yet veterinary medicine is a modern science based on analysis of concrete evidence and it trusts answers that are repeatable through experiment. Even within mainstream veterinary culture, however, there is a saying "cats read the text book and then do the opposite" to intonate the unpredictability of felines.

When I started fostering kittens last summer I thought it would be a fun way to keep veterinary medicine in my life and I thought I'd seen plenty of kittens in my years. The frequency with which veterinary hospitals see kittens pales in comparison to what the shelter and rescue world sees. These people see kittens in HERDS-- hundreds, thousands in a season, and for a number of shelter employees that is ALL they do: manage kittens.  My foster kittens have given me knowledge I didn't know I was lacking. These are unpredictable, fragile, magical little spirits. I can tell you that a tiny kitten's stomach volume is 4 ml to each 100 gram of body weight, so don't expect your tot to suck down that whole bottle. I can tell you that a 4-week-old kitten should weigh one pound, I can tell you about coccidiosis, herpesvirus, joint laxity in neonates and ear mites. But I can't tell you which one will eat more if you heat the nipple, who likes a cuddle under your chin before a meal, why some won't play with the crinkle toys or eat the expensive crunchy food.

Fostering tiny kittens is consent to shed some tears as well as thrill at a dramatic turnaround. Leave what you know at the door. Save a life, provide love and nurturance. It's desperately needed.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Kitten names

In honor of my first day volunteering with Habitat for Humanity ReStore--
Males: DeWalt, Stanley and Stihl
Females: Makita, Ryobi, Bosch, Black & Decker (BeeDee)

Building a better tomorrow with the power tools of today. Kittens property of if interested in adoption!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In the Family Way

If your momcat is hit by a car when you are a week old and the only animal shelter in town is a double-wide trailer with nine dog kennels, a Sani-Can(registered trademark) potty out back and an employee named Sam who hasn't had a day off since November...come and hang with us on the mountain. Maybe go to middle school science with me later in the week (sub job).

 Recipe for bottle kitten success:

1. Toast your kittens by a warm fire. Chilled kittens don't eat. If you have 'on the grid' electric you can microwave high-tech warmie things and really go-to-town burning stuff.

2. If you have a sheep fleece left over from your farm, use that.

3. If you have a spayed female cat named "Momcat" handy, explain to her she's needed for clean-n-fluff duty.

4. Tell the kittens they need to hurry up and get cute 'cause people are counting on them!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Chicken in a bag!

4/9/16--Entebbe Uganda, East Africa
I was JUST telling Dr. Wilfred that in the States you can go into a supermarket and buy "chicken in a bag" fully roasted and warm, raised and injected with heinous chemicals that make them enormously plump with meat that falls from the bone and has flavor designed to manipulate your palate in the way I hear methamphetamines manipulate your mind. Damn that's good. I think there's a chemical in the odor to even get you purchasing the poor carcass... 

The above pic is clearly a different "chicken in a bag". There are many snaps I'd love to take of daily Ugandan life with livestock. Yesterday I boarded the Homeland Bus earlier than the rest of the travelers, but just after an older woman had dropped her luggage off in the seat next to me. I realized I'd finally be able to get a good picture of "average doings" without offending anyone or having to explain myself. There were 3 hens in there. They traveled six hours with us. The longer distance busses I've been traveling on are clearly repurposed from EuroAsian fleets sold after the DVD player, aircon, and most of the lighting has failed. Usually the windows open, and this last time the radio worked! There is only one stop for a restroom break, so I always feel like a science experiment regarding hydration.  I don't want to pass out from heat stroke or fluid loss, but I don't want to have to urinate for 4-6 hours. And it's hot. Really hot.
After the Homeland Bus I had to take a boda taxi to Kampala's new taxi park. I should've gone to the smaller old taxi park to get the bus to Entebbe, becuase the new taxi park was mobbed and a drunk guy ran off with my luggage. After a big scene, I got my luggage back and had another hour to Entebbe, which was where my flight will leave tonight. 

4/18/16 -- Blanca Colorado USA
I wrote the above 9 days ago.  I have traveled through a variety of cultures, time zones and alternate realities since then. 17 hours from Dubai to Houston, TX. Houston to Seattle, Seattle to Denver. I bought a 700+ page Stephen King novel at the Dubai airport and used 3 different types of currency for the purchase. And the States are so... quiet. And everyone is so... white.

A few days before leaving for Africa, after signing papers in the morning to sell my Denver condo, I drove to this cabin in southern Colorado. The car was jammed full. A hard left or right turn meant anything from a coffee pot to my pet cat could roll out of place and under my gas pedal. I warranted a traffic ticket for poor visibility out the back window. The cabin is more than 8000 feet above sea level; it clings to the low upswing of earth at the base of Mount Blanca. Turn off route 160 and the pavement gives way to a lazy, broad grid of desert scrub pocked with camper vans strung with wind-tattered tarps, small homesteads and the occasional warning bark of a prairie dog. Modern automobiles offer either good gas mileage or muscle and high clearance.  I'm a sucker for getting 40 mpg, so I drive the dinky 2-door hatchbacks that can actually be blown off the road by speeding truckers.  This means I need to drive differently in the snow and ice, stay aware of soil stability, and be ready to walk. With the car as loaded as it was, however, if I had to stop at my earlier winter parking spot and sledge everything up to the cabin it would take several hours, perhaps two days with rest breaks. 

It was a very warm February day. As I approached the highway turn-off I felt the clip of anxiety. A warm day means snow melt, it can mean a quagmire, tow straps and flagging someone down to help. But if the recent snow load was mild the warmth could be drying out the desert soil and actually helping my traction. I made my turn into the dirt road. You can see the cabin from quite a distance. Most of the mountain appeared denuded of snow, but a few cotton-colored mounds were still visible within the denser clutches of trees.  I could see the path of the road and the soil. I could hear water running and see it in t he gullies. The hillside was a patchwork of color--red soil, gray snow melt, brown, white, evergreen pines, more white, more hope of being able to drive right up to the cabin spiked and plummeted the closer I got. YES! I'LL SURELY BE ABLE TO MAKE it maybe not THERE'S NO SNOW! but that water will be bad YES! no YES! no. My anxiety read like an EKG as I drove, scanned and prognosticated.  I noticed the traffic in my own mind. Then it hit me.

I will not know what will happen until the soil is actually under my tires. 

On that particular day I was able to drive up to the door and unload. The soil was dry. My tires found sure footing.
That weekend I also did the final packing for Africa. I packed, repacked, sorted and packed one more time. What would I need? What would I regret not bringing? I had 8 extra pounds in one suitcase...what could I leave? You won't know until the soil is actually under your tires.  I was simply incapable of preparing for every contingency. The growth part of the adventure would be how I adapted to what was unforeseen... wait... that's most of life...

Missing Dr. Moses-- pic with the gang night before departure
visit with baby Josh
I have returned from my trip one month early. Once the soil was under my tires over there I discovered several things. 1) Regardless of how fulfilling the work may be, or how compelling the personal connections are, I experience relentless heat in the upper 90s as if I'm drowning. Did I know it would be that hot? It IS Africa after all...Yes, I did know. 2) In Africa, my skin is the color of money. I experienced a baffling number (25?) of young men ages 20-35 who wanted to be my friend, have me read their movie script, sponsor their schooling, police officers who said they hadn't been paid, and one who outright asked for sex. Weird. There is also the constant heckling, haggling over prices, stalking, and low-grade resentment of white do-gooders (this last topic is a whole book). Did I know this would be the case? Yes, I did know. But after 3-4 weeks I began to completely shut down socially-- beyond the group I was working with.  Finally, the third component of the soil under my tires that sent me home early was my memories of my own non-profit work.
Lucy, Comfort Dog Program participant--TALL!
The Big Fix is almost ready to move onto their newly developed land--brand new construction in a beautiful rural area. I expected to walk onto the property and feel exhilaration for them. Instead, I smelled the smoke of the remains of Turning Light Farm. The skeleton of my own endeavor is pretty close to what they are doing.

The return trip was an odyssey. It requires another essay with more humor... but FYI the Dubai airport is not to be missed!! 

Final Thoughts
I love telling students "We own the English language". Language is a living, malleable thing. We create it. We dismantle it. We do need to be capable of wielding it to our advantage, pulling out formalities at the right time, but otherwise we can crack it open like a nut and move word meanings around as we see fit. In East Africa I discovered people used the word "reach" as we'd use the word "arrive". Example: On the phone someone asks "Have you reached?" (are you there yet?) or, "I'm glad you reached well." (got there safely) African English is a mashup and deconstruction of almost every common phrase. Even in upscale hotels mispellings and what would be classified as misuses are common. Yet there's a certain poetry to many of the mistakes.

                                I have reached. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Dr. Tony Aliro: the heart of the matter

A week ago I listened as Okello Francis, wearing his signature wide, knowing grin, lowered his cell phone and said to me "We have been granted our radio time by Dr Tony...and the doctor..." Francis chuckled, "the doctor wants to meet you."  I've long known that the four Big Fix team members I live with are the visible part of the iceberg that rises above the waves, and that a solid expanse of effort rides underneath. Dr. Aliro is the Gulu District Veterinary Officer (DVO) and he is a key part of this support. But let's face it, in the States it's rare that someone with intense work demands and an important job title wants to meet you, just to know who you are-- not to talk to you about 'crafting the message', inquire about your motivation, or check up on your work.
For my first visit with Dr Aliro, Dr. Wilfred drove me over to his office. As we waited for him to arrive after a field call I had time to desperately wish I'd brought my camera to document the recurring theme I've experienced at school district headquarters, medical laboratories, recording studios, and now the department of agriculture: that much can be done with what Americans call "nothing", and that large parts of the world still function with only a paper log book and a precious pen. When there IS something that runs off electricity it requires blanketing to keep the red dust from fingering its way into the working mechanisms.
Notice the yellow jerry cans of water at the base of the bookshelf :)

Dr Aliro greeted us with easy humor and said I could come back and take pictures at any time. One thing I've learned, however, is that people stare at me wherever I go and official-looking armed guards often ask my business. (Armed guards are in many places--supermarkets, universities, churches...)
Two days later, I was lucky to catch up with him again. Dr Aliro's position with the government is analogous to the position of a state veterinarian in America, only imagine one state veterinarian for 20 or 30 states. And imagine those states lacking the infrastructure of plumbing. Or road access as Americans know it. Or electricity. Or  A sense of humor, proportion, and great faith develop in place of many of those things.

There are some stories that are shared through narration and other stories shared through a feeling. When I asked what lead Dr Tony to the veterinary field his demeanor became centered. He began to gently rock back-and-forth in his  chair. "Some things you know in your heart" was the phrase he lead with. A darkness scurried across the desk between us as he carefully chose words to describe his childhood. But he lightened when he spoke of working with livestock, especially all their cattle, every day. I sensed the daily connection with the animals provided something available no where else in this childhood. He then described how, when there was need to call for a veterinarian for their animals, that person was rarely a source of help and he was left to wonder if the creature's suffering could have been averted, and if so, how? While listening I scribbled in my book "the spirit of inquiry". 

What's struck me while harvesting stories from veterinarians here about their career choices is how close each of them came to engaging in a career in education instead of medicine. In these men I can clearly see the skills shared between two fields viewed as disparate where I come from: communicating and mobilizing, working to problem-solve in a wide variety of circumstances with pressures and limitations coming from all directions.

We agreed that the phrase "Got your back!" describes the relationship between Aliro and The Big Fix team, but I asked him to describe why it was important to support TBF in his own words. His response bolstered my understanding with numbers. Prior to having these guys around he might receive 2000 rabies vaccines to inoculate 15-20,000 dogs where the disease is endemic. The lack of resources and support infiltrates Ugandan veterinary medicine at every level. He sites the magnitude of dealing with these challenges as one of the most important things dissuading young people from committing to veterinary medicine even if they feel the calling. Makerere University in Kampsla has a challenging veterinary program that's been running for many years ( I toured the facility in 2005 and was impressed!) but not surprisingly earning potential for young vets is higher outside of Uganda and certainly outside of Gulu.

It's a character prerequisite to enter the veterinary field here knowing every challenge is  an opportunity. When I asked Dr Aliro if he had any final thoughts he wanted Americsns to know he gave an open invitation to anyone looking for thesis work, clinical trials, further study and just plain hard work and satisfaction. Wanna study tick- born diseases? Newcastle disease? Have an interest in zoonotic epidemiology? Swine disease transmission? I'll be damned if I wasn't inspired to dream up PhD work! So, my American friends and veterinary allies...when are we going to make it back here to start? We really are all in this together.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

About those ants...

Unfortunately the brief interview of Loyom Joyce that Francis helped me with at the market the other day takes a back seat to clarification on my insectovoracious activities.
How strange to see all their tiny legs as residue in the pan--like pieces of straw or plant material.  As I listened to the harvesting stories of white ants ("wen" in the local language) I puzzled over why there's no European tradition of eating insects. I hypothesize that early humans were willing to try foods they saw other animal species eating (I mean, how else do you know to eat a potato or some of those other root vegetables?) Jump in here and correct me if I'm wrong, but beyond bears raiding honey bee hives, are there any mammalian insectivores in northern climates? In this area of Africa it's possible to clearly witness apes and primates inserting tree branches like swizzle sticks into termite mounds and find anteaters with a diet completely of crunchy crawlers. 

So, this is Anena Paska
She would like Americans to know that the sale of wen is her sole support. She is eager to develop her market overseas as a snack food (Popants?) She purchases her ants from the villagers that harvest them. To "force" a harvest (as apposed to simply encouraging a harvest at the perfect time seasonally) a person needs to dig a hole next to the ant hill and build a mini hut over the hole so the wiser ants can't just fly off.  Then, she reports, you flood the anthill with water and they all fall into the hole. When I arrived home with my bag of wen Dr. Wilfred's eyes brightened with the memory of harvests in his younger years. He describes carefully monitoring the anthills and, during the rainy season (if I heard him correctly) there are mini mounds and holes at the base of the hill that indicate their activity. It reminded me of the way you can look for bubbles/blowholes in moist, coastal sand  to indicate where you should dig for your clams.  Dr. Wilfred then said the ants are photophilic (photophobic is for vampires-- they avoid light) so you can just go out with a torch at night and out they all rush for you to collect. The excitement on his face as he described this reminded me of the feeling I get when I just stepped into a particularly good blueberry patch. Oooohh....ahhhh...imagine the jam and pie!  As he went on to describe, you can pulverize your wen into a paste in which to dip your cassava chips, or you can cook them up with tomatoes and vegetables. The fry pan technique I used does give off a particular odor, and though not unpleasant, I didn't experience the childish swoon that brought Francis into the kitchen "something is smelling good!" They really weren't bad. I ate a few teaspoons. I suppose you could market them like Corn Nuts: ranch flavor, siracha, nacho...
If you grew up with this food and move to another part of the world I imagine you long for it.

Anena Paska is describing a forced harvest because the rainy season hasn't come to this area. Our reserve tank of water here at the house has run dry. They announced the regional drought on the radio. There have been a few showers and a bit of violent lightening. We continue to purchase drinking water and there's a local place to fill the yellow, plastic jerry cans. We are the lucky ones. The jerry (or geri) can came to the African continent through the German presence in North Africa during WWII. They came with metal fuel  containers that stacked and transported well. The original metal ones weighed 10 pounds before being filled with fluid. By the late 1960s the jerry can was a ubiquitous symbol of how precious water is to this equatorial climate. Our current conditions mean many local women have to walk far away in the evening to find a water source. In 1970 they began selling the yellow jerry we know today coming in at only 3.5 pounds.

Playing and growing is hard work!
Tika the kitten is thriving. Like everyone else who can afford it, I sleep with a mosquito net. This functions like a spider web for a kitten who wants to snuggle with you at night... I managed to untangle her without her nails leaving holes in the net!  Very soon she should be old enough for her spay surgery and I hope to have news about finding her a home!

Surgery protocols for spay/neuter:
I never mentioned the adaptations the doctors have made for the climate and conditions.  The lateral (side) spay incision, allows for easier post-surgical monitoring and cleanliness. For healthy, non-pregnant females the doctors may choose only to remove the ovaries and not the entire uterus. They've developed a remarkable neutering technique for the male dogs. At first I thought they were talking about the "ping pong technique" which sounded like a lot of fun! They were saying "pinhole technique". An anesthetize dog is shaved and scrubbed as if he were going to have an "open castration"-- one that includes an incision and externalizing the testes. Instead, a metal canula (just a big syringe needle) is inserted through the skin and out the other side. Suture material is threaded through the canula. The result of a few rounds of this is a subcutaneous
(invisible) ring of suture that cuts off blood supply to the testes. "If the owner does not see swelling of the next days then you have done it wrong" Dr. Moses explained. A similar technique is used in young livestock for castration but our companion animals suffer severe extrernal wounds and complications when/if a layperson tries this.  The pinhole technique means the dogs don't need special collars to prevent licking and it is harder for them to develop complications.

Back to my market field trip with Francis to help with language. Loyom Joyce shared a recurring story I heard at the market: she works with her village contacts to purchase her goods from the farmers. These women are entrepreneurs, extrovert 'connector' people. One of those American business guys who writes about networking and human systems needs to step up and talk to them.  The profit margin for their wares is incredibly slim.  A kilo of beans may sell for 3000 schillings, approximately 1 USD. Joyce also sells her groundnut paste. In the opening photo you can see the paste stacked in containers on the wall behind her. When asked what her favorite thing to sell is she remarked on the seasonality of her goods and the freshness. Purchasers are aware of when things are "in season" and their demand matches her sales.

There is an entire annex for sale of dried fish. My tolerance for the odor depends on the day and the heat. This is Caroline. I have learned that if someone of Acholi origin does not offer a last name do not press them for it. It's likely they have one of those Acholi name markers that indicates something other than "I love this child".  (See earlier post when I described Tika's naming process). Once in a while someone refrains from sharing their name to spare my embarrassment at mispronouncing it.  Like the other "middle women" at the market Caroline purchases her fish from the fisherman who've already caught and dried them. Fish come from Lake Virctoria and Lake Albert. The lakes are relatively close, but I've yet to write about the challenge of overland travel around here.
The dried fish area of the market is, like, 2000 square feet of cubicles, each with a seller. Fish range from the tiny silverfish minnows, to large halibut-size whoppers. The whole dried fish is cooked with cabbage, tomatoes and spices (Dr. Wilfred did an AMAZING job of it last night!) and the bones and any other unwelcome bits are removed. The silverfish are shared with companion animals and humans equally. They are used in baby porridge and call also be cooked in several ways.  The teeny fish would seem to add good calcium and minerals as their mini skeletons get eaten as well.

Friday, March 25, 2016

How to choose your taxi driver

I'm at a really lovely backpacker's lodge right near Lake Victoria and Uganda's airport. It's very gentile/colonial around here with gardens, birds and fresh breezes. I was going to try and pick up some books to read while here. In most of Uganda a "book shop" is a stationary store with notebooks, pencils, envelopes etc. With this many expatriates in one area I was certain I could find some novels or the latest Hollywood confessional memoir. I did find a "bookstore". Each book, regardless of beat-up paperback condition, cost more than a night at a hotel or two pork dinners.  It's kind of the same thing with cheese. And chocolate. Fruit, however, remains the go-to gorge for the budget conscious.
Here are baby Jackfruit on the tree. I looked up what family of plants these trees are in and it turns out they're related to figs. An ugly pouch filled with tons of seeds. Hmmm

How to pick a boda-boda taxi driver:  as you climb out of your bus or matatu, or at cross-walks, intersections, heck--almost anywhere when you look sweaty and foreign--mobs of men on motorcycles crowd you yelling YES! MADAM! YES! BODA! As they honk and rev their engines. Most in Gulu now understand I like to walk so leave me alone. But Kampala is entirely different and much, much larger. Yesterday I figured out how to handle the insanity. Go through crowd and ask their age. Not only does this seem to neutralize the shark-tank mentality but it becomes a game "Eh, how old do you think I am?" They ask me. Then they tease each other. "He is forty-five hahaha!" Or boast "I am 20! A mature man!"  To choose, pick the oldest one in the bunch. If there's s tie pick the one with bad teeth. You will be picking an honest winner who can use the support of your business.