It is autumn here in the US. The trees are almost garish in their wild colors—the last blast before grays and browns and blues wash across the sky and land. Rusty splotches will fill in here and there and green will barely dare to peep out at one point or another. It will all become very subdued, as nature settles down for the serious work of getting through winter.
In Botswana nature is preparing for summer. Ninety-five degrees and water shortages. I am glad I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer there, but it is more present to me everyday. The memories keep coming back unbidden. Especially the dirt paths of my village and the treks I took with Felix and Spike, my landlady’s dogs. I did not welcome them at first. I am not a dog person, but they decided to come along whenever I left the compound, and I was not going to get into a confrontation with two dogs, one of whom came up to my hip and loved to chase goats. I got used to having them trotting along beside me and in time I came to rely on them. I thought I left the US with my sense of direction intact, but in Botswana, at the bottom of Africa, I kept getting lost. The dogs always knew where we were, even if I didn’t.
When I returned from my father’s funeral to find Felix missing—presumed poisoned by an angry goat owner—it was Spike who got up and trotted along with me every time I opened the gate. We walked our grief together. He padded alongside me to the bus and waited until I got on. He accompanied me to school and waited all day until I was ready to return home. At night he slept on the step across my doorway. No man ever treated me so well. And for nothing. I did not feed him, did not even touch him. Where did this devotion come from? Another volunteer said she was sure African dogs attached themselves to white people because they knew we wouldn’t hurt them. A dog in Africa is a desperate beast. My landlords did not feed their dogs, did not even give them water. If Spike or Felix, driven by hunger, managed to kill one of the landlord’s chickens, they were beaten. And yet the dogs stayed faithful to the compound. I didn’t speak Setswana but apparently I spoke Dog. I talked to Spike quite often and he always responded.
Towards the end of my term, when the drought was taking its toll and Spike’s age was holding him back, I intervened. He was leaving the compound less and less and when he did he usually returned the worse for wear. His ribs became visible and scabs appeared on his head and torso. I began giving him half my dinner each night and made sure there was water available for him. When my landlady tied him to a tree and left him lying in the sun to keep him away from the bitch in heat I fashioned a sunshade for him.
Finally I convinced my landlady to allow me to take him to the SPCA in the capital. There they dressed his wounds, put him on antibiotics, and guaranteed him a home until adoption. It took a few months, but after I had returned to the states I received word that Spike was healthy and living with a family.
It’s not the work I expected to do in the Peace Corps, it’s not really sanctioned by the Peace Corps, but it’s probably the most satisfying thing I did—saving Spike.