Thursday, August 16, 2012


I find it hard
to look at you
to watch you
while you sleep
on my neck at night.

Knowing once I am gone
you'll become
another wild beast
a part of the feral
far from a housecat
far from a family member
you'll become once again
you'll be once again,

Part of the landscape
part of everyday life
when to me
you are a goddess.

I find it hard
to imagine you
other than how you are
right now
or sitting alone
in the mud
as I found you
skinny and sniffling,
shaking with cold,
struggling to grow
so close to death.

For now
we will
allow you
to be tame.

Once you
are free again
in the jungle
in the night
running with the
wild things
that live outside
my door
I will see you
in a distant memory
sleek as a leopard
looking out
into the mist.

Author's Note*** I wrote this poem as a way to deal with some of the strays I took in while in Kenya. I say deal with not regarding the difficulties they presented to a training veterinarian (health wise, which were numerous and educational in themselves), but rather regarding the difficulties they presented to an animal lover. I took these cats in, in some cases kittens, because I wanted to treat them while keeping a watchful eye on them. When you first start actually administering some form of treatment to an animal you always want to keep them within arm's length, as you doubt your abilities and in many circumstances, the ability of the animal to survive the treatment. They all survived and even flourished under my care while in Kenya but to leave them behind ended up being a harder process than even I had imagined. I have done fostering work before with cats but this was a much different type of parting. You had to consider beyond just physically leaving the cats (the emotional grief experienced by both yourself and the animal) and think about the reality facing the animal you are leaving behind. They are not leaving your care to enter into the traditional North American household, which comes with a constant supply of cat food, toys with cat nip and one particular owner, they are being let loose into the Kenya wildlife to become part of the livestock. Not a beloved pet, not a cherished animal, rather they become a part of day to day life, whose comings and goings are unmonitored. I found peace in this but it was a process for me, abandoning my traditional views of animal care. This is not to say that animals, especially cats and dogs, were any less important to people in Kenya. Cats proved an excellent and very necessary form of rodent/pest control and dogs provided security but certainly the Kenyan adopted relationship with these animals we consider absolutely domestic is different. I wrote this poem with all of this in mind and it is my hope that it is taken as so. It is hard for us, as animal lovers, as veterinarians, as welfare advocates, to sit by and let these beloved friends loose into the world, yet it is our job. Just as I leave behind farmers whose future I am uncertain of, I leave behind these small creatures, just beginning their lives. It is a necessary hardness of this kind of position but it is one I think I can embrace with wider arms in the future as I continue to learn just how many forms of human-animal bonds exist on this planet.
As always,

From top:
"Small small"- a cat taken in from one of our farmers, taken right after a flea treatment.
"Mrs. Little" - a cat taken in from outside the chairman's house, where we roomed for the summer.
"All of us"- a group shot, one of many.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Look at the faces
of people first experiencing
the delight of bubbles.

At first they are
as to what will come
out of the little yellow plastic rod
but then
as the circular pieces
of water and soap begin
to breathe out of the wand,
they spark in these concerned faces
light, laughter
surprise, fascination.

Standing on the side of the road
giving out bubbles to children
who have never
in their life
even thought
about the existence
of a magically contrived
it is impossible not
to catch yourself
with a smile.

***Author's Note: Honestly, not a lot to say here. Some of my experiences in Kenya were easy to sum up in a few words, like this. It is easier than one thinks to place yourself in the position of someone who has never seen something like bubbles. Someone who has never even considered the fact that something like a bubble could be manufactured, let alone bottled in a small plastic container and sold at The Dollar Store. It seems hard at first but it just seamlessly happens as you observe other people marvelling at an object which is to us so common place. As you watch the emotions encompassing the faces of these children you can imagine yourself looking up and seeing for the first time, through the hot Kenya sun, bubbles. It is enjoyable every now and then to force yourself to remember how powerful these simple moments are, and in the right light, how they can be elevated by the human spirit and transformed into sources of sheer delight.
Thanks as always,


Haunting, haunting
images of waste.

Of plastic bags
strewn out of car windows
speeding away
a part of me cringes
to watch a cookie wrapper
tousle in the dust
behind our vehicle.

At first
there is outrage
inside of me
one who has been raised
to refuse waste
to find a way
to make it no longer useless
to make it something else
less disgusting.

But here
we consume
we ingest
we take everything
out of everything
until it is gone
and but a hollow shell
to be buried
with the other
empty remnants
of something that
once served us
some purpose.

So is it waste
is it trash,
is this garbage
that is thrown out
our car window
or is it

totally used.

Author's Note*** This speaks to one of those oddities that occur to travellers of the developing world, we become entirely accustomed to things like a lack of proper garbage disposal. In Kenya, most people simply round up their trash and burn it once or twice a week, be it on the side of the road or in their front yard, it is just another chore of the week. The smell is intense but somehow over the matter of a month it becomes commonplace to your senses. The thick smoke with a strong scent of burning rubber becomes somehow bizarrely acceptable. One of the first days we were in Kenya, Morgan and I were shocked by our translator, Priscilla's, method of dealing with refuse. She was eating a milk biscuit (commonly used in Kenya as a sort of 'energy boosting' supplement and sold individually in little wrappers, really it's just a shortbread of sorts) and when she was finished with it, she simply rolled down the window and tossed it out. Out flew the wrapper on a hot updraft and I watched it roll behind us in the dust for a few seconds before it disappeared out of site. Walking around town became a good lesson in what people bought the most. Milk biscuit wrappers, chewing gum wrappers, mixed tea packets and engine oil bottles would form a sort of little circle expanding out from the entrance to tiny shops or convenience stores. The moment someone would buy something, they would seem to consume it immediately, no one ever seemed to buy anything in advance of the just now. I admit, I kind of enjoyed this. I was funny to me, as we always seem to be making lists of things we need when we go out to shop in North America, making sure we never run out of anything or have to go back throughout the week to complete our list. Witnessing this kind of thing gave me a view into another way of tackling such a simple part of our day to day lives and it made me wonder if we all implemented this kind of strategy, would we waste less? While I see garbage in Kenya everywhere I look, is it in someway less wasted and more used because it wasn't bought until directly needed, was immediately devoured and then left in the dirt. It wasn't bought, sat on a shelf, forgotten about and replaced, used up simply to get ride of it and then thrown out. It's abstract yes, but it does give you something to think about. We as North Americans are so quick to judge the massive amounts of garbage we are presented with when we are traveling through a developing country. It's hard not to be mildly outraged or appalled when you first see someone toss something out a car window, but over time, you can become capable of seeing something beyond the trash and this makes it easier to understand, it even leaves room for it to become, completely normal.

Masai Boy in Garbage- taken outside the gate to Masai Mara, a world class Game Park in southern Kenya
Goat in Garbage- taken in a village outside of Nairobi (look to the middle right of the photo to see the solo sheep)
Dog in Garbage- taken in a rural Kenya village amongst a strip of local shops between two of our farm sites.