Daily Archives: February 16, 2010

Learning About Africa: The Quiet Hero

An American came to Sierra Leone to work for the Special Court responsible for trying war criminals, one of hundreds of lawyers and support staff employed by the American-backed court. She wanted to fly three street dogs to the United States and asked Jalloh to prepare the dogs for travel. He suggested she give the money to his programme instead. For the same money he could help a thousand dogs. She refused, spent 3,000 US dollars to transport the dogs He remembers her name and repeats it. In time it will become a running gag between us, a byword for solipsistic sentimentality. It made him think he should be doing a ‘sponsor a street dog’ programme, like those for sponsoring children. Send a photograph of the dog and a monthly update.

That would work, I agree: ‘She wanted to be a hero.’

In Aminatta Forna’s gorgeous and moving essay, “The Last Vet,” we learn about the complicated relationship between Sierra Leonean man and dog.  In this country, one of the poorest in the world,  veterinarian Gudush Jalloh has worked for years and years.  Before the war, during it, and after.  Forna’s essay, like her memoir The Devil that Danced on Water, makes a reader think far beyond the simplistic.  When I lived in Sierra Leone in the mid-70s I was trained to be terrified of the street dogs because of rabies.  I saw many sick and starving animals in my time there. Vets, I thought, would never be an option, moreso, after the war. But Forna sets me straight in this moving essay.   An absolutely spectacular piece of reporting and writing.  Highly, highly recommended.

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