letters from nairobi

beware the canine
November 18, 2011, 20:09
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

It has come to my attention that we may have to move.

Why? Because Kenyans are terrified of dogs.

For most Kenyans, there is little difference between this:

and this:

From what I understand, the stance is pretty reasonable – in this city, dogs appear to fall into one of two categories: tiny, fluffy, weightless little poofs owned by wuzungu, or vicious, snarling, bloodthirsty German Shepherds that are used as security against intruders.

Needless to say, Franklin doesn’t conform to either stereotype. But, because of his size and exuberance, he is lumped in with the latter category.

The employees of the apartment complex express varying degrees of wariness towards my dog. Among the front gate guards, many of whom are amused at the Great White Canine that ventures outside the grounds a couple of times a day, interacting with Franklin has become a performance of masculinity; an impetus for teasing one another.

“Heeeeey, FRANK-leeen!” A guard will shout as I round the corner, holding the leash. “Frank-leeeen!”

The dog, who has no room for considering anything other than the whereabouts of the stray cats, will flick his head in the direction of his name and then resume his prowl.

As we approach the gatehouse where some of the employees congregate during the day, the guard will raise his chin high and strut over to us.

“Hey, you might want to hide! The dog is here,” he’ll call to the others behind him.

And then to me, in a faux-conspiratorial tone within earshot of all, he confides, pejoratively, “They are afraid of the dog.”

As if to illustrate the vast chasm between himself and the weaker men, he will extend his hand, palm stiffly parallel to the ground, and brusquely pat Franklin’s head, pat-pat.

Grinning proudly at this display of fearlessness, he steps back, pleased with himself.

“Don’t worry,” I say, craning my head to address the group of people huddled together a safe distance away. “He’s friendly.”

They nod and smile uncertainly. When we pass through the gate, the lock clanking behind us, uneasy laughter breaks out. “I’m not afraid of no dog!” I hear one voice rise in protest as we walk away.

This theater repeats itself nearly every time we enter or leave the apartment complex.

The housekeeping staff, though – the people who actually dare to venture inside our apartment where the giant, vicious animal resides – are less amused.

Part of our rent includes a daily housekeeping service. Each day, theoretically, a housekeeper (male or female) comes into the apartment and straightens up, washes dishes in the sink, and collects the laundry and towels (we don’t yet have our own laundry machine). This practice, which, according to N. had been occurring regularly prior to my arrival, has suddenly become strange and sporadic.

Yesterday, for example, a housekeeper entered and went to the rear of the apartment, where the bedrooms are. I knew the dog can make Kenyans uneasy, so I closed the door that separates the back of the apartment from the front, and kept Franklin with me as not to bother the housekeeper.

More than an hour later, after I had been questioning what exactly was going on in the back rooms that was taking such intense scrutiny – normally, tidying up the whole place takes about 30 minutes – I received a phone call.

“Hello, Ms. Martinez?” a lilting voice asked.


“Yes, hi, this is Housekeeping. The man who is cleaning your apartment needs to clean another apartment.”

“Oh… um… yes, okay?” I said, confused. Why didn’t he just tell me this himself? What has he been doing back there?

“Thank you, miss.” Click.

The housekeeper who had been puttering around the bedrooms for the last hour suddenly emerged, bucket in hand, and made a beeline for the front door.

When I walked into the bedrooms, everything looked exactly as it had been left – except the bed was made.

What had happened, I came to understand later, was that he had been so afraid of the dog that he locked himself in the rear of the apartment and stayed there, paralyzed, for an hour. He must have called his supervisor and asked for her help – to admit to me that he was afraid would have been an unconscionable admission of weakness, especially for a man.

I felt terrible about his experience. How terrified he must have been to lock himself in the bedroom, formulating a plan to escape unscathed.

I later heard from the apartment manager, who told me that she wouldn’t have let Franklin move in had she known of his size (disregarding the fact that she had been shown a photo prior to our arrival), and that, should we want to continue our lease, other laundry/cleaning arrangements will have to be made – for an additional charge, of course.

Adding this increasingly strained relationship to the already tense feral cat situation has made N. and I think twice about the long-term viability of this living arrangement.

Could you rest easy knowing this beast walked among you?


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

wowwwwwww i would have never have thought! did you see “babies”? there are definitely stray dogs roaming around there and they let their babies play with it. that was in namibia though….

Comment by nichole

ps – that’s on netflix watch instantly and it’s really cute!!

Comment by nichole

Clearly we are on the verge of an interspecies intercultural breakthrough. I MISS YOU!

Comment by Richard Rubenstein

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