One of our assignments during our home stay in Bhangata was to pick a topic to focus on for the three weeks and write a ten page paper about it. Guess what I chose…..DOGS! Dogs were everywhere in Bhangata and it was difficult for a dog lover such as myself, to see the conditions in which they were living. Most dogs in Northern Tanzania (I can’t speak for the rest of Tanzania) are used primarily for security purposes. Just like cows provide milk, and chickens provide meat and eggs, dogs serve a purpose. A common method of training dogs for security involves locking them up in small boxes or cinderblock structures during the day and letting them out only at night (if at all). This method certainly angers them. As an American, coming from a household that feeds our dog Chinese herbs for her tumor and only organic, “all natural” dog food, you can imagine the judgement bells ringing in my head when I witnessed the treatment of dogs in Tanzania.
“How dare they?! That is horrible! People need to be taught how to properly take care of their animals!!”
However, I approached my assignment of researching dogs in Bhangata with an opened mind, even though my moral, emotional, Marikaness was freaking out! I began asking everyone I came across if they liked dogs.
-A Random person comes over to my house, “Unapenda mboi?” (do you like dogs?)
-I Find myself in a strangers house, “Unapenda mboi?”
-On the dala dala (public transportation) back to my house sitting mashed up against an old woman, “Unapenda mboi?”
EVERY single person said yesss! However, when asked why, EVERY single person said that they are good for security. Peoples’ lack of appreciation for dogs as companion animals saddened me but helped me realize something incredibly important. It is a privilege for me to feel the way about dogs (and most animals). When a family is struggling to feed it’s members while fearing that a thief will take what little they posses,caring about their dog is the least of their worries. The dog has a job, and that’s what it is there for. WOW! How lucky am I to be able to spend the time, energy and money it takes to care for my dog?! This simple, yet important realization opened my eyes to all of the other privileges I have! One day my friend Emma and I were talking about how we like when the power goes out in our home stay houses because it feels rustic and cozy. But that’s a privilege! It sounds so simple, but I urge you to think about your privileges. This has helped me appreciate what I have more, but also view different cultures’ practices and ways of life more objectively. Coming from my culture and the privileges I feel it provides me with, treating dogs the way they are treated in Bhangata is wrong. However, the issue is so much more complicated than that. It’s easy for me to be critical when I’m perched atop my dogs lifetime supply of medical care and overpriced dog food. Learning about dogs in Bhangata helped me jump off that pile and see them for what they are in a culture that is not my own.
Disclaimer: I am, in no way saying that all Tanzanian families abuse or don’t care about their dogs. That isn’t true. However, I did find that most dogs I came across were used for security purposes.