A Dog at Home

The other day I was having a call that threw me back to a difficult time in my childhood. “Don’t you think you now need a dog?” wondered my US-based Ugandan friend, after sharing with him a disturbing video clip of machete-wielding chaps, sneaking into suburban homes, where they have on occasion left victims in bloody pools, desperately clinging on to life. You see lately, the security situation in Uganda, but more so, the central region (read Buganda), has been rapidly worsening.

It seemed first like some remote freak incidents going on elsewhere as news started creeping into Kampala of hooded characters ambushing residents largely in the Masaka area, decapitating them, and then hastening off without any valuables. Who are these killers who do so only for fun! The shock of these senseless killings took me back to a time I would rather forget.

Somewhere in the 1970s, growing up in Kampala suburbs, my childhood started being interrupted with grotesque news that left me reeling on the edge. Uncle Bulasio Kavuma had just retired safely in his country residence, after a distinguished career in both the Buganda and central government of Uganda. Whenever he dropped by at home, dressed in a jacket and tie though retired, the house would be filled with his sonorous laughter and there was joy all around. But one day came news that machete wielding chaps had stormed at the door of his country house just as he had latched the locks. They demanded all his valuables, which he gladly offered. Then without waste started bludgeoning him to minced meat, before they left off, in the dark of the night.

Kampala was becoming a city of macabre news. Soon after, a rising cousin who had just graduated from Makerere Law school, was hauled off from his office after he defended someone that pissed off some army guys, tossed in a boot of a car, never to be seen again. In this climate my old man, Mzei, though never a late night out man, resorted to hurrying back home soon after work. Once inside the house, just after dusk, he would direct all the curtains drawn and doors fastened.

But still, the machete wielding thugs, known as kondos, continued on with their bloody match. This is how we got a watchman at home. Mzei stationed him at the front door armed with a bow and arrow. We all slept on edge. On occasion Mzei would get up in the middle of the night, disturbed at the slightest sound, of something moving outside. He would call out the watchman. All he got was the purr of him lost in another word, snoring away. The watchman was let go.

Before then Kampala suburban homes used to have only conifer shaped tree fences hedging houses. Few homes were enclosed behind high walls or gates. Suddenly, some people seeing that the hedges could no longer ward off the kondos started raising high brick walls. These, with time, would soon become a way of life. But before we too got there we got a new family member.

One day I came back home to find a puppy, brought home by mother. I had seen police dogs before, especially on TV shows where they happily followed orders, and knew dogs were good at protecting the turf their owners. Every one of us at home was excited about this puppy, which one of my siblings quickly gave the name Snap. We all couldn’t wait to feed it on milk and then as it grew, there was always a bone to toss it which it feasted upon. Mzei, on his way back from home, had a deal with a certain restaurant that gave him left overs, which came in a polythene bag and were emptied for Snap to feast, as he wagged his tail.

But our expectations of Snap growing into a giant of a dog would come to a sour end as its kind rose only to a medium stature. Mother without asking much about dog breeds, had been duped to think this was a German shepherd with its early black shade. As we all kids grew taller, Snap reached a point and decided there he would stop. Whatever mountain of dish we fed him on, he just refused to enlarge.

But then we discovered what Snap lacked in size, he could compensate with a loud hot bark.

As part of our raising him into a fierce dog to protect us from machete men, it was decided Snap would be locked up every day in a kennel. There was a theory going around that dogs kept outdoors tended to be too playful and rather weak. By then I had already seen a number of white expatriates who even drove around town with dogs tucked in one of the car seats. What a waste! This was not our idea of a dog. We wanted a mean dog, fed on a mug of bitter pepper, the kind that would maul attackers into minced meat without waste.

But getting Snap into his kennel proved some task. At the crack of dawn mother would task one us kids to motion him for his kennel. Snap would eye you wearily, with his sharp piercing black eyes, and start moving the other way. “Snap I say get in,” I would bellow at him. Still he would not turn back. Then I would move toward him. Fast he started sprinting off in the opposite direction. It was only after a spirited chase that would end up with any of us throwing hard objects at him that would finally get him inside his kennel.

He hated it. At first he would scratch frantically and push hard at the door, break loose on occasion, only to be pushed back. Then he would put out a load moan, till he tired of it and dozed off. It was after dusk that we would let him out. Immediately he set off into several quick laps around the house, with occasional barks, that made us feel safe. Through the night he would pitch out his loud bark, and take command of the house security.

Dogs do not have a very long life. As we all grew into teens, meanwhile Snap took a pause. His once fast legs started faltering that even a command of “Get in” wouldn’t provoke him into a fight anymore. He would just march quietly inside his dark kennel, where he let the hours pass by, just snoring away. Upon release, he settled into a corner, rarely and slept away without a single bark. All of us realized Snap was graying and started being easy on him. He had earned his badges of protecting us from machete wielding thugs, and now we only emptied into his plate all the bones he needed, and left him be.

One day I got home and found Snap was nowhere. “He died,” mother told me. “And we buried him under a traditional tree, jirikiti, where dogs are dispatched off.” The spot was actually not very far from home, about a 100 yards away, and seeing it I felt rather sad, to lose this character that had come into our life and warded off the machete thugs in their pitiful bloody thrust.

Strange, I thought, after hanging up the phone, that these thugs had returned and to forestall danger I might need a dog. Where I had thought that my brick fence wall with barbed wire, an iron gate, and a young man who keeps an eye around was enough, that was increasingly becoming less secure. Perhaps one day, my kids would return home to find, just as happened to me once, a long time ago- a dog at home!

One thing I have learnt to accept is, well, my country keeps ever moving in circles.

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@ Turning Point is authored by Dr Martin M. Lwanga with the purpose to inspire by reflecting on life through personal experiences and life observations. The first collection will be out in the last quarter of 2021 under the title of “Who is my Friend!” Those interested can book for an early copy on Whatsup # 0772401774 @ 30,000 UGX ONLY (for free distribution around Greater Kampala)!

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