Living in Egypt
Egypt isn't what it appears to be in the media...but that's no real surprise, since not much is. I moved here in the late 80's from Toronto, Canada, with my Canadian/Egyptian husband, my son and my daughter. The children adapted quickly and we decided that this country was a good place to live. Now I wouldn't change my home for anything.
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
A Brotherhood Among Dogs
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Living in a Dog Pack in Egypt ... Transitions to Now
I started writing Living in Egypt in 2003 when I was still living in our family home in Maadi, a nice suburb of Cairo. I had a pack of dogs at the time but I don't know how organised they were. Since about 1998, I haven't really had less than almost a dozen dogs at a time, but a dog pack is very different from a bunch of dogs. A dog pack is a social organisation run by dogs for the welfare and benefit of the dogs, and it may or may not be associated with humans. There are probably more dog packs on farms or homes that can tolerate a lot of dogs than we are aware of, just as it wasn't until about 2006 or 2007 that I became aware of the fact that I lived with a dog pack.
My education about dog packs began with the sandy beige fellow sleeping on the dog bed at the left above. His name was Finn and he was about 3 or so in the photo. I don't know where he came from but he appeared in the food tray, eating kibble as fast as he could while all the other dogs looked on approvingly. When he first came, we had Morgana, a female Great Dane, Koheila, a Dalmation, and Terra, my oldest American Rat Terrier, who were mainly in charge of the dogs. Koheila and Terra were both exceptionally intelligent dogs, especially Koheila. She was partially crippled but very vocal and would bark orders to the other dogs and would often come into the house if I was inside to announce visitors. Gradually, as Finn matured and the old ones died, he took over the pack with astonishing organisation.
Not long after JC joined us, a gardener who was also working as a night watchman in the villa next door let his children adopt a puppy from the street. This was Rocky (above). This was before we had built a wall between our land and the garden next door and the children used to tie Rocky to a small tree near the fence between us with a string that was so tight that it gave him scars which he carries today. My staff would put their hands through the fence to untie Rocky, hoping secretly that he would take revenge on the children who left Rocky covered in scars and with a short tail that had been amputated with a mattock. No amount of talking to the gardener and his family could help Rocky, but after a while the house was sold and the gardener's family left, abandoning Rocky, who promptly came to our gate where he waited patiently for me to let him come in. Finn was still young and not so pleased with the idea of another male dog his age, so when we did let Rocky in, Rocky took off to the far end of the farm by the horse paddock and ever so slowly worked his way back towards the house. It took him months to actually approach my home an over a year to be able to come inside. Meanwhile, he very gently got to know Finn and after a year or so he was Finn's second in command, his "wingman". Despite his heritage, which clearly includes mastiffs and pitbulls, and his history, Rocky has been with us for over 10 years and has never lost his temper with anyone at all. He is now, after Finn's passing, the alpha male emeritus, and all of the dogs defer to him and pay canine obeisance whenever they come into the garden or house and find him resting.
At the same time that Finn was taking on the training of Calypso, he was also pushing to have JC, on the right, take on more responsibility. Often he would be in the garden and if someone came to the farm gate, he would bark sharply, and Calypso and JC, or perhaps one of them only, would go to check on the arrival. As Finn's wingman, Rocky was never really taken in hand by Finn before his death. I suspect that they all knew much more than we did about the transition. Finn had brought JC into the farm one day when he found the pup, who was about a year or so younger than Calypso, trying to dig under the farm gate. My initial concern with JC was that perhaps he had some Huskie blood in him due to his colouring. To my point of view, this would be less than optimal because of the abundance of thick hair on that breed, which can make life miserable in the summer. When JC was about 6 months old, I began to notice some rather odd behaviours in him. One of them, was a relatively sudden aversion to a direct gaze. Most dogs are quite comfortable with a direct gaze, but wolves and coyotes are much less comfortable. In addition, rather abruptly, his body language with the other dogs changed in some odd ways, including odd very submissive postures when greeting the older dogs, and then he taught the other dogs to howl. Around this time an Egyptian friend who is quite knowledgeable about canines was visiting and commented that JC didn't seem to speak the local dog dialect all that well, which was leading at times to misunderstandings between him and some of the other dogs. There are wolves in Egypt, most of whom live in the desert where they largely hunt rodents and scavenge near the trash dumps. I had seen them myself briefly while riding in the desert near us and this thought sent me to search for the few images of Egyptian wolves on the internet. There are not that many, but I have known friends who also had found themselves with wolfdogs due to mates between some of the village dogs living along the desert's edge and the wolves hiding out there. Egyptian wolves quite naturally do not have the thick furry coats of the wolves of the northern hemisphere and are very much similar to JC. Not having anyone to do a DNA test, we assume on the basis of behaviour that he likely is part wolf.
When Finn decided that he was done with living it was a shock to us. He'd been fine in the morning but by mid afternoon he was clearly tired and not really interested in interacting with anyone. He was of a good age, and also a dog who, unlike Calypso who loves a car ride, had no intention of visiting any doctors. We have a canine vet at the other end of the farm and when Finn caught him leaving his clinic after a tough evening trying to perform a blood transfusion on a young dog carrying a plastic bag with some bloody rags in it, Finn decided that the vet was clearly The Enemy and not to be tolerated. Having a clinic onsite is great, but any time someone had to visit the vet for some stitches, for a spay/neuter, Finn had to come along and check out the clinic. He would then wait outside the door until we emerged successfully and walk us home. If he caught the vet on his own, he was definitely not welcoming an I was always relieved that we never lost a dog on the operating table. There were a couple of dogs who had to be euthanised in their old age with catastrophic issues, but for that the vet came to the house and somehow Finn understood the gravity of the situation and made allowances.
Finn chose to lie down on the lawn near one of our mango trees and essentially stopped paying any attention to any of us. The dogs would come individually to check on him, but there was little response. He did not give any signs of pain or distress so I just let him be. He died in the morning and the entire pack watched the gardeners dig a deep grave in the corner of the garden near a pomegranate tree where he liked to jump the wall to go greet visitors. The dogs were all extremely quiet for a few days, didn't even bark at people arriving at the gate. No one howled for almost ten days. We were all curious as to how the pack was going to take the passing of the leader. Gradually, Rocky began to quietly take charge and direct Calypso and JC who would spend a bit more time together than they ordinarily would. Both of them became more solicitous in their greetings of Rocky as well. None of the dogs questioned the change in the power structure. Oddly enough as well, none of the dogs jumps over the wall from Finn's grave.
copyright 2021 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani
Thursday, December 31, 2020
Watching Peter Domesticate Himself
One of the things about Corona has been the fact that the focus of life has changed enormously for everyone. People I would never have expected to have baking skills have been turning out some astonishing loaves of sour dough. One family got an egg incubator and hatched a few duck and chicken eggs that they got from the farm. I have found myself paying more attention to the social lives of my dogs this year as the pack at the farm seems to have attained some sort of maturity. It was formed initially by the incomparable Finn, who passed his authority on to JC and Calypso, with Rocky acting as regent. One of my fantasies in creating the farm was to have a space where I could do some of the ethological studies that had interested me in graduate school. I must admit that between my own busy life and a certain level of human myopia, it wasn't until Finn was getting on that I realised that I had a self-determining dog pack to look at.
Later this summer, two of my male dogs began jumping over one of our garden walls to frolic in the dirt road by the farm with a female baladi dog. Eventually, almost as if they were offering her protection, they coaxed her into coming into the farm and joining them. For a street dog she was in good shape, not too thin or too insect infested, but she has gotten quite sleek in the past few months. She seemed to be accustomed to humans around her and was easy to handle, so we gave her all her shots just to be sure, and Marte settled into life at the farm. At least this way, the boys weren't jumping out of the garden, a feat that was not inconsiderable since the walls are about 3 meters high. When puppy season started, Marte's behaviour changed and the boys, all of them, were all much more interested in her, despite the fact that all of our dogs are neutered. We had courtship going on at all hours and all over the farm. There were plenty of times when I was quite relieved that we had no child visitors to observe the festivities. It was time to check to see if Marte had been spayed, which it turned out that she had been...partly. Someone had removed the uterus and left the ovaries, which were in turn rather inflamed and one of them was encysted, making Marte quite grouchy. Life returned to normal of sorts once her plumbing problems were sorted, except for Peter. Peter was a totally feral baladi dog that had been consorting with Marte outside the wall and began coming into the farm while Marte was experiencing a false heat.
Peter was interesting. He was very polite, never caused any trouble with the other dogs, and although he never showed any interest in getting to know the humans here, he also showed no aggression towards us. Most of the time he would come at night, play with our dogs and Marte and then leave. Again, the sense from the other dogs was that they were offering the protection of the farm to Peter, to the extent that one morning I found him fast asleep on one of the dog beds in the living room. He took off quickly when he awoke to see me there. The girls told me that usually he would sleep near my house and raise an alarm if any of them came over for something at night. He seemed to feel that I needed an extra level of protection.
Lately his visits are more frequent, and he's taken up an evening residence on my back porch overlooking the garden. Occasionally I hear a warning woof from Calypso and BenBen who guard me at night while snuggling under the covers of my bed and I suspect that Peter has come to the dog food dishes that are in the hallway outside my door. The girls have told me that they have seen him scooting out the dog door if they come in early which makes it seem that he has been comfortable enough to join JC, Marte, and Rocky on the living room dog beds. The young dogs sleep in the girls' house for the most part. Mariam, who is our official dog whisperer, has been gradually working on getting within petting distance because if he is going to be hanging around our dogs, he needs to get a rabies shot at some point. We aren't terribly concerned about vaccinations for corona, lepto, and parvo because he is about a year old and if he hasn't died from these things yet. he isn't likely to. But getting a rabies shot is important for him and our dogs as well.
copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani
Friday, December 18, 2020
They Are Talking But Are We Listening?
If we were out for a while and came home, she always greeted us with a call of "Haroo", which was remarkably similar to our "Hello", and when my husband and I had to go out at night and would leave one of his employees to be at the house with the kids, Pepsi would station herself just outside the children's bedroom doors, so that whoever was there could go to the front door, the kitchen, or the bathroom, but there was no way in hell they could go near the children. Best babysitter I'd ever had. When she vanished one day after a move of houses, we were all devastated and spent weeks searching for her. After a month or so one of the baladi dogs at Smouha Club gave birth to a litter and I promised the children that we would take one of her pups. The day that we went to pick up a husky little brown female we found that someone had taken the mother to their farm and the pups were scattered throughout the stables. We found a white one with a black face and took her home despite the fact that we had wanted her sister. When we saw her sister a few days later, the contrast between the clean well fed pup and the hungry dirty one was too much, so we took her home as well with the spoken intention of finding a home for her. Like many people I had never had more than one dog at a time in my life. That was my introduction to pack life because Stella and Milligan were with us until their death many years later and following that I would never consider having just one dog.
My current pack was largely set up and formed by Finn. I rarely have gone out to look for a dog to live with us. Most of them have arrived at the front gate and been invited in by the dogs. Rocky was one dog who came to us as an abused adult when the night watchman at the villa next door was fired and abandoned him. He lay down in front of our gate for three days, never leaving, and overcame my concern that he might be a danger to the children who visit us. Finn's successor, JC, was attempting to dig under the front gate when Finn pulled him in and introduced him to the pack. I thought that was a bit odd at the time, but I have learned that it didn't scratch the surface of oddness. I can joke that there is a sign only visible to dogs outside saying "Safe Haven" or something similar, but I've begun to think that it is more complex than that. Just lately, JC and Rocky began jumping our 3 meter brick walls to cavort in the dirt road in front of our farm with a beige female baladi who seemed to have been dumped here. Eventually they coaxed her into the farm but there was some friction between Marte, as we called her, and Calypso since they are both highly dominant females. After a few months she appeared to come into heat, but a vet exam had indicated that she'd been spayed so we did some ultrasounds that indicated the spay had been incomplete and one of her ovaries was encysted and congested. Once her plumbing problems were sorted she's become more relaxed. This is the first time that the dogs seem to have actively recruited a newcomer. JC and Rocky's attachment to Marte is extreme as well.
There was a male baladi that lives in our road in front of the farm, we call him Peter, who was very interested in Marte when she was going through her false heat, to the extent of jumping the wall to come into the farm with her. Oddly enough, there were no fights among the males. All of our dogs are neutered but it doesn't at all mean that they don't enjoy sex if a female either is in season or thinks that she is, as in Marte's case. After we had Marte re-spayed, we didn't see Peter again for a while until some of our goats gave birth. That evening the goats were put away in their shed and the girls were woken by the sounds of dogs fighting outside. Marte had invited Peter over and they were headed to the goat pen but the other dogs disagreed with this course of action and attacked the two of them. The goats were fine and Marte and Peter took off, but the worst thing you can have at a farm with animals is a livestock killing dog. The next day I asked a friend to take her over to another agricultural area about 9 kilometers away and I gave him a bag of dog food to feed her with. However, he dropped her off only about 3 kilometers away as reported by a friend who saw her shortly after. I was quite annoyed about this but I told my staff that she would be back here by morning, surely, and she was indeed. She also seemed to understand that she had broken some serious rules and modified her attitude significantly.kangaroos ask for help from humans when they need it, despite the fact that they don't live in proximity to humans. They do in fact solicit assistance from humans much the same ways that dogs might. I have noticed this with my horses as well. They lived in paddocks in one large herd and two smaller groupings, and very frequently they will approach one of us to show a cut or scratch or some similar issue that would best be solved with primate fingers.
copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani
Friday, December 11, 2020
Gone to The Dogs
copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani
Sunday, December 06, 2020
A Pandemic Project In The Neighbourhood
copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani
Friday, April 03, 2020
Timelessness Isn't So Great
|Christina and her girls discovered a gang of rats living under the aviary where we have poultry.|
I've been keeping the guys who work here up to date on the news of how things are progressing because not knowing is much worse than knowing when things are not so great. I'm wondering how people are rationalising a complete lockdown in farming communities that are supplying food for people who are living in locked down cities. As well, much of Egypt depends on recyclers who are in personal contact with rubbish that may well be contaminated. The ramifications of this pandemic are mind-boggling. Still, we are living in relative comfort compared to so many.
|The guys helped out on the day that everyone was making life hard for the farm rats.|
The last time I spent this much time at home was in 2011, during the revolution. There was a saying that "this revolution will be tweeted" and I guess that this is going to be the same way.
|Dahab schmoozing with a chick.|
copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani