Dr. Gudush Jalloh operating on a puppy with a hernia during one of his "street clinics" in Freetown.
First you notice the dogs. In all other ways Freetown is a West African city like any other, of red dust and raised cries, forty-degree heat and a year neatly segmented into two – hot and dry, hot and wet.
Today water tips from the sky. Beneath the canopy of a local store three street dogs and a man holding a briefcase stand and contemplate the rain. Another dog shelters beneath the umbrella of a cigarette seller. A fifth follows a woman across the street, literally dogging her footsteps, using her as a beacon to navigate the traffic and the floodwater.
In the dry season the kings of the city are the dogs. They weave through the crowds, lie in the roadside shade watching through slitted eyes, they circle and squabble, unite in the occasional frenzied dash. For the most part the people and the dogs exist on separate planes. The dogs ignore the people, who likewise step around and over them. On the road the drivers steer around reclining animals. This city has more street dogs than any I have known.
It is eight o’clock on a Wednesday morning. Torrents of water sluice off the hills and rush down the cross streets. The force of the rain has swept the traffic off the road, and now threatens the battered Peugeot ahead of me. Inside his clinic Dr Jalloh has placed his plans on hold, waits for me in his tiny surgery surrounded by dogs, waits for the rain to stop.The whole city waits for the rain to stop.
Dr Jalloh is the only vet in the country. No, that is not quite true. There are three government vets, employed by the Ministry of Agriculture. They wear rubber boots, but mostly deal with figures, with capacities, stock and yields. There are also a small number of charlatans. Gudush Jalloh is the only qualified vet in private practice. The single person in the country to whom you might bring your sick dog, cat, monkey or goat.
First must-read of spring break: The Last Vet. From Sierra Leone, Aminatta Forna writes about an extraordinarily dedicated veterinarian, about dogs, people, Africa and the West, and "considers why caring for animals is essential to being human." In Granta's Work issue -- H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.