One thing I have learned from travelling is absolutely everything in life is connected. Sometimes we see the connections right away and other times we only see them later, when we are sitting at a hotel bar in Muscat looking at the crescent moon rise over the sea.
Let’s Rewind –
I was about to start my fourth year of university when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the levees burst and suddenly my world changed. Although, at that time I didn’t know it had changed. I was a leader at a university fencing camp and only really heard reports on the radio while on the drive in every day. Much like Sean of the Dead where all the reports around them showed a world in chaos, I was happy to live in a little bubble of sports during the day, pints in the evening. Months later I found myself in New Orleans, volunteering with Best Friends helping with animal rescue. Again my life had changed, I just didn’t know it.
I came back to university after volunteering with no real animal volunteering path in my mind, no real understanding of what that trip meant to me. I loved my time there: it was hard, it was sad, it was overwhelming, it was triumphant, it was real. But I thought it was probably a trip of a lifetime, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to serve like that again.
The thing that stuck with me was I had no experience or formal education in anything animal related – but I was still able to help. Everyone who showed up could help, there were people who did laundry all day, people who cooked all day, people who threw down giant bags of food for the dogs who eluded rescuers, there were people who spent their days cleaning dog runs. It took all kinds of people doing all manner of tasks for this rescue effort to work. Everyone had a role and not all of them were hands on but all of them were working towards the same goal so we all helped. We all rescued dogs.
Later I would go to Nepal find this out again. Volunteering at a dog rescue centre in the Kathmandu Valley I would sometimes bath mangy dogs, sometimes I would enter codes on a computer, other times I would take dogs on walks. All these tasks were important, small as they were they were part of the bigger picture and while doing it I rescued dogs.
The Snowball Effect –
30+ countries later and 6 more dog rescue programs under my belt, I found myself taking part in one of the hardest dog volunteer programs I have ever done. Hard because I would be in a virtual team but physically on my own.
I was going to look after a dog rescue. I had internet met the founders of the rescue years before. Supporters of AEI and followers of our many adventures, it seemed like we were already friends in real life. They would be expanding the scope of the programs and would be out of the country for two weeks, they needed someone to look after the pack for those weeks. I knew it would be a challenge but they needed help and I love a good challenge. 23 dogs, 7 cats and 1 Canadian. Spoiler alert: we all made it out alive.
Muscat is a beautiful city and the capital of Oman, it boasts a rich and deep history of trade, art and being way hot. Located on the sea of Oman it has the distinct pleasure of being super hot and very humid, when I arrived it was 40c with 80% humidity and that was at about 10 a.m. We drove to the ministries district, where I would be living with the dogs. A massive three story house with echoy marble floors and gorgeous white pillars inside. Our neighbourhood hosted three beautiful mosques that rivalled only each other in beauty. From my room I could see the white architecture of the region and not so distant mountains that protected Muscat in historical times of trade and sometimes plunder.
A Day in the Life (Oman Edition) –
Up at 4:30 a.m.(!) The dogs would wake up during the call to prayer to try and sing along. I would jump out of bed and hush all of them but in all that activity everyone would get riled up. Outside we go! To my neighbours: no one was more aware of the dogs’ barking than me. It is hard to keep that many dogs quiet and trust me, I tried my very best.
Chop up about 12 lbs of raw chicken for their meals, they eat raw, I’m a vegetarian. I would have my coffee after chopping so I wasn’t as awake for that part…
9 a.m. – I take a few dogs to the beach. The sea of Oman was a 6 minute drive from the house. I had a Hummer to drive around and as much as I hate to admit, dang I felt cool driving it. The water is warm like a bath, and the almost-white sand beaches could rival any beach I have ever visited. We walked along the beach that are shared with embassies. Sea front property for Bahrain, France, Iraq, Britain and UAE, I would wonder what they would think if they saw me walking the great dane or swimming with a few rescue dogs. Later in the trip I was able to go snorkelling. Coral reef, whale sharks and rays call the sea their home- so do oil tankers. It’s a fragile region in many respects.
10:30-1 p.m. – Try to get work done while shushing dogs and making sure they are socialised. I found out while in the country there are a few sites I needed that were blocked by the Sultanate. It decreased my workload greatly but gave me some anxiety about work once I got back home.
1-5 p.m. – All 23 dogs have different friend groups and different grump groups. While getting them all outside for play, exercise and socialisation I needed to make sure the friends were together and the rivals were separated.
5:30 p.m. – Doggie dinner time. During this time I would socialise the cats, clean their litter boxes and sometimes remember I hadn’t eaten yet.
6:30-9:30 p.m. – More dog play time before they are put to bed.
10:30 p.m. – I often I would go to sleep without dinner. Being too tired from breaking up squabbles, getting the dogs to STOP THEIR DANG BARKING, cleaning up indoor ‘accidental’ pee, cleaning up outside yarfs and poos, trying to make sure all the dogs got proper individual play and loving time, going to the store to get more chicken and figuring out how to live in such a hot place, I was exhausted every day.
This happened for 16 days. When my friends got back, I was a bit delirious and found myself shushing birds and water coolers.
While walking on the beach one day with a Great Dane named Gatsby (see what they did there?) I marvelled at how amazing and how difficult all this was. It was an incredible adventure and again, one that didn’t need any special skills. I was certainly using skills I had learned along the way, but I wasn’t here because I was a leader in any field, an expert at anything. I was here because I again was ready to jump in and see how I could help with the skills I had, where I was. From New Orleans to Oman I have spent my life being just a bit over my head but being okay with it.
Later my friends and I went to have dinner at a hotel restaurant and bar that overlooked the Muscat skyline. While the sun set, the tide came in and the crescent moon rose, it occurred to me that the timeline of events that got me to Oman was quite fragile. I was here because everything in life was connected and the neat part of that is we don’t know where it’s going, we only know some of the connections that got us there. It took countless meetings, failures, leaps of faith, missed connections and mundane details throughout my life to get me to Oman – and most of them, I will never see the importance of.
On Connectivity –
I never thought I would look after a house of dogs in the middle east but I am happy I did it and I am excited to know what this experience will bring and how it will be connected to future adventures. Maybe more exciting is knowing there will be things in the future that happen and I will never know any of their connections.