Sunday, November 8, 2009

A melancholy little week

Hello All (any?),

Well, another week's worth of days has vanished into the the vastness of the Horn of Africa. No spectacular triumphs or catastrophes to report, but instead a group of small enough events that have conspired to bring on a sourish sort of feeling.

Chief among them must be ranked the departure of my friend Jeff - off to future endeavors in Jacksonville. In my experience, one fairly rarely runs into folks with whom a wide ranging discussion is as possible as a comfortable, companionable silence. Jeff possesses both gifts in abundance, and I found him an immensely easy person to hang out with. It doubtless speaks of my many character flaws that I have found such people have been few and far between. I guess it makes me appreciate them all the more. A life in the Navy is all about wishing "fair winds and following seas" to one boon companion after another, but it always leaves one - or me anyway - a bit wistful.

It was in this frame of mind then that I went to visit the nearby cheetah refuge. It's a place I'd intended to visit for some time, but as the afternoons and evenings are no longer poisonously hot this seemed an ideal time to check it out. We piled on the MWR bus one late afternoon and bumped and jounced about 4 miles down the road toward Somalia. Having cleared the village of Douda (for which the nearby dump is named) we came to the entrance to the refuge. It is a property of some dozens of acres that is a lovely, peaceful green(ish) spot in an area that is otherwise dotted with rubble, refuse and signs of hard scrabble existence.

The refuge is the result of the work of Dr. Bertrand LaFrance, a French veterinarian who has worked with the Djiboutian government to establish a spot for captive cheetahs confiscated by the authorities. The refuge currently has six of the cats, along with miscellaneous other African animals (gazelles, ostriches, caracals, tortoises, etc.), some of whom are destined for reintroduction to the wild. The "green" of the acres of enclosures is provided by scrubby acacia trees, extravagantly festooned with needle sharp thorns. The red sand and dust make these stubborn survivors appear an intense green, especially in the slanting light of the early evening. We strolled around the dusty paths, enjoying the soughing of the wind in the trees, the warbling of song birds - the environs of Camp Lemonnier being the near exclusive preserve of crows and pigeons, neither of whom produce much in the way of melody - and the absence of industrial noise.

The cheetahs were in generously sized enclosures, separated from the walking trails, so the viewing wasn't ideal (although I'm sure this is actually better from the cat's point of view). The place is as nice as it could well be, given the constraints of location and finance. I guess I couldn't get past the contrast of even a large enclosure with the vast sweep of the Masai Mara, and the contrast of the pacing of the cheetahs back and forth along the fenced perimeters with the sinuous grace they display stalking through the tall grass of the African plains. For all that though, there are less than ten thousand cheetahs left in all of Africa, a tenth of the population just decades ago. I'm sure these caged carnivores don't feel all that lucky, but lucky they are in point of fact. It was a pleasant enough afternoon, but suffused all through with just a hint of sadness at the thought of these graceful cats relegated to life "inside the wire". Anyway, soon enough we piled back on our bus and headed back inside our own wire.

Later that week, we saw one of our canine patients from a week ago. Back then, he had just needed an adjustment of his boy parts, but this time he presented gravely ill. For reasons that are still unclear, all of his blood cell lines had taken dramatic drops, leaving him severely anemic and and low on platelets - the little clotting cells that keep us from bleeding and bruising at trivial trauma. We tried one transfusion from a brave "donor" dog, but nothing seemed to improve. Best bet seemed to be related to his massively enlarged spleen filtering out the blood elements , and after some debate we decided to attempt a splenectomy - a risky business in a critter with low blood count to start with and the inability to clot properly. Thanks in large part to Bill's meticulous technique, the procedure went well enough, and our shaggy patient made it through. He was still desperately short of blood cells though, and another transfusion the next night didn't really seem to help. Suggestions for treatments poured in from all of our email contacts around the globe - special kudos to friend Mitzi for sending some of the most helpful - and by dint of much effort and many medications, he has hung on - to this point at least. He's a sweet natured Shepherd, who will need to be retired from life as a Djiboutian working dog, and who already has multiple volunteers to take him home. I hope he makes it, and I hope any future owner knows how to say "sit" in Somali.

The week ended on a bit brighter note, as the crew from Norwegian Frigate Fridtjofnansen pulled in for a port visit. They toured the EMF and we met them for dinner at The Melting Pot, a French/Greek/Japanese restaurant located not so far from their hotel. They were a congenial bunch, who spoke English very well and had a gift for humor and lively conversation. It was a very pleasant evening, and we are promised a visit to the ship's sickbay when next they pull in.

Beyond that not too much. A quiet weekend and a short week ahead, given the Veteran's day holiday. Might head out to Moucha island again, as chances to enjoy the beaches and reefs will diminish rapidly as the month goes on. My replacement reported to Fort Jackson this past Sunday, and while I still don't know exactly when I'll depart, the prospect is becoming more substantial.

Reckon that'll do for a bit. Take care all.

Pictures are of Cheetah refuge.

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