The first time I stepped into our slum, I was struck by how the animals made it feel like a village. Goats standing outside every-other door, chickens running around the alleyways. It was a major part of the appeal.
So for my series on what the slum is like, here is my photographic ode to the animals.
This is a goat.
This is a goat in a sweater.
This is a goat in a sweater, smiling.
This is two goats in sweaters.
Four goats in sweaters.
Eight goats in sweaters.
You get the idea. Goats are valuable here – they produce milk, produce meat, are an important part of one of the biggest religious holidays of the year, and are loved by the kids. The keeping of goats can be an important contributor to a family’s finances. I believe it also brings in a connection to the village life that many have had to leave behind.
Of course, there are drawbacks. This is the common area outside of one room where we stayed for three years. It may look nice when it’s clean….
But it’s not always clean.
Dogs rival goats in numbers. The mama dog in this picture is one of the few that is looked after – 99% are street dogs. The local street dog is one of the most pathetic animals on Earth – always dirty, usually mangy, usually eating trash, often with open wounds. Many people are scared of them but I find them to be timid around humans – likely because any aggression towards people gets them killed. There are exceptions, usually due to illness. Last week a six-year-old student of mine was bitten badly on the arm by a “crazy dog” and is in the midst of her rabies vaccines.
Chickens are raised for meat and eggs both.
They dye the chicks sometimes.
Water Buffalo are uncommon in our slum – generally I only know of one family that has them. But in some slums they are more prevalent. Buffalo function as large goats with an affinity for water.
Geckos are one of the most noticeable “wild” animals. Peregrine and I call them friends, and they’re our replacement for television as they gobble up bugs around the lights at night. Most people here are frightened of geckos and believe them to be poisonous, but there’s really no actual negative to them at all.
The same cannot be said for ants. Ants are a horrible bane. They form lines to your food, to your wall, over your bed. They are almost impossible to keep out – many species will burrow right through the mortar between your bricks, will cut through plastic to get at stored food. They frequently end up in our water filter. The red ones are the most common, and their sting is terribly nasty. I really hate the ants.
Several quite beautiful birds will stop by on occasion, like this sunbird. I’ve seen at least 20 species of birds from our window.
Works animals make this place feel like a different era. Small ponies carry sand and bricks to construction sites, able to travel through narrow alleyways and up stairs in a manner that normal wheeled vehicles cannot. Though rarer than before you can also still see ox, buffalo, and horse-drawn carts doing work around the city.
Mice and rats are annoying when they come but they’re not nearly as prevalent or as problematic as I would have thought.
Similar but far better is the Asian House Shrew. They are as big as a rat but have the long snout of a shrew. You don’t have to worry about them getting into your food – they eat bugs and baby mice. They are remarkably cute in their behavior – unlike rats and mice they don’t climb and they almost never enter into open spaces, so you always see them running alongside walls, trying to get to the next hole as quickly as possible, moving that long nose around for all its worth.
Mosquitoes. This is bad. I HATE mosquitoes so much, always thinking of the dengue, malaria, filaria, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis, and other diseases they carry. Pretty much every year someone I know will catch dengue, last year it was one of our teammates, and several people in the slum have died from dengue or dengue-like symptoms. Peregrine may have had a mild case of dengue five years ago. I’ve had an ugly case of filaria, as well as one fever that may have been chikungunya and another that may have been Japanese encephalitis (but without extensive testing viral fevers are difficult to pin down). Mosquito bites are one of the most difficult-to-avoid ways of getting sick in the slum – even if you use a mosquito net AND put repellent on frequently, you always seem to pick up some bites.
On a better note, this is Door-to-Door Cow. I gave her that name due to her daily routine of going from door to door begging for food. Peregrine used her as a convenient way to recycle our food waste. Goats have the reputation of eating anything, but in my experience cows are even less picky, at least when it comes to trash. I’m pretty sure our cows are only a few generations of natural selection away from evolving to digest plastic and then single-handedly fixing the trash issue.
A few young men in the slum catch hawks in an agricultural area 50 km from here, acculturate them to humans, and then sell them to wealthy people. So as often as not we have a young hawk or kite sitting around.
In fact, just today I caught a mouse in our room and fed it to one of them.
Bats come out at night, and are a welcome assistant in the fight against mosquitoes. Sadly, this baby bat somehow fell from its mother and was found by a local boy, who wasn’t able to take care of it.
The mongoose might be the coolest wild animal we have. I’ve seen them in every slum, carving out a little niche in the trash and walls and dirt burrows. They eat mice and rats and are also our friends.
Even in our little slum you can get moments that feel like a National Geographic scene. I was able to watch (and take an entire photo series) as this wasp hunted down a cockroach, stung it, dug out a hiding place between two bricks, drug it inside, and then covered it with little rocks until it was completely buried.
There is a LOT I didn’t cover. Other animals owned by our neighbors include ducks, parrots, sheep, finches, fish, cats, and even the occasional rat. Hawks patrol for rats in day and small owls patrol at night. Flies are everywhere, dense, disgusting, but you have to just get used to them. Bedbugs, lice, and fleas are present, though we manage to keep all three out of our own home. An occasional toad will hop along the edges of the slum, and squirrels play on the homes and trees. Iridescent purple carpenter bees burrow into wood, ugly little brown beetles burrow into rice and lentils.
And every once in a while a snake charmer or monkey performer will make their way through the neighborhood.
Thanks for taking a look!