Forage on to Success

Living in northeastern Nevada where cattle grazing in a prominent business, most ranch kids understand forage, the feed of grasses and desert plants that make up food intake for livestock during the spring and summer. Large herds wander the vast acres in search of vital provisions and they most often flourish. Even during dry years such as we are in now, the desert produces nutrition. Adequate foraging results in meals supplied.

There is also the phrase “forge on” which means constructing and shaping achievement through hard work and determination. Even when the going gets rough and roadblocks appear, dedication to task can build success. With my eighth grade students I love to tell them, “Forage on!” This play-on-words allows me to see who “got” the joke – cattle forage/people forge – and who did not understand the terminology. It also permits me into the minds of concrete and abstract thinkers. To forage on, as in cattle, delivers a picture of cows and bulls wandering the hinterland with a hearty meal quest in mind. To forge on conveys the idea of a ship plowing through water seeking safe harbor and a desired destination.

Having fun with words makes up a joyous part of my daily routine. I love to write and so words become the magic of the moment as they string and stream across the page. I examine them for potential and possibility, multiple meanings and interpretations, rhythm and rhyme, letter patterns and sounds. While I could say “busy bodies” a phrase most individuals know and recognize, you would also agree that is worn out through overuse. We see those know-it-alls who whirl in delight of expressing opinions and narrowed views as they solve problems whether you like it or not. We might also visualize kindergartners focusing on seventeen objects at once. They grab glue, scissors, paper, sparkles, crayons, and rulers while yipping in glee. These are definitely and literally busy bodies

Let’s replace “busy bodies” with “rambunctious ruffians”. How do these phrases differ? Rambunctious, to begin with, is an extraordinary word. It lilts and tilts around the mouth and then pops out into the air. It is smooth – ram- – and then rough – bunc – and then uneven – tious. It reveals a high-spirited and disorderly bunch (notice -bunc- and bunch and how they interplay). The riotousness of the rollicking scene creates noises that resonate and echo uproariously as these ruffians, better known as 5-year old hooligans, engage in learning and fun. Ruffians may be defined as thugs and hoods, but have you ever witnessed a tiny kindergarten villain? And so the brain skips over the negative import and replaces it with wild shenanigans. Yes, kindergartners exemplify rambunctious ruffians.

Now consider “old” words that hang around, denoting meaning within new connotations. Take “record” for instance. If you are over fifty, you remember records and 45s, needles and turntables. You recall tossing on an LP, flipping the switch, watching the arm drop and slipping into music mode. While kids know records and the reference of vinyl records, I wonder how many have every seen one in action: stacking favorites, watching them drop, and seeing the needle wave along as the record spins. “Changing the needle on the arm” draws a quite different picture for the teenager of today and me. Just as shuffle and iPod mean more to them, a Victrola and 78s add to my musical knowledge.

Fun with words fashions a tremendous, mind-expanding activity. Whether it is just one word – hyperbole, for example – or a string of words – itinerant interloper on a peripatetic pathway – interacting with words opens up worlds of imagery and delight. Try it today!

Man’s Best Friend? A Dog’s Life in Sub-Saharan Africa

My first encounter with Bootie was guarded. I was entering his domain and he growled a bit, just to show who was in charge. After sufficient sniffing, he let us pass into the homestead and seemingly uninterested in what we would do next, wandered off to find a cool place to lie in the sand.

Finding shade seemed to be a good idea. It was 105 degrees, and after 24 hours in the air and 12 hours of driving I felt like I’d been left at the edge of the world. My heart dropped as we passed through the rickety wooden gate and entered the place my daughter called home.

Not everyone can make it as a Peace Corps volunteer, especially in some of the tougher locations, such as Namibia. Ali is a Peace Corps volunteer science teacher at Uukwiyoongwe combined school in northern Namibia. I’d seen the pictures, but wasn’t prepared for the reality of her existence. At the time we visited there was no electricity and no running water and little more than sand for as far as one could see. A few months later, they did get limited electricity, but of course no Internet or phone lines. Thank God for cell phones. Water is still collected in plastic cans by donkey cart from 2 miles away.

This story is really about Bootie the family dog. To appreciate Bootie’s role in the family you have to understand that a home in this rural area is not one building, but rather a collection of structures within a fence – a homestead. Many of the living and cooking areas within the homestead are made of sticks and dried millet stocks just as they have been constructed for centuries. Today the sleeping areas are typically made from concrete bricks, fabricated brick by brick by the men of the family. It was Bootie’s job to live outside the homestead fence and protect the livestock from predators and alert the family of any dangers.

For Bootie, there were no dog bowls full of kibble, no chew toys, or games of fetch. Bootie pretty much fended for himself. The family would provide water and a bit of mahangu (cooked millet) when they thought about it, but he was relatively self sufficient and foraged for small animals as needed. The concept of having a pet as we understand it doesn’t exist. Ali’s aunt sent over some dog biscuits as a treat for Bootie, but one of the family sons thought they were too good for the dog and ate them all.

If you ever have to be stranded someplace, Ali is probably the person you want to have with you. From the time she was a little girl, I marveled at her adaptability and the ease with which she integrated herself into any situation and just got comfortable. I had always joked that you could drop her on to Mars and she’d get it all figured out. Little did I know that after getting her teaching credential she would choose a location almost as remote. I cried a bit.

But even for Ali, this was a tough gig at first. Not so much the lack of water and electricity and the very primitive living conditions, but rather the isolation and the enormity of her task. There are no other Peace Corps volunteers in her village, and for many in her community she is one of the few white people they have ever seen. The mother and father in her homestead speak no English and the two adult children living there were hospitable, but not immediately close. So Bootie became her best friend.

Bootie was stunned. He fell in love with Ali. Bootie had never been petted or rubbed or had anyone play with him. He became Ali’s companion as she made her evening run and followed her as she walked to the school each morning. He listened to her and became her dog. She could confide in him and get a hug in return in a home that had no other closeness or affection. Ali talked of trying to bring him home at the end of her assignment.

Uukwiyoongwe village survives as an agrarian society. Everyone grows millet which is pretty much the only crop that thrives in this hot, sandy climate and is the staple for all meals. But most families also have some chickens, goats, and maybe cattle that they raise to eat on special occasions. These livestock are extremely important to each family and are their only major asset. To lose livestock is serious.

On Wednesday, August 13th, Bootie was shot and killed by a man in the village that swore Bootie killed one of his goats. The normal course of action in this situation would be for the man to demand that the family replace his goat, or give the family the option of killing the dog themselves. No option was provided, and the man killed, cooked and ate Bootie. We don’t know if Bootie actually killed a goat. The family condemns his actions, and thinks he was just hungry. Ali is devastated.

This is life in northern Namibia. To learn more about projects completed and how you can help further education in this area please visit []