by marc on February 6, 2013
Dog microchips to be compulsory in England. Now there’s a headline we’ve all been waiting for. There’s more: the chips are made of bio-compatible glass that will not be rejected by the dog’s body.
That story triggered a memory, a tad grainy, of one of those ridiculous toy dogs eating the canine version of beef stroganoff from a porcelain bowl at what looked to be a Michelin starred restaurant. The image is of some overly precious breed, like a Pomeranian or a miniature poodle. At the time, I was working in rural Burkina Faso, with the Peace Corps. It was a period of painful drought across the Sahel, and the people in my community were hurting.
The image came from a news item. Somewhere in the south of France – one of those caviar communities like Monaco – there was a restaurant catering to the dogs of the wealthy. Meals were served at Ritz-set tables, full of crystal water bowls and silver candleholders. Dinner for the pooches cost a ridiculous amount, like $200. Honestly, that’s my memory of it.
In the pre-web days of the 80s, that story went about as viral as possible in francophone West Africa. The amount of money to feed one dog one meal equalled the Burkinabé equivalent of, I don’t know, 23 years average GDP, so I guess people were shocked enough to pass it on, like a Youtube video of a fat guy dancing funny.
Everybody seemed to know about that dog restaurant, as if they represented a standard of sorts in the West. I think that news item alone built a truth, one I heard over and over again: “In the West, your dogs eat better than our people.” There was something quite jarring about that idea – personally jarring to my friends that seemed to increase the distance between us. And something quite durable. More than cogent political analysis. More than economic indicators. More than I could imagine, that idea defined how people understood my world and understood themselves. Lower than a dog.
Historical anachronism? A bygone era? Ten days ago, as my wife and I turned from the main road into the Luxor Airport, a billboard caught our eye. First of all, there aren’t many billboards in that part of Egypt. Second of all, there aren’t that many billboards that we could read, anywhere in Egypt. Third, it wasn’t trying to sell us a product. Rather, it had a picture of a horse and brought me back to my employment. This was a charity appeal. Brooke Animal Hospital (they are an international charity, and have been in Egypt since 1934).
The billboard was aimed, literally and directly, at wealthy foreign tourists. After the airport itself, it may constitute their very first impression of Egypt, or of Africa. It was about horses and donkeys. I wonder what Egyptians think. No shortage of human needs there. I wonder if Peter Singer would applaud this as progress.