Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Long Road to Reunion

Warning, this is a long one… but, there are pictures at the end of it!

They always say the harder you work towards a goal, the sweeter the victory when you achieve it. The month of August was a poignant reminder of how true that is.

After much debate and reflection upon moving here, I decided to bring my dog to India from Kenya. I had been advised that it was a bad idea, Chennai wasn’t a dog-friendly city, but after seeing the pet I had raised from a puppy living off my Kenyan family’s table scraps (as is the fate of only the lucky dogs in Africa) I decided that her life would be better with me in India than alone in Kenya. I also decided to suck it up and pay the exorbitant cost of hiring an agent to go to my village, get my dog, bring her back to Nairobi, get all the necessary vaccinations and paperwork done, and ship her to India.

It turns out this process was just the tip of the iceberg. To start with, when I called my Kenyan brother up to let him know the agent would be coming to collect my baby, his reaction was “hmm, that might be a problem.” My dog had been in heat the week before, and was now pregnant again! (She had 6 puppies in February.) I got a hint at the panic a mother must feel when she finds out that her teenage daughter has gotten knocked up.

Of course, a pregnant dog can’t travel any more than a pregnant mother can, and neither Kenya nor India need any more puppies that can’t be taken care of. So my agent got her spayed in Nairobi (which also aborted the pregnancy). After a week of recovery, she was ready to go. My agent mentioned that I should check into the clearance procedures for imported animals at the airport, thinking I might have to get a couple forms in advance. Little did I know what a nightmare that would be… India, as it happens, is even more of a bureaucratic nightmare than Kenya.

The quarantine office requires you to produce a bunch of papers (arbitrarily decided depending on the mood of the quarantine officer) in person in order to receive a “no-objection certificate” to collect the dog at customs. However, the quarantine office is located an hour and a half outside the city and is open 10-5 on weekdays. Having recently gone through the process of getting my visa registered at the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office, I had an idea of where this was going. At the FRRO, the list of papers required by a given foreigner changes on a daily basis, is extraordinarily confusing and inefficient, and requires the average foreigner to go and wait in line a minimum of 3 times (10 times is not unusual) in order to get through the whole procedure. The FRRO is only 5 minutes from my office and nearly made me tear my hair out; I had no interest in dealing with the same hassle at an office 1.5 hours from me and subsequently going bald.

After multiple phone arguments with the quarantine officer and consultations with various vets and cargo shippers, I begrudgingly paid another exorbitant fee to hire an agent to get me through the clearance process (ie pay the necessary bribes to the necessary people) on the Indian side. From then I thought I was good to go. How wrong I was.

My Kenyan agent booked the dog on an Air India flight direct from Nairobi to Chennai. We were all surprised that they had direct flights. It turns out they don’t – it was actually a flight from Nairobi to Mumbai. After that annoyance she switched the reservation to Emirates Airlines. Now she was booked to fly through Dubai, which has a good reputation for animal handling. However, the Dubai airport requires three days of processing for a transit permit, and doesn’t do processing on Sundays… and the health certificate they need in order to process the transit permit is only good for four days. On top of this, Dubai requires a dog to have a microchip in order to be held in transit. Neither Kenya export nor India import require a microchip, so shelling out another $75 to ship the dog through Dubai seemed illogical. So a week and many expletives between my Kenyan agent and the Emirates guy later, the dog was back on Air India. This time they gave us the correct flight details, with a 6 hour layover in Mumbai.

This whole process took over a month from when my dog was originally picked up in my village. While I, my Kenyan agent, my Indian agent and multiple airline personnel were developing ulcers and popping blood vessels, my pup was blissfully unaware, hanging out in the kennel with other dogs and working steadily towards fattening herself up on proper dog food. Dogs are also amazingly resilient – so at the beginning of September, she finally arrived at my doorstep, unscathed and none the worse for wear!

Malaika is now a happy member of our apartment family (which for a little while was 6 people and a dog in a 3BR flat). She seems to be adjusting well to the new environment, intrigued by the new smells and only getting mildly sick a couple times (much like humans adjusting to India). She even participated in our housewarming party a couple weeks ago, flirting with all the guys and intimidating the girls. She’s the most international street dog I’ve ever met, having lived on two continents in 1.5 years, and I hadn’t realized how many things would be new to her after growing up in a village (beaches, auto rickshaws, staircases…).

It’s also clear that this dog was meant to come to India someday. When my roommates asked what her name was, I was about to launch into an explanation of what “Malaika” means in Swahili, when they cracked up. “Why did you give her an Indian name??” Malaika means angel in not only Swahili and Luo, but Hindi too. It’s the name of a famous model here, and there’s a song named after her. Clearly this was fate.

1 comment:

Kenli said...

She is soooooo cute! I'm so happy you two have been reunited. Enjoy her!