While I got acquainted with the who’s who of Gaziantep and Antakia, there was very little that excited me in terms of effective humanitarian work. Most of the NGO’s were working outside of Syria and I got a bit disheartened when they could not recognise my talents for any position within a humanitarian organization for project management, proposal writing, interpreting or whatever they do with their time. Miss-little-Mercy-Corps was too busy producing an online map without speaking a word of the relevant languages in the region while another American NGO couldn’t even be bothered to give me a ride from Antakia to Gaziantep when I agreed with one of the employees to take me. ‘You’re all a bunch of tossers’ I thought. ‘I’m not sending my CV and cover letter to you anymore, if you want me, come find me’.
It was after a bout of heavy drinking when a little bird told me about Animal Farm. I previously visited the site like a Tsunami – shooting rifles with the Syrian participants, racing quad bikes and chasing the dogs around the farm with the Chief’s daughter. I spent some time nearby assisting with the business development of containers converted into mobile hospitals, but I much preferred to spend my time in the company of animals rather than humans. I do indeed have an affinity with animals but I left the slaughterhouse of lamb to the farmers. This is ‘good business’ I thought. These refugees are getting fed, housed, employed and trained to be self-sufficient. It was a far cry away from the bureaucracy of the UN, ACTED, CARE and other implementing agencies too busy filling out reports and forms to their headquarters and respective benefactors. The logic was simple ‘give a man a fish; feed him for a day – give him some tools to fish and he/she will be equipped for life’. However, I soon realised that another ancient Chinese proverb was more relevant: ‘you can take a horse to the water, but you can’t make the horse suck your cock’.
After being interrogated by the employees, ‘who do I support’, ‘Regime or FSA’, ‘where are you from’, ‘which refugee camp are you from’ in a barrage of questions and prying looks from these deeply territorial men. ‘I’m from the Hackney camp in London if you must know’ I thought. No man on site wanted to touch the dogs, they were huge beasts, but it wasn’t a question of their size and temperament. It was a matter of them being Halal or not, ‘how can I pray if I touch the dogs’ one replied to me, ‘these dogs are cleaner than you bastards’, I told him.
I saw these beautiful specimens of Sheppard Dog locked up in a pen. ‘What’s the matter with you, these are big dogs and they need exercise, they are on a farm for God’s sake’, I shouted at them. They saw me drive in with the Chief in a pick-up almost every day so I did get their attention together with my habitual announcement of a few rifle shots on arrival. The Chief of the farm is a Professor of Veterinary Science at one of the local Universities. This was just one of his many projects and we both saw eye to eye on how we could develop the scheme and expand the model farm to more sites with other parts of government-leased land. The role I assumed was to draft a project proposal and so I got to work putting it all down on paper and contacting the relevant people to see if there was any interest. While eating the stodgy lunch cooked up by one of the farmers, I tied the dogs together and let them go for a walk. Such big dogs are lethargic and therefore, the chances were that they weren’t going to run away were good. Or so I thought. They did indeed get away as I looked around the rolling hills on the farm, trying to keep calm, reassuring myself about these dogs and my ability to train beasts.
As the Chief gave his briefing to the men on the ranch, I turned around to his fifteen-year-old daughter and asked her about the whereabouts of the dogs. She also liked the dogs so I secretly initiated a search-and-find operation, picked up the keys for pick-up and sped up and down the farm, off-road, through bushes and into neighbouring farms. Driving on gravel and on crumbling hills was like ice skating with a truck.
“Where are these fuckin’ dogs?”, I muttered to myself as I told Nina to watch out on the other side and stay vigilant.
“These dogs are the size of horses, how can they go missing, my babies…”, she replied while yelling sporadically as I accelerated on rough terrain and skidded around corners.
We searched the circumference of the farm and even drove into another farm, asking for our dogs, fearing that someone may have shot them or stolen them. I drove frantically back to base;
“Why you driving like that, the car will tip over like that”, the Chief said to me, with an air of authority to set a good example to the other workers.
“The dogs have gone missing Chief, looked all over”, I replied assertively.
The chief immediately shouted at all of us for not keeping the dogs within viewing distance. Essentially it was my fault for setting them loose, but if it wasn’t for the ridiculous fear and aversion to dogs from the workers – we wouldn’t have this problem.
All the men were mobilized into a big search party; I took several men on the pick-up some of them still brandishing their rifles.
“Leave the rifle…”, I told Mustafa.
This was not Jurassic Park, or maybe it was… I dispatched two men on every side of the farm like Marines jumping out an Apache helicopter. The dogs were the same colour as the sheep, so there were many false hopes as I raced towards the animals for closer inspection. Several minutes passed, Nina spotted the dogs, sitting casually, only two minutes’ walk from base – they looked proud like a clutch of tigers. I got out the driver’s seat and told one of the men to drive Nina back. One of the men, offered me the chains to tie the dogs up. They were as docile as sitting ducks in spite of their size and drooling mouths. I grabbed the big one by the neck and the other followed. Most of the men returned back to base with a look of indifference, they didn’t like the dogs and because of this – I didn’t like them. ‘We need to recruit men that genuinely like animals, not just regard them as dinner’, I told Nina. She most certainly agreed with me on that one.
Work resumed as normal – we discussed the management of the farm, the efficiency of breeding livestock and points to add for our proposal for our Western donors. If someone from the Danish or British government witnessed our wild dog chase, they would seriously doubt the purpose of the whole scheme. The general consensus was that ‘it wouldn’t happen again’. As I got to work on drafting parts of the website and researching on who would be interested in funding our model farms. The nagging question of ‘how am I going to stay here legally kept cropping up in my mind’. I told the Chief that my visa would expire in less than two weeks; he told me that he needed some frozen goat sperm which wasn’t available in Turkey. The Shami goat breed originally from Damascus was my excuse for a visa run. With a bit of quick research I found a couple of potential suppliers North of Jordan and Lebanon. My briefing to obtain the sperm in one of the Veterinary Institutes seemed quite straightforward. I inquired about the method of obtaining such samples and the Chief explained how he would provide me with a ‘liquid nitrogen container’ and pointed at an electrical rod which was supposed to be rammed up the goat’s anus in order to stimulate the animal’s prostrate. Ok. I will have to get my hands dirty for this job – but I truly believed in the cause.