I’ve been meaning to write this blog for some time now. Let’s start with a little anecdote – back in the day on holiday, a friend of mine started an anarchic running joke, calling every stray dog she saw “Steve”, regardless of sex.
Dumballers being Dumballers, these kinds of thing catch on like wildfire and pretty soon we were all at it.
Y’see, in India there are a ton of stray dogs, wild and free roaming the streets and beaches, as much a feature of Indian culture as the many sacred cows, monkeys or piles of discarded coconut shells that punctuate her hot, fragrant and dusty streets.
…we’d say as we passed a dog, any dog, all dogs. If you say it in the right pitch they almost prick up their ears as if it were their actual name too, and just for a moment they were individuals, they had a personality, an identity. For a moment it’s like you knew them, and they knew you… kinda… but they were noticed. Some even let you pet them, a welcomed and much appreciated liberty for this dog-lover.
This frivolity grew from being a game and into a habit. When the Dumballers left I carried on the tradition with me, sharing the fun with other travellers for shits and giggles, and so the #steveappreciationsociety was born.
I even named my guitar Steve, because at the time I couldn’t take my guitar playing seriously either.
THE PLOT THICKENS…
As I moved around from state to state, town to town, the Steve habit started turning into something else. I was starting to take notice of the Steves as much as the People, if not more.
I started to notice details. Obvious ones at first like how the breed, shape and size would change according the climate and setting. Then I started to notice wider details, like if they worked alone or in packs, if they were friendly, approachable, scared or aggressive, if they were well fed, in good condition, skinny and mangey, how they survived, how the locals treated them etc.
The more places I travelled to, the more I could reflect back and notice correlations between Steve’s temperament and the social undercurrent of the places I’d visited.
I’d never looked at dogs so much before. What previously had just been background scenes with interchangeable parts suddenly had specific players that were no longer invisible.
As my awareness grew I started applying the theory, using it as a rough indicator for new places as I looked out the train, bus or TukTuk window, and for the most part it’s been bob-on.
For example, in Goa, the Steve’s were all pretty playful, friendly, solid, good condition, tended to move around in gangs with a feeling that everything was pretty cushty, that they’d protect you if you asked, and I’d’ve adopted all of them if I could.
Arriving in Kolkata, I watched from my Ambassador window as independent, stocky, battle scarred but solid Steve’s roamed the streets – a quite obvious sense they had to fight for their suppers, but could each definitely hold their own in a much tougher competitive city environment – that was to be an accurate echo of the backstreet vibes of Kolkata.
Hitting Delhi, the connection became more obvious still – Delhi Steve’s were skinny, dusty, much smaller, mangy, usually alone and scared, eating anything and everything they could get their snouts on, even if that was a babies nappy – a distressing echo of the destitute and poverty stricken conditions in Delhi, and the many street kids who have to survive it.
Landing in Kathmandu, I was surrounded by the familiar and comforting sight of scruffy, friendly Steve’s, and I realised how much they’d become a part of my trip.
When I hit San Marcos in Guatemala, another level of intrigue hit me. San Marcos is a very nice place to be, a yogi/hippy/tourist haven, and on the outside it’s all sparkly and friendly and safe, which it is really.
Like the people, flying halfway across the world meant the breed of street dog had now completely changed – compared to the typical stocky street Steve’s I was used to in India and Nepal, I was seeing a lot of smaller lap-dog Steve’s, larger and fluffier husky/wolf-like Steve’s who, for the most part, all looked pretty comfortable, lazy and pretty complacent in their lakeside habitats quite frankly. A clear and good indication that food was plentiful, and that being a street dog in San Marcos was a pretty sweet deal man.
However, despite the glittery sheen there were several Steve’s who shied away whenever I tried to show them love, cowering away in fear, and it just made me think, “what happens to these Steve’s in this place of paradise and tranquility to make them act this way?”
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
San Marcos is definitely a shiny happy place on the outside, but those anxious Steves gave away her slightly malignant underbelly, which was also described to me by some local friends, confirming my couch flip-flop-filosophy theory further.
MEANWHILE, IN SOUTH AMERICA…
When I touched down in Peru, I started observing the Steve’s of course, trying to get sense of South America and Peru. They were tough to read: I struggled to see the same breed twice, a lot looked like hybrids/mongrels in one way or another (think Sausage Steve’s with Labradors), small Steve’s in tee shirts and hoodies, and the indigenous Peruvian “Incan Orchid” breed is an adorably weird hairless alien-looking thing. It’s like they didn’t make sense at all, an ironic echo of my confusion and hesitations about South America! (see my last blog).
I’m glad to say that that feeling has now completely passed. Not only that, the diversity, quirky individuality and friendly mien of the Peruvian Steve’s has just made me fall head over heels in love with everything that Peru and South America has to offer – new and unchartered territories, of both mind and matter.
Look to the Steve’s – the Animal Kingdom can tell us more than we realise.