I have become a father. Only not really. Genetically, the offspring will not be mine; genetically they are not even the same species.
By being vaguely kindly towards it (by not beating it), I have accidentally adopted one of the stray dogs that roam between Dublin village and the guesthouse beaches of the Banana Islands. The space beneath the storage shed of the guesthouse in which I am volunteering squirms with young puppies; I have become a father.
She has a name already, but I’ve named the mother Rosey-Bo. Rosey because she’s ginger, and Bo because it apparently means friend in one of the local languages, Mende, though it’s actually short for Ebola – still a common topic of conversation here. (I named another with one eye and lots of scars Stinky Pete, since he stinks, but it turns out he’s called Geoffrey).
Rosey-Bo came to me for scratching when I first got to the Banana Islands more than two months ago and since then we’ve bonded. She sits next to or under me most of the time now (I stood on her twice yesterday because of that), and demands ever longer scratching sessions, perhaps as some sort of compensation. It must be said she has not been altogether faithful to me though, with at least one other claiming to be her owner.
There are a lot of stray dogs on the islands, as much of the rest of Africa. There are lots of lizards, butterflies and insects too, though in truth I no longer really notice them (give me a skink over a rat any day). The birdlife is quite extraordinary, though as an amateur I can’t really say any more than that, as is the size of one of the species of spider: try and take one of them out with a shoe and its likely to grab the footwear off you and fight back.
The forests and estuarine waterways of Sierra Leone are the natural habitat of pygmy hippos, elephants (at least 30!), chimpanzees, various monkey species and pangolin among many, many others. If you exclude the elephant emblazoned on the badge of the Sierra Leonean National Police, I have seen none of them.
It’s not that the Banana Islands don’t have their fair share of intriguing fauna either. Plenty of guests have seen snakes (cobras and green mambas) whether they had wanted to or not, Guinea baboons can occasionally be seen in the jungle between villages, and one group had a small pod of dolphins escort their boat across the channel from the mainland.
‘It looked like they did it every day’ they said. They do not.
Maybe I’m unlucky, maybe I’m just spending too much of my time with Rosey-Bo and Stinky Pete.