Sunday, July 17, 2011

Of Moose and Men


It was 1975, and I was working in Rwanda on an elephant project. The team had taken a brief break and come to Kigali, the capital, in mid-April 1975 and had not long come off the phone with my wife Jo, who was at our home in Kenya. After the normal greetings she said, “A man called Nielsen called from Saskatoon in Canada. They have offered you the job at the vet college.”

She read out the long number, which I tried to memorize, and then I realized that with the nine-hour time difference it would be 4 a.m. in Saskatoon. Not a good time to call. Conversely, by the time Nielsen would be in his office it would be 1 a.m. in Kigali, and I would not be able to use a phone, as the post office would be closed. In those pre-Internet, pre-fax days, a telegram was the only solution to my problem. And I was intent on getting my response to him as quickly as I could.

In the half-dark of a crowded post office jam-packed with Rwandans and three other “Europeans” (as any white person was called), I struggled to compose the telegram.
Eventually I got to the front of the queue, where I found that I could hardly see the clerk behind the grime-covered glass sheet. I bent down and spoke through the grate.
“I’d like to send this cable to Canada,” I said to him, only to receive a blank stare. I had forgotten that I was in a francophone country. I switched to French, which was also a mistake, as I ran out of vocabulary after the initial, “Je veux.” I changed gears again to Swahili, which allowed us to understand one another.

Dr. Nielsen was offering me a post as a zoo and wildlife veterinarian at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine. I had applied several months earlier and been waiting to hear for some time.

It was this opportunity that has led to my 36 years in Canada and the writing of Of Moose and Men. Moose are the first free-ranging species on which I carried out research work and they have fascinated me ever since. Here is the first moose that I ever worked on and his new collar. The book is now in the editing stage with publisher ECW Pressof Toronto, so I’m moving on to the next phase. Tomorrow, Monday I head to Saskatchewan’s Quapelle Valley and the Sage Hill Writing Experience (see more here) to start work on anew project that I’m calling, for now, From Polar Bears to Porcupines. Let’s see if that title holds up after 10 days of work, but meanwhile, here is one of the pictures I would likely include.

I'm not sure how good the Internet contact will be at the retreat, but if it works I will certainly keep you posted.

1 comment:

Diane said...

Oh yes, I remember the days of the telegram particularly in Africa. It was great fun !! Good luck with From Polar Bears to Porcupines. Diane