1974 Salmiya, Kuwait.
The 1974 crop of English language teachers brought Sarah, Michelle and Sonia Briggs to Kuwait University’s College of Commerce in August 1974. Most of the Briggs were human. Sonia wasn’t. John Briggs joined the family a bit later in the year.
Sonia was a long-haired collie. Absolutely beautiful, gentle, trusting and very mellow. For a fur person whose ancestors were familiar with the cooler climate of Highland Scotland, Kuwait must have been a shock. It was about 120 degrees Fahrenheit when the Briggs family arrived. Sonia had been held up at Heathrow before being loaded on the flight to Kuwait and arrived with an infection of some sort. Sarah and Michelle had refused to leave the UK without her and had delayed for a day to travel with her.
Somewhere along the way Sonia had developed a skin infection. When Sarah, Michelle and Sonia got into Kuwait, they discovered no one at the university to help them, so the College of Commerce (where Sarah would be working with me) called me and I came and got them. We took Sonia to a vet and got Sarah and Michelle to a hotel. Sonia came home to my flat on the west side of Salmiya, the suburb of Kuwait City where I was living.
John Briggs showed up in Kuwait shortly after and Sonia settled uncomplainingly into her life on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Sarah and John found an apartment in Salmiya as well.
Dogs are not held in very high esteem by some urban Arabs, though desert Arabs find them very useful for herding. In Islamic practice, dogs aren’t considered to be very clean and a worshipper has to perform ritual ablutions before praying if they have been handling a dog. In the Kuwait airport, Sarah reported, some of the viewers thought Sonia must be a pet lion. When she came to live with me, my friends at first thought she was a wolf.
It didn’t take long, though, before everyone wanted to take the Sonia for a walk, or feed her, or sit with her, or just pet her. She was the perfect ice-breaker. I had lived in my area of Salmiya for over a year and knew hardly anyone but with al-dhib at my side, I was pursued by local kids and their parents and everyone wanted to talk. It was great for practicing the local dialect of Arabic! I hated to give her back — especially since she reminded me so much of my own Buffy with whom I had grown up back in northern Illinois.
Sonia was a consummate traveller and very social. I spent a lot of time in the desert, having gotten to know some of the Beni Murra, who lived on the Saudi border in southern Kuwait. I had my own tent, British military style with high walls and a roof which laced into the walls, which I lugged around in my un-airconditioned car and used when I went to the desert on a weekend, or camped out with the Murra during the spring weather.
John and Sarah soon got their own tent and went camping. And, of course, Sonia went with them. Someone had to chaperone the humans!
The Briggs often went camping with me and even down to Al-Wafra where the Murra lived and Sonia was always a part of the camping crew. She would sit guard in front of the Briggs’ tent.
She also went along for beach trips, despite the heat and humidity. The Persian Gulf was often tepid in summer as the brutal heat of the Arabian Peninsula beat down. Sonia would sometimes sit under the Briggs’ little canopy but more likely she would be out wanding around and wondering, looking at what was going on. She wasn’t likely to get in the water too often but she would go down to the water’s edge.
On those beach trips to Ras Jalaya, we always made sure there was plenty of water for Sonia — and the rest of us. We would cook out or bring our food ready-to-go. One of the few bits of home I could find in local stores in the early 1970s was Sara Lee chocolate cake, which I would throw in a cooler and drag to the beach to serve up after lunch, melting frosting and all. It seemed fitting since Sarah’s given name was Sarah Lee, and of course I loved anything chocolate.
Sonia’s biggest adventure was probably her trip in the summer of 1975, when she and John took a wooden dhow across the Persian Gulf to Iran (in the days of the Shah, before the revolution) and then drove across western Asia and into Turkey. Sarah and Michelle had gone back to the States for a visit and when done flew to Paris and took the Orient Express toIstanbul. From there they made their way to Izmir where they met Sonia and John in front of the police station and then drove south to Bodrum where they camped in an apricot and fig grove. As Sarah remembers “John had discovered an idyllic camping spot … where Sonia had free rein … as did Michelle who got to know the young Turkish kids.” John and Sonia had to drive back to Abadan in Iran to get back to Kuwait. Sarah and Michelle flew back to Kuwait.
When they moved back to the US, the Briggs rented a house in southern Indiana, lnUnionville northeast of Bloomington, where Sonia had woods and fields and streams and squirrels and all the things that an aging collie could want. In 1977, I moved to Indianapolis for a year and spent many a weekend down at the house in Unionville visiting Sonia and her family. By then, Erica had been born and the family was now five!