x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

You might think me Daffy, but I'd rather spend time with a duck

From a very young age, it is important that we learn to respect animals and not use their names as derogatory terms.

Wherever I went, Miss Piggy went with me.

I wasn't the most creative child when it came to coming up with names, so when my grandmother put me in charge of a tiny pink piglet, I called her the name of the only pig I knew: Miss Piggy from The Muppet Show.

Within Arab and Muslim circles, a pig is an animal that is rarely mentioned positively, and only referenced in terms of being forbidden from being eaten.

My Polish grandmother knew I would love this little animal especially since it was "rejected" by its mother. She put faith in me to take care of it. She would always put the children in the family in charge of a certain animal or bird on her farm. Before Miss Piggy, I was taking care of the chickens and their baby chicks, making sure none of them got lost. The ducks and geese were the responsibility of my sister.

One duck always followed her around everywhere, and we called it Donald Duck, even though it was female (again, because Donald was the only duck name we knew).

The children took turns tending to the cows, horses, donkeys and of course the single cat and dog that were the most spoiled of the bunch.

So I ended up dressing the piglet in ribbons and doll clothes. I would carry it in my basket whenever I left the farm, or put in a backpack. It would follow me like a puppy anyway, and eventually as it got bigger and too heavy to carry, my uncle made a leash for Miss Piggy.

This natural upbringing that my grandmother insisted on, away from the city, was to make sure we were in touch with nature and its various creatures. She found it strange that children were growing up without seeing or touching a real animal. Most people have seen a cat, a dog or some kind of fish. But that's about it.

The chance to see some of these animals in their native habitats exists here, with petting farms like "Posh Paws" in Dubai open for that very reason. You can pet cows, ducks, chickens, rabbits, cats, dogs, donkeys, horses, turtles and all sorts of other animals. There are also animal sanctuaries across the UAE where you can go and see animals of all shapes and sizes.

As a child, I had a rude awakening to the reality of how people view animals. They would laugh and shout "swinia"(Polish for pig) at Miss Piggy and me. Some offered me money to buy her, making it clear they planned to eat her. I was horrified.

Sweet, funny and intelligent: I never understood why "pig" was a derogatory term. There was nothing lazy about Miss Piggy, and I had a hard time keeping up with her. And it is not just in Poland where "pig" is an insult. In almost every culture, the poor pig has a bad reputation.

I was yelled at by Arab friends who told me I will be going to hell for touching and carrying around a pig. Everyone hated Miss Piggy.

It's not just pigs with negative connotations in the Arab speaking world. We are quick to call someone "humar" (donkey), "kalb" (dog) or even "haywan" (animal) when insulting them. I find it all very ironic, because a donkey is not stupid, but hard working, and a dog is loyal and protective. As for being called an animal, well, that should be taken as a compliment - it means you won't hurt others unless provoked or hungry.

Even I have fallen into this bad habit, and I am an animal activist and a vegetarian.

On the other hand, certain animal and bird characteristics are often used for flattery and examples of wit, bravery and strength. The lion, horse, falcon and sometimes even the wolf are powerful characters in poems and folktales.

Whatever your view, I personally cherished every minute with Miss Piggy. She got ill one day, and never got better. I was devastated, and my grandmother helped me bury her with other animals and birds that once lived on the farm. I never asked how some of them died, as I was too scared of the answer. Regardless, none were forgotten and our farm will always hold memories of them.

 

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @Arabianmau