If you have been following me for any time at all, you notice I love the animals here. Someone needs to. When we were teaching in Masaka last week in the southwest arm of Uganda, Gail and I were assigned a separate bathroom from the crowd. We’re not sure why, but they always do it this way. It is a Ugandan bathroom-outhouse, so I think the point is privacy. It is up a hill from the training site, past the home of the church member who owns the bathroom, and there, at the back edge of the property is the bathroom. There is a small jerry can of water mounted on a stick frame to wash your hands and even some soft leaves gathered inside to use as t.p.

I usually accompany Gail up the hill. There is a large, raised agricultural storage building in front of the home – it is raised to keep out the rats, I think. There are always goats tied underneath the building to the pilings, and this time there were three of them watching us as we walked past. I always greet the goats – I’m pretty sure both the goats and the people think, “Crazy musungu!” I like goats, but this little story is not about them.

Every time we have come to this place, and then made the journey up the hill to the bathroom, I have found a pigsty positioned behind the house just a little away from the bathroom. So while I’m waiting protectively for Gail, I wander over and talk to the pigs. Now no one is around – we are out of view of all the people, and there is only open farmland beyond the property, and Gail is preoccupied – so this is not soooo crazy a thing, at least to me.  Pigs are very intelligent creatures. I have read that they are smarter even than dogs and can be trained to do a number of things. Yes, when you see them, they are covered with mud and not so pretty, and I certainly wouldn’t want to touch one because they are very dirty generally. However, I have found that, given the right circumstances, you can have a conversation with a pig.

I’m sure the pigs here only speak the local dialect, which in this place is Luganda, but as with most intelligent creatures, the words are not the only way they communicate. Usually in this sty, there has been one large pig, and because of his size and apparent age, I would guess his status is pre-bacon. This time though, when I walked over to investigate on the first day of the conference, I found an enlarged sty with two chambers, and a small pig in each one. These two definitely have a long way to go, in pig years, until they are in the pre-pork-chop stage of development.

The first day, since they did not recognize me, it was obvious that they were a bit disturbed to see me. They both retreated to the far wall of their muddy sties, and snorting nervously, observed me from a distance. So I spoke a greeting, leaned on the rail a bit and told them I wasn’t here to harm them. The second day, when I approached

them during our lunchtime run up the hill, they were no long afraid – they both came to the rail, looked up and me, and snorted communicatively the whole time. Is it possible they recognized me from the day before? I don’t know, but their demeanor was entirely more relaxed and friendly than the first time I met them. Maybe they just thought I would feed them.

Each day, they became a little friendlier, even responding just to my voice of greeting, “Hello, pigs,” before they even saw me. Finally, on the last day, Thursday, I came to the rail and they were both, separately excited to see me. How do I know this? Well, given the evidence, that’s what I concluded, and so I was honored. They both continued their quiet questioning grunts throughout the “interview,” and finally, each one separately, actually climbed up on the rail with their front feet, raising their snouts as high as they could, and looking up at my face with intelligent brown eyes. You know, a pig isn’t really built for climbing, so this behavior was not something I have seen before. We apparently had really connected!

I couldnt get Gail to cooperate, so the other pig took the pictures. I told you they were intelligent.

I spoke gentle words to them – yes, even Gail thinks I may be a bit off because of this behavior – and I generally encouraged them in what must be an unfortunately short and difficult life. Then I said good-bye. I’m sure they will be sold to market before I return, and next time there will be a different pig or pigs in the pigsties. Life is transient for all creatures of the earth.

The animals always teach me something, though, downtrodden and short-lived as they are. In this day of Corona Virus fears of having even minor contact with the human beings around us, and we are reduced to fist bumps instead to the friendly Ugandan handshakes, these pigs taught me that joy can and should be found in the smallest things of this world…if we will just stop and smell the pigsties.