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Monday, December 21, 2009

Just a quickie to say that I met the originator of the children's story Owen and Mzee the other evening in Sufi Restaurant, here in Kabul. Peter is a delightful man, so humble and kind, he told me about the small hippo who lived with his family in the sea just off the coast of Kenya. During a Tsunami the young hippo became separated from all of his family. All alone the small hippo was found by the villagers and taken to the nearby nature reserve that was being run by Peter's girlfriend. At the time they named the hippo Owen and, as they had no other space to put him in, put him in with a 130 year old giant tortoise called Mzee. By morning the keepers came to find the animals and saw that Owen and Mzee were side by side, close together - they had become friends. These two animals were to have an amazing friendship and could speak to each other in low snuffling noises. To his detriment Owen would follow Mzee and eat leaves like the tortoise did though these were not really that good for him.

Peter was able to observe these two very different creatures together as they interacted and had the privilege of being able to film and photograph them at close quarters. Peter's photographs were bought and published and many he posted himself on the internet for others to share in the story. Peter was contacted by many people following publication, many asking questions about the curious pair and some asking for the rights to the children's book. It wasn't until a 6yr old girl called Isabella wrote asking about the animals that a collaborative writing partership came into being and the book Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship was created.

“Soon, they were inseparable. Their bond remains very strong to this day. They swim together, eat together, drink together, and sleep next to each other. They rub noses. Owen leads the way to different parts of the enclosure, then Mzee leads the way. Owen playfully nuzzles Mzee’s neck, and Mzee stretches his neck forward asking for more, just as he does when Stephen tickles him under the chin.”

Owen and Mzee has been used by many teachers to illustrate concepts such as the possibility for very differennt beings to get along, to communicate and to live side by side in harmony, to show how the old and the young can also find ways to connect and to help and guide each other.

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