Saturday, February 26, 2011


Habibi has a phenomenal memory.  He seems to remember every person he has ever met since he was a puppy, and also in what circumstances.  Someone who is his friend is never forgotten and he is always thrilled to meet this person again.  Most people are not in the category of “friends”, but rather acquaintances; he remembers them well, but doesn’t feel that they have given him a reason to make a fuss.  He also remembers indelibly anyone who, for any reason that is relevant to him, is a “bad person.”  This could be someone who made a movement or gave him or me a look that he interpreted as threatening or simply not nice, or even someone who was wearing a hat that made him look strange.  Usually, men with facial hair go into this category;  however, Habibi will remember the man and the connection even if the hair is gone.

To convince Habibi that someone he has categorized as “bad” is really “good” can take a lot of time and effort on the part of the person.  Eventually, Habibi may be persuaded to put this person in the category of “acquaintances”, but there is always a remnant of suspicion when he meets him – maybe he is bad after all…

Of course, for Habibi, the basis of his memory is smell. He doesn’t really worry so much about what people look like, though he does notice.  His identification is by smell, and the differences are so clear to him that there is no remote possibility of him misidentifying or forgetting someone.  And though the appearance of a person will change, the scent never does.

I am really jealous of Habibi’s powers of memory.

I have never been good at remembering names – of people, in any case.  I used to be able to remember the names of all the dogs I ever met, and that is how I would identify their owners – “Oh yes, you are Spottie’s people! He was here three years ago in September.” 

I used to have an encyclopedia of dogs in my brain – I would remember all the dogs, and also their pedigrees – fathers, mothers, grandparents, siblings, children, remote relatives, all were there.  Nowadays, my brain seems to have become filled with all sorts of irrelevant junk and finding all of this information that used to be easily available has become very difficult.  It seems to be like a sieve – some of what you want is there, and some of it just washes away.

People do expect me to remember them.  Someone in his forties will come up to me and say, “Don’t you remember me? You taught me to ride when I was six!”  Well, sorry to say, you have changed since you were six, even though I am very flattered that you can still identify me!  Probably, even if you looked the same as you did at six, I wouldn’t be able to remember you…

I have met a lot of people over the years, and I have to admit that most of them were not particularly memorable.  I have developed a system of reacting.  The idea is to be noncommittal – “Oh hi! How are you?  What have you been doing lately?” in the hopes that they will reveal enough information for me to identify who they are, or at least from where I should remember them.  Or maybe meanwhile someone else will come along and address them by name…

I wish I had a great sense of smell like Habibi, and could identify people so easily and remember everyone. Or that Habibi could identify them for me and whisper in my ear about who they are.  But he can only look at me with pity…

1 comment:

  1. A dog I met at Kariba, Zimbabwe recently considers it impolite not to remove your hat. The boat captain from Rhino safari camp learnt this and while he always wears a hat he always removes it whaile at the Kariba boat harbour. He learnt the hard way that anyone wearing a hat is likely to be quitelt approached from behind and be given a nip on the behind! No hat no problem!