The Stray and the Strangers
The Stray and the Strangers
The winds grew colder and the seas rougher. Yet the strangers kept arriving until the camp could barely hold them. The lineups outside the food hut grew longer by the day. Many of the children, holding their parents’ hands, cried as they waited. Each morning, another crowd of weary people would trek away up the road. Yet the boy remained, and Kanella stayed close beside him. Until now she had never had time to grow familiar with any boat stranger’s face, voice or smell. The boy’s smell was like the scent of the baking bread that used to wake her in her burrow as it wafted up from the town. His clothes, though long since dry, still smelled of the sea. The helpers brought the boy food and played with him. They made a bed for him in the food hut. He slept between Kanella’s table and a metal box that glowed and hummed and breathed out heat. Pointing and shaking their heads, the helpers made it clear to the boy that he should stop giving half of his food to Kanella.
Kanella, named by the fisherman in the harbour at Lesvos, Greece, has cinnamon-coloured fur. Kanella is the Greek word for cinnamon. She is a stray dog, smaller and not as courageous as the more aggressive dogs who manage to get most of the food scavenged or thrown their way. Kanella wanders the streets and the harbour and wharf, looking for food. Always hungry and thin, she sleeps far out of town in a small den at the base of an olive tree where no other dogs or people will bother her. It is a lonely and desperate existence, but she feels secure living this way.
Such is the pattern of Kanella’s life until she is befriended by an aid worker at the refugee camp near Lesvos. The camp is suddenly erected one day in response to the flood of refugees, mostly Syrian, making the dangerous journey across the sea and arriving in Lesvos looking for food and shelter. At the newly erected camp, Kanella is treated kindly. She is fed enough food to help her grow and fill out. She is given a safe and warm place to sleep, and she is befriended by the aid workers.
As Kanella grows in confidence, she becomes active around the camp. She joins in the refugee children’s soccer and other ball games organized by the aid workers. Kanella even begins to ‘herd’ the groups of refugees that leave the camp each day as they journey further seeking sanctuary. Kanella feels it is her job to make sure the refugees do not get lost as they begin the long walk across the countryside. She becomes a mascot of the refugee camp.
Based on a true story, Kanella is similar to a dog author Steven Heighton met when he volunteered for a month at a refuge camp on Lesvos, Greece. As Heighton got to know Kanella and watched her coming and going around the camp, he realized what a special dog she was. Most of the refugees were leery of the dog and kept their distance, but Kanella and one little boy formed a special attachment. The boy, about five years old, had become separated from his family as they crossed the Aegean Sea, and it was thought he might even be an orphan. As the boy waited and watched for many days, looking for his family, Kanella kept him company and comforted him. The boy was a stranger in a strange land where he did not speak the language, and he was scared. Kanella helped him feel safe.
Told from the dog, Kanella’s, point of view, this is a wonderful story for young readers. It gives children a glimpse into the life of a refugee, first from Kanella’s experience as a stray dog in a place where she is bullied and picked on, to the mass of refugees coming into camp, and finally to the special story of the little boy waiting to be reunited with his family. It is a warm story, told plainly and honestly. Using the dog as the main character in the story is genius! It allows distance for those needing it and also lets readers first relate to the dog. At the same time, it lets readers see things through the simple vocabulary and ‘vision’ of the dog. The story lets children ask questions about our most basic human rights of food, shelter and safety for all human beings. The Stray and the Strangers is not only a must-read, but it would be excellent as a teaching tool for human relations, globalization, empathy toward refugees and immigrants and basic human kindness.
Mary Harelkin Bishop is the author of the “Tunnels of Moose Jaw Adventure” series published by Coteau Books as well as many other books, including her two newest books, Mistasinîy: Buffalo Rubbing Stone and Skye Bird and the Eagle Feather. She has recently retired after thirty-plus years as teacher-librarian, literacy teacher and educational consultant. Always busy and interested in kids and writing, she is currently undertaking writing projects with schools. She is looking forward to spending more time writing, giving writers’ workshops and playing with grandchildren.