It appears that I have, at the ripe old age of twenty-three, become what I most feared. Despite my fervent preference for the canine species, Rwanda and Peace Corps have conspired together to make me a cat lady, and I have been all too willing to accept my role as I am now on lucky number eight.
The list so far is as follows: Binx (who I blogged about earlier), Emily Rose (who had rabies), Boo and Templeton (twins who were brought to me far too young), Toothless (my favorite, who was let loose by my landlady while I was at our in-service training away from site), Cat (who I found sitting on my couch one day—and who left as mysteriously as it came), and my newest kittens, Rags and Rajah.
At the beginning of the term I spread around my school that I would like a kitten (much like last year). This year, being a veteran of this sort of thing, I made sure to be extremely specific about what age the kitten should be and how many I wanted—ONE ONLY; I underlined this multiple times on the blackboard. I told all my students and coworkers that I would exchange American food for a kitten, and so everyone started promising me one. Students, coworkers, my neighbors, everyone— so I told them all that I would give the food to the first person to give me a cat, and I would turn away everybody else.
I would like to point out that this request was made almost a full year after all the other kittens I’ve had—and I really wanted an animal. In Peace Corps Rwanda we’re not allowed to have dogs, only cats. We might be allowed to keep frogs or pigs or chickens or goats…I haven’t looked into this. The rule against dogs is for a number of reasons, both cultural and logistical; as it is a small country we volunteers leave site pretty often, making it difficult to figure out what to do with a puppy while we’re gone. Cats are a little more self-sufficient, so they’re more practical. There’s also some leftover negative feeling surrounding dogs because of what happened during the genocide; some families in my village have them, but they’re almost always used for guarding purposes only. The idea of having a cat or dog as a ‘pet’ or ‘friend’ is something completely foreign.
Weeks after everyone and their mother (literally) pledged to get me a cat, I heard nothing. I wasn’t exactly dying for another cat; I’ve had far too many bad experiences surrounding them since I first arrived at site. So I forgot about my request. I figured hey, why continue to beg for one when I’ll be going to Uganda soon anyway?
But of course, about three weeks ago the flood of kittens started pouring in—first was one of my coworkers, who presented me with a kitten I named Ragamuffin (Rags). The cat was filthy, smelled awful, and had been wrapped up impossibly tight in a paper bag for a thirty-minute moto ride, which it did not seem happy about. I gave my fellow teacher a precious packet of gushers and some little toy skeletons I had lying around so that he can have some props for his biology classes. Satisfied that I had my cat, I said goodnight to the teacher and settled into taking care of little Rags. I emptied out a care package and duct-taped the bottom, filling it with dirt to make a crude Rwandan litter box. I went next door to buy some avocados and cleaned up my cat bowls (which had been gathering dust for about 10 months). I’ve gotten pretty used to having kittens, so I left it alone for the first day or so, setting out a bowl of food and a bowl of water in front of the wardrobe it was hiding under. It would only come out from under the wardrobe if I was lying completely still in my bed—any movement and it would scamper back to it’s hiding place. We lived as wary roommates for about two days or so and then I got a knock on the door. Further investigation revealed a group of three or four students, carrying a little bag of kitten. I turned them away, but felt bad so I gave them each a few Starburst in thank-you. After three identical visits, with a different group of students each time and a different kitten, I began to feel like kids were trick-or-treating at my house. Only they didn’t have costumes, and they were each carrying a terrified animal in their bags. I turned them all away, but one day I came home from school and heard two kittens crying instead of one—my students had stuffed one of the cats under my door and left. And that’s how I came to have both Rags AND Rajah.
The three of us lived in the same house for a week or so; the kittens played together each morning and gobbled up bowl upon bowl of food. Soon I realized that I would have to give one up; there was no way I could afford to pay for feeding TWO growing kittens. Rags was still terrified of me and would run to hide under the wardrobe if I made any sort of a movement—so one day I captured him (or her) in a stealth attack and brought it out to a field twenty-minutes away to set it free. After having seven kittens previously, each with it’s own unfortunate story, I didn’t feel too badly about it. Plus, I don’t even LIKE cats; so if one doesn’t happen to like me I don’t have any guilt about sending it away to fend for itself.
Since then, Rajah and I have become great friends. I learned that he hates thunderstorms, loves climbing up my jeans and shirt to curl up on my shoulder, and is especially fond of chewing up electrical cords and falling asleep on my keyboard.
The first big challenge is coming up when I go to Uganda; we’ll see if I have a cat when I get back. I’m leaving Raj in the care of my new compound-mates (I changed houses in November), and crossing my fingers. Although at this point, I’m pretty much expecting not to find him here in my house when I get back.
On another note:
High point of this week: Getting a package from a friend who is now an RPCV (those are the BEST because fellow volunteers know exactly what you want)–thanks, Caroline!
Low point: Saying goodbye to yet another volunteer from my training class. We’re now down to 22 out of our original 37. We’ll miss you, Gilly!