Note: If there are words underlined in blue, that’s wordpress’ fault and I apologize. I am not technologically savvy enough to get rid of them.
A friendship between a human and an animal is strange under the very best of circumstances. People talk to their pets, and get upset at them, and curl up next to them after a long day. People pay unbelievable amounts of money in order to keep the animal healthy and happy—neutering, food, shots, toys, etc. And some people who are insanely devoted to their little Fido or Spot even decide to send them on a plane halfway around the world in order to avoid saying goodbye to them. I am, it seems, one of those insanely devoted pet owners.
The decision to take him along has not come without reservations. Taking an animal on a trans-Atlantic flight is embarrassingly costly, complicated, and potentially (well, definitely) traumatizing for the animal. And yet I made this decision based on a very selfish and petty need of mine to keep my cat, Charles Wallace, around. When my fellow volunteers inevitably ask me why on earth I’ll be bringing my cat home, my only answer will simply be that ‘he’s my friend’. Because although the answer is a little more complicated than that, the fact that he is my friend is really at the core of why I decided to go nuts and book his passage to Minneapolis.
In order to plead my case I’ve written this blog entry in the hopes that it will ease the minds of my family and friends back home, who undoubtedly think that I’ve gone a bit mad over here in Rwanda (which I suppose is true regardless). But let’s go back to Charles.
Charles Wallace is my 10th cat in Peace Corps. Wow. I guess I’m not doing a great job of sounding sane. Let’s start again.
Charles Wallace is a delightful kitten that was dropped off at my house four months ago. At the time, he looked like this:
This kitten was one that I grudgingly took in after my previous cat disappeared. CW was a month old, precocious, and a gigantic pain (which he hasn’t grown out of). He chews through all of my headphones, helps himself to the food on a guest’s plate while they’re still eating it, and presses all the keys on my computer at once, which screws up the settings in a way that is nearly impossible to reverse. He eats a ton and goes to ‘visit’ my neighbor’s houses even though he knows he’s not allowed. He kills lizards slowly in front of me and then refuses to eat them, instead dropping them into my shoes and looking up at me like he’s done me some great favor. He terrorizes the birds and chickens in my compound, and goes off on adventures on the roof where he knows he’s not supposed to go.
This kitten is my friend. He’s awful sometimes, but he more than makes up for it by curling up next to me when it’s time for bed, following me with an obedient trot when I go to the store, and entertaining me with his numerous antics whenever I’m feeling down.
I know whether or not I take him to America, his life will change drastically. Because he’s known me since he was only a little bigger than a deck of cards, I like to think that he’s as attached to me as I am to him. My neighbor’s tell me he ‘misses me when I’m not there’. They also like to say that they’ll take care of him when I go, but things would be much different for him if I leave him behind, because there’s not a pet culture here in Rwanda. Dogs are used as guards, and even then they’re not given much food and they’re mistreated most of the time. Cats are only good for catching mice, and most people just leave them alone. He might get fed every once and awhile, but he wouldn’t be getting the attention he’s used to. If I gave him to a fellow PCV he would probably have a good life. He’d be fed, taken care of, liked or even loved, and he’d be alright. But that would mean uprooting him in a small way, and bringing him to a place he doesn’t know with people he doesn’t know…granted, America will do the same. But I like to think that my presence in the U.S. will help him out at least a little.
He’ll have a lot of adjustments. He’ll have to become an indoors-only cat (he’s not gonna be happy about that), and learn to be at least a LITTLE polite. No more eating off of people’s plates. Plus, you know, that flight isn’t exactly going to be a walk in the park for him, either.
This decision is mostly a selfish one, as many decisions tend to be. I think my last few posts have shown that this will be a difficult transition. I spent so much time preparing myself for staying in Rwanda for two years, and now I’ve had to start preparing myself to NOT be in Rwanda. Charles Wallace is a bit of Rwanda that I can talk to in my broken Kinyarwanda and cuddle with on cold winter nights. My hope is that his presence will bridge the gap in my mind between Rwanda and America, and make all the upcoming changes a little smoother.
I hope that he’ll like it in America, but there’s really no way to tell. If he doesn’t I guess I’ll just have to ship him back to Rwanda. No harm done.