If you have no patience for long-winded stories about people’s cats, then:
a) You may not enjoy this blog post;
b) You may not be able to be my friend.
If, on the other hand, you enjoy 1,200-word stories about the most beautiful kitten on the face of the earth, then here we go.
I think the biggest sacrifice I’ve had to make as a Peace Corps Volunteer is living without a cat. I know that being far from family and friends in the United States is a considerable sacrifice, but, you know, you can compensate for distance from human loved ones with phone calls and emails. There’s really no substitute for having a cat.
Having a cat is not out of the question for Peace Corps Volunteers, it’s just out of the question for me, as long as I’m living with my current host family. My host family did have a pet bird for a while—that bird is no longer with us—but my host mom has expressed a distaste for four-legged pets. Ah, there’s the rub.
Some Colombians have cats, and, in fact, my fellow PCV Kendra even has a cat of her own. Cats in Colombia (at least at the socioeconomic level where I live) have a different role from feline friends in the United States. Pet cats here are outside cats, and people generally don’t favor them with physical love and affection. Cats are expected to roam around, hang out with other neighborhood animals, and catch mice and other pesky creatures. Cats here are almost always lean and agile, in contrast with the Botero-esque cats that were my childhood pets.
So, by way of setting the scene for my story, let me just summarize to say that for the past eighteen months in Colombia, I have been really sad about my lack of a pet kitty.
Last Tuesday, I arrived at school around 6:30 AM to co-teach my ninth-grade class with Gustavo, and I spotted…a kitten, surrounded by a gaggle of eighth-grade boys. “Excuse me,” I told the eighth graders. “Get out of the way. I need to play with the cat.” They complied.
Unfortunately, I had to abandon the kitten in order to co-teach. And then, I had to attend an English department meeting. Life is full of tribulations. But when I emerged from these inconveniences two hours later, I was certain that I could still track that little kitty down. It couldn’t have gone far.
I wandered all over the school. No kitten. Finally, Gustavo suggested that I check with señor Martín, our portero (gatekeeper). Señor Martín is great. He’s a gentle older man about five feet tall, he’s been at my school for decades, and he knows where to find everything and everyone.
“Señor Martín,” I pleaded, “Do you know where the kitten is?”
Señor Martín delivered. “Oh! The cat! You like cats? It’s right outside!”
So I went outside, and sure enough, the kitten was curled up in a ball on the front steps of my school. It was a beautiful kitten—white with brown-black patches, or brown-black with white patches. Mixed, just like me. With gorgeous gray-blue eyes. I patted its head and petted its chin and held it in my arms until it fell asleep. I spent the period sitting on the concrete in front of my school, cat in one arm and book in the other.
Then, again, a problem: I had to go back to co-plan. I figured that the other teachers would not appreciate an animal in the teachers’ lounge. With a heavy heart, I put the kitty back where I found it and entered the school.
I sat down with my counterpart Ana to plan classes when Magda, another teacher, marched in…kitten in hand. “Jessica!” she yelled. “You left your cat outside!” And she deposited it in my lap.
At that point, Adlet (yet another teacher) burst into the room. Adlet is one of the loudest people I have ever met in my life. Upon seeing my adorable kitten, she directed her formidable voice towards the rest of the teachers: “Attention! We are all now aunts and uncles! Jessica just had a son.”
It was then Pedro’s turn to weigh in. Pedro is an art teacher and one of my favorite people in this entire country. “Why don’t you adopt it, Jessica?” Pedro asked. I explained that my host family wouldn’t let me have a cat. “Well, you just sneak it into your room. And then when it meows at night, you just tell your host family that’s how you snore.” Pedro always has the answer.
The kitten proceeded to sleep in my arms for three hours as I co-planned with several counterparts for the upcoming week. When it curled up in a ball, it fit in one hand. At the end of the morning, I fed it some salchichón (hot dog-like meat) from the corner store, which it gobbled up.
I also introduced it to the kindergarteners, who were quite charmed. The kindergarten teacher tried to dissuade them from touching the stray animal, but I undermined her authority. I made friends with a five-year-old named Steven, who hates dogs as much as I do. The kindergarteners built the kitty a “pirate ship,” which consisted of two slabs of concrete and a stick. They built a cat house as well, which was made of a cardboard box, a concrete brick bed, and some cushions of flowers.
When I returned the following day (Wednesday), I was delighted to find that the kitty was still there. So I decided on a plan. I would keep the kitten at school. I would take care of it and love it and feed it and raise it to be a beautiful cat. It would be my pet. I told all the students and all the teachers. I told señor Martín.
We named it Manchas, which means “spots” or “patches.” For short: Manchitas, Manchi, Don Quijote de las Manchas. (If you appreciate this joke, you are an excellent person.) Wednesday afternoon, I bought a big bag of kitten food, as well as a little dish for water and a little dish for food.
Then tragedy struck.
I showed up Thursday morning with my new gifts of food and dishes for Manchi. And what did I find?
Someone had stolen my kitten.
Some elementary school student’s mother had taken it upon herself to “adopt” the kitten that was supposed to be my beloved pet. As if it didn’t already have a home. As if I didn’t love it and consider it the best cat in the entire world. You can imagine my devastation and heartbreak.
And now I have no cat. Life is so hard.
I’ve considered my options for getting Manchi back. I could report the incident to the Peace Corps office, since it was technically a robbery—someone stole my cat. But I don’t think the office staff would be particularly sympathetic, and I’m sure they wouldn’t help me file a police report. I’ve also thought about telling the staff that I need a cat to be a good Volunteer; kittens undoubtedly help my mental health and (as you can see from this story) aid in my integration with Colombians in my community.
We shall see.