Thursday, April 19, 2007

Catwoman in Rabat

A fairly accurate criticism long levied against me by my friends & family has been a decided absence of ambition in my genetic code. There is a reason why I am not Bill Gates: I am rather unfocused, too dismissive of the trappings of success, and I occasionally (sic) make harebrained decisions. Consider Catwoman. I could have aspired to becoming Eartha Kitt's Catwoman; instead there are excellent odds that I am on a fast track to becoming a crazy cat lady. We're all familiar with the stereotype: a dottering old crone who hoards dozens & dozens of cats in her apartment, only to be found dead by the UPS man weeks after her demise, her cats having used her as a scratching post. I have become her Moroccan counterpart: after the sun has set, I can be seen skulking about the streets feeding stray cats, muttering to myself and engaging in deep conversations with them all the while.

On that forked road of Catwoman archetypes I, like Bugs Bunny, 'shoulda taken that left turn at Alberquerque'. Sexy would have been far preferable to senescent.

But senescent won and yes, I carry cat food in my purse: little ziplock bags of hard food, tin foil pouches of the wet goop which are reserved for my two favourite strays. Even among street cats there is a pecking order. The cats in my neighbourhood know me now and trust me in varying degrees. Those whom I began to feed as kittens gallop towards me when I piss-wiss them, those I first encountered as adults maintain a 1- or 2-meter distance from me and wait until I am gone to approach their din-dins.

Their wateringhole as it were - and now their designated feeding station - is a street corner equidistant from my home near a butcher shop. There they compete with beggars fishing out the discarded bones and stringy bits from the butcher's garbage bin, and take refuge from the elements in an underground parking garage. At the appointed time, as I round the corner, my cats will invariably be waiting for me. Conversely, the young men from the butcher shop are less than thrilled to see me; often, after I have finished distributing my loaves and fishes and rounded the corner homeward, they'll shoo away the cats & kittens. Apparently the sight of a kitten eating a decent meal a few meters from their shop angers them. I hope they all burn in hellfire.

It has occured to me that I am contributing to the problem of stray cats in Rabat. Firstly, one of the kittens - now a young adult - that I have been feeding for the past few months is now heavy with her own progeny. Perhaps I should have adopted a more Darwinian prespective and let nature take its course. In some small way, I may be responsible for another half dozen cats on the street who will face an uncertain future of misery and suffering. Secondly, cat food isn't particularly cheap in Rabat; in fact, the price of kitty kibble - unlike my salary - is on par with North American brands. Thirdly, I confess that I have grown inordinantly attached to these footloose felines and have vacillated for months now regarding their futures: should I take one or two to the vet? get them cleaned up? take them home? I have even committed the greatest of crimes and started naming them, proof indeed that I have become a crazy cat lady.

All this came to a head last night as Mr. CinR & I fed a record number of cats on the way home from work. Perhaps word is out in the cat community that the dotty broad with Garnier Belle-Color #550 hair is good for a hand-out. The new cats got a little helping of dry food, while my scruffy little favourite with the sickly tail got a foil pouch of wet stuff. As we rounded the corner, an old woman approached us, her hand stretched out in supplication. We had just given all of our change to one of my regulars - a blind woman who sits on the sidewalk near my school - and a twisted boy in a wheelchair. We had nothing left, not even a 5-centime coin. As we passed her, I happened to look back and saw her approaching the cats. She bent down and grabbed a handful of dry cat food and crammed it into her mouth. I was aghast and quickly turned away. I didn't want her to know that I had seen her, nor did I want to know if she ate the food or spat it out. And I certainly didn't want to know what she was going to do when she approached the kitten with the tuna fish.

Quite frankly, I can't get the image of her out of my mind. I keep wondering if the beggar harboured any hostility, levied any indictment towards me - someone willing to feed stray animals rather than give her my spare change, which in her mind, I certainly would have had. Maybe she was too beaten, too street-worn to care. The whole episode has saddened me deeply.

I bet Eartha Kitt has never had this problem.

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