Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Cat Which Fell to Earth: Part the Second (its Longwinded Conclusion)

Now, where were we?

I spent the
next two hours pacing the apartment, hands over ears, trying futilely to block out the mewling of the little grey kitten and the distressed yowls of its mother.

... and then I went to work. Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad came
with me in the hopes of securing the stellar assistance of Office Boy. Office Boy was busy ordering food for the staff's iftar - the meal which marks the end of the day's fast - and couldn't be spared from calling that one restaurant. Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad left, instead, with a step ladder which given the brain capacity of Office Boy meant that Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad came out ahead in the bargain. While I taught, he and a few curious neighbours tried - in vain - to coax the kitten to edge of the makeshift roof/overhang. Needless to say, the ladder didn't quite reach and consequently, nor could Mr. This Cat. He tossed a few Turkish 'chicken burgers' (a.k.a. bologne slices) on top of the makeshift roof/overhang. The kitten greedily wolved down the slices and then Mr. This Cat summarily suspended all rescue operations until darkness fell and I returned home.

Darkness fell and I returned home.

I came home at 10:00 and we resumed our now joint efforts to rescue the kitten. We could see the paws of the kitten - more or less - through the corrugated plastic of the makeshift roof/overhang but we could neither reach it nor lure it to the edge. I would be remiss if I didn't point out the obvious; namely, kittens can be quite skittish, especially when they are scared shitless by a six-storey drop and quite shy, especially when they have had zero contact with Tall Beings Which Walk on Two Legs who are trying to grab it.

To make matters worse, of all freaking nights, all the shops on our shop-lined street were staying open for a Midnight Madness-type sale - in anticipation of the end of Ramadan, now three days away. Apparently, there is no limit to the number of polyester headscarves, plastic toys and made-in-China crap from the dollar store people require to celebrate the end of Islam's holiest month. What this meant is that every time the kitten even remotely came close to the edge of the makeshift overhang/roof, a gaggle of women, a muffler-less scooter, and/or a pack of screeching kids passed by, spooking the kitten. Eventually, it took cover behind the Singer Sewing Machine sign, completely out of our purview and definitely out of our reach.

Time passed ...

We were stymied - which really meant that I wanted to sit down on the curb and cry. The son of the owner of the plastic toy shop directly across the street from us - a child who on a good day resembles Pugsley from the Addams Family and far worse on a bad day - who hitherto had spent the last 45 minutes swinging a toy gun on a string around him and hitting passers-by, now stood in the middle of the street, stared
blankly at us and gaped. I fully expected him to suddenly point at us as otherworldly screams emanated from his mouth. All in slow motion. As a preemptive measure, I wanted to take that toy gun and cause him grievous bodily harm with it.

Close to midnight, we heard a louder than usual car motor - this in itself was not unusual but tonight the street had been closed off to traffic (well, sort of) for its Midnight Madness sale - and we looked down the street to see a fire truck approaching.

Do you think if I flagged them down, I asked Mr. Cat, they'll let us use their cherry-picker to rescue the kitten?

Uh - no, he responded. (He's so negative some times.)

Then the most remarkable thing happened. The fire truck - which was having no easy time navigating the narrow street where we live - actually stopped in front of our building and then the ladder swivelled towards the makeshift roof/overhang. It turns out that one of the men who had helped Mr. Cat earlier that evening, who saw us still struggling in our efforts to save the kitten, called the fire department. Will wonders never cease? In 2009, in butthole Turkey, the fire department actually rescues stranded cats.

Pugsley Addams stared and gaped some more.

Huzzah! I cried. But not for long. One of the firemen - a young fellow who clearly had aspirations of starring in the Turkish version of Spiderman - scrambled onto the corrugated plastic of the makeshift roof/overhang. Because of its flimsiness, he had to shimmy spread-eagle across it but for every inch he advanced, the kitten retreated two inches. Finally the kitten made a daring escape onto the canvas awning of the next door building. Spiderman followed.

This being Turkey, I would add, a crowd of 50-some men had gathered around the fire truck all dispensing probably
contradictory advice. The women stayed behind in the scarf shops. Spiderman grabbed the step ladder and tried again to grab the kitten. The kitten, no shabby Spiderman, or Spiderkitten itself, lept onto the wall, sunk its claws into some wires on the corner of the building, scaled the wall - amazingly not electrocuting itself - rounded the corner and heaved itself up onto another overhang of yet another store.

This overhang at least was made of concrete.

More men arrived to watch and dispense presumably contradictory advice. The women stayed behind in the scarf shops.

The fire truck backed up, the ladder swivelled towards Spiderkitten's new hiding place, and Spiderman now climbed onto the concrete overhang. He made a valiant attempt to grab Spiderkitten but it bolted, jumping and scrambling behind a another nearby store sign - not unlike a long hollow tube, open at both ends. Spiderman grabbed our ladder and positioned himself at one end while another fireman stood at the other end and tried to flush Spiderkitten out with a broom. At this point, a half dozen bystanders decided to help by banging on the metal sign.

If Spiderkitten survives this, I thought, it will need therapy for life. Or was I talking about me?

Presumably suffering from tinnitus, Spiderkitten popped out and decided to make another run for it - there were more exposed wires snaking up the wall - but its claws failed and it fell onto the sidewalk where, defying all laws of physics, it ran around the corner at speeds which would shame a cheetah - with me, Puglsey Addams and about ten men in hot pursuit. We cornered it and then Pugsley endeavoured to calm the kitten down by
suddenly pointing at it as otherworldly screams emanated from his mouth and then waving his arms to and fro like a fucking retard ... which resulted into two things happening:

1) My shouting what the fuck are you doing? at him (after all, a tongue-lashing is a tongue-lashing in any language) at which he started at me blankly,
2) The kitten turning around, running towards Mr.This Cat and taking cover between the metal grate of a security gate and a store front.

Spiderkitten was now cornered and Mr. This Cat was able to reach between the gate and the glass storefront and grab the kitten. He passed me the kitten and went in search for a box. Rather than express gratitude for its rescue, it hissed, spat and dug its not-as-miniscule-as-you'd-think claws into my hands and bit me. Hard. I realized then why Spiderman was wearing large industrial leather gloves. Then it shit on me. I couldn't help but notice that its turds were quite firm so I made note to continue buying the same brand of kitten food for it and its siblings.

Mr. Cat found an empty and followed me into our apartment building foyer into which I threw the little ingrate. Thank the firemen! I called back to Mr. This Cat as I ascended the stairs and sucked the blood pouring from my hands. He did.

As I thought about the incubation period for rabies and wondered if feline distemper was communicable to humans, I brought Spiderkitten upstairs and opened up the box. It spat and hissed some more. Such anger in such a little kitten.

That night, we spent a sleepless night listening to
Spiderkitten cry pitifully for its mother, root about the bedroom for a place to hide, and hiss and spit at me whenever I approached it, until it - and by extension we - all fell asleep around 6 a.m. We woke up a few hours later to find it curled up asleep on the floor beside our bed.

We weighed our options but knew that we couldn't keep it; we were going away on the weekend and we couldn't leave this feral firebrand alone for three days, no matter how cute it was. (And it was.) With throbbing and possibly rabid hands - I grabbed Spiderkitten and returned it to its box. Mr. This Cat and I went out and rounded the corner to the normally locked door of the building which is home to Slutty Mom Cat and her brood.
The door was open and we climbed the stairs to her penthouse. The door to the top floor was uncharacteristically open as well, and entered the unfinished space, bending down below the rafters. Slutty Mom Cat was there as were the other three kittens.

From deep within its box Spiderkitten began to meow and Mom's ears perked up. We positioned the box in the middle of the room, opened it up, and stepped back. Slutty Mom Cat approached the box and, at the same time, Spiderkitten popped out. Mother and kitten ran towards each other and there was much headbutting and mewling.

As Mr. This Cat later said, if you had seen this reunion and not been moved to tears, you would have to have a heart of stone.

We patted out backs. We had done the right thing and hopefully, just perhaps - maybe maybe maybe - Spiderkitten will have learned a valuable lesson. For the rest of the morning and afternoon, we could hear it mewing softly but these were no cries of distress.

We patted our backs some more. By the end of the night, it was back on the cement balcony roughhousing and tumbling about the precipitous
edge with its siblings. Fuck almighty.

If it falls again, I muttered to Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad, it's on its own.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Cat Which Fell to Earth in Two Parts with a Lengthy Preamble

I hate preambles but today a preamble is necessary and it will, in all likelihood, be quite lengthy.

The Lengthy Preamble:

In the apartment building next to us is a building whose owner had, at one time, decided to add an extra floor but, part way through changed his mind - meaning that he ran out of money. So from our balcony we have a lovely view of a 4th floor construction site-cum-dump with a bare slab of concrete serving as a balcony. Last spring, a squatter appeared on the balcony: a tabby with two newborn kittens. We fed them daily by tossing bags of food over the balcony; the kittens grew up; all manner of feline life eventually made their way out of the building into the great big world, and life went on.

A few weeks ago, our slutty Mom Cat - clearly satisfied and mindful of the post-natal care she received from her previous lie-in - was back in her penthouse suite-cum-dump and soon four kittens (three marmalades and a grey tabby) made their appearance. More mouths to feed but I confess that their almost unbearable cuteness (they are very cute) mitigates the almost overwhelming stress of their being in my life.

Stress? you ask.

The daily feedings on the balcony are a source of great stress for me because there is no barrier to protect the kittens - one false step and it's a sheer 4-storey drop down down down to the sidewalk below - a significant fall if you are the size of a well-fed hamster. Kittens play. It is what they do. Watching roughhousing tumbly kittens and a bare unguarded balcony edge is turning my hair grey. Thank God I'm vain enough to colour it. If this isn't enough, every crow in a 25-kilometre radius of Izmit knows that the plastic bags I lob onto the kittens' balcony is chockful of tantalizing Crow Delights -a.k.a. kitten chow. Once the kittens have had their fill, the kamikazing crows descend onto the balcony en masse and, not to put too fine a point on it, scare the kittens - who are the size of well-fed hamsters - shitless. Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud.

So just to recap - or to bring my Lengthy Preamble to its now overdue conclusion: roughhousing tumbly kittens, precipitous drop, murderous crows, and weekly applications of Excellence Crème 5.5 by L'Oréal (a triple protection system for 100% grey coverage).

Part the First:

Yesterday morning I went out at my usual time to feed The Family. Slutty Mom Cat was there with the three marmalades but the grey tabby - the alpha kitten, in fact - was notably absent. I commented on this to Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad. The grey tabby - the alpha kitten, in fact - is notably absent, I said. I began to fret.

Now I neglected to mention in my Lengthy Preamble that our street is a busy one and much favoured by hordes of children prone to ear-piercing shrieks, barking street vendors, and flatulent motorbikes. Additionally, its back alleyways - which we can see from our apartment - are populated by tribes of feral cats and kittens. In a word, our street is loud, so to hear anything short of the boom! of a nuclear explosion would not be out of the ordinary. But yesterday morning, we heard a different cry - definitely not an infant's but not one of the neighbourhood cats either, and we couldn't identify its source or its location. It was insistent and continued into the afternoon.

It was then that we noticed Mom Cat: she was pacing around the balcony, peering over the edge, and crying. I had a sinking billeous feeling in the netherparts of my stomach and, having the eyesight of a mole, called Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad - a.k.a. Mr. Eagle Eyes - to the balcony to check the street once again.
It's down there! he cried. I can see it.

Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!!! .....
I wailed. And he pointed.

And indeed it was. On the corrugated plastic roof/overhang of the store which occupies the main floor of the apartment building is a large metal Singer Sewing Machine sign. Beside the sign was the grey tabby.
Crying. Alive yes, but injured? Probably. Dying? I didn't even want to think about it - at least the corrugated plastic roof/overhang had broken its fall and it had just missed the sidewalk. But this was Ramadan - was it too naive of me to hope for another miracle from a god whose antipathy toward me is already well documented?

Not knowing what to do, we scurried downstairs to see if we could somehow reach the kitten. On the second floor of the apartment building was a dress studio whose display windows overlook the
makeshift roof/overhang. Perhaps, in our stellar nonexistent Turkish, we could persuade an employee to let us crawl through one of their windows and rescue the kitten.

We went up to the second floor and buzzed the ringer. Do you speak English? we asked the girl who answered the door, a pointless courtesy really, as we knew full well that she wouldn't. She shook her head and I was forced to haul out my linguistic big guns: the words balkon (as in balcony) and kedi (as in kitty). She nodded but wouldn't let us into the store. For fuck's sake! - should I offer to buy a dress? We pantomimed that the kitten had fallen and, either because she didn't understand our clever gestures indicating a cat falling from space or she was mentally feeble, called for her supervisor to decide if we should be let
into the store.

The Supervisor, equipped with either a brain or a heart (or both), motioned for us to come in and showed us to the window which overlooked the
makeshift roof/overhang. Unfortunately, it wasn't a full length display window but rather a regular window-window and access to it was blocked by several industrial sewing machines. The likelihood that they would allow us to move their work station seemed glaringly dim. The supervisor rattled on to us in Turkish and the only word which was even vaguely familiar was salami. Either she had been feeding it luncheon meat or I had completely misunderstood and she had just told me that a small cat was lying below her window with all four legs twisted in unnatural angles from its body .

Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad shimmied over and, craning his neck, could see the kitten. It was alive and not visibly injured but very very frightened. There was no way he could reach it and in spite of his attempts to get it to approach him (he piss-wissed it), it slunk back behind the Singer Sewing Machine sign.

Dejected and with no help being offered from the Sewing Ladies - you'd think the constant crying would have unnerved them by this point - we left. We stood below the sign and waited for - well - a sign from Allah. A DVD pirate (no parrot or eye patch but a prodigious selection of
Nicholas Cage films) whose very temporary sales stand was located just under the makeshift roof/overhang pointed at the makeshift roof/overhang and said a very great deal to us but the only word we understood was kedi. He made no references to salami. He also suggested - we think - that we try the Sewing Ladies. We thanked him and hiked back upstairs to reassess things. In two hours I had to be at work. Was there a ladder there we could use? Perhaps someone at work could help us. Maybe we could borrow Office Boy, our hapless navigator through the turbulent seas of Turkish cell phone acquisition.

I spent the next two hours pacing the apartment, hands over ears, trying futilely to block out the mewling of the little grey kitten and the distressed yowls of its mother.

End of Part the First

Friday, September 4, 2009

Boogie Wonderland

So, we've been overseas for four years now, have worked in four different countries, and have had the ofttimes dubious pleasure of dealing with four different postal services. I would therefore be remiss if I didn't offer a long winded few observations on Turkey's postal service.

Not unlike Poste Maroc in Morocco, the post office here - the PTT with the promising, if not probably erroneous, motto of "everywhere on time" - is pretty much everything except a place to buy stamps. And although it may try to be "everywhere on time", it is nigh impossible to find a freaking mailbox in this country - at least in the cities I've cast my shadow in, and those are the only ones that really count. I did eventually find one mailbox in Istanbul - one, mind you - and that was only because special mention was made of it in a guidebook. I suppose the government is worried about those baby-skewering Kurdish terrorists blowing up letter boxes, but their marked absence here is no less a pain in the ass.

Having said all of this, we've had three parcels sent to us since we've gone the way of the Turk and all three arrived in record time - less than a week from the Centre of the World (Italy) to the sawed-off little backwater of Izmit. This almost makes me want to hang my head in shame for mocking the PTT's (albeit mockable) motto. Almost.

But truth be told, so far, our mail karma with the PTT hasn't been too too bad (if you don't count letters that never arrived home, the inability to buy stamps, post letters, and the overwhelming dearth of mailboxes).

Indeed, we had been
warned by colleagues that the PTT never leaves pick-up notices for parcels and that, after a reasonable amount of time has expired since the package was sent from home, one should just go to the post office with fingers crossed and make polite enquiries. One colleague went to pick up a parcel and although it was on the clerk's desk in plain view, the clerk wouldn't release it until he had stamped it, and advised our friend to return the next day. Our first two parcels were left on our doorstep and the third, which arrived day before yesterday, made its presence in this country known by a card left near ("in" would have been nice) our mailbox.

So with notice and passport in hand, we headed off to the PTT. We had already been to the PTT before in a rather futile attempt to buy stamps and a second equally futile attempt to post an already stamped (bought the stamp in Istanbul) post card (there are no mailboxes in Izmit - did I mention that?). Off we went, opened the door and were greeted by about 338 people milling about a very long dark dismal and decidedly unsigned post office - which more closely resembled a corridor (but a very long dark dismal and decidedly unsigned one).

The automatic number dispenser - which normally assigns numbers based on what you want to do at the post office (i.e., pay a bill or heaven forbid, buy a stamp) - offered us no choice, so we pressed the button and looked forlornly at number 303. I say forlornly because the customer currently being served was number 965.

Not really having the patience time or energy for any of this, Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad suggested that I make a reconnaissance tour of the very long dark dismal and decidedly unsigned corridor to determine whether any one of the 338 people there were actually conducting business which might entail the purchasing of a stamp or the retrieval of a package. They were not. Everyone seemed to be clutching a bill of some sort. In fact, I would later learn that, at the PTT, a customer can:

* pay a credit card bill
* deposit money into one's bank account
* buy/receive money orders - either a postal order or through Western Union
* exchange foreign currency
* pay every utility/phone/cable bill under the sun
* pay all manner of traffic/motor fines
* pay "illegal crossing fines" - I have no idea what those are unless they actually ticket pedestrians here (which wouldn't surprise me as we are an inconvenience to motorists)
* pick up pension & welfare cheques
* pay insurance premiums - and I think, purchase insurance packages
* buy internet packages including one called e-kolay which just sounds like a lethal bacterium to me
* buy train tickets
* make purchases from the Culture Center Corporation (don't ask, I don't know)
* apply for a Qualified Electronic Certificate (don't ask, I don't know)
* buy cable and wireless phones

and, I think (although I've never seen it):

*buy stamps

So it shouldn't come as any surprise that no one was there to do anything of a postal nature. Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad decided to take matters into his own hands and assumed the rôle of Gormless Non-Turkish Speaking Foreigner by jumping the line and shoving our pick-up notice in the face of the First Unfortunate Free Clerk he could find. Our queue-jumping - pretty much the norm here, automated numbers notwithstanding - didn't faze
the First Unfortunate Free Clerk at all and, amazingly, he called for an English-Speaking Clerk to assist us. An English-Speaking Clerk soon materialized and - in stellar English - said: "come".

We gladly followed him out the door, onto the street and into an unmarked doorway where we were led
down a very long dark dismal and decidedly unsigned corridor (at this point we figured we were in a PTT building) to a flight of stairs and told again, in perfect English: "3" - by which we assumed meant the third floor. T
he English-Speaking Clerk disappeared and up we went. On the third floor we found a letter sorting room which had lots of letters but no parcels.

In the middle of its ceiling hung a silvery glittery disco ball.

A Helpful Woman approached us and we were led to a desk. She handed our notice to a Helpful Man who had before him a very large manifest in which, with my help, he found
Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad's name. And as luck would have it, the one and only parcel in the entire department was sitting directly behind his desk on a bookshelf. Now it so happened that both my name and Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad's names were written on the parcel, but only my name appeared on the delivery notice while only Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad's name appeared in the shipping manifest.

This, naturally, caused much confusion
as this is Byzantium Turkey after all, the cradle of red tape bureaucracy. We produced my passport and his residence card and although the Helpful Man was satisfied that it was indeed us, he didn't know which document to use as identification and was loath to release the parcel. After a tête à tête with the Helpful Woman, he broke all rules by opting for my passport, and we took gleeful possession of our parcel, thanked everyone with a surprisingly sincere
teşekkürler, and skipped off with our parcel - gobsmacked that:

a) it had arrived so quickly, and
b) we actually received a pick-up notice for it, and
c) it was actually there, and
d) the PTT - unlike my friends at
Poste Maroc - hadn't opened the box, pilfered through it and pocketed the choicer of its contents, and
e) we couldn't get Boogie Wonderland out of our heads for the rest of the afternoon.

... and not a little curious if, at 5:30 when the last of the 338 customers is sent on his way, the downstairs lights are turned off and the doors ar
e locked, up up up on the 3rd floor of the PTT parcel depot, whether the curtains are drawn and the disco ball is turned on and a Donna Summer album is put on the turntable and several pairs of roller skates taken out from behind one of the mailbags.