Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
With half an hour to go before my “punching” time, I was standing outside the building, telling a colleague [who was smoking too] about my love/hate relationship with cigarettes. “I don’t even like the smell”, I whined, “I am not addicted to it. And it’s sucking my wallet dry. God only knows why I don’t want to give it up. Do you know that I sometimes wonder if I smoke just to…” somewhere in between, I have noticed my companion was only with me in body. His attention has gone somewhere totally else. I followed his mesmerized gaze and saw the subject of his intense focus was a pretty girl in a blue and white north-face jacket, walking a dog that could pass for her on two legs [it was blonde, and skinny and with a snazzy hair cut that would shame her 200 dollar jacket]. He was not only breaking the 3 second-stare code, but was breaking it in the most unsubtle way imaginable.
My black-Friday car-accident has brought this colleague and I closer, and every time we meet in the “smoking area”, it has become customary for him to ask “any more accidents lately?!”. So I thought teasing him would be in order. “Take a photo”, I said, “take a bunch. It lasts longer”. That brought him cackling back. He said he was actually looking at the dog. “I mean I like girls,” he added, didn’t deny, “but dogs are my passion”.
I’ve had occasions to meet this colleague of mine outside work, by virtue of his living [not unlike myself] a few blocks from where we were standing. And every time I saw him, he had two mean-looking mongrels that were almost half his size and seem to do the dragging, instead of the being dragged, by the leash tied to their necks. I’ve noticed how he lights up, too, in a way he doesn’t usually light up, when conversation turns to mutts. His usually “drunk” voice becomes full of authority, his demeanor animated and the impression he gives one is of someone who has less of a life than moi.
In such a manner he started talking about the dog that walked past now: the cute blond one with the fashionable hair trim. He told me not to let the “girly” look fool me. That that dog was of a higher caliber than your average “bobby”. Its ancestors, he said, were hunters, making it the best guard dog this side of the world. The only down side, he added, is it has a small head, thus a small brain, which makes it pretty useless for dog-quiz shows. Pretty. Blonde. Dumb.
[Why am I not surprised?!]
Then he moved onto one of his mutts, who he said does a bit of “guarding” on the side. “He walks the kids to the bus stop!”, declared he, proudly, “When the kids come out to go to school, I open the gate for him, and he walks them to the bus stops. Never lets anyone go near there. When they get on the bus, he comes walking back and no questions asked.”
Fast forward 4 hrs.
Break time was almost over, and I was walking back into the building, trying to shake the smell of my second cigarette off my person. Shannon, an artist colleague [and a dear friend] came out looking all droopy and sad. I asked what was up. She said her cat has been sick for a few days now and she was worried. She’s told me about this cat of hers. How she got hooked on it after this animal showed a side of it you don’t usually attribute to felines. “The first time I cried,” she has said, “I .. don’t.. cry .. that often. That first time, my cat came around and gave me a real concerned look. Like she wanted to ask me what happened. And she slept next to me longer than she’s ever done. That’s how we bonded. I have always thought I was a dog person. I adopted her just because my sister’s cat gave birth to a liter-full and couldn’t afford to keep them. But that night..” [shake of the head, wistful look, sighs].
I tut-tutted, asked if she’s taken her to the vets [she hasn't; but it's only been two weeks since her annual checkup] and hoped, upon departure, that whatwashername feels better soon. It was afterwards, wondering what it would be like to own a dog or a cat, that I wondered if the universe was trying to communicate something. Haven’t I received my belated November 2011 Reader’s Digest issue only a few days ago?! And doesn’t it have a big portion on cats and dogs, with a slide show that named me not just a cat person, but an introvert as well [*sticks tongue out at blogger friend*]. Amn’t I in bad need for a distraction? And doesn’t my building happen, just happen, to be one of those few buildings that welcomes pets and their owners [for a nifty 400 bucks a year?!].
If the universe was trying to communicate something, far it be from me to bury the head in the sand and pretend I didn’t hear. But is a cat/dog what it wants me to adopt?! Or is it a roundabout way of asking me to subscribe to one of those co-parenting websites and evaluate my options while I look for the ideal sperm-donor and make up my mind about wanting to be a mother.
Were I to get a pet, do not I need to plan ahead? Make my life and room ready and pet-friendly? Save enough for food, medical bills, grooming supplies?! What do I know about cats? And dogs?! What does any Ethiopian know about them?!
What the Ethiopian knows about cats and dogs…
Well… we know that they are animals: Not humans, Not family members, Not “babies”; [but] animals. Animals with neither a right nor a brain. And one you can’t, unfortunately, fatten up and eat when it becomes too old to pull the plow.
That you get dogs for security.
You give it left-overs. You let it sleep outside, or a “jonya” on the verandah. Or, if you have anything worth stealing or one of those mysterious dinbertegna/”telats” who spends his night digging the grave for you, you build a little “nest” for it, put a “tenakash wusha ale” sign on the “nest’s” door [whether the wusha itself spends his days trying to dig his way out, or licking it’s balls]; and let it off the leash in the evenings, making him quarrelsome and hungry for blood.
You can name it “Bobby” “Buchie”, or “mango” [or "Sancho", to warn the local hooligan just how unwise it would be to mess around with him] before such time when somebody slips him the poison and he dies. You do not know his mother, nor care what breed his ancestors belonged to. But when the room grows quite, and your wife/or elder sister comes out to tell you such and such has died, you walk into your inner sanctum, face the wall and get over it.
That you get cats for the rats.
You can throw them a “kintibtabi” here and there [or beg for the ‘araj’ to put the “samba” aside on holiday mornings]. You may find yourself generous enough to fill its “taBa” with milk from time to time. But you never let it forget a cat’s ration is supposed to bring itself to the cat’s nose. You aren’t supposed to feed a cat! If you do, it would start “sleeping with the enemy” and wouldn’t budge if they over run the house, and/or on its face. Cats go by names like “Titi”, “Wuro”, “Qenubish”, and/or “Qeleb tirfe” [after my uncle’s throat got thick from doing the “meowing” after his cat got too chummy with the little vermins]. Which they rarely answer to. They don’t give a shit, cats. Not the most sociable creatures of the animal kingdom, I must say. They can also not just “look” cruel, but actually be cruel. I’ve seen a cat play with a mouse she didn’t wanna eat [it’s always a she] by biting its head every time it tried to get up and run away; and then giving it a bit of time to recover and then gently biting it on the head to disorient it. What’s more, there is always a myth surrounding cats. They can sense evil, they are a witches’ best accessory next to a witch’s broom, and many cultures believe if a cat crosses your way in the morning; you might as well call the day off and return home. It’s bad luck!
Now, I’m not sure if this reputation of a cat’s for mean-ness is “yeWusha negadewoch” worye or a resentment to its sense of independence. Its “you-be-damned” air. [the fact that it hardly needs humans to survive. A cat cleans itself, needs no “potty-training”, and if its feeling worm-y, it can always self-medicate by slipping into the nearest bush and chewing on a leaf].
So let’s say I listened to the universe and decided to get a four-legged creature for a company. Something I can spend my affection and hard-earned money on; a companion who I could take for a stroll in the park, and meet other dog/cat owners through. Something that wouldn’t ask “minew tefash?!” in a cold voice when I call after having dragged myself out of bed, still recovering from either “gunfan” or depression. Something that would, as they say, love me “unconditionally” [or, more precisely, on the condition that I fed it, provided a warm abode and a cozy bed for it]. Would I be able to, and get away with, treating it the Ethiopian way?! Or would I have to adopt an american attitutde before adopting a pet that cries [for all intents and purposes] “meow” in every language; so i wouldn’t end up being sued for “neglect”, “abuse”, “cruelty”. And, worse, go to jail for.
Reader Digest’s slideshow on Dog People vs. Cat People. See where you belong.