Lost in Translation

I am sure I could have come up with something more clever for the title, something not already starring Bill Murray in a foreign country, but this is where I landed. So far, most of my experiences revolve around the use of very poorly spoken French, so it only seemed fitting....hopefully, I can paint the pictures more accurately in English. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cat Tales

Lizards are so passé. After 2 months of chasing them when we first arrived, Nora moved on to bigger things. Specifically – cats. More specifically, cats found in the gutter. To her credit, the cat in question was actually not much bigger than a lizard, given the average size of lizards here.

Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that Nora lost her interest in catching a lizard as soon as a stray kitten became the object of her desires. This would be fine as Nora is content to chase anything – pigeons, lizards, air molecules, whatever. The problem is her sisters. While lizards are quaint and amusing, a cat is no laughing matter.

Here’s how it all went down…

We were walking home one night from dinner. As we came up the drive to the hotel, we caught a glimpse of something in the drainage ditch alongside the hotel wall. It was just a shadow really. Only this shadow had eyes. Big, green, pleading eyes. No doubt it had heard us coming. And don’t think for one moment it didn’t know exactly what it was doing. There it was. Carefully positioned under a street light, just out of the drainage ditch enough to look pathetic, but just hidden enough to say, “I’m not desperate…I’m just hanging out in this drainage ditch. Without a mother. You know, it’s cool. I’m sure I’ll find some trash to eat. Or a bug. Or, you know, whatever.” It was so obvious.

Now working in the kitten’s favor was the fact that it was about the size of my palm with eyes the size of dinner plates. I don’t know how the physics of these measurements work out, I’m just telling you what I saw. Working against it was…well, there was the fact that it was a cat and then there was the whole “living in a gutter” thing…I can’t say I was completely in favor of picking anything up from the gutters of Libreville. Much less something that was still alive. The odds just aren’t in your favor on that one.

But of course, what I saw as disgusting, the girls saw as endearing and they were madly and desperately in love. And yes, I realize that this is merely preparing me for when they start dating. Suffice it to say, they had, in one simple glance, found their reason for being. And as we all know, once you’ve discovered your true purpose in life, nothing should stop you from going out there and grabbing it. Unless it is 6 inches long and lives in a gutter. Fortunately for the kitten, “seizing the day” by Team Strock involves running as fast as one can in a half-crouch while screaming “Aaaaahhhh!!! A kitten!!! Can we keep it?!!!” The kitten immediately returned the gutter from whence it came, presumably to die of fright, as any self-respecting kitten would when faced with an onslaught of three giant screaming blonde girls.

I probably don’t need to describe how the rest of the night went. But for the benefit of those of you who have never fully experienced the dedication and sheer force of will that children can lend to emotional manipulation, let me just say that Sally Struthers’ and her starving orphans have nothing on these kids. We were told that they wanted this cat. They NEEDED this cat. The absolutely had to have this cat. After all, we had made them give away the only pet they had ever known. That would be Maggie, the 13-yr old, deaf dog that they rarely played with and who ate food off their plates when they weren’t looking. Oh right, and there had also been Jack the dog and 2 former cats…also ignored. All the same, according to their argument, they have never NOT had a pet. They simply didn’t know how to live without one. They had been force to move to a new country where they didn’t speak the language and didn’t have many friends. And things smelled bad here. At this point in the conversation, I felt it was important to point out that they were straying a bit off topic…for all the good it did me.

Now it’s not as if I was telling them that they couldn’t keep their security blankets. Or forbidding them from breathing. I was simply saying that they couldn’t have a cat that lives in the gutter. I don’t think that’s such a far stretch especially since we were also living in a hotel. This last point proved fatal to my argument.

Children are truly remarkable. They cannot remember where their shoes are. They have no idea how to brush their own hair. Nora usually has her underwear on backwards…assuming she remembers to wear it. But one tiny slip on my part, and they’re all over it with the precision and skill of Harvard lawyers. In case you haven’t caught the slip, I was stupid enough to say “at the hotel” which translated to them as “Not to worry, dear children, as soon as we move into an apartment, you can have all the cats you want!”

Sensing that it was time to take the information they had and build a new strategy, the next day saw the implementation of “Operation convince Mom and Dad that we will grow up to be criminals if they don’t get us a cat.” And thus began the attack…

Stage One:
Emma and Ava, in a rare act of solidarity, came into my room and delivered the following well-rehearsed speech:

Ava: Emma and I decided that we have been saving our money for something special, and we really want a cat, so that would be special and we will use our money for it.

Emma: That’s right. We will buy food and litter and pay for a carrier. We’ll pay for everything.

Me: What about shots?

Emma: We’ll pay for those

Me: What about when we go on vacation?

Ava: We’ll take it with us.

Me: It costs money to put a cat on a plane.

Emma: How much?

Me: A lot.

Them: Ok, you pay for that and we’ll pay you back.

Me: Right.

It was impressive, if not in the soundness of their argument, then in the simple fact that they worked together. These are the same children who wait for the other one to decide which movie to watch just so they can choose a different one. And unlike most things (the fish, the former dog, music lessons) they actually remained pretty committed to the idea.

Stage Two:
This part of the operation was simple, but effective. It consisted of memorizing a speech from the movie “Despicable Me” in which they declared that their hearts had a cavity that could only be filled by a cat.

Stage Three:
Enter the big guns. They went to Chris and I watched him melt like an ice cream cone in the sun.

I understood the stakes here. Cats live to be 100. They shed and scratch the furniture. They poop in the house. They get on the counters and leave dirty little footprints in the tub. They are exactly like children and I do not want any more children. At the very least, children grow up and move out. Cats stay and often outlive you. Then they laugh and dance on your grave.

But their little faces were just so pitiful. And I’m not talking about the cat. The girls really, really wanted this kitten. They devoted every spare second to looking for it. I was forced at emotional gun point to buy cans of cat food at the store to leave out for it. The food was eaten, either by the kitten or by the giant crab that lives in a hole by the hotel wall…come to think of it, the crab may have eaten the kitten. None of which helped my argument. They named it Agnes if it was a girl, Tom if it was a boy.

And so there I was at a crossroads. What do I do? I always had a pet growing up. Pets are an important part of childhood. They listen when no one else will. They love you when it seems no one else does. They are unselfish and unconditional. If nothing else, having a pet is a chance to learn the responsibility and reward of caring for someone else.

Of course, it also means a smelly litterbox and cat hair on every available surface. All the same, I started doing a little research. First and foremost, I was told by multiple sources to never, ever, under any circumstances pick up a stray kitten. The environmental conditions of Libreville and its gutter populations have essentially bred kittens that are merely furry little balls of disease and pestilence. I don’t even know what pestilence is, but I am fairly certain I don’t want it licking itself on my living room carpet.

After asking around, I found out about a friend of a friend who had a stray that was several months old. She was from a litter of a stray mother that my friend’s friend, Ana, had been feeding. The kitten had hung around and made friendly with the guards, Ana and her pets. Apparently she was sweet and well cared for. The final stroke was the picture. One look at it was done. I named her Louise.

We were just a couple of weeks from moving into the apartment, so I went ahead and found out about a vet and arranged for the kitten to stay at Ana’s house until I could pick her up. They day I got her, the girls were at school. Ana had her waiting with a yellow bow around her neck that matched her eyes perfectly. She was solid black and fluffy. She looked so sweet and hopeful there in her little yellow bow that I didn’t have the heart to tell her that cats in my care tended to be eaten by dogs and accidentally shipped cross-country in moving boxes. But those are stories for another day…

Anyway, the vet said she was in great health. So we came home and I hid her in the bathroom until the girls got home. The rest, as they say, is history. Louise is loved dearly, desperately and often quite physically. She is carried, hugged, swaddled in blankets, dressed in princess clothes…and once, rather unfortunately, tied to a skateboard.

But she suffers it all with a patience that is admirable. She waits by the door for the girls to get home. She sleeps in Emma’s bed every night. She curls in laps and purrs when she winds around your legs. She kills cockroaches and mosquitoes. She is all that a cat should be. Most importantly, she is the friend that my girls needed when they needed one the most. I have made some mistakes in my life, but as it turns out, making my girls happy has never led me wrong.


  1. Great story Anna! Although I'm convinced that cats are harbingers of the devil, I'm glad the girls have found a new pal. Hope you guys are well.

  2. Great blog. Keep it up, Anna. You have a gift and your audience loves your voice. Well, we just love you and your sweet family. Xoxo and an extra hug for Louise!

  3. Our cats are from the gutter! And I cried laughing at all the gross things cats do because they are all true. But they also purr and sit in your lap and chase bugs and little pieces of paper and are soooooo cute.

    And as I was typing this Dan is yelling at the cats and squirting them with the water bottle to get them off of the counter and stop licking his dinner. Aren't cats great?

  4. I don't know what kind of tactic you are employing...teasing us with amazing stories about malaria and stray cats...once every 4 months.

    What ever the tactic is keep it up - awesome blog


  5. Any cuddly and cute creature that eats cockroaches is a keeper! Love reading the adventures of Anna et al.