Days 36, 37: Concluding Thoughts (Pt. 1): About These Cats

I’m back in Cairo safe and sound. The overnight bus ride back from the Sinai Peninsula was completely uneventful, al hamdullilah– the bus didn’t even break down (tsk – what’s a girl to blog about??). The one moment of color came at about 4 a.m. when – as the bus’s TV screen blared some Egyptian soap opera at full volume (just like on the way over), some irate Australian backpacker-girl called out, “Kin’t we turn thees off plays? Eet’s the middle of the nawyt, eet’s tawym fah sleep, demnit!” She was completely ignored.

Back in the glorious “Mother of the Earth,” I crammed in one last wander through Islamic Cairo this morning – it was as frantic and fevered and impossibly old as when I’d left it (no, I guess they don’t pave roads or renovate buildings in the space of a week and a half – thank goodness!). I enjoyed my smorgasbord of street-semolina cakes for breakfast as I perched on the edge of a crumbling Fatimid City wall, and then took a nap in the tiny but cool, curtained-off womens’ section of the Al Sultan El Ashraf Barsbay Mosque (ohh, I’m going to miss these mosque-naps so much…). This time, I managed to wake up before getting recruited to the prayer lines.

I’d hoped to get in some time to hit the Egyptian Museum before my plane leaves (I feel quite guilty that I haven’t seen it yet, it’s supposed to be fantastic) but with several “last-coffee-and-chat” dates scheduled with some of the buddies I’ve made while in Egypt, I suppose it will just have to wait till the next time I’m lucky enough to come to this outstanding city.

Anyway, with Camera dead as ever, I thought I might put together some posts using pictures I took before the pixels went dark, and head them under “Concluding Thoughts.” Given that I promised Rana I wouldn’t be late for our mango-juice-and-shisha rendezvous, I will proceed with the fluffiest of the lot – a roundup of the Cat Situation here in Cairo (and in all of Egypt that I’ve seen, really).

In short, they’re everywhere. But, ev-er-ee-where. Lining the streets,  skulking for food both inside and out of cafes and restaurants, doorways, mosques, dumpsters, and snoozing anywhere they can get some shade.

No matter where you are – how wealthy or shabby the neighborhood, anytime of day or night – they will be there. Gazing at you resentfully, shuffling around in the trash, staring shell-shocked out into the night, holding still for a few moments before dodging the next racing car.

They are the country’s most populous beggars, and its most accomplished thieves. Just today, as I was enjoying a nice Greek salad at an outdoor lunch spot in downtown Cairo where my hostel is located, a rangy calico thing started darting in and around the legs of my table, mewing plaintively. I threw her a healthy chunk of pita, thinking that would keep her busy for awhile. No luck. She scarfed that, and then kept trying to hop up on the table to help herself to more. I kept shooing her away (cats here don’t “shoo” properly – they just come back after a few seconds – they’re not even afraid of moisture! I dumped some cold water on this cat today, thinking that would surely send her flying, but she just sat there and lapped it up from her fur – quel freako…). Then, when I heard some yelling down the road (not uncommon – people don’t seem too shy about public confrontation here), I turned away for less than two seconds and in that time the damn beast was able to leap onto my table, snatch a long sliver of cucumber in her maw and dart off.

There are a lot of cities and countries in the world where cats are just as ubiquitous – my parents tell me the situation was dire in Hydra, at least in the 1970s. But what makes these hordes and hordes of homeless felines so fascinating here in Egypt is that this is the very place where cats were first domesticated. Indeed, the Ancient Egyptians revered and literally worshipped felines, and had built a whole cult around them. They were cared for and even mummified just as the highest nobility were, and those who nurtured them were said to be blessed.

Oh, how times have changed, eh fella?

I haven’t heard of a single Cairene or other Egyptian who actually considers a cat a pet. Rather, they belong to the streets – mangy, dull-eyed, frantic-looking, doing their eating, pooping, loving and fighting all over the city like so many wild bums. Most of them seem undersized, about the height and width of a six-month-old kitten – I suppose that’s normal if you live on trash.

Most of them are fairly neutral towards humans, though even more neurotic than your average Western house cat. They appear basically unconcerned with the human world, aside from seeing what food they can get from you. Some of them are just downright scary, though:

It’s so strange to see cats eating trash like common muts – I mean, I realize that’s their life here, and a stray is a stray is a stray is a stray, but – come on, they’re cats! They’ve just always seemed to me to be too haughty and particular to stoop so low, no matter how overcrowded and undercared-for they are.

All that said, life could be worse for them. They can’t be doing too badly if there are still so many of them! A few weeks ago I did happen upon one kind soul taking pity on a pack of homeless kittens, feeding them breadcrumbs as they padded around his feet:

I can see why no one would want to adopt the diseased, spitting, crack-shake, ferile adult cats that fill Cairo’s streets, but these guys? If I lived here, I wouldn’t be able to resist pulling on a pair of inch-thick hazmat gloves, scooping up one of these helpless little babies, dunking it in a bucket of bleach, hauling it off to the vet to be vaccinated and spayed and then taking it home and naming it Nefertiti or something stupid.

I have no idea just how many stray cats there are in Egypt, or even in Cairo. Suffice it to say there are a lot – A. Lot. Enough for every little Egyptian boy and girl to take home two for free after a walk in the park if he or she wanted to.

So, given that, would someone please tell me what on Earth is the point of (and the demand for) this?

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4 Responses to “Days 36, 37: Concluding Thoughts (Pt. 1): About These Cats”

  1. lulu Says:

    Aaah, the friggin’ feral cats…breaks my heart, and the heart of a dear family friend, Pam Burns, who works so diligently to alleviate the problem as head of the Hawaiian Humane Society. Yes, Hydra (and Greece in general) knows this situation well, but I was seriously upset when I visited Athens at the end of August ’07 and encountered DOGS in the same boat( or street or shopfront)…lounging all over the sidewalks,trying to escape the insufferable heat, looking hopefully at passersby for a handout…ugh. My Greek friend told me that this happened every summer when dog owners, particularly those people who owned shops and restaurants, went on vacay, would put their creatures on the street to be “cared for” by neighbors who remained behind to cater to the tourists (rather than pay someone). I guess I just have to develop a tougher heart about this, because, for instance, cats who are born and bred into the garbage of Cairo know no different and would probably think I was crazy in wanting to “save” them. I’m sure they’d tell me they do just fine on their own, thank you very much…actually, forget the “thank you” part. How about “just leave me alone?” But Annie, I hope that after the feline in question procured her piece of cucumber from your plate you didn’t keep eating the salad???? BTW, your “rendition” of the Aussie girl’s accent on the bus was excellent. xox

  2. robertmediapark Says:

    What can I say but, “Awww, wook at wall wose pwetty putty cats.” They’re adorable even if shaggy and scabby. Especially the little fluff balls that are getting feed by that man. Perhaps we live amongst them and they simple endure our crazy buildings and cars.

    Thanks for all the blogs.

    I hope you continue the post-Egypt trip with some reflections and renewed view of the western world.

    Take care.

  3. El Matamoros Says:

    I agree with Lulu — best transcription of Oztalk I’ve seen in a long time –perhaps ever.

    Oh and by the way — “walk a cat in the park”? Have you ever attempted to actually do this? I once, many decades ago, (in the surreal year of 1967, to be precise), allowed myself to be roped into, pardon he expression, such a misguided venture — in Central Park, it was. Er, let’s just say that it was not a success and, indeed, it stands out as one of the most spectacularly pointless exercises in futility that I’ve ever been involved in. It’s a bit like trying to get water to run uphill, or explaining the basic laws of economics to a Democrat.

  4. jfjasia2008 Says:

    yeah, ppl walk their cats in nyc all the time – super weird.

    annie, i’ve been meaning to blog about this for some time… here in hong kong/china, stray cats are also the normal. although ppl seem to like them and feed them stuff. they also don’t jump up on tables or anything like that, and they do seem relegated to the shabbier alleys where the markets are. i mean, pets in general are not super popular here, although my hk friends claim dogs are way more popular now than they ever were. but i dare say the chinese have kind of a soft spot for animals in general, because they don’t mistreat them in any way at least that i can see. and mom, it’s true – as long as they’re not actively mistreated then they can fend pretty well by themselves i think.

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