My sitemate lost his cat. I thought I would help him find a new one. Simple enough, right?
It’s fairly straightforward to find a pet in the States; you’re looking for an animal so you go to your local shelter, check a site like Craigslist, or google breeders in your area. Nine times out of ten you’ll have what you’re looking for by the end of the day or at least know where to go next. It’s not like that so much in Mozambique.
I started by asking my landlady if she knew of any neighbors with kittens. She thought for a moment, said no, and with a furrowed brow recommended I try to wrangle one of the strays that comes into our yard at night to eat garbage. She promptly summoned all of the young boys in our quintal and told them of their new project: throw the next small cat you see into a bag and bring it to Abby. Not that I didn’t believe in their abilities, but my expectations were low. I moved on.
For the next several days I asked all of my mães at the market if they had any leads. Our early conversations went something like this:
Mãe: Hi Abby, what do you need today?
Me: Hmm, I need tomatoes, onions, couve, maybe a little garlic, and a kitten.
*the mãe would look very perplexed*
Me: …do you know where I could find one?
Mãe: A kitten?
Me: Yes a kitten…
*the Mãe would now look entirely taken aback…realization would strike me*
Me:…not to eat! I’m looking for a kitten for my friend, not for food…
At this point the mãe would look relieved that I am not some sort of curandeiro or strange American that eats cats. However, none of the women had any at home nor did they know of anyone who did. They graciously offered to ask around to their neighborhoods, and I continued on my way.
I resorted to asking coworkers next. I was met with the same amount of skepticism as from my market mães, although I suppose this was owing to me bringing it up to nearly everyone I spoke with at the hospital. I couldn’t even find one when I was out doing home visits with an activista…I thought this was rainy season! Baby animals were everywhere…just apparently not kittens.
Disheartened at my misfortunes, I finally asked my thirteen year old neighbor, Rita. Kittens? she said, Sure, my aunt has tons of them at her house! Let’s go! And we set off. It seemed too good to be true.
She took us to her grandmother’s house first, Vovó Eliza. The raisin of a woman emerged from her tiny slat-board home in a flurried, welcoming mixture of Portuguese and Nhungue, took my and Rita’s hands, and led us off once more. Through the gate, down two dirt paths, and into the yard of Rita’s aunt. Kittens? says the aunt, Sure, I have tons of them! Yet there were no kittens to be seen anywhere. She informed me that they only return at night but they would have one waiting for me if I came back at 6 am the next day.
Those who know me well know that I hate mornings. But I was committed.
Rita showed up at my house at 6 am the next day. I scrambled for coffee and silently followed her out the door to her Vovó’s house. Eliza had presumably been awake for hours at this point, as she was already outside washing her breakfast dishes. She retrieved an old rice sack from inside her front door and came to greet us, shaking the dust from it as she walked. A scorpion dropped at our feet as she reached us, and with very little hesitation she kicked a stray leaf on top of it and squashed it with her bare wrinkled foot. We set off once more.
We reached the home of Rita’s aunt to find…no kitten. THERE WAS NO KITTEN. Trying to control my brewing incongruent rage, I quietly listened to them negotiate in Nhungue: we were to return the next day. Eliza, however, was not satisfied with this response and ushered us on, issuing strict instructions to Rita along the way.
I walked Rita the twenty minutes to school, made plans to meet her at 11, and returned home to collect myself.
We were on a mission that afternoon. Rita walked us to her aunt’s to check with them once more, who then referred us to a neighbor. The neighbor had none. We continued on to speak with Rita’s great aunt, who had kittens until the previous week when she sold them all. She recommended we visit another great aunt, who had conveniently lost the remaining 2 of the litter. Rita’s great uncle had one kitten left that he intended to keep, but he offered to visit a friend in the Caphaia who he suspected might still have a few…he set off from his home immediately.
An hour later I went back to his house. He had just arrived empty-handed, explaining that the last of the kittens disappeared earlier in the week. He began to ask small children passing by on the road if they or someone they knew had kittens…the situation had reached a new level of ridiculous. But, like I said, I was committed.
After four tries, a boy around 9 years old nervously told us he had previously seen kittens at a nearby house. The great uncle charged the boy with leading me there, and Rita materialized to join us at some point along the walk. When we arrived, they said they had one kitten left. A young man stood from his upturned bucket of a stool, hissed and clucked his way into the kitchen, and emerged with a tattered, wild-eyed excuse for a cat. Brown tabby, flattened jaguar face, and only half of a bottlebrush tail cranked into a sharp right angle. It was perfect.
However, they wanted $3 USD for it…I was appalled. 3 dollars?! In hind site it was a bit of an overreaction, but my stubbornness proved the ultimate victor. I walked away with a fraying rice sack in hand containing the scraggliest kitten that ever lived— for no more than $1 USD. The ultimate irony of this story? The house we were standing at was no more than 2 minutes from my own, I pass by it every day on my way to work.