Some days I feel like my life has become one ridiculous situation after another: in 20 years I’ll be telling my kids ‘Stories from Africa,’ and they’ll be rolling their eyes and not believing a single word.
Yesterday was a day like that. My goal was simple: get my 2 cats neutered. It’s a strange request here, especially for cats, but I did my research and found a vet clinic that would do it for me. I made an appointment for 10 AM Tuesday morning, called and double checked that everything was in order, and made sure they knew what I was coming in for. That was a bit of interesting English to English translating:
‘I’d like to get 2 cats neutered and wormed’
‘Ok, that will be 30 kwatcha (~$6)’
‘Really? For everything?’
‘Yes, that covers everything.’
‘Even getting them fixed?’
‘Fixed?! What’s wrong with them?’
‘Well, they’re both males and I don’t want them to fight…’
‘OH! You want them castrated!’
Once all of that was taken care of, however, the real adventure began. This vet clinic, the closest one that can do surgeries, is in Kabwe, which is a 20 minute bike ride and an hour’s hitchhiking away from my hut. Not a problem for me to travel alone, but a serious challenge with two cats.
So last week I bought 2 large plastic picnic baskets to use as cat carriers. Tuesday morning around 7 I called the cats inside and put them each in a basket, tying the lids on tightly. Tom (my adult, orange+white swirled cat) got strapped to my bike rack. Squeak (the grey+white tabby kitten) got to ride up front on the handle bars.
I started off around 7:30, trying to bike gently and hit as few bumps as possible. Both cats were, of course, yowling at this point, so whenever I’d pass someone on the road I’d get confused looks. ‘Mapuss?’ or ‘Makitty?’ they’d want to know, ‘Mwaunka kuli?’ (Where are you going?) ‘Ndilaunka ku Kabwe. Ndiyanda misamu a Mapuss’ (I’m going to Kabwe. I need medicine for the cats. Funny: I don’t know ‘castrate’ in Tonga…)
About halfway to the main road, I realized that Tom had suddenly gotten very quiet. I looked back, and his basket was empty. I turned around, and a farmer working in his field near the path told me that he just saw ‘the orange one’ jump out.
I guess here I should explain that Tom is a very talkative cat, so he’ll usually let you know where he is if you call him. I spent a few minutes walking back along the road, calling and listening. Pretty soon I heard him, and crawled into the bushes after him. He was not about to let me catch him and put him back in that basket, though, so he ran down the road into another clump of bushes. I followed him there, and he ran away again, but never so far that I lost track of him. After about a half hour of this he, amazingly, decided to let me catch him, though I had to crawl deep into a thorny acacia bush to do it. He went back in the basket, and this time I made sure he couldn’t get out. Then we continued on to the main road.
At the roadside I left my bike with a shopowner and, toting my baskets full of cat, flagged down a ride. The people that stopped for me were a very nice couple from Lusaka who were headed to Kabwe for the day. We spent most of the ride talking about all of the languages you find in Zambia and how people from different tribes manage to communicate. They dropped me a few blocks from the vet clinic, and headed on their way.
At the clinic, I found out that the surgery wasn’t actually going to be done there, but at a clinic just out of town. A man from the other clinic came to escort me there. First we walked to the taxi area, getting many strange looks at the meowing baskets. I even had one lady ask if they (the cats) were to eat. Finally we caught a taxi with a few other people going in the same direction, and headed out of town. The taxi dropped everyone on a small street, and it was a short walk through some seedy alleyways to the clinic. I definitely had a few thoughts about kidnappers and muggers, but when we got to the clinic it was clean and in a nicer area of town, so I was put at ease.
After the fun of getting the cats there, I’m glad to say that the operations were entirely uneventful. The vet was very competent and friendly, and at about 2PM I walked out with 2 very doped up cats, both dewormed and de-testicled.
I got a (free) ride with a taxi back into town, then rode with a group of businessmen headed to Lusaka back to my bike. The ride home was much quieter, and there were no daring escapes, to my great relief.
It was about 4 by the time we got home, so I had the entire afternoon to watch my poor cats staggering drunkenly around my hut (the kids thought it was pretty entertaining, too). I’m happy to report that today both cats are back to their normal energetic selves, and neither seems to hate me at all. I do have to say that this endeavor has seriously cut down on my ability to threaten them when they misbehave. ‘I did it once and I’ll do it again!’ just doesn’t make much sense when you’re talking about castration.