Today, September 23, is my one year anniversary of coming to Israel. Since it is such an auspicious day, I have another story…
Beit Safafa is like most neighborhoods in Israel, it is filled with ferel cats. Why so many cats? According to Wiki, in the 1930’s the British imported boatloads of cats to the country in order to combat a major rat epidemic. Further at the outbreak of the 1948 war, many people evacuated the country leaving pets behind. The dogs well, stray dogs were shot on sight, but cats are useful and could continue on with their ‘work’. Ever since, they have done what cats do best – multiple. The cat population exploded to over 2 million due to the mild Mediterranean climate, and people’s willingness to feed stray cats. It has been estimated that over 20% of Israeli households do so. These street kitty’s live in the large dumpsters that hold garbage. There are about 8 to 10 of them to a dumpster, which makes taking out the garbage, great fun. Before coming to Jerusalem, I must say, I never had any fun taking out the garbage, but in Israel, it became one the highlights of my day, to get garbage duty.
So, for garbage disposal, there are very specific instructions that must be followed to achieve the greatest amount of fun. It is important to read these instructions most thoroughly and pay close attention to every detail before trying this on your next visit. First, make sure your sack is intact and closed tightly. There should not be any holes present as leaking contents will spoil the experience. Next, confidently step out of your apartment with your Hefty, and by the way, everyone lives in apartments, and walk about a half a block or so, to the dumpster. As you approach it, start swinging the sack; swing it forward in a circular motion as fast as possible. You can either swing it in a clock-wise motion or counter-clock-wise depending on your level of skill; the choice is yours, but as soon as the sack gets to the greatest velocity and pitch, let it go. As you watch it soar high into the air, don’t get too close to the dumpster because just before impact, a menagerie of male cats of all sizes and colors will jump out. But wait, don’t turn for home just yet as the fun is just beginning. Keep watching because as soon as the sack lands, the hairy horde will jump back in to investigate. Now these cats are not like the ones you see in the commercials. They are smell; are dirty, mangy, and not entirely intact as they love to fight. A vet told me that fighting is what Israeli cats do best; aside from jumping into ISO containers after your garbage. “Don’t ever bath an Israeli cat”, she emphatically continued. “They will clean themselves. It would be a very big mistake to try this and if you did, you would very much regret it”.
Okay, okay, before you get mad at me for being insensitive or think I am cruel to the cats, I am sure you can guess what I am going to say next… Yes, I started feeling sorry for them too; their plight, their fighting, their foodstuffs; so I decided to try to tame one for rescue.
Our wild kitty is named Naji, which means ‘survivor’ in Arabic. Naji was the only kitten that survived his litter. Being a kitty while living on the streets is pretty rough. I truly believe he only survived because his mother breastfed him longer than his litter mates. Breastfeeding is best for not only for humans but also for felines, evidently.
Naji was very unique from the other street cats in Israel. Naji was a very pretty little kitty. He looked like a black and white tabby with distinctive spots, a big, fluffy tail, and the most intoxicating, green eyes surrounded by black fur. It looks like he is wearing eyeliner. But aside from his handsome features, honestly it was the big voice coming from this tiny little fur ball that got to me. You could say that he literally meowed his way into my heart.
At first, I thought Naji’s meowing was very cute, especially coming from this pretty little kitten. Too, I guess I rationalized that as soon as he was fattened up a bit and got healthy, his big meow would stop. But it didn’t stop. Unbeknownst to me, Naji has some Egyptian Mau in him, which explains the the beautiful green eyes with eyeliner and the loud mouth. Egyptian Mau’s meow all the time and almost without stopping. It’s their way. So, Naji meows a lot. He meows when he’s hungry. He meows when he has to go to the bathroom. He tells you when he is going and when he finishes. He meows when he wants to play or go outside, or come in, but his favorite time to meow is in the morning. Naji loves to tell me it’s time to wake up-that is, when he feels its time to wake up. Egyptian Mau’s are alarm clocks. So every morning about 3:30 am to 4:30 he goes off; even on Saturdays. I now know why the ancient Egyptians mummified their cats. Up to this point in my life I had always have felt sorry for the cats who were prematurely killed when the Pharaoh died. I now understand why the practice continued. The other Egyptians in the palace just wanted some peace and quiet.
When I moved back to the states, Naji came too. I stowed him smartly under my seat. But true to his notorious character, just at takeoff, he unzipped his cat carrier and ran for freedom. Totally oblivious to his shenanigans, I was sitting in my seat, relaxing, looking out the window. My first clue that things were amiss was when I heard multiple children up and down the aisles screaming, “Cat, Cat”! My cabin mate was quicker than I and caught him before anyone was the wiser. I just knew they would throw us off the plane.
Naji adjusted well to living outside of Israel. He absolutely loves trees. He had never seen a tree before, but this hasn’t stopped him. He learned very quickly that he could shoot up 20 or 30 feet in a second, attempting to catch a bird or a squirrel. Unfortunately, he fell out of one once was pretty sore. The vet pronounced his condition survivable – true to his name, gave him some kitty Motrin and he has been peachy since.
Naji is a true survivor. His life did not begin so well but he no doubt will finish well. I think there is a great lesson here for us. Even though bad things will happen, persecution and suffer will continue, we too can survive. God not only cares for his creatures, but He cares greatly for us.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)