(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, September 27, 2014)
KAMPALA, UGANDA ✦ Back in Africa, I’m not overly worried about Ebola on the other side of the continent or even al-Shabab terror cells like the one just busted in a slum here in Uganda’s capital – 19 Somalian suspects were arrested.
I’m worried more about my underwear. They could soon all be taken by my daughter and her cats.
I realize this may be disturbing to read with your morning coffee, but I assure you it’s no less troubling to write about such a family conspiracy, that is if you consider our growing gaggle of animals, cats specifically, as family.
We recently returned to our East African home to find our one young feline, Mrs. Princess, had birthed a couple of kittens. While we were still unpacking, her sister, Mister Bubbles – yes, “Mister” is a she – pushed out four more. This, one night in a cardboard box just two feet from Zak, our mammoth, long-haired German-Shepherd who sleeps at the back door.
Candy is our troubled tomcat, a playboy rarely around even for holidays but now home as the doting father. We’ve also somehow accumulated some rabbits and you know what rabbits do. Add the wild monkeys running around and the tortoise my son is pushing for and it’s a regular funny farm around here.
Now when I was a boy the annual family Christmas photo always included our cats. Also, I’m the sort of father who reads my children Narnia, that magical place where nothing would happen if it weren’t for the animals who talk and all that and are led by that unsafe but gentle cat, Aslan, that lion who’s creator and redeemer and general mysterious force.
Even so, all these cats are now making my own home one of those clear and present dangers.
To clarify, my underwear are in question because, in my foolish fatherly pride, I bet my entire supply that my daughter, Liz , could never-ever teach any cat to come and sit and shake a paw. Zak barely does this and he’s known for his sharp wits while protecting us.
Yes, before Zak, over the years in Africa we were robbed of various goods worth thousands of dollars. That includes my boy’s underwear, once ripped off the back clothesline by Ugandan children who’d never make the sort of bet I’ve just made with Liz.
She’s 11, by the way, young, but sly, and she somehow already has Mrs. Princess coming and sitting. Apparently now it’s just the paw-shaking to nail down. This, with the help of training material my daughter managed to bring from our local Pet Smart in Ancaster.
Uganda, as you might imagine, doesn’t have big box stores for pets. Here a big box is what Ugandans ask for when some newly-arrived expatriates empty their moving goods. I can also tell you that if you’re a pet in Africa, you’re not as worried about Ebola or terror as much as getting flattened on some old road and left to rot like the dead deer on Michigan’s I-69.
This is one of the starkest differences between African and Canadian life. Parts of Africa have a growing middle class, sure, but if you’re a common pet you won’t find a Milk Bone, never-mind potty-times chimes or training pads or any other paraphernalia now filling Canadian pet stores called “smart.”
I’m just waiting for such smart-stores to open their book section so freshly-manicured and blow-dried Fifi can sip a latte while reading some bestseller about how to deal with her sexual anxieties. This, the result of the activists who insist that every dog, so-to-speak, deserves their day, their rights and their dignity and, well, a passenger airline seat too.
In either case, I’m now working hard to minimize the cat count and keep my backside covered. One kitten’s already been given to a Ugandan friend. And, since he happened to be around, the vet fixed Mrs. Princess. Mister Bubbles is next. This kind Ugandan vet has even assured me that he can find good homes for her four kittens. Imagine.
And my beautiful daughter? She’s now busy with other things, like, uh, schoolwork. That just increased. To eight days a week.