Misery, whether it belongs to man or animal, breeds another kind of misery in the breast of the beholder. The enormity of it of, the futility of trying to fight it with inadequate means, is terrifying. So most people turn to the at-hand, cost-free solution of numbness. Detachment is a wonderful thing, but how far can you detach before you become unable to ever reattach? You can train yourself to stop caring. It takes a little while--though not as long as you might think--but it takes much longer to rekindle a fire than it does to damp it.
When I lived in Paris, I had to harden my heart to the hurting of the homeless cowering in corners, or prone in the middle of sidewalks. The fact that a large number of them, specifically those asking for money, were racketeering helped me to keep my pity and purse strings pulled tight. Here in Mayotte, there are few homeless people. Yet, the majority of the population lives in flavella-like conditions. My house may not look like much; I imagine most Westerners would turn their noses up at the exterior. And what’s that you say? You don’t have glass in your windows? No air conditioning? No hot water? No, no, and no, but when you see the dirt-floored tin shack my neighbor and her kids live in, you might have to re-evaluate your standards of what constitutes luxury.
But I digress. My point is that I have an easier time accepting what I might consider misery when it applies to the Mahorais because, despite them living in conditions that I consider primitive, they are content. They eat well; they have recourse to medicine. Some, not all, prefer to take advantage of illegal immigrants rather than work themselves. (Frex, you hire a Mahorais to tend your garden. You pay him five euros an hour, but the next day, you go outside and see the Mahorais sitting under the tree, supervising his Anjouanais recruit, and paying “his employee” fifty cents an hour. True story.) In other words: They make their bed, and they must lie in it.
Since our arrival, I’ve had to harden my heart in the same way to the plight of the animals, especially the cats, as one does not see many dogs running about free. In general, the cats have wedge-shaped heads, though there are a few with very broad, too-large faces. Their bellies are distended, their hides mottled with scars and mange. Eye infections are the norm, and it is not unusual to see a cat trailing a leg that has been broken and healed with no intervention. It is amazing that they aren’t dead of disease or starvation, but they’re not. They are survivors, and that right there diminishes the pity. They are also skittish, loud, and filthy. Their surviving conditions make them so, and again, their dispositions make it easier to detach from the misery of their existence.
I’ve been in Mayotte almost two months, and I have yet to feed a stray, to even pet one for fear of the diseases they might carry. Until last night.
Last night, I realized that to ignore the miserable case that was brought to my attention was taking that step past the point of no return. Ignoring the misery meant that I was so detached that I might as well give up hope of being able to reattach. Or as pjthompson put it, I was someone who didn’t give a damn.
Yesterday, as I rounded the corner at the end of my street, my neighbor boy looked up at me and said, "This cat doesn’t have its foot." I was on my bike and going pretty fast already, so I just had time to glance over and see that, true enough, the black and white kitten that was limping along the fence was missing a paw. Its left hind leg ended in scabious stump a few centimeters past the knee joint. As the kitten hobbled, it kept the leg held out behind it parallel to the ground, and it was evident that the wound was pretty recent. No tough cat here that had learned to cope and would get by just fine, thank you.
All of this registered as I zipped by, and I had time to say, “Oh my,” before it was time to turn the next corner and hurry on to my meeting. I can’t stop, I said to myself. I’m going to be late, and there’s nothing I can do for it anyway. I can’t be taking in every sorry case I see or we’ll be overrun by cats. Julien and I decided that we will not have any more pets... And so went the rationalization.
I wasn’t late to my appointment; in fact, I was early. Cats on the porch of a neighboring house looked at me as if they knew I had just turned my back on one of their own who had specifically asked me for help. It’s not the case, I assured myself. The crippled kitten hadn’t even remarked me whizzing by on my way to more important matters and appointments with people who don’t expect me to step out of my comfort zone, who don’t have frailties and needs that infringe on me.
My detachment was successful, and I was able to put the kitten out of my mind until I was on my way back home and saw it limping along not far from where I had first passed it. Poor thing, I thought and continued on the 15 meters to my house. During dinner, I kept hearing, You’re one them, you’re one of them, one of them who doesn’t give a damn. When it came time to lock the front gate, I thought, Fine, I’ll take it some food.
I found it curled up on a pile of gravel, nesting in some banana leaves. Expecting to get hissed at, I put the food in front of it but not too close, food which it ignored in favor of nosing my finger. Capitulating, I scratched it behind the ears and straightened, ready to go back to the comfort of my home, secure in the knowledge that I had Done The Right Thing. But then the kitten rubbed its paw over its ear and licked, trying to get as much of my scent as it could.
That did it. I scooped the poor thing up and brought it home with me. And she ceased to be an “it.” I gave her more food, but she was more interested in be loved on. Attempts to clean her stump let me know that while the wound may look fresh, it has been that way long enough for her leg muscles to atrophy, locking her joints straight, and for her to be oblivious to any contact with it. Upon closer inspection, it looks like she still has the pad, or at least the top of the foot, but has had her toes pulled off. I think the leg is going to have to be amputated at the hip. The vet will tell me what he thinks on Monday.
I did the right thing, and I don’t know how it is going to turn out. I’m willing to foot the medical bills for her, but Julien and I are serious about not wanting another pet. The thing is is that it is hard to give away healthy animals, much less 3-legged ones, here--people abandon them all the time; I’m talking about Frenchies, not the Mahorais, who don’t have the same views on domesticated animals. However, if it comes down to it, I know I can’t treat and spade her and then turn her loose to fend for herself again.
What’s that saying about saving someone’s life and then being responsible for it?
Here is the lovable kitty in question. In the first pic, she is too busy trying to get me to pet her to allow for such a silly thing as photography.