Garbage Cats

Garbage Cats– that’s what we called them. The women who lived in the housing compounds at King Faisal Hospital and Research Center in the 1980’s called them garbage cats because they lurked around the big green dumpsters positioned along the perimeter of the compound. We’d toss the remains of our dinners into these dumpsters, and the cats would leap into them as soon as we’d toss. They’d dig around for shreds of edible chicken, fish bones, and whatever else a garbage cat could scavenge.

Hospital housing rules forbid the residents from bringing cats into their homes, and when the cat population became noticeably larger, we’d see a truck prowling around with two men and a large net. We never knew whether the cats were put to death, or taken out to the desert and let loose.

Most of us originated from countries in which cats did not run feral or dig in garbage. We liked cats; we knew them as pets, quiet and graceful, worthy of care and a place in the home. 

Naturally, we felt sorry for Saudi cats, and did bring them into our homes whenever they could be coaxed inside. We named them according to their physical characteristics.

A black female with a white patch on her face, became a favorite of my roommate Irene, and was named Blackie, naturally. Irene bought proper cat food for Blackie, and took her to the vet for shots and worm medicine. She was going to have Blackie spayed, but the vet discovered that the cat was already pregnant.

Irene, the consummate cat lover, tried to find homes for the unborn kittens. Blackie grew fatter, and we started to wonder where females cats go to have kittens in Saudi Arabia. We never did find out– one day Blackie did not come home to be fed and cuddled, nor did she come the next day or the next. Irene worried about her, hoped she hadn’t been collected  by the hospital cat-catchers, or fallen under the wheels of a car.

Two weeks passed. “Blackie is sure to have had her kittens by now,” Irene said as we stood outside and looked down the road from where Blackie usually approached.

“Any sign of Blackie?” Irene asked daily, and I said, “No, I’m sorry,” daily.

One weekend morning, we stood at the door, discussing our plans for the evening, when Irene became distracted by a dark spot moving towards us along the road. We both stopped talking and watched. Yes, a cat was approaching, running, not walking. It was a black cat. It carried something in its mouth. It ran fast, between us as we stood at the door, into our home and up the stairs. It was Blackie, but what was she carrying?

We ran upstairs behind her, and found that Blackie had chosen my bedroom from the available three, entered the closet, dropped her bundle in the corner, and ran back out as fast as she had run in. I was afraid she’d brought a dead bird, but she’d brought one of her kittens!

It was a tiny, whiny thing, shaking from weakness, blind because its eyes weren’t open yet, and poking its nose in the air, looking for milk, we were sure. I ran downstairs to get a bowl of milk and a small spoon. As I started up the stairs again, I was nearly tripped by Blackie, who zoomed past me with another bulge in her mouth!

She deposited the second kitten next to the first and ran out as fast as she had run in.

Ten minutes later, she brought her third kitten, and ran back out as fast as she ran in.

We did not see Blackie again for two weeks.

In the meantime, I had to feed those little mewing creatures morning, noon and night, with an eye dropper because they couldn’t even lick from the spoon yet. I put them in a shallow cardboard box with some sand, and had to clean it every day. Then they got mobile and crawled out of the box. Then I told Irene she’d better find homes for those babies quick or I’d turn them out to fend for themselves at the dumpster.

Irene thought I was cruel, but Blackie hadn’t entrusted her with the kittens; she’d entrusted me, and I was stressed. I worked ten hours a day, with a break at noon, which had to be spent running back home under the midday sun to feed them and straighten their box. Those kittens were alone entirely too long for anyone’s good. I could not allow them to live in my closet much longer.

Irene did find three women who agreed to look after a kitten apiece, against hospital housing rules, of course, and I was relieved. Blackie resumed coming and going as usual, but never showed the least shred of interest in her kittens. Irene babied her and resumed buying special cat food for her, and I always wondered why Blackie gave me her kittens. Why did she chose my closet and not Irene’s to make a home for her infants? Why hadn’t she mothered her own kittens?

To this day, it is a mystery. Irene took in other garbage cats, and I adopted a skinny tabby with the greenest eyes I’d ever seen. I named him Jade, of course, and I’ll write his story another time.




Guess Where?

Guess where I’m going tomorrow morning? Back to the lake! I’ll be gone at least four days, to forget all about the internet, blogging, controversial subjects, philosophical debates, spiritual conondrums, and the heaviest of them all— work!

Between taking nature photographs, reading, writing, contemplation, and drinking tea next to the fireplace during the chilly August mornings, I expect to remain quite busy and happy.

I’m taking all of you with me, believe it or not, but you’ll have to share a seat on the boat with my grandkids. Don’t worry; we’ll all fit.

Cover! Cover! Cover! A Sort of Quiz

Cover! Cover! Cover! A Sort of Quiz

This post does not address the Islamic requirement for hair-covering, or lack thereof, (face covering could be included by extension). It’s about the emotions, reactions, and the psychological meaning of the practice.

Covering, more than praying, fasting or any other behavior associated with Islam, elicits strong reactions, and divides sister Muslimahs as well as larger groups, but why?

My premise it that the divisiveness of covering derives from the many meanings associated with it, not from the argument for or against an Islamic requirement. To illustrate this (and in the spirit of the popularity of the blog quiz!) I would like to hear comments that specifically avoid the writer’s belief in whether or not covering is required or recommended in Islam. Perhaps this request is somewhat analytical, but I think it will broaden our (read: my) perspective on the subject.

I won’t start off by elucidating my experience or attitude toward the practice, except to say that it has fluctuated.  I won’t even post any photos of covered and uncovered women, lest bias influence response.

Coverers: Why do you cover, apart from your presumed belief that it is a directive from Allah?

Non-coverers: Who do you not cover, apart from your presumed belief that it is not a directive from Allah?

Men: How do you react to covered/non-covered women?

All: Do you believe that covering is associated with increased piety, and/or with the society in which one lives? On what basis? How do your surroundings influence your practice of covering (or not)?


Days at the Lake

Days at the Lake

The lake environment is unlike anything one sees in the Middle East, except perhaps for the tawny ridges of sand at the shoreline. Here in the American Mid-West, hundreds of lakes and trees and wildlife characterize the northern areas of the states bordering Canada, and people go there for back-to-nature vacations.

Thirty years ago, the cottages were small and square, without air-conditioning, TV, or even telephone. Now, full size homes sit where some of the old cottages housed vacationers. Many residents live there year round, and a decent size city has grown up around a central tourist district. My family’s place is located half an hour’s drive from the city, on a tiny peninsula bounded by two large lakes.

We got no publicity whatsoever for the tornado damage. We’re too small! We feel insulted. Well, nature offers many wonders, most of which are more attractive than downed trees, so I’d like to share some of it with you here.

This is my view of the lovely shore, with its sand and plants and rippling water. I never saw the perfection of water lilies until I started photographing them.

I spent most of my time taking pictures, and playing with Photoshop Elements. I brought an instruction book with me, a thick manual on how to use Elements. It’s a big program; I can’t imagine using the full version of Photoshop!

Shoreline Lily PadsThe shore at our place is shallow and full of of plants. Mom alerted me that the lilies had opened; this lily is the most photographed flower on the entire lake, I am sure!

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  Cottage, Morning Around the House 053_edited-2 2        Cottage, Morning Around the House 058_edited-2 3

I couldn’t decide which lily photo to post, so I posted the best of the two dozen. Which one do you like best? I’ve numbered them.

I was surprised to discover large, live snails swaying back and forth with the movement of the water.

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Now that the deck is not available, we found another lovely place to sit– in the shade of this huge evergreen tree, overlooking the lake.  We never considered sitting there before, but I must admit I like it better than the deck. That’s the surprise behind unfortunate events– you sometimes discover new delights.

 Cottage, Morning Around the House 001_edited-1     Cottage, Morning Around the House 054_edited-2 5

The green moss grows in a dense patch along the shore, between the sandy land and the watery grasses. It feels soft under bare feet. The original photograph called for playfulness; the uniform mass of moss seemed boring.

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I don’t know where this reddish color came from– probably a reflection of the sun off the sandy bottom. I love to discover new perspectives, unexpected colors, and remarkable shapes that stand out in photos. Now, after working with these photos, I can go back and view the lake with a more appreciative eye, and a greater sense of thankfulness for Allah’s creation.

Back to the Cottage

Tomorrow morning I head back up north to our summer cottage for four days. I won’t be able to post or read (no internet connection), so I’ll look forward to checking all your blogs when I get back.  I plan to do some photography while there, follow up on our tornado damage repair, and write, write, write. I’m working on a post about the feral cats we adopted in Riyadh, and also one about my recent efforts (futile, perhaps) in studying the Arabic language.