My return date to Canada is mid-December and I have been spending an inordinate amount of time lately trying to sort out how to get my little foundling kitten to Canada with me. To date this has required airport approvals in both Amman and Montreal, Jordanian rubber stamps from the Ministry of Agriculture, health certificates, pet passports. I won't even begin to explain the intricate differences between the cat carrying cases accepted by Royal Jordanian vs. Air Canada and the impossibility of securing a Canadian approved case in Amman. Suffice it to say, this is not a seamless, user-friendly experience. Getting her to Toronto is my biggest nightmare at this point.
Having a pet here has been a learning experience. First, it has given me an insight into east-west cultural differences around having an animal in the house. Many of my female guests shriek or wince when they see my little Habibti. The men tend to be more stoic. In some way cats are viewed here as Torontonians view racoons. Fluffy wild animals that eat scraps. If I were to walk into a house in the Annex and encounter a pet raccoon, I might too express some surprise.
Except there is a much more reciprocal arrangement with the cats here than with truly wild animals. Many people like cats - they leave them food and they often adopt them as outdoor creatures hanging out in the yard. The butchers and restauranteurs leave out leftovers. One of the cooks at the shwarma stand up the street has adopted a particular ginger Tom Cat. The cat hangs out on the sidewalk late every afternoon watching out for the cars and mean passers-by who try to kick him ... the guy in the shwarma place eventually has a smoke break and brings a lump of meat for the cat. This cat is wild in every other way, but likes this one guy. They have a relationship. I have witnessed this kind of connection in Damascus and Beirut and Jerusalem - across the middle east. Consequently the cities are full of cats and kittens - sleeping on rooftops, jumping out of dumpsters, chilling on the sidewalks, hiding out in abandoned buildings.
Cats are not the only animals you see, of course. There are also donkeys, sheep, goats and camels in grand quantities. I love the donkeys, in particular, and want to save each and every one of them from the impossibly hard labour they are subjected to. I have been seeing lots of baby donkeys lately, though I haven't yet investigated the challenges of bringing a donkey to Canada - I am not quite that crazy (yet).
Not surprisingly, along with seeing a lot of animals you also see a lot of cruelty to animals. Or indifference to animal suffering. That, too, is part of the scenery. It is usual to see overcrowded pet stores - birds are very common - where animals live in filthy conditions. Or hundreds of little chicks, newly hatched, stuffed into a cardboard box and dyed flourescent pinks, greens, blues; these little birds are taken home to small children who play with them as toys and invariably kill them in a couple of hours.
A year later, I am still not quite used to it. As I was wandering down the street in a neighbourhood across town today, in search of a particular store that (purportedly) sold cat carriers, I came across a kitten who was clearly quite ill and very hungry and suffering from some kids teasing it. I went to the nearest food store - it happened to be a KFC - to get some chicken, got rid of the kids and fed the little creature This is always a dilemma. Often I am too preoccupied to stop. Today this little one got to me.
So, the second learning experience has been meeting people who are involved in treating animals. Shortly after I met my cat - who was an injured, half blind kitten living under a parked car in front of my house - I encountered an excellent group here called the Humane Centre for Animal Welfare who are like a humane society. These are seriously nice people. They have a neutre/spay program, they rescue abandoned animals. They also treat the working animals of bedouin tribes and do a lot of outreach and education programs about how the health of their flocks is critical to their own livelihoods. The centre is out on the edge of town where a lot of bedouin still graze their animals. So it is not uncommon to arrive with your cat for a booster shot and have camels and donkeys and horses also in line for treatment. Amazing.
Shortly after feeding the little kitten this afternoon, I found the pet store I was looking for and met the owner. It turns out that he rescues parrots. He buys them from bad pet markets where they are often abused - hit, starved - and brings them back to health. He had a beautiful African Grey parrot who he had found two years ago. These particular birds can live a long time and have amazing cognitive abilities. This one had a vocabulary of 50 words - knew how to ask for his dinner, knew the man's name, sang songs. That moment - standing in the store, talking to this man, meeting the parrot - gave me a little bit of hope.