Monday, August 28, 2006
Cairo has cats. Thousands of cats, perhaps tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of cats. They roam the streets and the sidewalks, twitching skittishly at loud noises—car horns, the buzz of delivery motorcycles, calls to prayer. There are so many noises on the streets, even in this relatively quiet neighborhood.
These are not like the cats back home. Domestic cats in America are fluffy and plump. They blink in slow comfort. They sleep away three-fourths of their lives. Cats in Cairo seem always to be awake, stalking the ground wearily, or summoning energy to climb a tree, all in search of food. They will meow at you and it is the low, grating noise of fatigue. This is what fatigue is meant to sound like. These cats have gaunt, desperate, hungry faces. They look more like the faces of starving people than the fluffy faces of cats back in America. When they see you have no food for them, they will drop their head and continue. It’s not a show of pity. They are just tired.
In a singular way, these cats resemble American cats: they are territorial. The same group of cats hangs around outside our apartment building, lounging on the crumbling sidewalks, sleeping underneath parked cars, against tires. They sleep on the roofs of the shaded cars, in little depressions made just for them, it seems. Sometimes they are not asleep, they are just laying there, and they look at you, yes wide and slow. Other cats aren’t welcome here, and when they do pass through, for one reason or another, I can hear the growling and the hissing and the fighting through our closed windows, seven stories up. Today at the university, we ate lunch at an outdoor cafeteria, and the same three or four cats were there the entire time, walking among the tables, stopping at each one to beg. Their manner suggested politeness, but their eyes, huge in their heads, watched as we transported food from our plates to our mouths. The little white guy above was one of those cats. See the nick in his ear, the dirty white fur? I gave him a morsel and nearly caused a catfight at my feet.