"Let's Talk about Cats" by Samantha Manno
I may be going out on a limb with this blog post, but if you could please spare me a minute of your time, I would like to talk about cats. More specifically, the Cats of Amman.
First, I want to set the record straight. I am 100% a dog person, tried and true. I have one dog at home and two cats-- Percy and Niles. I am actually allergic to them, and at best we tolerate each other. But there is something about seeing cats everywhere I go that reminds me of home and also prompts me to remember that life is different here in Jordan. To be clear, these are not your typical house cats you see in America that sometime wander in their owner’s yard. These are feral cats; trash eating, dirt-faced, wild cats, and they are living the life.
I won’t lie, when I was first settling into life in Jordan, it was hard for me to see all of these wild cats. Due to my “American pet-owner” point of view, this is not how cats are supposed to live. I wanted to take every cat I saw, bring them to my host mom’s house, and feed them and love them. Obviously I knew I couldn’t do that living in someone else’s home, but if I had lived in my own apartment, I know I would have been tempted. However, as I have gotten used to the presence of the cats, I recognize that while they may not be living the comfortable life of a house cat, they are able to take good care of themselves. In Jordan, there is a different approach to pet ownership than there is in the States. While I’ve heard a few instances of people owning cats and seen others walking their dogs on a couple of occasions, it’s not as common to have pets. And while they are not house cats, the Cats of Amman live in relative harmony with the rest of the community.
I am trying to figure out why I get so excited when a cat pops out of a trash can to “greet me” as I’m heading home from school and it scurries away with fishbones in its mouth, or why I enthusiastically yell “ahlan” as they jump over buildings to get away from me. Even though these cats want nothing to do with me--unless I have food--they still feel like friends.
These cats have become mascots for me, representing elements of life in Amman that are similar to my life at home, but are also very different in the Jordanian context. I guess you could say they have come to embody my concept of a shared and different world. It’s not unlike my attempt to buy a pizza a couple of nights ago. There is a pizza shop very close to my homestay, and my roommate and I were craving pizza one night, just like we would eat at home. We had just learned to order food in our Jordanian colloquial class, and my roommate ordered beautifully. After that, things went downhill. The pizza guy did not speak a word of English. Logically, we thought he wanted our address, but after we (thought) we had given it to him, he kept asking us questions we could not understand. I might have been on the phone with him for about 15 minutes before I gave up and just walked to the store because I was determined to get that pizza. As soon as I entered the door, the owner of the shop instantly recognized me, probably due to my obvious Western appearance and the lost look in my eyes. We exchanged words in Arabic for a couple of minutes, during which I understood maybe 5% of the conversation, and I still had no idea what was going on. I decided to wait, and soon enoughI walked away victorious, pizza in hand.
This made me reflect on the fact that situations that would normally be very simple are much more complicated for me right now in a Jordanian framework. These are little things that I didn’t think about before studying abroad, but became realities once I attempted to settle into a world with a different language and culture. Whether it’s feral cats or miscommunications with pizza guys, I feel that I am learning little lessons I never expected.
More to come,