Jan 17, 2010

The Cat Whisperer

A large, angry woman is in my backyard, banging on my kitchen window.

Me? I'm hiding in our office watching Flash Forward on my laptop in the hopes that she leaves.

The backyard isn't a yard per se, it's a bit of concrete outside our window, where someone has erected a lean-to/cat palace for the stray cats of the block. When we moved into this sublet, we were instructed quite clearly to feed the cats. So we did, routinely. After crummy days at work, after long rainy commutes, after Turkish men call me a "Natasha*" on the street, the cats became something of a comfort, always sweet and playful and attentive.

When the weather turned cold, we decided to let the cats into the kitchen now and again, just to warm up and nap on the floor. They may be strays, but they're clean and healthy and far from underfed. I think they spend their days popping in and out of bored housewives' apartments on the block. What's wrong with one more house on the beat? They warm up, I get to play, win-win.

What I didn't know was that one of the cats minders, an older woman with a stern, tired face and messy makeup, visits them in our little makeshift backyard, and chats with them for ages. Like, ages. Maybe she's lonely, maybe her husband doesn't allow her a housecat of her own, or maybe she's a little unwell. Today, she's standing a few feet from our window, chatting with the sleepy cats. She's been there for a while. Long enough to spot Mickey's big white body through the window. (Yes, I've named the cats) While Mickey sleeps on and on, the cat whisperer is now tapping angrily on the window, waiting for me to free him.

So why can't I just let him out? Well, she intimidates me. Forget your visions of harems and coyness, Turkish women are no shrinking violets. There's no way my fragmented Turkish can explain why I feel entitled to let the cats hang out in my kitchen sometimes. I play out different confrontation scenes in my mind. What if my notions of Istanbullian neighbourhood camraderie were all wrong? What if people are more possessive than I realized? What if she spits in my face? (I've seen it happen - at a beach, no less) What if Turkey has strong laws about pet abduction, and I inadvertently end up jailed or deported?

To be honest, typing out the situation now, I feel a bit like a crazed cat whisperer myself, demanding comfort from these strays. So I'm hiding from the whole mess, working myself into a panic wondering if I've misjudged Turkish culture and my place within it, trying to figure out the best way to avoid further conflicts like this.

I got nothing.

*a "Natasha" is the Turkish term for a Russian woman. It's believed that all Russian gals living in Turkey are, um, women of the night.

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