Herding Cat

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This Easter Sunday amidst celebrations of the resurrection, I had a totally unrelated experience that challenged long-held scientific theories, solidified stereotypes concerning Peruvian

Let’s start from the beginning.

We arrived for a pre-Easter service breakfast. Moments later David called me over with a “surprise.” The surprise was a tiny, blonde kitty wandering between several parishioners’ legs.

I leapt at the chance to play and cash in on that oh-so-satisfying “purr” that every cat lover enjoys. Everyone marveled at the hilarity at a foreigner playing with a kitty.

“Oh! A gringo with a gringo kitty!”

“It’s like you’re her father!”

“You’re taking her home!”

That last one seemed a bit too assured, as if “No” would not be an acceptable answer. I had no idea if I was playing with a stray, though they were all convinced. More importantly, I have no say in what animals we take on.

I looked up at Isis nodding her head in approval. We would definitely taking this cat home. “Tú vas a llevarla,”* she said transferring all responsibility to me via a pointed finger.

To be fair, we had been discussing the need for a cat, following a month under siege from two poison-resilient rats. I pointed out that cats are relatively low maintenance pets. Plus, I selfishly wanted a cat to play with for my remaining four months.

All that being said, Isis had spent the last month aloofly taking no action. Something kept coming up to get in the way of every possible option she mentioned. It did not matter to me one way or another, so I had mostly abandoned the cause.

Of course, Easter provided the perfect opportunity to say yes while putting all burden on me. If only she had realized how burdensome the journey home would be.

The bus ride from Cristo Rey’s district, Surco, and Magdalena del Mar, where live is about one hour. It also involves numerous abrupt starts and lurching stops, and plenty of passenger-rattling speed bumps. A taxi takes about 30 thirty minutes and offers an overall smoother ride, at four times the price of three bus passes.

To your likely schadenfreude, we brought our new feline amiga home on the bus.

Budgetary concerns stopped a protest in my throat. Let’s do this the Peruvian way, I thought. I’m in Peru. I’m trying to live simply. Do it the cheap way.

Instead, I mentioned that we had nothing in which to carry out Then I brought up the important fact that we had no carrying implement to transport our furry friend in the bus. I was not eager to try and carry her or place her in my bag, alongside my bilingual bible, which would soon be in tatters. I somewhat hoped that this challenge might give David and Isis pause, such that they consider the pros and cons of this commitment.

To my chagrin, someone sporting a victorious grin of pride in their problem-solving skills brought me a 12”x6” cardboard box from the church.

Soon someone lamented that the cat would not be able to breathe in the unsealed cardboard box. Another church member popped up with a knife to cut a square-inch hole in the box, as I thought, Oh no. Oh no. That marks escape waiting to happen. No, no. When in Peru, right? It will be fine.

Another instance when I choked back my protest. Another that I would come to regret within the hour.

Thankfully, I had the good sense to push back against the suggestion that I place the cat in the box as we got on the bus. Tight space or not, I was not about to cross six lanes of a Limeñan traffic with a 5-month old gatito in my arms.

To quote anyone who has ever discovered a shower spider: Nope. Nope. NOPE.

One bus ride of doom and several scratches later, I would come to regret not showing similar decisiveness in the face of other poor suggestions, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

As luck would have it, we caught our bus just as we arrived at the stop. Even better there was an open front seat, which meant I would need to balance the box while maintaining my footing.

Balance was still a struggle when seated, as the box shook with growing discontent. Warmth spread to my cheeks and my neck hair rose as stares from fellow bus passengers shot at me from all sides of the bus. Stares of curiosity. Stares of concern. Stares of shock. Stares of amusement. My discontent worsened as a front paw shot out the poorly-chosen air hole at an old woman minding her own business in the seat to my left.

I reminded myself to breathe as I worked to keep the situation under control. Of course, I also contemplated whether or not to abandon the fuzzball as we passed Parque Kennedy, famous for housing a throng of cats.

No, that is too difficult to orchestrate, I thought. Stick to the prime directive.

I spent the rest of the ride playing a game reminiscent of whack-a-mole with feline appendages and working to dislodge cat claws as gingerly as possible from my skin and, with a bit more urgency, my fancy white dress shirt.

Fifteen minutes from home, I realized that the as-yet-unnamed wonder had created several escape options through a combination of chewing and scratching away. So much for the love between cats and boxes, I thought as I shoved my hat over that problematic air hole and tightened my hold on the box’s sides to close the widening gap in its flaps.

I resentfully listened to David’s boisterous laugh traveling from the back of the bus. He was engaged in a conversation, animated as always, with a fellow member of Cristo Rey. How can he be laughing in a world where I am this mortified? I thought.

After what felt like several years, or at least removed that quantity of my lifespan, we arrived at our stop. I ran ahead eager to get home before the inevitable –

RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIP!

–I reached out and caught the lower half of the furry marvel’s body as she burst forward in an explosion of cardboard and liberation. A regular Houdini, I thought. And the name stuck.

I clutched Houdini to my chest as claws nestled into my fancy, but thankfully secondhand Easter wear.

After David and Isis fumbled to unlock the front door, I rushed Houdini to the patio, tore off my mostly unscathed dress shirt, wrenched open my first aid kit, and realized that I could dial back the trauma narrative. A handful of skin deep scratches does not an emergency make. I had just been operating on pure adrenaline.

All in all, it was a hilariously mortifying experience rooted in my attempt to go with the flow instead of challenge a misguided group of Peruvians. Still I approached the bus with apprehensive optimism.  Within the first quarter of the trip, it seemed evident that the mission was doomed to fail and I grew anxious imagining judgmental eyes. About halfway through, I considered cutting my losses and terminating the mission early, but stubbornness and liability held me to my post. Bedraggled though the bus trip left me, I forged ahead into the unknown, realizing my previous errors through 20/20 hindsight.

In many ways this is an apt metaphor for a YAV year. A metaphor that has stayed apt as Houdini settles in, struggling to acclimate to imagined fears, like our dog Paris. Of course, like all metaphors, the similarities stop there, as I do not plan to settle here for the rest of my life.

*You are going to bring her.

If this made you giggle some, enough so that you’d like to consider supporting my year, you can send funds to my personal offering account.

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