In Morocco, it is not very customary for people to have pets, at least, not pets in the way that most Americans think of their pets: as members of the family. If people have a dog, it is usually a guard dog, and it is kept OUTside the house, to alert the people in the house if someone comes. Generally, in Islamic cultures, dogs are considered unclean creatures, because they have this nasty habit (when they are wild dogs, or NOT pets) of eating garbage, dead things, and licking parts of their bodies that are also generally considered unclean. Many devout Muslims won’t touch a dog. There are stray dogs in Morocco, but not too many, since someone will usually take one (especially if it is male) for a guard dog.
Cats in Morocco, however, are another story. Cats are considered to be vermin: sort of like a large rat. They also, when feral (wild) will eat garbage and dead things, and lick themselves in nasty places, but no one wants a cat for a guard animal. As a result, they are viewed as mostly useless creatures that eat food someone else could be eating, and as occasionally doing humans a small favor by killing a mouse. Because of this attitude, there are LOTS of stray cats in Morocco.
This is a problem for me. I have always, always, always had a cat or two. In fact, when I was growing up, my mother paid her way through graduate school by raising underfoot and selling registered Siamese kittens (applehead; sealpoint, bluepoint, lilacpoint: for those of you who know what that means). Since we had three to four registered queens (mamas) and one registered tom (papa), when all four had litters of kittens at the same time we could have as many as forty to fifty cats and kittens in the house at once. Fortunately, that did not happen often. My dad tolerated this since each duly registered and sold kitten brought several hundred dollars – in the 1970’s. In our house cat hair was a way of life, and if you sat down, there was always a laptop who quickly arrived and asked for cuddles and scratchies – usually two or three. As a result, I understand kitties very well, and I know how loving they can be.
When we arrived in Morocco, our very first evening out (after we slept about twenty hours getting over the flight and five-hour drive from Casablanca), we found the local village marche (commercial area) and chose an outdoor cafe for a meal. As we ate our delicious rotisserie chicken with all the trimmings, several marche cats slipped under our chairs. Being a kitty person, I began accidently dropping my chicken bones. I noticed my husband was doing the same. There was one lovely black cat with huge golden eyes who would very politely and gently place one paw on my thigh occasionally, as if to say, “I finished the last one, and it was wonderful – do you mind if I have another?”
All of those kitties were adults, and all were fairly healthy-looking, living there at the marche near all the cafes and restaurants (not to mention the meat market). I felt no burning need to adopt one, since they all seemed to be doing well. Plus, adopting an older cat is sometimes a tough business: they are already set in their ways. It’s like trying to marry a bachelor, thirty years of age, who still lives at home and lets his mama take care of him. It’s not going to turn out well – oh, wait: I DID that the first time. Explains why I have a SECOND husband.
Anyhoo, I waited until Spring, when the year’s new crop of kittens arrived, and then I catnapped one. Moroccan cats are notoriously skittish, and most will NOT let you close enough to touch them, even the marche cats who are accustomed to people feeding them still mostly keep a wary distance. They are this skittish because most Moroccans throw stones at them, kick them if they can and generally treat them like the vermin they think that they are. This type of behavior on the part of most of the humans that the cats see does not make for friendly cats.
This kitten had huge ears, and was looking the other way when I swooped down on her and scooped her up in my scarf. I know better than to surprise one with my bare hands. I took her home, petting her and cooing to her all the way, and when I got there, I bribed her with cheese. She decided it might not be too bad to stay. Since then, one by one, I have brought home others who are either adopted by other people, or stay with us. Since I know cats quite well, I socialize our kittens like I used to handle and treat my mother’s Siamese, like they are small, furry children: sisters and brothers of mine.
This causes astonishment when Moroccans come to our apartment, and see our cats sitting calmly in a lap, purring. Moroccans are amazed that our cats will approach people and ask for petting. Our cats have never been mistreated and so do not fear people, and they act like the loving creatures that they can be. Humsa (Arabic for number five) likes to go next door to the mosque at the times when prayers are called, and he waits for the people to come by and pet him – and they DO, because of his very sweet disposition, which is a rarity for Moroccan cats. My husband even saw our landlord chew out a motorist who nearly ran over Humsa in the street outside our apartment building. The Arabic probably included a warning about children playing in the street, too – but it was Humsa he defended. I consider this to be great progress for Moroccan kitties!!