It all started one early morning back during training. I had woken needing to use the restroom just before 5 a.m., but was unable to do so because someone was in the shower. Another person got into the shower immediately following the first, leaving me with an uncomfortably full bladder and an irritated attitude. I hadn’t slept well, and really wanted to take care of things and get back to sleep. Instead, I was halfway in bed feeling huffy while I tried to listen for my cue to run into the restroom.
Finally, I gave up on sleep around 6:20, as I needed to be down to the highway and on a bus by 7:00. I grumpily turned on my light and went to put on some clothing (still awaiting bathroom access). To my bleary surprise, this is what greeted me.
I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first.
No, I wasn’t crazy. One of the host family cats had somehow become a stowaway in an upper shelf of my wardrobe all night long. It was so strange (and she was so cute) that it broke me out of my funk and made me laugh out loud. I wasn’t even able to work up anger over the fur she left on my clothing.
That little ball of fur that changed my mood is named Canchita, meaning blonde or light-haired; this is usually applied to foreigners, but can also be used to describe Guatemalans who have anything other than black hair. Even slight streaks of brown will get locals labeled Canche.
Right away Canchita had pegged me as a sucker. She must have learned from the previous two Trainees that Americans are softies and willing to offer pets, laps, and general cuddling in a way that almost no Guatemalans are likely to do. At first she would sneak onto my lap in the main room, but was soon cleverly escaping the family’s attempts to throw her out of the house at night by entering my room through a hole in the wall between my room and the kitchen. The family assured me she had fleas, but I saw no evidence of them.
Now, Canchita’s sister, Blanca (meaning white – not the most creative names, eh?) was pregnant and had three little kittens while I was there. My madre offered me one of them, and said my friends might adopt the others, too. Admittedly, they were adorable.
I spent plenty of time playing with them (and my host brothers). I kept putting off choosing, saying I needed to see their personalities. But when my madre mentioned her plans to keep one of the kittens (who were all male) and give away the adult cats to avoid having more litters in the future, I saw my opening. If she was going to send Canchita away, she was sending her with me!
So, when I moved to Site, Canchita came too. She made the trip stuffed into a costal (woven plastic tote bag), and ended up making a smelly mess all over my host mother’s foot in the bus. She spent the first week and a half hidden under my borrowed bed and I feared she’d never forgive me (or clean herself off properly!). Of course, she eventually warmed to the change of scene, though is still wary of the kids and dogs. Now that we’ve moved up to my cottage she can come and go freely by entering and exiting the house through the roof, and accompanies me on my household chores.
When I’m doing laundry, she basks in the nearest patch of sunlight, just on the edge of the shade from the house.
When I head to the latrine she’s got my back, day or night.
If I turn my back, she’ll try to be helpful with the dishes. In fact, she’ll try to be helpful eating my bread, tortillas, tostadas, and granola if I’m not careful with the pantry. While she’s been happy with the switch to concentrado (actual cat food), she must still get nostalgic cravings for her pan dulce days. I’m going to be investing in some more sturdy storage containers.
If it’s napping that needs doing, she’s happy to lead the way.
Overall, I’d say adopting Canchita (well, allowing myself to be claimed by her) has been excellent for my mental and emotional health. I can talk to her in whichever language I want, she’s a reliable and prompt dinner companion, and helps warm me up on the chilly (occasionally freezing) nights. Best of all she makes me laugh when it’s tempting to let petty grievances get a little too large in my mind’s eye. Maybe I sound like a crazy cat lady alone in my cottage anthropomorphizing my little friend, but I'm glad Canchita is my Mostly Companion.