My cat, Canchita, showed very little stress over our transition to Alta Verapaz. She rode on my lap in a carrier all the way in the truck on moving day, and was out exploring the cooperative immediately upon arrival. She quickly learned that she could enter and exit my room through the ceiling, and reigned over the rafters of the building in no time.
The community as a whole took a shine to her right away. Within days Site Mate Wendy and I were joking that she would get a bigger goodbye party than we would at the end of our time here. They certainly learned to pronounce her name long before they learned mine. Perhaps it was because it felt like a safe topic of conversation or perhaps because she is a pet and not just a rodent catcher, but just about every person I met asked about her.
Everyone wanted to see my cat, they wanted to know what she ate, where she slept, and were convinced that I had brought her with me from the States. Over and over I had to explain that no, she is as Chapin (Guatemalan) as the rest of the animals in the community and that I was given her by another Guatemalan family.
The next question was usually when she would have babies. When I explained I had had her fixed to prevent such things they looked at me like I had three heads. Never mind that litters of puppies and kittens are regularly born and die before making it to maturity here in my aldea. I think because she seems so healthy and is a good hunter, they all wanted my cat’s genes working to keep their own house rodent free. In their minds, her health seems to be totally unrelated to her having been vaccinated and being fed a diet of real cat food.
Overall, I was thankful to have her along as an extra means to connect with the people coming through the co-op while I was living there in June. The only exception to this was the day I returned from travelling out of town and found myself locked out of the cooperative. My future host father had loaned me his key, but I was having no luck getting into the building. The instructions he had given me amounted to a secret handshake of some kind with turning the key all the way around a few times then pulling back on the door while doing a quarter turn the other way.
I had made the mistake of calling to Canchita when I walked up the stairs. When I didn’t appear in the room right away, she made her way through the rafters to stand above me in the ceiling over the porch and mrooowl and miaaaht at me like I was an idiot for not understanding how to make the key and lock cooperate with one another. Eventually she found a hole in a knot in the wood and stuck her head down to peer at me and my doorway incompetence.
I decided to cut my losses, take a picture of her looking ridiculous, and take a nap on the porch until someone with the knowhow to get the door open came by the coop. When someone finally did, his first question upon opening the door for me was, ”Ut lamis?” (And your cat?). It’s not so bad living in the shadow of a celebrity.