My host family likes to shoot cats with guns. Okay, maybe I can rephrase that since they’ve never actually hit one- my host family likes to shoot at cats with guns. For whatever reason, each time this happens I am in my hut or in the garden behind it reading, taking a bath, or simply completely lost in thought when suddenly, BANG. Or perhaps BANG BANG BANG, on a good day. This is either preceded or followed by a shout of“Naariiru!” (Pulaar for cat), which is in all honesty the only reason I know why the gun is going off in the first place. I’m still not entirely sure why they occasionally make the choice to whip out the rifle, seeing as I’m never present when the choice to shoot at the cats is made- there’s quite a few of them who like hang around our compound and more often then not we casually regard them as they slink by. They must be doing something extra sneaky.
Despite having two fat, spoiled cats at home whom I love dearly, I don’t blame them for at least trying to scare these ones off. They can be quite pesky when left to their own devices- some of their favorite activities include insidiously picking off each and every one of our baby chicks, and obnoxiously fighting each other in the tallest branches of one of the guava trees. Once, when I had a high fever and could hardly move from my bed, I woke up to find one had found its way into my hut and was intently watching me sleep, which really gave me the creeps.
In Senegal, cats and dogs are pests. They don’t provide meat, milk, or labor, and they prey on the animals that do. People could care less about them. (Though, in actuality Pulaar people are known historically for raising dogs to guard homes and livestock, but the tradition has died down significantly.) Once, during a session a cat my language tutor told me to never eat out of the same bowl a cat has licked, or else I will get what is known as “cat sickness” and promptly die. So, you can imagine my surprise when my fellow fellow, Abdul Godri Ba, arrived at our tutoring session and informed me that he had just seen a little boy carrying two kittens, smiling from ear to ear. We both immediately made up our minds to find the kid that afternoon, dismissing any problems that might be posed if we were to keep cats here, because, darnit, we wanted those kittens. Not merely for snuggling, but also due to the fact that we both house large, noisy families of mice in our hut roofs.
The day passed, and there was no sign of the boy with the cats. However, just as we were about to go home our separate ways, my younger sister appeared with a little boy at her side, and Abdul Godri remarks,
“Hey, this is the homie with the cats!”
Trying to be as lucrative as possible, I ask him where the kitties are and offer him a thousand franc (about two dollars) for them. His eyes brighten at the prospect of money, and he immediately tells me to give it to him, then he’d go get the kittens for us. Seeing right through his scheme like the “smart”, "grown up" person I am, I tell him to go home and bring them to me in order to get his money. He tented his fingers and thought deeply about this, and then ran off in the opposite direction as fast as he could.
“Yo! Ar ga! (Come here)” I shout after him, but it’s no good. He was a fast one.
Deciding to put the kittens off and go do our shopping for the week, we walked to the marketplace, following the direction the little boy had taken off in. It was Sunday, market day in the nearby village of Dindefelo, and people from our villages, and all the surrounding ones, crowded the marketplace. After we shopped until we could seriously drop due to the heat, we walked back to the center of the village where we’d first confronted the boy to go to our favorite egg seller.
As Abdul Godri bought his eggs, I turned around only to see him, the sneaky little kitten boy, pointing at me and whispering in his mom’s ear. His mom turned out to be the woman I always go to to buy bananas, and I couldn’t help but laugh as she looked at me in confusion. Ready to settle this once and for all, and excited to finally dealing with a professional saleswoman, I went over to inquire about the cats.
“He’s lying!” She exclaimed in Pulaar, after I made my query. (Abdul Godri swears he had kittens that morning, but who knows where they are now.) “But she might know where to find them.”
This is where the real cat hunting comes in.
She pointed to a woman across the way selling beignets, and led me to her. After inquiring about kittens, the woman shook her head and asked the two next to her. They both were at a loss, but one stood up and took us to another lady who just might know. Alas, she was stumped- one because why would anyone want cats (remember that cat sickness I told you about?), two because she had no idea where to find us some primo kittens. However, taking charge of the search, she asked the group of people she’d been standing with. When that didn’t lead to anything, she grabbed my hand and we found our way to an area filled with men packing tamarind into huge sacks.
When she explained, the man she’d approached scratched his head and thought. He didn’t know where to get cats, but he promised to bring us the best ones if he came across any. We thanked him, laughing hysterically, and decided it was time to call it a day.
Going back to Thiangue, my village, I corralled a huge group of kids and told them the first one to bring me two kittens gets money. When I went to the forage to get water, word had spread and the women there promised me they’d be on the lookout.
I never did get my cat- my Baaba refused, making the claim that I’m sure to get that cat sickness everyone keeps talking about. However, that’s not important. What’s important is how willing, how humored and kind everyone was when it came to helping the two random toubabs on their quest. People don’t even like cats here, but they had no problem going along with us and joining the chase. Had I been in America, searching for stray kittens, I likely would’ve conducted the hunt myself, rather than even go to anyone for help. I have been shown more kindness here than I could’ve imagined, and I can’t even begin to imagine how I’m going to express my gratefulness when the time comes.
Flash forward to two weeks later. Sunday, market day in Dindefelo.
Hearing my name, I turn to the source. It’s Aisatou, the banana lady and the mother of sneaky lying cat boy. She gestures for me to come over, and then points to a woman next to her.
“She has two cats for you.”
I regret to inform her I can’t have one now.
“Eh?” she questions, confused.
All I can do is laugh, say something about cat sickness, and go back to buying my eggs.