Talking Cats.


One of the next-door kittens asleep in a pile of fabric on the roof.

I’ve been back in Luxor for three months now and spending most of that time in my flat, weaving and downloading. I have detached myself from the goings-on downstairs as I knew that I would be relocating and didn’t want to get involved with the dynamics here. I have done what I could and now it is time for a change.

But there have been good changes here. All of the women now have their own bird-houses and they keep pigeons, rabbits, ducks and chickens, so they can make money and feed themselves. They are more independent. There are now four cows, with ours being due to calve in two months,  and we still have our four sheep, some of which are hopefully pregnant. Fatma, Mohammed’s wife, sold her wedding-gold and bought herself a cow! Smart woman!

The men have turned our small field by the Nile into a banana crop, with Berseem (Clover) beneath it, so that the animals can be fed. The big field is still sugarcane, but they will use the money from the bananas to grow more banana trees in two years, so all is going in a good direction!


Mother of the wild kittens.

Because it is so hot, I spend most days in my flat, psychologically preparing to move back into a completely different lifestyle, but a lifestyle I am familiar with. I tend to wake up at the early hours and take photos from the balcony, and I am aware of ‘winding down’.

One of the things I have been doing is taking photos of the wild cats here. I am not particularly a cat-person, but I do feed them my scraps. I have always had cats, but they were usually because my daughters convinced me to rescue them from some perceived harsh treatment. They knew me too well!!

I realised, after a week of photo-taking, that there might be something I was missing. The Messages! This became clearer after last night…

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Mother of three kittens in the mudbrick makers yard, next door.

Last night we went over to Najat’s house (Omar’s big sister) and we brought around a gift of a chicken and a few kilos of veges for the Eid Celebrations. I went into her mudbrick, open-to-the-sky kitchen, to wash my hands and discovered that she had another kitten! It was tied, by fabric around its neck, to the ladder which leads upstairs. Her other kitten is just 3 months old. She untied the new kitten at my request, but oh how rough she was! That little creature was pulled and jerked and man-handled, as Najat untied the rag. The kitten has not been weaned and had an eye infection! She was tiny. Najat told me that Omar’s brother Taher gave it to her. I remembered then that his cat with the beautiful blue eyes had had kittens a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t believe that Taher had given away such a young kitten, but I don’t know why I should be so surprised!

Once she had untied it I picked it up and sat with it, stroking it giving it some healing just to soothe it and make it feel more nurtured. In order to stop the kitten needing milk Najat told me that she rubs green chile on her nose and lips, and proceeded to demonstrate! No wonder the kitten has a bad eye. Najat thought that that was a perfectly normal  thing to do. I was horrified!

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Next-door kittens playing.

While Najat was sitting chatting to Omar and I held the kitten on my lap Najat made a comment that the kitten never sat on people, she always ran away. I answered that if I was treated as harshly as the kitten was treated I would run away too! Najat laughed. She didn’t take offence.

“Wallahi Sah, that’s the truth,” she said turning to Omar, ” You see? She is teaching me how to be better.”

Eventually, the kitten got down and started running after the other kitten. They both disappeared under the wooden couch that Mahmoud, Najat’s husband, was lying on watching TV.  Then, a few minutes later they reappeared and the older one, still a kitten herself, lay down on the clay floor and the baby kitten tried to feed from her.

I watched this tiny pair, the baby trying to find a teat to feed from, and ‘weaving’ on the body of the older one, who was patiently allowing her to, even though it obviously made her feel physically uncomfortable. She mewed a few times in discomfort but never stopped the baby. There was this lovely silent communication between myself and the older kitten, a communication which was both energetic, and ‘cat-language’ with our eyes; something I learned when I was in my late teens. I felt her instinctual caring for this baby, and even though it was uncomfortable she knew it gave the baby something it needed, so she tolerated it, without fighting or complaining.

Najat stood up abruptly to get something  and the pair ran off to hide.

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Watching her siblings playing…

It was only this morning, watching this tabby mother with her three identical kittens, that I suddenly thought of why I was feeling so cat-ish lately! I was being shown something of importance. Something about motherhood, and foster-motherhood, and the sacrifice of motherhood, and how it is when there is no mother. It also brings up older issues about my own children and our personal family history.

Najat offered me the small kitten but I am moving to a place where cats are not allowed, so I had to say no. But if I hadn’t been moving, I would have taken her. It was hard work watching her being so mistreated by Najat, who is generally a loving, compassionate woman, but this does not extend to her animals. They were never taught to love animals, they barely love each other! But these kittens this morning, frolicking in the shade, made me realise how important it is for animals to stay with the parents for as long as possible, and Upper Egyptians do not think like that. Sadly!

Perhaps it is another thing to change…

The Brookes Experience.

I had my first experience of the Brookes Hospital for Animals in Luxor this week!  Our next door neighbour here in El Gourna, a village close to the Seti l temple, has a working donkey which brays pretty much regularly throughout the day! This is a working donkey and in good health, but soemone took a dislike to him for some un-neighbourly reason and damaged the donkey’s hind leg. (We named this Donkey ‘Brian’, as in the ‘Life of’ Brian’ as every-time we had a question the donkey would answer it by braying at just the right moment!!! )

It looked like the damage to Brian’s hind leg was quite bad and it looked like the bone was sticking out of his leg. The owner of the donkey just assumed that the animal would die as that is what usually happens when an animal is hurt.   The owners do not have the money or the knowledge to take any other actions!

I watched this donkey for nearly a week and there was no sign that it was getting any better so eventually contacted the Brookes Animal Hospital who look after donkeys here in Luxor. I was a little concerned that I would appear to be interfering, but the animal was in pain so…I sent them an email and explained the situation. I said nothing to anyone else, leaving it up to the ‘powers that be’ to see what would happen.

The following morning I received a phone call from a number which was not on my list so I did not answer it. I told my husband and he rang the number, checking to see who was ringing his wife! It was the vet at the Brookes hospital asking about the animal. Omar explained the situation and the vet suggested that we hire a van and take the animal over to them as it would be better for them to put the animal down if its leg was broken and that they would dispose of the body hygienically instead of it being dumped in the Nile or in the desert! . They would pay 100LE to cover the costs. But my husband remained suspicious, as locally it is believed that these animal charities are just a cover for buying cheap meat to sell to restaurants and zoos! Is that really lamb you are eating???

The following morning we received umpteen calls, none of which we answered, as no-body trusted them!!! However, the following morning we received a call from Omar’s brother downstairs saying that there were animal doctors here treating the donkey and that the animal’s leg was not broken but actually mend-able and that Brian would be fine in a week!

What amazed me was how he managed to find us!!! All they had was our names and the village and its like a rabbit warren of houses and streets here. They did a minor operation on the leg, cutting away the damaged tissue and sewing it all up again. They gave him a shot of antibiotics and dressed the wound, issuing instructions on how to care for the wound for the next few days while it healed.

The owner was really happy that his donkey was not going to die after all as it was a good, strong donkey and regularly helped them with the suger-cane and maize harvesting! Brian slept off the anaesthetic and was a bit groggy for a while but within hours he was up and eating again, none the worse for wear!

But we still couldn’t figure out how the vets had managed to find us. It turns out that they drove to the village and asked for Omar! Everyone here is related so all they had to ask was ‘where do Ann and Omar live?!’ Simple!!!

A day later I received a follow up call from the hospital to see if everything was alright. They had sent their mobile unit to treat the animal as they have units all over Luxor. While they were treating the donkey they took photos and sent them to me this morning.

They provide a very caring service and have a very dedicated team of animal welfare officers. My husband had to rethink his ideas about the charity as he realised that some people do actually care and are not just out there to exploit and con the local people.

He realised that  there are caring, honest people here in Luxor who really do care about the welfare of the people and their animals. So now if it ever happens again he will be the first to ring for help! Some of the attitude is also about valuing a good working animal. If the animal provides a good service to humans then it is only right and fair that they should be taken care of when they need it.

So now Brian is eating and resting and soon will be as good as new. The Brookes Hospital for Animals was started in the 1960’s and has been running ever since. They operate over 7 regions all over Egypt and have static clinics as well as mobile veterinary units. The founder, Dorothy Brooke, moved to Cairo in 1930 and saw the thousands of emaciated ex-war horses which had been sold to the Egyptians by the British Army at the end of the first world war. They lived a life of very hard labour so in 1934 she established the old war horse Memorial Hospital which was to provide veterinary care to war horses, mules and donkeys.  Today it is a busy treatment centre and the base for the mobile units in Cairo.

The centre here in Luxor was established in 1966 and is obviously a great success. I imagine that when Dorothy started her clinic in Cairo she never imagined that it would spread all over Egypt and then to other countries.