We had four of our six cats spayed yesterday and I am feeling so sad and sorry for hurting them like this that I almost wish I hadn’t had it done. Then I think of the consequences!! Mozambique cats seem to have developed the habits of their feral relatives in the wild and so breed often and copiously in order to keep the survival of the species going. Of these four, two were sisters of a previous litter and the two younger ones were from litters they had three months ago. The one mother is already about two months pregnant and the two young daughters have started calling the males at night!!!
I said we had six cats. The matriarch and mother of them all is Nemo. She is a black baggage who I rescued from the bottom of a well when she could just fit in my hand. I actually did not think she was going to survive as she had been in the stagnant water at the bottom of the well for two days as far as I knew, and when I got her out she was a limp, bedraggled silent scrap. My heart broke for the poor little mite and I took her home wrapped in a towel and tried to feed her a bit of warm milk. She was very small and thin and my experience of kittens made me presume she was still suckling from her mother, so she would not be able to eat solid food yet. I left her on the lounge couch while I completed my afternoon school activities and went home fully expecting to have to bury her.
This was my first experience of the unbelievable courage, resilience and strength of Mozambican cats!! Nemo became queen of the house, even all five of the fully grown large dogs outside became very wary and respectful of this black bundle of spitting fur. She took over our lives and everything changed to suit her, we often threatened to send her back to the well!!!
Within three months she was pregnant with her first litter. Ok, that was sweet, that was fine, we were surprised, but decided she would only have about two or three little babies as this was her first litter and we wouldnt have a problem finding homes for them. She woke us up in the early hours one morning to pay her attention while she had the kittens in the bottom of my clothes cupboard on top of all my jeans and trousers. I closed my eyes to the disgusting mess all over my clothes and encouraged and stroked her for the next two hours while she produced six little black kittens.
At that time there were no vets in Beira and we could not figure out what to do about getting her spayed or to help put down the kittens that weren’t claimed. Within three months she was pregnant again, she totally and suddenly rejected the remaining two kittens we had kept from the previous litter and became quite nasty to them. She had not been a good mother to them anyway so they weren’t that upset, the little male started wandering looking for other females to cover and we never saw him again and the small female fell pregnant!!!
Nemo had her next litter inside the base of our bed making such a caterwauling noise that we thought something was wrong, so at 2.00am one morning saw myself holding up the end of the bed while my other half ripped away the hessian on the base of the bed to try and get to the mother and babies. More blood and guts everywhere and five new kittens later we got back to bed just before the new morning dawned.
I neatly stapled the hessian back to the cleaned and scrubbed bed base, one month later the young mother made a hole and climbed inside and had her litter of three kittens in the same place, at the same time of the morning!!!
This was now getting a bit frightening and we were started to have visions of being inundated with cats, nature was taking its course and some of the kittens from each litter had died of various accidents and sicknesses but we had seven cats by now.
Then, thank goodness, a vet arrived in Beira. He was a government vet transferred from Maputo and was trained with farm livestock but the town breathed a sigh of relief and he was kept very busy. He was a butcher!! Shame he tried his best but he really could not handle small animals and was petrified of dogs. We managed to get Nemo spayed after about her tenth litter and he spayed and neutered the rest of the bunch as well. All except one male died, something about his chloroform mixture had been the wrong strength.
So we were left with Nemo and Tigger and two of Nemo’s kittens from her last litter. Nemo was a terrible mother. She never stayed with her babies for very long and she would keep hiding them around the house and I would have to find them and put them back in a sensible place. One morning when I did the kitten hunt I found them under the couch in the lounge but there seemed something wrong. They were about two months old now but from being normal, healthy, mischievous animals they both suddenly seemed disabled. Neither kitten could walk properly and it was as if their spines had been damaged.
By now we had a private vet clinic in town and a vet would fly up from Maputo for a couple of days each month. Very, very expensive but that comes with having pets. We rushed the kittens there and she tried various treatments and vitamins but she said she thought the kittens had been hurt or dropped. We can only think that Nemo, in one of her hide and seek moods, had tried to jump onto the cupboard with a kitten in her mouth and had dropped them.
So now we had Wibbly and Wobbly. Wibbly slowly came almost normal and only wobbled when she tried to concentrate on something, Wobbly lives up to her name and wobbles all the time. They are the most affectionate and loving animals and talk to me constantly and with their disabilities I thought there would be no way they could fall pregnant!!!! Both fell pregnant the first time when they were about three months old. They each had litters of four kittens which people took and we managed to get rid of. Then they fell pregnant again.
Nemo and Tigger have moved out of the house and have taken over the cottage as their domain. Tigger is the most beautiful fat male who has a lovely nature. Nemo is still a witch and comes to you for strokes and loving but when she has had enough she will bite you, she moans and complains to me whenever she sees me and she gets very annoyed if we have visitors to stay in the cottage.
Wobbly had a litter of six kittens and she is such a lovely and proud mother. Two nights later Wibbly had seven kittens on my bed curled up in the curve of my legs. A very strange experience at my age, I thought I had wet the bed!!! We got rid of all but two; Columbus who is such an explorer and Tabby who is the cutest chubby tabby.
Now I have hurt them all and I feel so bad about it. Wibbly was pregnant with another litter so I feel her pain and loss as well as the pain all the others must be feeling. They don’t seem to be condemning me though, they are slowly getting up from the warm blanket bed I have made for them and going about exploring the house. They have tried to eat a bit from the array of tasty morsels I have spread out in my guilt and now I have Wobbly curled up on the couch next to me, Columbus is watching TV from the other couch and Wibbly and Tabby are keeping cosy in their blanket bed and make little conversational mews when I stroke them.
I have lived in Africa all my life, specifically Southern Africa; Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa. I love walking and exploring and finding out about anywhere I am living or staying and I spend hours exploring new towns and cities. I find it very relaxing, as well as fulfilling and educational. It has certainly trained me to be more observant of all that is around me, for my safety as well as for the knowledge factor. My favourite time for my walks is the early mornings, although I go at any time of the day whenever I feel the urge or interest in something or when I have a problem which needs a lot of thought. But early mornings, starting just before the sun rises, are my best times. There is something so encouraging and exciting to watch the world wake up. A whole new beginning starting for every living thing. Be the first to hear the birds wake up, to see the owls going to bed, to make my footprints in the newly washed beach.
Something I have noticed in all my walks is the sweeping!! Is sweeping a cultural tradition to Africans? I certainly cannot remember reading about it anywhere, or learning about it in Culture and Geography in school. Where and why did it star? Now it seems a very set tradition, practised, seemingly, by a certain class level, either male or female, young or old.
Growing up on farms and ranches in Zimbabwe I used to watch the mothers and wives sweeping their little areas of ground surrounding their round, beehive huts. From my memory this wasn’t done first thing in the morning but it seems more like after the breakfast period, so I would say mid morning. It always seemed the wife or mother of the family group did the sweeping and cleaning, never do I remember a male or a child doing it. I used to watch their bent bodies, invariably with a baby tied on their backs, leaning close to the ground with a hand brush made of sticks or twigs and using only one arm rhythmically sweeping the ground in front of them. Step by step, from one end of their home space to the other. Then they would turn around and make their way back again. There was always a rhythm and pattern to the procedure, around obstacles, over mounds, until they reached something too large to go around, or the edge, then they would turn around.
At the end there would be a work of art with sweeping rows of arcs on the earth. They never stood up until the whole job was done, I could never bend over at that angle for that long!!! The wiser people sprinkled water before sweeping – if they had enough to spare – otherwise this was all carried out with billowing dust clouds. It fascinated me to be driving through the bushveld checking for cattle or animals and to suddenly come upon one of these clearings. The earth is swept to hard ground and most trees are chopped out so you find an area of bare, hard trodden earth with a hut or two and a fire circle and a table for pots etc then, the bare earth comes to an abrupt end and the surrounding bush, litter or crops continue again.
I have seen this all over in the rural areas in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In a way I understand the reason for this, protection as you can see approaching danger i.e. snakes, wild animals, cleanliness, tidiness. But now I see it in towns as well so I cannot understand what it is about. Why would someone sweep the small area of road outside their property wall up to the half way line and only to the borders of their property?
Now I see the same rhythmic method of sweeping everywhere. I know it annoys people who are trying to sleep to have the swishing noise start up outside their windows before the sun has even risen. I can turn into a road on one of my walks in the mornings and for as far as I can see down the road there will be the bent bodies of people sweeping, men or women or children. What has happened? They sweep and sweep with brooms made from sticks, twigs, palm leaves. They sweep right into the roots of trees growing on the side of the roads so they look like startled old ladies holding up their petticoats and trying to tiptoe to a more earth with their exposed roots. You see huge holes in the pavings and road edges as all the soil is swept away daily into piles which is carried away and dumped on a rubbish pile. If there is a broken area of road, wall or pavement, they sweep around each piece of crumbled concrete and tar, but don’t pick it up. It is left in exactly the same place. I have seen areas where the road edge has been swept away to such an extent it is now a hazard for vehicles to drive off the road. Some yards are swept so much they are now below the street level and you can see the foundations of the buildings.
Its no longer the wives or mothers who do this, it seems every household has a designated person to sweep in the morning. Are they a poor relation, a useless, unemployed member of the family or a destitute person who does it for a meal and bed?
They are sweeping the world away. Why do they have to do it, don’t they understand the sand and earth s there for a reason and if it is swept away grass and trees will not grow.
Just like certain flowers flowering in batches, certain fruits ripening in batches, people seeming to fall pregnant in batches, death seems to happen in batches. This past month I have had the anniversary of my sisters death, and have had the 21 year old brother of a good friend die in a motor bike accident as well as 3 other long known friends passing away. Does death happen in batches? Do our circles overlap through life in such a way that they all overlap at a certain time which means death and sadness. does it depend on how many people we know. Perhaps it seems as if there are batches because if you know a lot of people then the deaths will be noticeable, whereas if you know only a few people then perhaps only one or two will pass in a close period of time making it not so noticeable and heartbreaking.