The Episode with the Kitten

The other day, an hour or so after another momentous thunderstorm, I was walking up the muddy river that serves as a road in more temperate conditions when I happened upon a weeks-old kitten perched precariously on a rock jutting just above the rushing water. Yapping dogs lined the road’s perimeter, but apparently none of them were ready to brave the water in order to munch the wee morsel.

Steeling myself against sentiment, I shooed away the dogs and continued on to the store.  I have had little patience with PCVs who adopt animals here: unless one plans on making a permanent home in Moldova, how fair is it to subvert an animal’s natural instincts by accustoming it to hand-feeding, doting attention and a warm, dry sanctuary?

Ten minutes later, on the way back, a thinly bleated chorus of mews wafted up to greet me.  The kitten was no longer in the road but I could hear it crying close by.  Again, I steeled myself.  You must not interfere, I told myself sternly.  There are hundreds – most likely thousands – of stray kittens and puppies born each year in Moldova that will not survive a month, much less their first winter.  If I had not happened down this path at just this moment I would never know about this one.  But the mewling seemed to get louder and more desperate as I left it behind.

I recited all the logical reasons why rescuing a kitten was not a rational move on a my part: I live within a community where pets are not cultivated (the one dog that hangs around the center is not allowed indoors, nor provided any food other than kitchen scraps. I am the only one who pets it;) my income is barely sufficient to feed myself;  I am away from site for days at a time; I cannot afford to spay or obtain vaccines; it probably has a ton of worms and fleas; yada, yada, yada. All these valiant attempts at hardening my heart steadily weakened as the calls grew more piercing and urgent in my wake.

So I did what any other smart PCV would do: upon my arrival back at the center I posed the question to another volunteer who happened to be staying the night with me.  “Tell me, should I rescue this kitten?” Of course, Georgiana immediately leapt to the call of an animal in need.  Arming ourselves with a bag and a pair of sturdy gloves, we set off back down the road to retrieve said kitten.

Only what we found was TWO kittens, cowering under a low carpet of bushes, soaked to the skin and shivering, almost skeletal with hunger.  Great.  One of them – a tabby with the big mouth that I had already seen in the road – was readily amenable to being picked up and placed in the bag.  The other, a Russian Blue, was decidedly not.  It scampered even further into the bushes, spitting and hissing for all its 2 ounces worth.  Oh well, I thought, I really didn’t bargain for more than one anyway. But Georgiana was now on a mission; she determinedly flattened the bushes right after it and caught it within seconds.

Damn.

***

Soon after finding them a box and warm blanket, we introduced them to the three young Dutch volunteers that are currently staying at my center.  One of them, Leonie, immediately fell in love. She had one or both of them curled up into her neck for the remainder of the day, and took them both to sleep with her that night.  Poftim.

I began formulating a convincing argument for why it would be good for HER to adopt two Moldovan kittens and take them home to Holland.  She was easy to convince.  Soon, she was researching transport options and firing off emails to an aunt back home who had successfully adopted several cats and dogs during her life travels.

The next day, the tabby disappeared. Leonie accidently stepped on it while taking off her muddy shoes after a run. It appeared to be unharmed and scampered off into the bushes.  But later on when she went to bring the kittens in for the night, it was gone.  This caused her a great deal of anguish and not a few tears; how can I admit to be slightly relieved that we were back to the original one I had first envisioned rescuing?  It was doubly sad that it was the tabby – the one that fostered my sympathy in the first place with his persistent cries.

However, now there’s Jane.  That’s what Leonie has named the Russian Blue, the one now so attached to people that she sets up a fuss whenever you walk away. And it looks as if she will be staying with me, after all.  Though a process does exist for adopting animals and exporting them to other countries, it is complicated, tedious, expensive and time-consuming; certainly beyond anything Leonie can manage in her remaining week in Moldova.

***

For a time, I watched a television show called How I Met Your Mother.  There is a character on the show, Robin Scherbatsky, who fantastically kept five dogs of various sizes in her tiny New York apartment.  Despite Robin only being home perhaps one episode out of 20, these dogs appeared placid and happy, not requiring food, or walks, or attention, apparently going to sleep for long stretches of weeks whilst Robin cavorted about New York with her friends.  Her furniture stayed pristine, big clumps of hair did not collect on the carpet and numerous throw pillows on her living room couch remained miraculously intact. Those of us who live with dogs – especially without the benefit of large suburban backyards or rural fields to set them loose in – know that five dogs in an 800 square foot apartment is a recipe for certain disaster, if not complete and irrevocable destruction of all one’s favored belongings.

This is one aspect of modern media that contributes to our continued naiveté in approaching the mechanics of our lives.  I remember my daughter pining for Carrie Bradshaw’s life in Sex and the City, a part-time newspaper columnist who inexplicably could afford Manolo Blahnik shoes, long lunches at high-end eateries, and a darling apartment in Manhattan.  When I would insert my (unsought) opinion that the likelihood of an actual columnist’ salary supporting such an extravagant lifestyle was pretty unlikely, she would froth and foam at my nitpicking lack of imagination.  Couldn’t I just appreciate the story?

I should no more adopt a cat in Moldova than Robin Scherbatsky should cram five canines into a New York walk-up.  But we continue to fool ourselves by referencing the glut of misleading, manipulative entertainment and advertising that does its concerted best to get us to watch, buy, and consume by convincing us that we are all better people for doing so.   We tell ourselves the stories that we fervently wish to believe about life.  And here I go with mine.  I still don’t think I’ve done Jane any favors in the end by bringing her into my life.  But, at least for this episode, she seems happy and I feel just a tad bit better for having ‘rescued’ her from an uncertain fate.  Catch me next season to see how the story progresses….

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Leonie and Jane – inseparable!

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Vara #3: New Projects (or how serendipity infuses my PC service)

According to Wikipedia, the word „serendipity” is one of the hardest to translate in the English language.  Perhaps this is due to the amorphous nature of the experiences it attempts to pinpoint.  There are fortuitous things that happento  us so unexpectedly, from such unanticipated sources or directions, that at times it is difficult to not percieve the pointing finger of a god or the shadowy trail of a red thread leading one on.  And perhaps this how other cultures/languages describe it: through religion, or mythic archetypes, or the unspooling of one’s fate.  We Anglo-Saxons term it “a talent for making fortunate discoveries while searching for other things.”

Straw bale construction. These are used to build houses, walls, and benches.
Straw bale construction. These are used to build houses, walls, and benches.

Some months into the period of unemployment which preceded my Peace Corps service, I stumbled upon the concept of “intentional communities” or “co-housing,” as it is known in some circles.  Back in the day, we would have termed these alternate living styles “communes” but the whole concept has evolved and adapted through the decades to better fit the myriad identities, lifestyle choices, and personal philosophies of most Western Europeans and Americans.  These are communities sometimes, but not always, based on particular political views, philosophical principles, or religious beliefs.  Most often, they represent a desire to live in closer proximity and connection to one’s neighbors; to own in common those resources, like lawn mowers and ladders and paint brushes and socket wrenches, that we may only utilize once or twice a month; to have the opportunity to partake in a collective meal two or three times a week and forego shopping, preparing, serving, and cleaning up after a long day at work; to build small neighborhoods devoid of cars and asphalt; in short, to move out of that weird idea that living entirely in an enclosed, private space (suburban home) from which we emerge only to enter another enclosed private space (automobile) to travel alone to yet another enclosed, private space (the office or cubicle) somehow meets the needs of social animals.

Feeling cut off from the world and as thoroughly rejected as only a soon-to-be-fifty, suddenly-unemployed, worked-at-one-job-for-practically-my-whole-life person can feel, this idea of living collectively more than intrigued me – it lit a burning candle of longing that fed countless hours of research and many inopportune proposals to friends, family, and acquaintances to throw in our lots together, buy piece of land, and start some sort of eco-social living arrangement.  (I think they thought I’d gone off the deep end.)

It was one of the few simmering fires left when I boarded the plane to Moldova; I consoled myself with the notion that perhaps someday in the future, upon my return from Peace Corps, I could resurrect and tend it to fruition.

***

Interestingly, some months later during a sidebar conversation with my then-COD Program Manager Liliana, I was intrigued by her mention of a project conceived by her (former PCV) husband David to build an ‘eco-village’ from natural, native-harvested materials in Moldova.  They had both been researching different building types and designs, real estate offerings, and incorporation options with the intent of forming an NGO devoted to sustainable living that would also serve as a platform for launching their own co-housing community.  I must have related my own interest in this particular brand of habitation.

Last February Liliana surprised us all by resigning from the Peace Corps to pursue this project on a full time basis.  She and David spent many weeks traveling in the USA and Ukraine, visiting similarly positioned communities, networking, gathering data and comparing outcomes.  They are passionate and intentioned and fully loaded with information.  Now, they are ready to commence.  And the biggest, most serendipitous aspect for me in all this is that they have invited me to help.  Apparently, during this sidebar conversation that I barely remember having I impressed on Liliana my like-minded interest in living communally, a notion largely at odds with the impression that most Moldovans form of Americans and their typical bent for self-inflicted privacy.  She remembered me.

The gazebo we will be building on the grounds of the shelter
The gazebo we will be building on the grounds of the shelter

In the way that these circumstances play out, there is a connection between the amazing long-term care center for adults where I live and David and Liliana’s project: Liliana and her mother were part of the core group which conceived and built this shelter 10 years ago.  Liliana’s mom still works here and has gained permission for model structures composed of these natural materials to be built here this summer as concrete examples of what an eco-village might look like someday.  I am now charged with creating and implementing a fundraiser to complement this endeavor.

An oven with surrounding benches - also in the plans for the shelter
An oven with surrounding benches – also in the plans for the shelter
Tiles that can be purchased, personalized and added to the structures as a fundraising option
Tiles that can be purchased, personalized and added to the structures as a fundraising option

Which then led to the shelter’s director asking me to assist with a eco-social tourism project connecting our center with one in Chisinau and another in Brasov, Romania, that will entail hosting (paying) vacationers to come volunteer for a 10-14 days at all three sites.  It’s cutting-edge social entrepreneurism, an arena that I have been mad about entering but felt completely unqualified to entertain.  And now I’ve been invited to participate in building it from the ground up!

A camouflaging wall that will be built as a model of construction capabilities
A camouflaging wall that will be built as a model of construction capabilities

I’ve also, quite inadvertently, become a consultant to a youth-run NGO, Cultura Noua, which is comprised of a group of talented, idealistic young people who are intent on learning English, leadership skills, and project management.  When it rains, it flows…

***

I just re-read a posting of mine from mid-winter, when I was sunk in a vortex of confusion and lost-identity.  I am so relieved that I made it to the other side.  I am so busy right now that I am having to bow out of opportunities that I blindly clutched at when my days were empty but which no longer match the excitement and opportunity that are coming at me from all sides.

Serendipity does translate into Romanian, after all.

Maybe not in so many words, but definitely into the narrative of everyday experience.