As I mentioned earlier, our two cats, Inky the Siamese and Tigger the marmalade travelled with us to Zambia where they enjoy their last years of their lives, despite the arrival of our children that placed them in the background.
Apart from our cats there were two “guard” dogs, Nero (a male) and Ginger (a female) that came with the house as guard dogs, although I did not think much of their security skills. As it was common in those days of food shortages, the house also had some small livestock in the backyard, next to the vegetable garden and fruit trees tendered by Lemek, the gardener.
Apart from rabbits in cages, there were a few ducks and chickens. We soon acquired six Rhode Island red hens that lived up to their reputation and produced many eggs for months on end. Later on, when Anders left Zambia to go to Rome, we inherited his pair of turkeys that he, impolitely, had named Mabel and Julio. We kept them until the following Christmas when we got rid of them and Ander’s cheekiness !
This abundance of animals meant a lot of grain spillage that attracted a large number of rats. The situation was not helped by the presence of a local market next door where hygiene was not on top of the agenda. Apart from feeding on the maize on the ground, the rats loved guavas. The house had a few guava trees and these became a rat playground. The rats were literally lining-up to get at the guavas! To make matters worse, passers by would take care of those that survived the rodents with the result that we hardly harvested any.
Our dogs were indifferent to the rats, but we expected our cats to do something! We placed them near the guava trees and, although they became aware of the rats, they insisted in looking the other way! They were obviously believed that they had earned their retirement and were happy to age in peace. So, I borrowed a pellet gun and took a few shots at the invaders but soon they became too clever for me. They became nocturnal and defeated me and continued feeding on food spillage and guavas.
Aware of the situation, even Mabel gave up and declared herself ready to share the garden with them, provided that they did not enter the house. I promised that no quarter would be given to any that attempted this and the situation slowly reached an equilibrium, tilted in favour of the rats, of course.
In the middle of this situation, and to make matters more interesting, one day Tigger disappeared! “Maybe it was eaten by the rats” I told Mabel trying to be funny. I am afraid that I am not willing to publish her reply! She was very worried about the cat’s disappearance. She looked for it everywhere in the house and soon she had all available hands (including mine) combing the house compound in a cat search that yielded no results. Later, the quest was extended to the neighbourhood. Mabel walked the whole day around our area but came back home empty-handed. Tigger had vanished.
We had serious concerns about our cat’s fate. We have heard stories that some of our neighbours were from the Far East and that a number of dogs had gone missing for no apparent reason and people suspected that they were being eaten. We feared that our cat had met a similar end. Undeterred, Mabel continued walking around the various houses and the local market calling Tigger until, after a couple of days, she returned convinced that she had heard a faint meowing coming from the local market area that answered her calls. She was sure that Tigger was inside there somewhere.
The next day, she decided to pay a visit to the market and headed for the area where she had heard what she thought were Tigger calls. She entered one of the shops and purchased a few food items while making comments about our cat’s disappearance, stressing the fact that the cat was a completely useless hunter. Of course, the owners listened politely while denying any knowledge of the cat’s existence. However, they promised to cooperate in case they saw it.
Mabel kept visiting the market to see if she could find the cat and, in so doing she established some contacts with shopkeepers until she got some “confidential” information that “a cat” was being held at a large store where food items (vulnerable to rats) were kept but she could not get inside the place as someone else held the key.
A couple of days passed, and we resigned ourselves to our cat’s disappearance when, one afternoon, Tigger appeared at the kitchen door asking for food! Despite being rather bony, it was in good health and still conserving its appetite.
Eventually Mabel went back to the market where she was told that people thought that a large cat like Tigger would have been good at controlling the rats at the warehouse so they decided to “borrow” it from us. However, soon they realized that it was useless and that, if left there, it would have died of starvation surrounded by food! Then, they decided to place it over our perimetral wall for it to return to us.
Luckily, it did not take Tigger very long to return to its usual fat and lazy self and we never saw it catching anything until we left Zambia.