When one hears the word “immigration,” one might think about the Syrian refugee crisis, or some politician’s idea to build a wall across the US/Mexico border. You might not stop to consider the topic of feline dual citizenship.
At last night’s “En Route” StorySlam, Sara took the win and Audience Favorite vote with an unexpected tale about her best friend, Patches, the Macedonian immigrant cat.
Naturally, we had a lot of follow up questions. Sara was kind enough to answer some of them for us. And in case you’re curious, she’s shared pictures of what a cat green card looks like.
FPA: Feline green cards? We didn’t know this was a thing! How difficult is it to get one?
SR: It was surprisingly easy to get documentation for Patches. A few other volunteers in Macedonia brought back dogs and that, apparently, is a lot tougher. But the “green card” consists of a pet passport that shows all of her vaccinations, and a document from the Town Hall certifying that the pet is safe to travel. (What this means is anyone’s guess. Also the form is completely in Macedonian, so I have no idea how it is supposed to be useful for American customs people!)
One of my students and friends, Marija, served as my cultural attaché for this process. Otherwise I would have never figured out how to bring Patches to the United States! Marija accompanied me to the Town Hall to help me explain what I needed. Of course, they had never seen this form before, and were mystified about why some American was needing their signature to travel with a cat.
This is a bit of a side story, but I had come to Macedonia with an awesome travel guitar as one of my carry-ons. But because I was bringing Patches home, I was suddenly over my carry-on limit, and had to make some adjustments.
Marija was a great guitar player, but had this dinky guitar from who knows where. So right before I left with Patches, I gave Marija my guitar to thank her for helping me with the cat, and for being a good friend. She still has it, and still plays quite well! I think we both got a good bargain.
FPA: Where where you and what were you doing when you found Patches in Macedonia?
SR: I had a friend named Lidija who was one of the only Macedonians I knew who kept cats and dogs as pets. She would let them inside her house, but they were definitely mostly outdoor pets. I was having dinner at Lidija’s house when this poofy calico kitten came in and started meowing loudly (she still has a weird meow, which to me sounds like a toy goat). It turns out that one of the cats Lidija often fed had had a litter of kittens, and Lidija was letting the mother keep them in the basement until they got big enough to defend themselves on the tough Macedonian streets.
I said to Lidija, “She is so cute!!” and Lidija responded with, “zemaj,” a word I didn’t know (that summarizes 95% of my conversations). I picked up the kitten and kept talking about how cute she was, and I just had fallen completely in love, and Lidija kept saying this word that I didn’t know.
Eventually Lidija said “ZEMAJ,” put the cat in my hands and motioned to leave. I guess it was just a regional word for “take” that I didn’t know, so she’d been telling me all night to take the kitten with me.
FPA: You say that Macedonians don’t typically have pets, and especially not inside. Can you tell us more about that?
SR: I was in a rural, agricultural city, so pets were really uncommon. Mostly, people just considered pets dirty to have in the home. There is also a much different culture around spaying/neutering, which meas that there are strays everywhere in Macedonia. The result is that cats and dogs are associated with the public nuisance of strays rather than indoor, domestic companions like they are here.
Having pets wasn’t unheard of, it was just uncommon. Being the lone American somewhere, though, your behavior is often notable because of the ways it’s uncommon. People were always very confused and curious as to why I would want a cat living in my house.
FPA: What is Patches’ favorite pastime?
SR: Patches has many hobbies, but cuddling is definitely her favorite. She’s basically just an alive stuffed animal. Like I said in the story, I brought her back to where I was staying in Macedonia by zipping her up inside my winter jacket. I actually used to hold her like that a lot when she was a kitten. Zipped inside my jacket, she would nap while I read, or whatever. As a result, she is very needy and basically wants to constantly be in contact with a person, which I love! She has always slept with me, and she will paw at my nose until I wake up a little and lift up the covers so she can nestle underneath and be little spoon.