Pets and Other Critters: Pets

Part 1: Houseguests | Part 2: Pets | Part 3: Goats and Chickens

Naureen fell in love with a tiny orange kitten with a nearly tragic past. Found on a roadside, a cut on his forepaw had become gangrenous, requiring amputation. The first surgery cut the bone on an angle, leaving a sharp edge that prevented it from healing and required a second amputation. While the shelter paid for the surgeries, the rest was up to Naureen, who named the runt kitten Simsim—sesame seed in Arabic—and rebandaged his tiny stump morning and night for months.
On those Saturday nights when I, unexpectedly or deliberately, had missed my bus home from Irbid and ended up at Naureen’s instead, I fell in love with Simsim, too. He would come right to me for a snuggle, and after I had left, Naureen told me, he would sit on the fersheh where I had slept and mew at Naureen, looking about for me.
A few weeks after his second surgery, though, Naureen was travelling to Morocco to vacation with her cousin and best friend. In Jordan, there’s not kennel to leave your cat at while you travel. A cat-sitter was needed, and I could not resist temporary custody of little furball Simsim.

Pets and Other Critters: Houseguests

Part 1: Houseguests | Part 2: Pets | Part 3: Goats and Chickens

Peace Corps can be a lonely, frustrating, thankless job, and the unconditional love and affection of a pet can be just what the psychologist would have ordered … if there were a psychologist in your remote village. A later Arabic classmate who joined Peace Corps because of my stories had a pet fish at her site in Mozambique. Not as cuddly as a cat, but I could see the simple, low maintenance appeal of a fish for company.
My “pet” was just as low maintenance. I had a gecko. Or perhaps a series of geckos. It was hard to tell; they all look alike, and we had a very casual relationship. My gecko was pink, about as long as my hand, and generally preferred the top-most eighteen inches of my walls. Sometimes, when I was blessedly home alone, he chittered to me in a little sound like the clatter of tiny teeth. Sometimes I tried to chitter back with teeth and tongue. Once we got to know each other better, I sometimes talked to him in my own language—unloading about my day, inquiring about his, exchanging one-sided pleasantries about the weather. He was not always there, though, and sometimes I did miss his company.

Habibi, Himar, Hummer

Last April, actress Lindsey Lohan made an unfortunate mistake in Arabic. As with this poor Coalition soldier in Iraq before her, traditional and social media, in their usual way, flashed it across the world as a terrible act of stupidity. As a fellow student of Arabic, I am sympathetic. I have had a few memorable mistakes of my own, like every time I stumbled to remember whether the appropriate response to a sneeze was yarHamulkum allah [God bless you] or yaHramkum allah [God damn you].
I want to tell you one of my stories, which happens to actually have a donkey in it just as Ms. Lohan's does, and to give some advice to Ms. Lohan and all language learners, Peace Corps Volunteers, world travelers and the rest of us.