Keeping a Pet in Cairo

Pets can make you feel at home, especially in an unfamiliar place.  We ended up leaving our cat, Ruby behind, but if you are traveling to Egypt, you can of course bring your pet.  I’ve heard of people doing it, but unfortunately I don’t have any info about costs, as I never planned to do it myself.  I do know several airlines will let you bring a small cat or dog right in the cabin (Air France is one).

Cairo has numerous pet shops.  You can find a pretty good variety of animals.  Parakeets, parrots, sparrows, kittens, puppies, turtles, fish, mice, and hamsters.  I personally was not impressed with the care taken of the animals.  The puppies weren’t feed pet food, but some mixture of soft cheese and other ‘people’ food.  I saw a dead hamster being pecked at by the other hamsters in the cage.  After my son begged and begged for a mouse, lizard or hamster, we finally compromised  with a sparrow.  Unfortunately, one of our pair of sparrows died within a month of purchasing it.  We also lost two turtles.  I’m not sure if the problem was the store or us.  I read a lot about care for turtles, their food and habitat, one thing they need is a heat lamp, which they did NOT have at the shop.  I did purchase a lamp, but it probably wasn’t adequate.

I’m not sure how easy it is to find a vet.  The way that street and farm animals are treated is often appalling, so I’m not sure how much demand there would be for medical treatment for animals.

A puppy will run you about $50, a kitten as well.  They are pure breeds.  Surprisingly dogs are a pretty common pet.  Surprising for two reasons, many muslims view living with dogs to be haraam, and, given the cramped conditions in Cairo, God knows why would you want a dog to share your space, particularly the large breeds that seemed popular.  I saw a lot of bull dogs!  Another drawback would be commercial food, I don’t remember specifics, but compared to other foods, dog and cat food were not cheap!  We purchased our little turtles for 15 L.E.’s, there were huge ones for over 100 L.E.  Birds go anywhere from about 20 to 150 L.E.’s.  Bird food and cages are pretty cheap as well.

Some people also have rabbits, although you won’t find them at the pet stores.  You can get them at the souk, I think for about 20-30 L.E.’s.  Of course more people prefer to eat them then keep them as pets.

Street dogs and cats abound, but I would NOT recommend taking one off the streets.  They are WILD animals.  The afore mentioned Ruby was a very mild and fat cat.  It was a big deal to see her jump up on the couch.  Cairo cats on the other hand can scale 8 foot walls!  I felt my heart in my throat several times when a cat jumped out of a dumpster right at me, just as I was throwing our trash inside!  Street dogs are the common mutt variety, tail between the legs, usually sleeping underneath cars during the day, avoiding the sun.  At night, they seem to roam in packs.  Some brothers reported being chased by them at the time of fajr.  I know some even took to carrying rocks to throw, just in case.  People from the ‘west’ are often dismayed to see the poor treatment of animals.  It is common to see the children of the poor taunting, teasing, or doing worse to the poor dogs in the streets.  Once we watched from the balcony, a group of ‘bawwab’ kids mistreat a dog that they’d tied up.  We yelled down at them, but most people just ignored them.  Alhamdulillah, one man came out of a building waving a  stick and made them scatter.  I shared an arabic class once with a Ukrainian girl and she came to class very upset about  seeing a group of kids mistreating a cat.  It is very unislamic to mistreat animals, but many of the people live pretty hard lives themselves and are ignorant to the idea of ‘animal rights’.

One thing which surprised us were the sheer number of animals wandering the streets.  Obviously there is no official neutering program in place.  I did hear tales of people poisoning animals to reduce their numbers, but I don’t know if that is true.

There are other non domesticated animals to be found in the streets.  Ferrets are pretty common.  You can occasionally see a hoopee bird in the park.  There are toads as well.  In the spring, the kids and I found toad eggs  in a park puddle.  We took them home and tried raise tadpoles and eventually toads, but unfortunately they didn’t live.  I found a pic of the typical street dogs, below.

What would you do?

I’ve had a number of cleaning women come a go, at least five.  Most of the women who clean house in Egypt (they are called shaggala) are not professional housekeepers.  The more well-off Egyptians will often hire women from other African countries to clean, and they are usually more expensive (and so I’ve heard, better at cleaning). 

I’ve had a lot of people warning me about trusting cleaning ladies (or workers in general).  Most people feel you should basically keep a watch on them at all times.  I don’t have the time or inclination to do this.  If I hire someone to clean, I don’t want to have to trail them around the house.  I’ve also been told you must be pretty firm, or else they’ll walk over you.  I’ve found this to be true also.  Most of the women started off cleaning excellently, but slacked off as time went on.  I’m just not a very good task master (or whatever you’d call standing over while they work). 

On two occasions, I’ve had stuff disappear from the house.  The first time, dh, made excuses for the person (suggesting maybe I lost the items in question, I didn’t), although no one else could have possibly taken the things that had gone missing.  For me however, the trust was basically gone, and our relationship changed.  I ceased to offer her food with us, and certainly didn’t feel like any chit-chatting.  We eventually asked her to stop coming. 

This latest time, several items have gone missing from my kitchen.  Minor stuff, two new packages of Dove soap, a full jar of honey, baking chocolate.  I’m in the middle of a move and the shaggala had been helping me to  clear the kitchen.  I noticed the soap gone right away, and the kids said ‘the cleaner must have taken it!’ (they’ve never liked any of the cleaners, but that’s a different story.)  I brushed it off, till I noticed the other items missing.  Finally I called her and asked what had happened.   She suggested that the things had gotten thrown out accidentally, and actually told me to look through the garbage for my things!  Allah knows best, I think it’s much more likely that the stuff found it’s way out of the house in the full bag of stuff she left with.  I did offer her some used clothing, and old toys.  I realize now I should have looked through the bag, but I’m just not that kind of person.  I guess I’d never make a good supervisor :).  I know that we should not accuse a muslim of theft without positive proof, and I didn’t accuse her outright.  But I can’t believe that she ‘accidentally’ threw out new items, and left empty jam jars on the counter.  It just doesn’t make sense.  I’m a pretty easy-going person, but I don’t take  kindly to people trying to walk over me.  She’d requested a few other things and actually wanted to buy some things I’m selling, but the deal is off and I don’t want her back.  It is always possible that she really did throw out a full jar of honey, but if she did, I still don’t want her back.  What would she throw away next!

The kids were complaining to our neighbor about the incident, and he told them to just forget about it and be patient.  That Allah has blessed us with more and them with less.  It’s not the stuff that really bothers me so much, it’s the idea that someone may have felt they had a right to it when it was mine.  Also the feeling of being made a fool of by trusting someone. 

To Give, or Not to Give…

On my way to the grocery store, a young boy, maybe 9 or 10 approached me, wearing torn jeans and dirty clothes.  His hands were held out, making gestures as though he was putting food in his mouth.  Without even thinking about it really I just turned away and kept going to the store.  At the entrance sat an old woman, who regularly sits there to beg.   

As usual, now that it’s gotten warm, there seems to be an increase in people begging, near the malls, supermarkets, major intersections,  etc.  People begging is a fact of life in Egypt.  They can present a quandary for foreigners.  For one thing, many from more properous countries have not seen the kind of poverty that exists in third world countries (believe it or not some Egyptians will dispute with you over whether or not Egypt is a third-world country, but that’s another story).  For another thing, foreigners can be the main target of beggers.  Foreigners seemed to be viewed as ‘rich’, even though we might be people of modest means in our own countries. 

When I first arrived here, I felt moved to give to most people who asked.  I never would have turned away someone like the young boy I saw today.  The first I remember was an old woman at the souk, who kissed the ruba junay I gave her (1/4 of an Egyptian pound), the second a woman crying in front of the masjid, holding onto her son.  As time passed, I became hardened, especially since it seemed that foreigners were special ‘targets.’  In my opinion, if someone is in need, they are not going to beg just when they see that you are not from Egypt.

I’ll recount some experiences.  I have had people actually run towards me.  One woman was hurrying, calling out ya madam, ya madam.  I kept going because I thought it was pretty audacious to chase after someone to ask for money.  Another woman beckoned me at the souk, making a tisk, tisk sound.  Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I stopped, thinking maybe she had a question,  she also was asking for money.

I’ve read travel books encouraging people not to give to beggars because it makes it difficult for other travelers.  Beggars will come to expect a handout.  There is a double dilemma for muslims.  Aren’t we supposed to ‘want for our brother what we want for ourselves?’  Aren’t there ahadith about the Prophet, salallahu aleyhe wassalaam, giving to who asked? 

I don’t turn everyone away.  I almost always give to elderly women.  There is just something very pitiful about an old woman out in the street begging.  Doesn’t she have children to care for her, family?  Maybe I see myself in these old women.  God knows I’d hate to be old and forced to beg. 

The people who I rarely give to are men and children.  I usually feel shy to give to men, even if they are old.  Occasionally if the kids are with me, I’ll hand them the money and let them give it.   I don’t give to children because most of the time it’s an adult putting them up to beg and I can’t agree with that.  I don’t judge the parents.  They were born into what looks to me like crushing poverty and most likely will die in it.  I don’t know what I would do in their situation, but I still don’t like someone pushing their kid to ask me.

The last group, disabled and younger women, it’s a case by case basis.  I’ve grown to be weary and somewhat suspicious because of all the trickters and professional beggars out there.  I’ll write about them later, inshallah.