Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cat Drama

I have not slept well the past few nights.  I have a horrid, pathological fear of spiders.  So turning back my bedcovers the other night and finding a large (for NH) icky eight-legged beast there pretty much ruined the night for me.  I was the only one awake and had a choice between fleeing or killing.  I chose to kill (for one of the first times ever), helped along by an electronic bug zapper.  Ignore the fact that I kept the voltage on for so long that the thing eventually sparked...  Anyway, after completely redoing my bedclothes I tried to sleep, but the night was ruined.  Every noise or slight movement made me jerk awake frightened.  And it doesn't just last one night.  I had another horrid beast run across me in the living room last night, which almost had me launching my precious laptop across the room in an effort to flee from the chair as quickly as possible.  So I have not been sleeping well.

This morning I woke at approximately 5:30 to Callaghan jumping on me asking for breakfast.  I do not tolerate such behavior - breakfast is served at more tolerable hours, like 11am.  I quickly went to the bathroom and then went back to bed.  At 7:03 I awoke to a horrific scream.  It took me a while to figure out what it was.  I got up and saw Griffin run into my room.  I heard the scream again.  As I walked out of my room I saw a flash of white tear past me, with a black and white cat quick on his heels. 

It took me a few seconds to put this all together.  What I was seeing was our outdoor feral barn cat, Tripper, chasing my indoor pampered house cats.  Tripper had never been in the house before.  I didn't know how he got in.  By this time my cats were hiding in my room, so I closed that door and went to see about Tripper.  He ran past me into the kitchen and then, when I attempted to herd him outside, ran into the bathroom.  So I closed that door to buy some time to assess the situation.

The back door was still closed and locked; no broken windows; no other open doors.  How did he get in?  I went to the bathroom and opened the door, and he tore past me into the spare room.  I followed him.  And saw it.  The window screen was punched out.  I hadn't even realized the window was open with a screen.  Callaghan and Griffin had recently caught wind of Tripper (literally, smelling him through the back door), and he them.  They had had a few staring matches through the kitchen windows.  But this was evidence of an all-out territory war. 

About this same time I realized that there was white fur in large patches all over the spare room (currently home to my brother's t-shirt screen printing machinery and all its accoutrements).  This scared me, as I realized it had not been just a chase but, more probably, a fight.

I heard my mother waking up and alerted her to the situation.  She came downstairs and went in to talk sense into Tripper.  By this time he was loudly meowing and trembling in a corner.  She was able to pick him up with only a few scratches and took him back outside.  I closed the window and removed the screen.

By then my heart was pounding a mile a minute and I started to worry that Callie was injured.  I opened my bedroom door, and Griffin came out cautiously.  I opened their breakfast food and spoke soothingly, hoping to coax Callie out.  Griffin went to inspect breakfast, still no Callie.  A few minutes later he emerged.

His normally luscious white coat was marred by spots of black and orange - apparently a result of brushing against the industrial ink cans in the spare room during the pursuit/fight.  He did not appear to have any blood or visible wounds, and he certainly didn't look like he had lost a pound of fur.

He let me pet him but remained hidden under a chair, haunches up and trembling.  A few minutes later I picked up Griffin to reassure him.  It was then things got really weird.  Callie started growling - a low constant growl.  Griffin hissed back at him.  I have never, ever seen either of them act that way toward one another.  Frankly that was frightening.  For the next few minutes they circled each other, hissing and growling and refusing to cede territory.  Wow.  I started to get all upset and googled cat behavior post-fight and tried to figure out what to do.  My mother told me they'd be fine in time; they just needed to work it out and get rid of the adrenaline.

I went back to sleep for another couple of hours, very uneasily again.  Griffin came in to check on me but didn't stay.  I think Callie sought refuge upstairs.

I woke up a bit later and witnessed some more posturing, growling, and hissing between these previously inseparable kitties.  I hoped it would ease in time, but I was pretty paranoid that I was facing permanent traumatic behavior and personality changes.

After checking all possible points of entry to the house, I reluctantly left the cats and went to the gym.  I worried about them the entire time and was unsure what I'd come home to find.

Both cats greeted me within a few minutes of coming in the house, and I saw both of them eat and drink.  They weren't actively hissing/growling, but they weren't near each other either.  I sat down at the computer, and they both joined me for pets.  On separate sides, but near each other.  After a few minutes I caught them both curled up on the couch - not touching, but close to each other.  A little while later they both curled up in the same armchair - again, not touching, but pretty close.  Neither cat joined me for an afternoon nap (hey, I'm on home leave and am not sleeping well at night!), which is unusual, but they were both affectionate when I woke up and when Mom got home.  I am feeling mighty relieved.

When I envisioned writing this post earlier today, right after the incident in question, I assumed I was going to be writing to seek support.  Luckily after 13 hours we seem to be close to normal.  Callie's ink spots are even fading.  I think we're on the road to recovery.

Tripper, however, is nowhere to be found.  He ate breakfast but hasn't touched his food bowl since them.  Tripper came to us in 2004 as a kitten from a friend's farm in PA, originally named Ortiz.  His littermate, Pablo, also joined us.  (My family are all Red Sox fans!)  They were barn cats but friendly and not afraid of people.  Pablo disappeared several years ago, having either moved on to a better home or meeting an untimely demise at the hands of a fisher cat (all too common for feral cats around here).  By then Ortiz had been renamed Tripper, for his penchant to dangerously wind in between my father's legs as he did outdoor chores.  About a year ago he disappeared.  Completely.  Not a trace of him was to be found.  We assumed he'd had an unfortunate encounter with a fisher cat.  (This happens a lot, sadly.  We've lost many a cat to the wilds of the woods.)  So imagine my parents' surprise when Tripper showed back up a few months ago after more than 10 months of not being around.  The joke is that he came home to retire.  He spends his days lounging in sunspots in the yard and entertains himself by hunting mice (and a rat yesterday - well done!) and terrorizing chipmunks and squirrels.  He continues to live up to his name.  I think today's event was just as traumatic for him and he's probably nursing his psychological wounds somewhere safe and quiet.

Oh the cat drama! 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Jeddah: Five Good, Five Bad

The OTP for this edition of the FSBRU (thanks Jill!) is five good and bad things about your current post, in honor of bidding season.  Given that I am between overseas posts and that there are precious few NH jobs (hi Melissa!) and none where I live, I'll concentrate on Jeddah.  You can also see a previous post here about things to love about Jeddah.  I may repeat myself a wee bit. 

First, the good.

1. Quality of life:  It is possible to maintain a very high quality of life in Jeddah.  The basic infrastructure and consumer goods market is such that you never want for items in grocery stores, anything you desire can be found somewhere in the city, and electricity and water are extremely stable.  The roads are in pretty good condition, even if drivers are insane and traffic a bit chaotic, and they're well maintained.  Domestic help is plentiful, affordable, and dependable.  The sheer variety of stores means shopping for name brands is easy (and popular among locals). 

2.  Great professional experience/visibility:  This is especially true for people working in FSO reporting jobs - PD and P/E, FCS - who not only work on very high priority portfolios but spend much of their time out and about working with their counterparts.  (Plus, for untenured FSOs, this means mucho comp time as you work more than 40 hours pretty much every week.)  Your reporting gets the attention of high-level people, and you're working on current issues and seeing history in the making.  Internally-focused jobs have less visibility, but they are just as important and given incumbents the opportunity to see and do a lot during their tour.  It's a relatively small post - and a constituent post at that - so there's plenty to go around.  We had regular Cabinet-level visits and lots of other VIP visits in addition to our normal duties while I was there.  Particularly for first and second tour FS professionals, you'll see a broad spectrum of situations and problems and opportunities and gain a lot of experience in a very short amount of time.

3.  Recreation:  There is so much to do!  This is a great family post as every restaurant/mall/store has, at the least, a high tolerance for children and, more typically, diversions and amusements geared towards them.  Amusement parks abound (with varying degrees of safety), playgrounds and pools are everywhere, and there's always kid-centered activities going on at the compounds.  The Red Sea is right there with its beautiful beaches and inviting waters and coral reefs.  Superb snorkeling and diving, boating, fishing, waterskiing, you name it.  Lots of barbecuing - grilling is a year-round activity.  Lots of family-oriented events.  Jeddah is home to awesome restaurants from every ethnic and trendy persuasion, and you can be a true gourmand at post.  Everything from hole in the wall local food to high end hoity-toity hotel brunch buffets, with everything in between.

4.  Travel:  Millions of people pass through Jeddah each year for Hajj and Umrah, so it makes sense that Jeddah is extremely accessible.  This means that the source countries of pilgrims are also very accessible, which is pretty much every country in the world!  Flights to amazing destinations are plentiful and can be quite affordable if booked well in advance.  I visited numerous neighboring countries as well as a couple more far-flung destinations.  I made it a point to travel at least for a long weekend every 6 weeks to 2 months, which made my tour much more enjoyable. 

5.  Non-smoking!  Right before I left, Saudi Arabia announced that smoking of any sort will be forbidden in public, to include restaurants, malls, and stores.  Hurrah!  A similar smoking ban in airports took effect shortly after I arrived, and it made traveling oh so much more pleasant, even if implementation was spotty.  The new ban includes shisha as well as cigarettes/cigars, which will make dining out oh so much more enjoyable.  I wish this had happened earlier, but I'm glad it happened at all.

And, of course, the bad.

1.  Not being able to drive:  This only goes for women, but it will permeate the lives of everyone.  At first I thought it would be really cool to be driven everywhere, but it got old really, really quickly.  Our drivers were great, but I missed the spontaneity and independence and privacy that comes with being able to drive yourself.  So advice to all:  ship a car.  Single women - you can hire a driver if you want to have your own 24/7 person transport; I was close to wanting to fork out the money for this at some points.  Men and families:  the key to high morale is having your own car.  Seriously.  Don't rely on Motorpool.

2.  Culture shock:  Every post has a degree of culture shock, but KSA is very different in many ways.  Women will likely wear an abaya most of the time (I usually didn't, but I was the sole exception during my time there among Mission women), and even when you don't you always have to be conscious of conservative dress - long sleeves, long pants, long skirts, high necklines, etc.  For men - no shorts, modest t-shirts at a minimum.  This doesn't sound very difficult in itself (and relatively typical of the Gulf), but combine it with the following, and it becomes oppressive at times:  EVERYTHING closing five times a day for 30+ minutes at prayer time, the constant threat of running into the religious police (mutawwa), gender segregation in most public places, navigating the single vs family entrances to restaurants, etc., etc., etc. 

3.  Weather:  For eight months of the year it is difficult to enjoy outside activities.  From mid-March to late October the weather is oppressive.  Highs well above 110 and averaging 100+ with varying levels of humidity.  It can be likened to constantly walking in the path of a hair dryer or sticking one's head in an oven.  Pools are unbearably hot during the day unless they have chillers, which are expensive and infrequently found.  Playgrounds during the day are abandoned because the equipment is too hot to use.  I loved to walk outside in my compound, but even at midnight during the spring/summer it was unbearably hot and muggy still.  Outside events are impossible without multiple concentrated fans/misters.  Walking even from your home to your car to your office will leave you soaked by sweat and uncomfortable for the rest of the day.  Keep in mind the public dress code of #2 and it's even more difficult to stay cool.  That said, the weather during the winter is quite pleasant and conducive to outdoor dining and outdoor pursuits, especially in the evenings. 

4.  Safety concerns:  This one really runs the spectrum.  There's a constant high level of threat (Consulate General Jeddah was attacked in 2004), which I don't need to detail.  This doesn't generally impact one's day-to-day living, but it's something that needs to be taken into consideration.  On a more applicable level, my biggest pet peeve about KSA was the nonuse of seatbelts and car seats.  It's unusual to see anyone belted in, but it's disturbingly common to see infants and toddlers riding on laps in the front seat (sometimes steering the car from the driver's lap) or older children careening from the front to the back to each side of the car.  I never ever ever saw a child secured in a car seat - occasionally sitting in one, but never actually strapped to the seat nor the seat to the car.  It's even worse because traffic accidents are frequent (rules of the road are anything goes, and drivers are generally self-centered) and traffic fatalities common.  It hurt my heart to see all these children unrestrained.  Beyond that I question the safety of many of the amusement rides that are everywhere and other little things that now escape my mind (ah, the bliss of home leave!).  However, you can get a sense of some of the concerns from these items.

5.  Smells:  (This may just be me, but I am running out of things...)  I am extremely sensitive to strong scents (they cause headaches, migraines, and nausea) - I can't even have scented candles burning in the house or wear fragrances.  This can be difficult to navigate in everyday life anywhere in the world, but I found it particularly challenging in Saudi.  Most people wear strongly-scented perfumes and colognes most of the time, and I constantly had to hold my breath to avoid the onslaught of smells.  Oud and incense are very popular and omnipresent, and one whiff of these have me running for fresh air and an Excedrin constantly.  The strong cardamom-infused coffee served EVERYWHERE actually makes me physically sick, and it's impossible to avoid.  I actually hated going to millions of meetings each week just because I knew I'd have to somehow dodge the coffee.  At the time, smoking of cigarettes, cigars, and shisha was rampant everywhere, and smoke from these sickens me quite quickly.  The sweet smoke of shisha is particularly potent.  I felt I was never free from these heavy scents except in my own home, which got tiring after a while.  I know this may seem a petty thing, but it significantly impacted my life for two years.

Overall, Jeddah and KSA are what you make of them, like most posts.  You can be insanely happy and fulfilled professionally and personally, or you can be bitter and negative and count the days till R&R and PCS.  You can make mountains out of molehills or embrace simple changes in the pace and pattern of life.  I enjoyed my two years there, but I think I would have enjoyed Jeddah more if I had a family there.  It's a difficult post for singles, particularly women.  But in the grand scheme of things, how many people can honestly throw out the line, "when I lived in Saudi Arabia..."?  It's a guaranteed conversation starter for the rest of my life!  Happy bidding!