When I was planning my travel to Morocco, I read a lot about the street cats. Some cultures treat stray animals with care and respect. Other cultures do not. I didn't know on which side of the continuum Morocco would land until I arrived but I hoped for the best. I'm a bleeding heart for small fluffy animals with big eyes.
While I won't go as far as to say that Moroccans love the street cats universally, a number of them certainly do adore them. People seem to share the responsibility for the cats so that in essence, the cats are less street cats than they are everyone's cats. I often saw bowls of water, kibble and even rustic litter boxes tucked into inconspicuous corners of the medina. Cats would congregate around fish stalls, restaurants and butcher shops. More than once I saw tasty scraps tossed to a patiently waiting group. The men shrugged sheepishly when they saw me watching them distribute the bits of food. I guess I'm not the only bleeding heart out there.
My Marrakech tour guide, Aziz, gave several kitties little ear scratches as we toured the city and told me part of the Muslim faith is about valuing all life, which is why the community cares for the street cats. Laila, my yoga teacher in Essaouira, told me about the woman who runs a TNR program there. TNR stands for Trap, Neuter and Release. One ear tip is also clipped so that it's clear which cats have already been attended. The point of TNR is to keep feral cat populations to a minimum but also places a high value on the lives of the existing cats, so it dovetails well with the Muslim faith as Aziz explained it to me.
One of my favorite interactions in Morocco was when a street cat in Essaouria greeted me affectionately, wrapping herself around my lower legs, and head-butting me. I knelt down to give her some love and a local Muslim man flashed me a giant smile and a nod of recognition. I felt like I had valued this cat by returning her greeting and that in observing that, the man watching had valued me.
In the two streets on either side of my hotel, there were rows of deep window sills with ornamental metal gratings. One day I saw the cream-colored tabby, pictured above, snoozing - and then posing - in one of these window sills.
There were also two groups of kittens living in the window sills. After discovering them, I visited both groups several times per day. I called the kittens that were closest to the entrance of my hotel the Filles kitties, since they were adjacent to a shop called Histoire des Filles. The black and white kitten that leads this post is a Filles kitty. He was young - you can tell because of his blue eyes - but quite active. His litter mates had terrible conjunctivitis and some of the girls in my yoga group were regularly dosing them with antibiotic drops, tenderly hoping to save their sight. More of my fellow bleeding hearts.
The kittens in the window sills on the other side of the hotel were adjacent to a restaurant and cooking school called Madada. These kittens were the tiniest little balls of fur. Their eyes were sealed closed and they were smushed together in a wriggly lump as they nursed. The funny part about the Madada kitties is that when I was taking a course at the cooking school, learning to make lamb tagine, the momma cat scampered through the open door, raced into the restaurant and nestled one of her kittens into a basket of freshly washed, white linen napkins. She was shooed away and the napkins were taken to be re-washed. When I next saw her, she and her litter had settled into the window sill. They had a cardboard box as well as dishes of water and both wet and dry food for momma. By the end of my week in Essaouira, the kittens' eyes had begun to open.
The day I wandered through the fishing port, I spied a black and white momma cat on the dock. I trained my camera on her out of pure habit, setting my aperture wide open and zooming in (F4 and 105mm) as much as I could on my beloved Canon lens. I was rewarded for being in the right place at the right time. She jumped off the dock to the gunnel of a nearby fishing boat, disappeared for a few minutes and then reappeared, carrying a kitten. My heart stuttered just a bit as she walked to the front of the boat and leapt, kitten in mouth, over the water, back to the dock. There she paused for a minute to adjust her grip on her kitten, and then trotted away. I was so grateful that she hadn't dropped that kitten in the water. There was no question I'd have to jump in and rescue it if she had.