I love cats! I have grown up my entire life around cats, and after living abroad for 5 years, I have finally found a family internationally who has a cat. Japanese families may have small dogs, but that’s about the only pet you will find in their homes. South Koreans hate cats and are oftentimes afraid of them; it is a terribly rare occasion that you would see a family with a cat. Kuwait had plenty of cats, but they all lived on the streets and were quite dirty. Occasionally a foreigner would take a cat in but never a Kuwaiti family.
My host family in Georgia has a cat! His name is Rizhi (pronounced Reejee); he’s less than a year old. From what I can tell, he just showed up at their door one day, and they took him in. This cat is very well respected in the household, and for all intense purposes, is very much viewed as a member of the family.
I have often seen Rizhi held like a baby, and my host brother has even taken the time to tie a piece of paper to a string to create a toy for him. I have also witnessed my host brother come home from the market with bags full of groceries just to turn around and go back because he forgot Rizhi’s food.
The smallest member of our family goes out every night to meet his “girlfriend,” as my host brother says, but he is always home the next morning. He sleeps in one of three places: on the chair, on the couch, or under the pechi (wood-burning stove). For the most part, he has free range in the house; the only place I have seen him scolded for going is the kitchen counter which is actually a relief.
We have a number of nearby cousins and neighbors who come over randomly throughout the day. They also adore Rizhi! I’ve never seen a cat get so much attention. I truly appreciate a culture that takes care of animals in such a respectful manner. In other cultures I have lived in, I have often seen cats and dogs abused, and sadly, I believe that the way animals are treated in a culture says a lot about a place. Respecting animals teaches respect for all living things.
Surprisingly, the simple idea of having a cat around makes me feel more at home. Whether Rizhi is sitting on my lap, basking in the heat of the stove, or playfully attacking my hand, I love the little guy. It’s comforting to have a companion that surpasses all language barriers.