maandag 14 juli 2014

unholy cats and dogs.

Once I witnessed what could be called a lynch mob. A dog catcher caught his prey on the central square of Marrakesh, Morocco. The crowd of Jema el Fna sucked to the crime scene as water to a plughole. I don’t know what Moroccan dog catchers tend to do with the stray dogs they gather eventually. I don’t know either, if this particular dog made it. I was deeply impressed, however.

The first thing that struck me when I went to Morocco in 2008, was the absence of pigeons. It might be clear that I’m not a big lover of these animals, but I never noticed how familiar they are to big cities. Visiting my first big squares outside of Western Europe, I was for the first time consciously missing these ‘birds’ as well.

Cats in Morocco, in Rabat

So when I came to Georgia, I was already prepared. There are pigeons here, but not that many. Compared to Rome, Amsterdam or London, there are none. Moreover, it might even be the case that there are more turtle doves than ring doves here.

In Morocco, there were cats - literally everywhere. I assume they fulfilled the ecological role of the city pigeon satisfactory, and they were a happy sight. The usual clashed between cats and dogs didn’t occur, as I saw only a few of their counterparts, including the instance described above.

Cats were everywhere, like here, in Volubilis, an ancient Roman city

In Tbilisi, there’s both cats and dogs. Moreover, in contrast to the vast majority of stray animals, they seem to be tame. There’s, to my knowledge, no flocks roaming around, attacking lone souls at night. I'm aware this isn’t a given. It was in Bishkek that I felt afraid of a dog for the first time. A group of stray dogs was blocking the street I intended to take. This weren’t lap dogs.

A dog in Ushguli, Georgia

I assumed there was a strong link between the local culture towards these animals, and the subsequent behaviour of the people around. The people I talked with about this assent. In Tbilisi the stray dogs are treated well, or at worse left alone, whilst the dogs in Morocco are chased, stoned and screamed at.

It is said that dogs are considered ritually unclean in Islam. This means they aren’t seen as a nice and loyal buddy. Probably this image arose from scavenger dogs (and wolves, foxes, jackals and hyenas – widespread in the Middle East). They carried diseases, including rabies. Moreover, the biggest contenders of the early Muslim Empire were the Persians. In these days, the Persians were Zoroastrians, and dogs are held in hight regard in this ancient religion. They are even considered particularly clean! The saint of my enemy might be my devil? However, the Quran says nothing about dogs. There were many contemporaries of Muhammad who kept hunting, shepherd and guarding dogs, and probably the prophet himself did as well. It’s the interpretation that makes the difference, also at the present.

There is no discussion that cats are very clean, ritually and what more

In times long gone, dogs were seen as unclean in Christianity and Judaism as well, for the same reasons described above. Moreover, cats weren’t seen as endearing purring pillows. As cats were linked with the Egyptian pantheon, they were seen as companions of the devil. In Medieval times, many cats ended up in the fire, with or without the old ladies they accompanied. They never had such a bad time in Islam. It was said Muhammad liked his pet cat very much.

Why are all my neighbourhood cats black?

Of course, I am curious if you have the same impressions as I had. Is there a cats and dogs border, does it lie in the Strait of Gibraltar and on the Turkish-Georgian border, and does it have anything to do with religious culture? After the wine and filter coffee boundaries, I am curious if there's more unexpected lines to draw.