Winner Stands Alone

I have just finished helping the traveling vet fixing the last adult males of The Whiskers' Syndicate, and tomorrow I will have the last two females. I will then have a few months, maybe two, or three, before the next batch of cats reach maturity and the cycle continues.

In part, I am grateful. Eventually, after trying and struggling and dragging myself and the finances to fix everyone at the sanctuary, the job is done, for now.

In other part, I know that I still have a long way to go. I still have four in the colony nearby, two standalone on nearby street, and another six, if not more, in other part of town.

It sounds like a good plan; once all of these colony cats were fixed, the time will come for me to come back and fix my own refuges: Donna and the babies, who will then reach maturity.

In between my preparation earlier that day a close friend popped up on Facebook Messenger with her usual bouncy merry happy attitude.

Hi! How are you doing today? I am with my dog doing this and that and whatever and it's fun! I want to do this and that and whatever and you should do this and that and whatever and I am going to take a beat now hugs!

So, um, what happened to "How are you doing today?" I guess it's a rhetorical question; but she done that to me all the time so I just shrug and move on with my own life. It doesn't really matter how I am doing today as long as she has fun and I figured she just popped up to tell me that she had fun.

At around the same time I was trying to reach out to my other close friend who is getting ready for her big break and flew half way across USA to meet her family. She is a busy woman. She volunteers with various animal rescues and she still squeeze time to help The Whiskers' Syndicate. This must be a very busy time for her so I thought I'd help her as a little token of gratitude so I nudge her through messenger and offer my help. I didn't know, and she didn't tell me that she has another event that she coordinated so she did not reply immediately and when she finally did, she replied to my questions with short, telegraphic message that immediately put me in my place: out of her way.

She has been that way even when I told her my plan of a fund raiser week. Every other rescues I know all over the world have events on line and off so I thought I'd join the them and have a little online event to fund raise and celebrate the new lease of lives for a dozen of baby cats that I recently pulled out of the brink of death. I thought it will be fun to share with everybody and I thought everybody would like to come over and be happy knowing that they have a great part in saving lives.

Usually she can catch the spirit, but with such short messages (funny thing is she always feel awkward if I am busy and give her a telegraphic conversation) I knew it there and then that she was too busy and she is not interested in my plan or at least not too much. She has the matching challenge with her and that's all that matter; but to appreciate me she is willing to adopt some of my ideas and for that I am grateful. I re arrange my schedule so I can be more free to post during the week and work at the event so I don't add to her burden but I am not sure if she even see that possibility and let me help; hence I gratefully step aside.

However, it seems like the world revolved without me. The event was a disaster. No one come; no one responded to the matching challenge, and it took a few days for a single quiz question to be answered by ten people (thank you Eve Corbett!).  My friend sweep the page back from my hand and deliver her own writing and people start to look. I realize it then that the event was a bad idea, and that public might have liked her posts more than mine (and therefore responded better to her articles) so I thought of cancelling the rest of the events and stick with her never failed matching challenge.

During the surgeries the vets and I conversed about how people asked vet about things and bring their pets to be examined, but out of the vet practice they look around Google and laymen's forums to look for cheaper way to handle their animals. Many if not all then choose to treat the animals their own (cheaper) way and many if not all of those animals ended up dead or worse and owner pressurize the vet to fix whatever mistake had been done (they cover their own sin of course, by saying they don't know what happened and the pet is just found that way) If the pet is (as expected) dead, they can blame it on the vet.

That's Indonesian reality.

So what is the point of asking a vet's opinion if you are not going to go through with it? Some don't want to bring their pet to the vet or the vet to come to their place. They prefer to ask by text or whatsapp or Blackberry Messenger or you know what else because then they will have a professional opinion for free. They don't care that vets usually just give general ideas because they cannot diagnose without physically examining the pet, but who cares; it's just an animal and they can always put two and two together between the vet, forums, google translate and half ass logic.

We also talked about how expats, who comes from "first world countries" or "sovereign nation" treated other people from the second or third world and the rest like a piece of shit and that we all should be grateful that they are so generous to us because otherwise we are still slaves and even now some of us would rather be their slave because they pay with US Dollars instead of our worthless money.

It's not that we are as good as them anyway. We know that we're way behind the rest of the world, but it doesn't make us less human than the others. Some of Indonesian youth do move on, get out of their cave (read: comfort zone) and try to build a better place that can be proudly called Indonesia, our homeland.

During the surgery Milk left her pack and sleep under my chair; occasionally peeking out to see if I am done and when she saw that I haven't, went back to her curling spot and back to sleep. At times,  I will look straight back at her with my eyes speaking out loud

Thank you, I am sorry I haven't done. I will go back to you so please hang in there.

She didn't say anything but I know it in her eyes that she does understand before she walked back to the fluffy mat under my chair and back to sleep.

Verily, there are times when animals has higher understanding than human being and it humbles me more that it comes from a discarded, ill ridden baby cat.

When we're done I asked the vet if she can give me a ride downhill so I can buy more sanitizer for equipment to be used for tomorrow and to get myself some lunch. I offered to buy her some but she said she got her lunch paid by the clinic.

She gave me a ride and when I am done, I walked home alone under Bandung's scorching heat that reached 42C (107F) and complete dryness to bake you to crisp. Bandung usually moved from 17C to 29C (62F-84F) but now the temperature at the peak of the day can reach 42C(107F) to drop to 15C (59F) at night. The extreme rise and drop between day and night temperature is detrimental to animals, especially street animals that does not have a good immune to protect them. Many become sick and the antibiotic abuse (thanks to the smart ass forums all over the internet) make the bug resistant and expose animals to even greater risk.

Milk was the first to greet me as soon as I put the bottles down on the table. I picked her up and cradled her in my arm. She looked pale, but content. Her eyes have been telling me that she is not well. Two other kittens were pawing my legs and trying to climb my jeans. One has watery eyes so I pay attention for the possibility of Chlamydia, and the other one looked lethargic so I made mental note to give him extra B12.

At the back of the cattery Jack is still fighting distemper. Harley, Torbie and two others have just gone out of their own bout of URI. Bon Ami's UTI is coming back so I will have to give him tomato juice again. One of the colony cat also has trouble with health lately.

Aside from all that I have to divide my attention to Lance's mom who is dealing with her first case of distemper, and recently rescued a small kitten who has bad diarrhea. Gratefully she is careful and is consulting experts and vets instead of following some smart ass forum or Google who gives strong GUT antibiotics to treat URI. Oxymoron, I know, but that's the reality here.

I have just Peta and Split Ear to calicivirus but I told no one about it because one of my two closest friends woofs around looking all happy and it seems likely that she is too busy to stop bouncing and listen to my answer to her "how are you doing", the other one was too busy with other things and I need time and space to process the whole hell that broke lose on me.

I took Milk to my room and lay her down my own blanket which is also her favorite. She rolled over and hugged my fingers like milk bottle and start purring. Since she came from different litter she never really fit in with the others and follows me everywhere as her mom instead of Tabitha, and later Jane Marple, who stepped forward and become surrogate mothers for the babies, including her.

I saw her swollen eyes and the thick mucus that made her breathe through her mouth instead of nose. I put her in the nebulizer in the morning so I cannot give her another one until later at night.

I got a message from a Polish woman about a single survivor kitten at the edge of the forest near her boarding.

I looked at Milk. She is struggling with her breath and she is still hugging my fingers. so instead of typing I dictate my phone to say the following:

So that you understand what I mean: if "normal" Indonesian houses looks like yours, houses in Dago Pakar, that lady's place, is Buckingham Palace or The White House. It's no joke, though I hope it is.

This is Indonesian reality.

If possible, I don't want to leave home. I have enough cats, I have sick ones, I have Milk, and I don't have money, time, space and energy to care for another. If possible, I want to just turn the request away by the spell of "we cannot save them all"; if possible I want to stay with Milk because I had the feeling that if I left her now, I will never seen her again. Last time I have that feeling I denied it and I lost a cat who is half my brother and I don't want to repeat the same sin even in another seven reincarnation.

But I remember Tortie, who lived the rest of her life in a forest park without tooth and was on her way to starvation had I didn't meet her and I bet no one would want to pick the kitten up if I turn the request away.

This is Indonesian reality

I also remember three kittens that someone dumped in a box on a bus shelter that required me to run half an hour back from where I dropped off my boss' car (I was on a job interview and he doesn't like animals) and two of them were already flat on the street and the only survivor, who will be known as Monday, only lives for less than two months with us.

This is Indonesian reality

And talking about reality, when Monday's story went viral by the courtesy of Harmony Fund, people wrote me these things:

This woman is a fake. I would have stopped the car right there and then and scoop them up.

In Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand traffic can be so horrible you can't stop at all, still this can be avoided but unfortunately not enough was done.

I can't believe this lady left the kittens for half an hour before she came back, I would have faked a broken car and saved the kittens.

I am not sure if the commentator knows about this but in Indonesia, if you broke your car in the middle of the road, people will blast their car horn at you for five minutes straight and swear at you when they manage to wiggle their way around the traffic and if you are lucky they will spat at you. If you are a woman, one or two men will swipe their hand past your butts. The road is packed.

This is Indonesian reality.

I called Lance's mom if she would like to tag along. She has a penchant of rescue but she doesn't have experience so I thought I'd show her a chip of my life.

I waited until Milk fall asleep and jumped right back out to the streets because that park is a popular tourist destination and there's only one road to go to that place and that road will be exasperatingly condensed that it is impossible to pass within two hours unless I run. It was five pm Friday and I made an appointment at 6:30.

Before I went out I stroke her fur and whisper You are going to be all right. Hang in there. I will be right home.

I picked Lance's mom up and on my way.

I have never met this lady and her husband and the signal there is not so good. It's a forest and this is Indonesia. We do not have 4G LTE until last month and even 3.5G/HSDPA is troublesome. When I have clear view of the sky and the signal is back I tried to call her husband's number she gave but no one pick up the phone. I keep trying for another one hour and by then the taxi meter quoted me two hundred thousand Rupiah.

When some man finally picked up the phone I told him who I am and he immediately blasted me for being late and that I don't mean well and that I was lying when I told him I have been trying to call.

I was gobsmacked. I raised my voice to top his and told him I was just trying to help.

The phone was hung up and a few minutes later his wife, the Polish woman called and as soon as I picked up, she started on the same tirade.

I asked So what do you want now? You got me here just to swear at me or what?

Among another few:

All I want to do is help the cat. She is alone, and afraid, and skinny and sick.

You were late, we already go home.

I am pregnant, and I can't be too cold, I don't feel so good so we go home

I don't have car, we only have motor (cycle)

My shots between her tirade:

I don't have car either, and I don't even have motor, I got here by taxi.

and that is because there's no bus or other local transport past 5 pm.

Her answer:

Don't scream at me, I don't like people screaming at me (I did not. If I talk the usual volume she can't hear me)

You have to respect people.

You have to respect people's time

You have to respect people's good will to rescue

You have to respect other woman

You have to respect people's opinion

I respect all lives, so I respect animals. You are suppose to respect animals.

I am pregnant, I don't have car, I only have motor. I don't feel so good. My husband said I don't feel so good (husband is local)

I will write bad reviews about you

I will tell everyone you are not a good person

I will report your organization and say bad about it

I will tell everyone and write everywhere that you do not respect other people.

I blasted at her just once HEY! and she was so shocked at the fierceness of my voice that she shut up.

[Name] if I don't respect you, and if I don't respect my own words, I won't be here, and I won't be talking to you nor listening to your tirade. I don't have car either, I don't even have motor, so I take taxi, and I won't be paying two hundred thousand Rupiah for it if I don't appreciate your willing to help.

If I don't respect the life of this kitten you have been talking about, I won't be here in the first place, responding to a complete stranger who would like to meet me in a forest.

Fine if you want to write all of those. This is not the first time someone stepped all over my head because they are expat and because I went to lower places to help animals. Just because you are expat doesn't mean you are always right.

She gasped, then said I will be there in ten minutes just wait. And hung up.

And here I am, a single woman, with stranger taxi driver, by the forest, in the dark of the night.

I am so stupid.

When they showed up she continue to protest but I just shove her into the taxi, sit by the driver, and have her husband use the motorcycle to guide us through the forest to a dilapidated stall in the middle of nowhere where the kitten is because she can't have it with her and meet me at the park's gate to hand it over.

I didn't say a word all the way there, but I noticed that Lance's mom was trying to explain to her that I have sick cats, and things to take care of, that more than one person pulled a prank at me by sending SOS messages on behalf of some cat or kitten and have me go to weirdest places. The only thing I said:

I do not normally take in any animals because I am already overrun with them. I made an exception just for a single cat, because I think you are genuine and I go length for that.

So we got to the stall, she showed me where she left her Whiskas and step aside and watch.

I remembered my Australian mother told me that none of the westerners in the animal rescue whom she knows want to rescue the way I do, going into the sewer or climb the garbage truck. They all just call animal control, have someone else dirtied their hand on the work they could have done and then pick the animal or adopted them.

I heard her talking to Lance's mom that she feed the cat in the morning but she doesn't want to go there at night because it's in the middle of nowhere and it's dark and there's a lot of wild animals there like bats and dogs and monkeys.

And she wants me to go there by myself to pick the kitten up?

I see nothing but pile of woods until Lance's mom used her cell phone as a torch and I called out while peeking around. A white and tabby kitten squiggle his way and come straight into my arm.

The polish woman said Now I am happy.

Then she told me

You can list her for adoption.

I said: People don't adopt around here. They buy purebred and breed themselves.

Yea... yea people like to buy Persian and breed them and sell the kittens. I just called your organization because I am very worried about this kitten

There is no organization. It's just me.

(her eyes a little bit bigger but no comment yet) I don't know how many you have now, but I am glad you take the kitten.

I have around 100.

Wow. And how many people are working for you?

None.

Oh...

You are alone? How do you manage all of things?

From morning to morning.

[silence]

She raised her hands Ah well, let's forget what just happened, I am happy the kitten is saved, I don't like this atmosphere.

My silent remark: Gee, with all those blabbery cussing and swearing and screaming you haven't run out of atmosphere already?

I turned around and walk into the taxi, it doesn't matter if she wants to follow or not.

As we drove her to her boarding she keeps commenting how silent is the cat and ask if it's sleeping. I told her the cat is sniffing around but is comfortable.

I dropped off Lance's mom to her own boarding and wade through the rest of the traffic jam back home and spend over three hundred thousand Rupiah for the taxi and some tip for the driver for being kind enough to wait there in the forest instead of just leaving me behind.

It was somewhere over nine pm. The cats haven't got dinner, but the first thing I do is look at Milk.

She is still sleeping, I stroke her fur and whispered that I am home and I will feed the others now and afterwards tend to her.

Just as I closed the door Milk start screaming.

I rushed back in and watch her entered a seizure. She trashes around so much and she defecate and urinate all over my blanket.

All of a sudden, the demanding hordes of mobsters at the back and in the house fell silent. There was no sound around except for her scream and I have no doubt that I want to drop everything and be with her.

My cell phone was outside the room, so I reached out to the older one I kept as spare and sent two messages, one to my closest friend, the other to Lance's mom.

Milk has epilepsy, pray for her.

She calmed down after an hour, so I wrapped her inside the blanket so she won't fall if she started again, and go out and feed the others.

When I came back half an hour later I saw my friend responded and asked if I get access to medication.

It was broad daylight in Ohio but its the middle of the night in Bandung, but I am sure she didn't think of it, from the way she asked.

I typed no.

She said, that's suck.

I typed Haha, you have no idea what sucks means here.

It was the only moment I become myself the whole day.

She said she posted and ask if someone has ideas how to handle the situation.

By then I already went back out to give medicine et cetera and when I came back, I saw her posting Fanny's picture instead of Milk's and ask if anyone had a clue.

The comments under her post are all confident, sure, and along the "oh, that's easy" tone: Phenobarbital.

It annoys me because I know it's phenobarbital but I can't blame them for answering that way because there was not enough information about what had happened to Milk before, that she is only three months old with the size of two, and that she is only two ounces and a half.

Still, I sincerely thank everyone because these people are the first positive reinforcement I ever had through out the week. I can't but appreciate people speaking at length to me and provide me links and conversation instead of a bunch of telegraphic speech here and there.

Milk continue to have two more sessions throughout the night and I stay wide awake beside her at all time. 

At 3 am today, she no longer has power to move. The seizures made her defecate and urinate all over my bed and throw herself from end to end.

She struggled to crawl closer. I hold her close and tell her she can go if she wants, and she went to join Berry.

AftIer Milk passed away, I sit alone in silence, watching her. She looked peaceful; accomplished.

In complete contradiction, I feel miserable, belittled, left out. From two of my closest friends to complete stranger, all of my memories jumbled together into a messy blunder and the first I pick out is anger.

The ten commandments of respect that were spat onto my face lingers, and the time I spend handling those spats cost me the time I could have spent with one of the kittens that God had entrusted me to care for and on her last day on earth. All she asked was my fingers to hug, all I give her is "hang in there" three times.

All Milk ask is a little time for just us, to say good bye, maybe; and I use that little time to wade through the traffic jam, got some Polish smear shit all over my face, and yet another cat to take care of, or just me getting busy with my cell phone and semi ignore her when she crawl closer and sit on my arm.

Holding her lifeless body in my arm, my tears had long run dry, and I didn't know if my heart still have a shape, but it hurts to remember that I was not there for Milk long enough.

It hurts to be sub human for doing what I am doing

It hurts to be cursed for your compassion or other good deeds for that matter.

It hurts when I have to put my head under someone else feet just because I live in a common place called home and they live in a place called heaven.

It still hurts to be judged out loud by total stranger half the world away.

It hurts to have a "how are you doing" as a rhetorical question that never needs an answer.

It hurts to pop up to help and been telegraphically pushed aside.

It hurts to know that you are trying to help, but you don't have half of what others have to save that life and when you have to give up anyway, people say that you could have done more.

It hurts to love and to lost and not even sure how to react to it or if what I am doing is right.

It hurt to always find out at the end of the day that I am alone. I have friends, they love me, the care about me, but at the end of the day, I am me, myself and me.

It hurts because I was somewhere else when Milk needed me the most.

But this is Indonesian reality

And even on her last moment on earth, Milk gave me understanding, patience, endurance, love and forgiveness.

I walked out of my room and take a look on the new cat. He was curling up on the same spot where Milk was earlier this morning. His face looks innocent, and peaceful, just like Milk.

For the rest of my life, every time I look at him I will remember Milk and all the pain she has to go through that night and her magnificent patience with which she endures the pain until her very last breath.

But if I remember him that way, Milk's patience would have been in vain. She had given her patience to give time for the new boy to come into our lives, so with that same patience I will take care of him and the other cats.

If I remember all the hurts, Milk's love would have been in vain. She had ended her own life with that great love when she used her last strength to lay on my arm like a lover, so with that same love I will fill my life and share to others.

If I remember all the spatting and cussing, and all the losses I have just to retrieve that new boy, I would have wasted Milk's forgiveness. She had showed me her big heart when she forgave me for doing something else and was somewhere else when she needs me the most, so with the same forgiveness I will absolve my own sin. I was trying to do something right, and I have been following my conscience and by doing so, safe one life.

If I remember the ego-centrism and blind accusations, I would have wasted Milk's understanding. She knows I have a lot to do and a lot to take care of, so she step aside and let me finish what I started. With that same understanding I looked back through the day and see things in different light.

Instead of feeling left out I am even more grateful for my two friends. There are times when they made themselves more than available for me, so now it's my turn to understand them and get out of their way. There are times when they went out of their way and help me instead of enjoying their own life; there are times when they work harder than I am and spend enormous resources out of pocket because they have faith that I will do the utmost good with their gifts. And there are times, if not always, that they cried with me and laugh with me and share so many stories so the least I can do is feeling happy and grateful for them and support them with whatever they are doing.

Instead of the anguish, I felt relief. Relief because I don't let myself dwindle in all the negativity that surrounded me. Relief because instead of turning friends into enemies, I am given the chance to turn friends into sisters.

Instead of feeling belittled, I took Milk's spirit with me and live by her code so that one day when we meet again, I won't be a sub human, I will be proud to be her human.

That way Milk's death won't be in vain. 

This is my Indonesian reality: understanding, patience, forgiveness.

And I don't have to live in a sky high elite like Dago Pakar to bask in the gifts of life that Milk had bequeathed me.