There is no better way to make an excellent first impression than to be smelling of cat shit. This was what Sam and I decided as we elbowed our way through the arrivals crowd at Almaty International Airport, carrying a desperately dehydrated Hank who spent the last 16 hours squeezing every bit of reeking cat liquid from his body. His deluxe carrying cage with durable mesh sides and removable fleece pad had become little more than a pricey litter box…
It began before we even left the ground at Dulles. And by the time I was able to carry a stinking Hank and his stinking cage to the airplane bathroom, he had given himself an artful skunk stripe of cat poop—a shit Mohawk, a shit-hawk—down the middle of his back, from the scruff of his neck to the base of his tail. I couldn’t believe this was happening. But I also wouldn’t have believed it is possible to give a cat a bath in an airplane bathroom. With wet-wipes and paper towels. It is.
The nastiness continued until we landed in Germany…and continued still as we made our way to Almaty. It was 1:00 a.m. when we landed. We were delirious from the lack of sleep and the awfulness of the cat situation. We told Chris—Sam’s coworker charged with picking us up at the airport—that he probably didn’t want to shake our hands. That he absolutely didn’t want to touch the cat. Oh, and he would almost certainly need to roll the windows down in the car, too.
Poor Hank. To add insult to injury, Hank also got the first real bath of his life when we arrived at our new apartment. This required that I kneel naked in a bathtub of poopy water, Hank pinned between my knees, Sam vigorously scrubbing.
Pantene ProV—you miracle-worker! Two weeks later, Hank has never looked so good. He recovered entirely from the ordeal, which included evacuating—in 12-inch-lengths, from both ends of his body—the four feet of string that had mysteriously disappeared from our hotel room in Washington. Now, Hank happily supervises our nearly daily visits from U.S. consulate folks, air conditioning repairmen, and cable television installers. His carrying cage has returned to its original state, and he couldn’t be happier—every window in our apartment has a perfectly cat-sized ledge from which he can view the world.
For me and Sam, “The Worst Day of Hank’s Life” has become a distant, hilarious memory. While we aren’t adjusting to our new life in Almaty nearly as quickly as Hank did, the transition has given us many opportunities to weigh the benefits of life in the foreign service against the difficulties of leaving our old life behind—afterall, you can’t have the cat without having the cat shit, too.