Listen, the post title wasn’t a cheap attempt to score traffic from drooling geezers searching for “Mongolian girls,” and if that’s you...well, keep reading, DODR is a big tent. Then turn yourself in.
No, this tale is headed in a slightly different direction.
Last weekend, my friend Sara had arranged for me to be interviewed for a newspaper called Ardchulal, which mean “Democracy.” The interview was fine, I suppose. You can read it online here if your Mongolian skillz r sharp.
Afterward, Sara and I were strolling down the sun-dappled lane and chatting when I stopped short and said, “Hey! A cat!” Sara looked at the cat and cocked an eyebrow at me to commend my astute powers of observation.
Well, in my defense, cats on Ulaanbaatar streets are rare, and this one was rarer still. She didn’t bolt for cover when I paused; in fact, she trotted right on over to my proffered hand. I skritched her tiny head and muttered mantra while she purred up a storm. Even though she was quite grubby, I was emboldened and picked her up. Little miss settled right into my cradled arms and purred louder. Man. We were due elsewhere. I simply couldn’t take her and reluctantly set her down.
The next few days I thought about her a lot, and really thought about this picture I had of my beloved Nita, frostbitten and nearly dead when she wandered into Dolma Ling nunnery:
And that was taken after she'd been to the vet, had her frostbite treated, and gotten a bath and some real food. What could I do? It’s been unseasonably warm, but I know that won’t last. On Wednesday, I returned to where we saw her, in front of the Golden Bridge English Learning Center, and looked around. Much to the amusement of Mongolian passers-by, I made squeaky come-hither noises at the hole in the wall where I suspected she lived. I poked around back, alerting the not-altogether-friendly curiosity of at least one security guard. Nada.
Then I walked a little north and peered into a small residential playground set back from the street. Well, glory be. There she was, fruitlessly trying to entice a mother and her swaddled newborn into petting her. In fact, it seemed the mother was poking her away with the baby’s foot. I swear. Mongolians really don’t like cats. I came up, squatted down and administered the love myself.
“Hmm,” said the mother. “Goë muur.” Nice cat.
I agreed and asked if she belonged to anyone. She didn’t think so. I picked her up and went into the Golden Bridge building and asked around. She wasn’t theirs, but they showed me a trap door in the floor of one of the first floor classrooms and said not only did she usually stay under there, but not too long ago there had been kittens. I called several times, but there was no kitten response and it was clear mama was no longer nursing. It was also filthy and gross and buggy under there.
That was it. I was taking her. I hailed a taxi and off we went, straight to the vet. My driver was boisterous and chatty and guffawed as he explained with elaborately demonstrative gestures that if we were in China, they would have just killed and eaten her. I clutched her a little tighter and tried to psychically press down the accelerator.
Once at the clinic I drew nice Dr. Welch from Tulsa. My little charge, weighing in at only 2.7 kilos, impressed us both with her absolute fearlessness. She lay down on the examination table, crossed her paws and glanced up with a “Well? What’s next?” look. Dr. Welch gave her the once-over, including palpating her abdomen, at which point he let out a little chuckle.
“What?” I asked. “Everything OK?”
“Oh fine,” he replied. “It’s just that, well, unless one of her organs has grown legs...”
“Well, kitten, actually. There seems to be just one.”
Wowzers. I asked was that odd? He said no, the body is intelligent and if her diet is limited, etc., a litter will be likewise attenuated. I expressed my joy that the kitten wasn’t going to be born in winter.
“You got that right,” he said. “Almost certainly wouldn’t survive.”
Then I knew I’d done the right thing. I paid up and took her home, thinking how to manage things with Nita and Mooj. I have a spacious bathroom, so I decided to put her in there at first, fixing up a towel bed, laying out the chow and milk, one of the litter boxes, all that. She settled right in, kinda grinning...
...and sorta prim:
That evening it was bath time, and again she was remarkably unfussed, no fighting, no biting. I took Dr. Welch’s suggestion and used dish soap to get off the grease and oil. After a thorough scrub and rinse, it seemed that about one kilo at her weigh-in was comprised of dirt and a coupla fleas. Check the aftermath in the bathtub (this picture's still making me laugh as I paste it in here):
And here’s the little one looking as wet cats do, anywhere from deeply annoyed...
...to downright demonic:
She dried off quickly enough, and the next day took to the top of the kitty tower, a happy fluffy girl:
I’m crazy about this little cat (Nita not so much, but Mooj, the sweet lug, just wants her as another playmate, though we're not quite there yet), and I’ve been mulling over names. At first, since Dr. Welch said she was very young, I considered “Bristol,” but then thought, forget that. What happens in Juneau should stay (and should have stayed) in Juneau (Juno?). Aaaanyway, I then played with the Mongolian for Golden Bridge, turning “Altan Güür” into “Altan Grr” or “Altan Purr” or something, but nah, too far fetched. She has three funny spots in a line. Maybe Orion? Nah, too butch and hunter-y.
Then it hit me. Padma! You see, padma is Sanskrit for “lotus.” But in a Buddhist context, its deeper meaning is something unstained that emerges from the dirt of this world. Refer back to the bathtub photo and it’s perfect! So. Miss Padma it is. What’s even funnier is the founder of my tradition is Padmasambhava, which means “born from a lotus.” Guess what the kitten will be named?