Cats of Karama

Matisse vanishes into a land of total make believe for hours on end. In fact, sometimes I wonder if she ever actually leaves it, and other animate objects (like her family and friends) just come and go from that magical place as her needs necessitate. Her teddy bears are usually at the centre of the excitement; birthday parties, cake making, eating and time-outs are high on the rotation list. No prizes for guessing where she draws her inspiration from.

Sometimes Matisse's world can impact on our quality of life. A typical scenario is that Batesy suddenly goes to sleep in the middle of our dining room requiring Elspeth and I to be quiet until such time that Matisse deems it appropriate to wake up. This rarely ends well; it usually ends up with her in Time Out. On at least one occasion every single day, I charge into her room to put away some washing, or complete some other riveting domestic task, when a cyclonic meltdown behind me stops me in my tracks 'ARRHHOOOOO NNNNOOOO AAA Batteeesssyyyyys sleeeeeeepingGGAAAAA!!"  A 1m whirlwind of human throws herself around, along with a few other items that cross her path, and sometimes attempts to hit me before collapsing in a dramatic heap on the floor, bunging on a waterworks to rival Niagara falls. Oh, what I wouldn't have done to be able to do that when someone woke my child. However, she usually ends up in Time Out for such psychotic, totally normal toddler behaviour. Her make believe world is intensely vivid, take it from me.

Lately the stories have been getting wilder and wilder; crocodiles eating Elspeth, going swimming in the river, Batesy messing up the room. I have started to wonder at what point it stops being imagination, and starts becoming a lie. Then I realise, it's only the intent that changes it, so as long as her heart is in the right place, she is allowed to invent away. 

At the moment, there are dozens of baby geckos running around the house. Matisse is quite intrigued by them and the fact they are always trying to hide from her. She is often chasing them around, clearly trying to trap one for a pet. With no luck, so she has resorted to adopting an invisible one. She walks around with her head cocked on this funny angle, her shoulder all stiffened, “look Mum!” she declares proudly.
"Oh, what is it? I need my glasses!” I lie.
“It’s a… it’s a… it’s a baby gecko. It’s sleeeeeeping.. sshhhh.”
I resort to whispering quietly whilst the gecko sleeps. The gecko often joins us for our meals, and other antics around the house. I just realised it doesn’t yet have a name. Watch this space.

This morning Matisse was playing on the deck with Elspeth, as usual. It's the only time of the day that the deck received full sunlight, and we had just had our hottest month of record,  so they are guaranteed to be out there, dripping in sweat at 7:30am. You will find me in the kitchen. Matisse comes rushing in to tell me that “a cat has come to play!”
“That’s great,” I encourage/placate her.
She rushes back in one minute later, “the cat wants to live with us!” she declares. 
“OK. It can live here,” I generously offer.
She rushes off. I continue doing what I am doing in one minute increments, enjoying the sanctuary that parents with toddlers call 'time where the child engages in self directed play’ but you are still actually an integral part of the game and you can’t actually engage in anything that requires consistent thought, like doing any admin, making a phone call or heaven forbid, getting on with my university study.

Another minute passes and she comes in begging “Mum, come and look, Elsie is playing with the cat.” I muster up my most excited face, heading out into the sweltering heat to take a look at this mystical creature. Well, it was slightly less invisible than I had imagined, and it was certainly the strangest looking cat I have ever seen, even by Karama cat standards. In fact, I do think these animals have another name in other parts of the world. A street rat. 

Smart street rat, hiding from the blaring sun in the shade; even if it did ruin my photo.

Smart street rat, hiding from the blaring sun in the shade; even if it did ruin my photo.

And the bit about Elsie playing the 'cat'? Not make believe. She was grabbing it, giggling hysterically whilst it looked up at her with its big beady eyes. I grabbed her quickly, then took a picture of the rat and texted it to my husband so that he could commiserate over the excitement he misses out on whilst he is hard at work. He pointed out how strange it was that a 9 month old was able to fondle it without it running away and suspected it may have been a pet. Gauging from its street rat looking exterior, I didn’t leap very far to that conclusion; in fact, the only leaping I did was downstairs to find the rat trap. For the record, life in Karama is not that badass that we, or anyone else in the neighbourhood would resort to having a street rat as a pet.

Later on in the morning we returned from playgroup and  I noticed the rat all snuggled up in the blocks by the toy box. I got my camera to take a proper photo of our "new pet” anticipating its stardom on this blog. But, my portrait session quickly became a homicide investigation as I noticed its loving gaze was in fact, incredibly intense. I felt relieved that I hadn’t gotten around to setting the rat trap, shocked at my apparent lack of empathy toward a dying creature in it’s last living moments. At least it died being lovingly manhandled, surrounded by fake cake and porridge, and overhearing the fact that I would let it live with us. RIP disgusting little street rat.

PS. I am such a great wife. I am going to leave it there so Karl can "have a look at it" when he gets home. 

Officially a Karama local.

The day I officially became a Karama local started like many others.

The sun was squinting pink and yellow shards of light, just below the horizon; my clock read something starting with 5. The bedroom door creaks open ever so slightly, pauses, then slams shut with a bang. Bang. Pause. Bang. Pause. Bang. I'm not dreaming.

There are many traumatic ways that children decide to wake you. Traumatic is a slight exaggeration, but the cumulative effect isn't. The world of screaming, poo and vomit are familiar to most waking, dreary eyed, dream state parents. Matisse has invented a new, more extreme approach. She peeps in, then the excitement of seeing us sleeping overwhelms her, so she slams the door shut. Then eagerly checks again, just to make sure. Usually, I become aware of the slamming door, and its earth tremor like vibrations of the house, and call her in. On these occasions she enters normally and I escape with a light elbow to the chest or knee to the groin. BUT. If I am in a deeper slumber, my subconscious lures me deeper into the dream in a desperate attempt to gain a few more minutes rest; Matisse tires of the slamming and tears in screaming, with her hands out in front of her, and fist palms me in the face. Wake up. It's a beautiful day.....

We often head out to get fresh bread before breakfast, because we aren't paleo. On this particular morning, I gave Matisse the money because "I pay money, Lani, I pay."

Being bossed around has become an intrinsic part of my day since Matisse started talking. I oblige when it suits me, because I like to lead by example and show her how to take orders. I am also hoping my husband takes notice too.

At the bakery, people are often queuing in front of me to buy bread, but more often, Paul's Iced Coffee; it's too hard to walk into the supermarket and find it yourself, even if it's cheaper. I eventually order, lift Matisse up to pay -- but her hands are empty. 

"Matisse, where is the money?" 
"I put rubbish in bin, Lani."

Only so vaguely, could I recall her darting off. 

"Hang on a sec," I told the baker lady, walked over to the bin, bent in and rummaged around to get my $20 note out. I didn't hesitate, and would have probably done the same for a fiver; at that moment, I realised I had navigated the depths of Karama citizenship entitlement. When the baker didn't flinch as I handed over the cash, my memory flashed up images from the day I saw a woman dislodge some long lost coins from deep inside her sweaty breast. I realised my bin scabbing was just child's play. I needed to significantly improve my creepy factor if I wanted to decompose the cashier. 

When I got home, the house had been egged by the Real Karama Ghetto Boys (KGB), and they had spray painted "welcome to the neighbourhood" on my car.* 

*This is a total lie, but that would have been classic.

FTP Homies.  

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Lady in the Park

A lot of really 'Karama' things have been going on since I started this blog. I'm talking about the dead carcass on the footpath, the hydroponics for sale on the noticeboard at the local shops, and that time I made the local talkback radio for pulling two roaming pig dogs off Leo (our Lion of a dog) when they pinned him down and started eating him. There have also been a few interactions with locals that I don't want to go into detail about because I don't want to start a turf war. 

Leo might look like a mean pitbull/mastiff/ridgeback, but he is forced to walk around the yard like a horse on a lead as it pleases her Royal Highness Matisse. PS. Those shaved patches are the result of the attack, not his normal hairstyle.

Leo might look like a mean pitbull/mastiff/ridgeback, but he is forced to walk around the yard like a horse on a lead as it pleases her Royal Highness Matisse. PS. Those shaved patches are the result of the attack, not his normal hairstyle.

But. I will tell you about this one lady. Because we walk to the shops for groceries (note the absence of the brand name) most mornings, we also pass a lot of the same people en-route. One of my favourite characters is this vivacious, older (than me) Chinese lady who is always doing laps of the park, and a few reps on the resistance machines for good measure. We started making friends by waving and smiling, but now we stop and chat every time.  Given her thick accent, and that she sometimes asks me what the words are for things, I presume English is her second language. She is a total darling.

First, you have to feel for this lady. She is totally in love with Matisse, always telling me how beautiful and sweet she is, and all she wants is a smile... but will Matisse give her one? Not a fat chance in hell. Matisse hides her face behind her hands, scrunches up her lips and eyes or just burrows down her eyebrows so far that her entire face vanishes. This is a combination of her distinct absence to people please, and a good dose of shyness. This lovely lady is so caught up trying to muster a tiny grin from Matisse that it takes a giggle from the backseat to break the trance, she then casts a look sideways and notices little Elspeth beaming up the most loving smile to reward her efforts.
"Oh he so happy," she says.
"Yeah," I say, not wanting to correct her when most babies look like boys until they grow hair.
"Is he a boy?" Well... I can't ignore that.
"No, she is a girl." I say.
"But, she looks like a boy."    
"Ha ha, yeah she does" I say, hoping Elsie doesn't remember this when she grows up. 
"She look like a boy, but she a girl," says the lady. She squeezes Elspeth's cheeks, "I think you a boy, but you a girl." Elsie is just grinning away with her big boyish smile.

With the genders of the kids sorted, we proceed. But then, the next time we see her, this happens again. No jokes! We had variations of this conversation at least once a week, for about two months. Once her friend was even there agreeing. No matter how hard she wanted Elsie to be a boy, she just kept on being a girl. One time, she had taken Elsie out for a cuddle and seized the moment to remind me "I always think she boy, but she girl. Now you have to have boy." It turns out that in China, your husband gets angry if you have a girl. She was speaking from experience. Perhaps Karl is being nice, pretending to be happy with girls.

The blankets only come out in the Dry Season. Oh... long lost Dry Season.

The blankets only come out in the Dry Season. Oh... long lost Dry Season.

Matisse has fallen in love with this woman, and she is always banging on about 'the lady in the park' until we see her, then Matisse goes silent. Then the split second we leave she speaks about her the whole way home... "Where the lady go? Where the lady in the park? We see her tomorrow, hey Lani." Repeat. Last week, the lady practically fainted when Matisse not only started waving at her, but then smiled, and talked!! But ever since then, Matisse does a small smile, then hides. It's like classical conditioning because now this woman is working even harder for it. 

One morning as I enter the park, I noticed two men swigging from their 'soft drink' bottles at 8am. 
"Hello Miss," said one man. I wasn't sure if the earth was shifting on its axis or he was swaying; so I rudely presumed it was probably not soft drink in those bottles. I said "G'day," and kept walking.
We approached the lady and stopped for our morning chat. 
"You see the mans?" she asked me.
"Yeah."
"I'm scared. They ask me for sex."
"WHAT?!"
"Yeah, they say, hello, I want sex you. But I say, no, I hab husband, I hab husband. I cannot not hab sex."

I was so mad. I told her to kick them if they came near her. They were so drunk they would definitely lose balance and fall over. Later on, I laughed out loud when reflecting on the conversation; because of her broken English, it seemed like the only reason she couldnt have sex was the fact she had a husband, and not the fact it was totally revolting and perhaps she didn't want to. Furthermore, it's comforting to know that seedy men in Karama are well mannered gentlemen that respect the institution of marriage. Incidentally, I have never seen these guys again. They were probably from Malak. Only fake baddies hang out in Karama. 

On our walks we have to stop and collect things. When Matisse has pockets, they end up full of leaves, rock and dirt.

On our walks we have to stop and collect things. When Matisse has pockets, they end up full of leaves, rock and dirt.