Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Adventures of an International Cat Lady

November 5, 2008

Traveling from Bishkek to The Small Southern Town with four cats – while definitely worth it – was probably one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever done. I’ve already described the whole rigmarole I had to go through in Bishkek to get permission to take my cats out of Kyrgyzstan. That was just the beginning.

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B overlooks my pile of possessions

At 2:30 Sunday morning, a taxi (driven by Anatoli the Awesome) came to the school to pick up me, my various feline and non-feline possessions and B. (B came along to help me carry things and to laugh at the absurdity of what I was doing.) We got to the airport at 3am only to learn that check in for my flight wouldn’t begin for another hour. This was actually fine, as it gave me plenty of time to take the cats (or more specifically, their paperwork) to the Veterinary Control desk in order to receive even more stamped government forms from someone who didn’t so much as look at the cats.

Meanwhile, I should definitely mention that the instant we hopped out of the car we were descended upon by a dude with a cart who charged an exorbitant fee for use of said cart ($50!) but with four cats, two suitcases and a backpack it seemed worth it. He also tried to convince me that my money was also paying for him to call his brother on the other side of the security check in who would make sure that I had no problems getting the cats checked in. I didn’t believe that for an instant. Cart Guy was actually quite helpful, until he put Gee through the x-ray machine. Ooops. But that comes later.
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Kitties in Manas International Airport

While waiting to check in, the cats provided entertainment to numerous children who wanted nothing more than to poke their fingers into the carriers in an attempt to pet (er, poke) my cats. The kitties were surprisingly well-behaved and tolerant of all this nonsense.

In order to check in at Bishkek’s Manas Airport, first you must go through a narrow door, then through a security check. This means that as soon as check in for your flight begins, you and everyone else on that flight immediately must rush like mad for the narrow door, pushing and shoving at will. Yay, civilization. Cart Guy, Anatoli, B, and I forced our way to the front and got me and all my crap through the narrow door. That was when Cart Guy put Gee on the conveyer belt, which whisked her into the baggage x-ray machine before I could do anything to stop it. People began screaming at me (“You’re going to kill your pet!”) and I started shouting at Cart Guy while frantically pulling the other three carriers off the conveyer belt where he’d put them. Gee had already been scanned, but I had to take the other three out one at a time and carry them through the metal detector while their carriers were put through the x-ray.

Once the cats, my suitcases and I were through security, I got to explain to some very friendly customs guys why I was taking four breed-less street cats home with me. (I must’ve had at least 6 different people ask “But don’t you have street cats in America?”) The customs guys actually seemed quite impressed when I told them that the cats were my responsibility and I couldn’t just abandon them. Although perhaps they were more impressed with my ability to explain all that in Russian.

After customs examined all my cat paperwork I was finally able to check in. First I had to pay $401 in excess baggage fees, which I’d expected. Well, I’d expected $400, and while I had more with me, the smallest bill I had was a $50, and of course they didn’t have change. Luckily I had $1 worth of soms left, and they let me pay with those.

Then I was instructed to leave my three cats (the ones going in checked baggage) on the floor in front of a random-seeming elevator. I had to leave them sitting there, mewing pathetically, as Luball (the cat who came on the plane with me) and I went off in the other direction to go through yet another security check. I was quite worried that I would arrive in Atlanta 30+ hours later and Gee, Bee and Heelio would still be sitting in their carriers in front of that elevator door.

Luball was wonderful during the trip. She had to be taken out of her carrier at least six times and she never put up a fight or caused any problems. She was quite quiet during our journey, and managed to keep from peeing or pooping until we checked into a hotel room south of Atlanta. God knows how she achieved that feat; I sure didn’t!

Anyway, we arrived in Moscow 5 hours after leaving Bishkek, and we then spent seven and a half hours waiting around for our flight. So boring. I remember back when I used to think Moscow’s Sheremetevo was exotic… but after Bishkek’s Manas, Sheremetevo is boringly mundane.
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Boredom in Sheremetevo

The flight to New York was 10 hours long, and we left 30 minutes late. Then, when we got to New York’s JFK, we sat on the runway for a good 45 minutes before we were able to disembark. My layover had been only two and a half hours long to begin with, and I was very worried that I wouldn’t make my connection. I ran through immigration and was one of the first people to claim their bags (both of which arrived). Then I asked where I could find my cats… and the woman in charge of baggage claim info told me the wrong place to go to! I was standing there, waiting for my cats to appear, watching my fellow passengers all leaving, fearing that Bee, Gee and Heelio were all still sitting in front of that elevator door in Manas, when I heard the distant sound of cats crying. I went in search, and found them on the other side of the room from where I’d been instructed to wait! They were overjoyed to see me, and I was thoroughly relieved to find them.

I stacked my cats and suitcases on top of a cart and wheeled them through customs – who didn’t even look at their paperwork! All that paperwork to get them out of Kyrgyzstan and to bring them in I apparently needed nothing. Weird.

I went to re-deposit my baggage on the other side of customs and was told that I’d actually have to go out to the Delta check-in counter to drop off the cats. At this point I had a mere 40 minutes. Let’s just say that there was a lot of frantic running around, and we barely made the plane.

In Atlanta, the cats were there, but only one of my suitcases. I didn’t really care; I knew the missing suitcase had made it as far as New York, and all I cared about was having the cats safe. I met my mom at baggage claim, and we drove to just south of Macon before stopping at a motel and collapsing from exhaustion. We got to The Small Southern Town Monday afternoon.
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Heelio confronts Daddy Cat through the screen door

The cats seem to have had no problem adjusting to their new home, although the cats which already lived there are somewhat put out that these interlopers are snuggled up on what they consider to be *their* bed :-)

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