For my next trick, I will show you pictures of a kitten.

April 1st, 2007. No one played any pranks on me, though perhaps that was because I was living in Lushnjë, Albania in the middle of my Peace Corps assignment, their customs are different and I was a foreigner. My neighborhood was never interested in treating me like a native, but that’s a blogging-as-therapy session for another time.

On the way to the grocery store, I passed the neighborhood trash heap, and there was something different stretched out in the sand at the edge. There was a small, furry creature, which on closer examination turned out to be a new kitten, crawling with ants. I had to wait a few seconds for a little twitch to show me the animal wasn’t dead.

He was so young that his umbilical cord was still attached, and it had apparently not been trimmed beyond his feline mother biting messily through it after his birth. Needless to say, his eyes were closed and ears sealed shut. Judging from the amount of dirt that had accumulated in his fur and ants crawling on his little body, he’d been laid out in by the trash for several hours, his feline mother unavailable and his human owners uninterested.

I am horribly allergic to cats, so of course I took the poor thing home with me. I recall thinking on that afternoon that the kitten probably wouldn’t live much longer, but I could give him a bath and a warm, dry place to rest so he’d be spared the indignity of getting tossed around with the trash or tortured by bored children.

(A few things to know about Albania: 1. Animal welfare is a very new, alien concept, 2. Their children are generally left unsupervised, past a certain age, for several hours a day and have very few resources for entertainment, and 3. House cats are considered dirty, outdoor creatures. If you want to find a pampered pet, look for a small purebred dog like a Pekingese. I say this because it would not have been especially unusual or frowned-upon behavior for a clutch of unsupervised first-graders to amuse themselves by throwing chunks of road pavement at a near-dead newborn kitten that someone else had left by the trash heap.)

As I was saying, it was no more than a jump back to my house, so I filled a glass bowl with warm water, cleaned the dirt, bugs and excrement out of his fur, and dried him off with a paper towel. I left him resting again in a bowl in a sunny spot on the kitchen table while I went about my grocery shopping.

"Ehhhn! Ehn! WTF is this?!"As the afternoon wore on, the kitten showed a bit more energy but not much enthusiasm. I didn’t have any feeding implements except spoons, and my attempts at feeding him milk were unsuccessful. I texted my sitemate (fellow Peace Corps volunteer stationed in the same city) to ask if she knew anything about caring for newborn kittens, but she was out of town for the weekend. That evening, I wrapped the kitty up in a scarf around my neck and showed him to my host mother, Donika, who was shocked and flabbergasted but agreed to look after the kitty. Before I handed him over, I took this picture of him. No, I am not strangling him; that was the best way to hold him upright in front of the camera, as he just barely filled my hand. At some point I trimmed his umbilical cord down to something more manageable.

That was Sunday night. Donika didn’t really know any more about looking after helpless baby animals than I did, so she gave him to her sister-in-law, Marjeta (say: Marietta) who lived next door. The kitten stayed with Marjeta until the following evening.