Saturday, April 28, 2012

Someday, I’ll Hug a Tiger or Another Friday the 13th Passes Without Incident

Joanna and Sultan.

Some weeks, nothing happens. Days pass by and we go about our business without anything of note transpiring. Upon developing a comfortable routine of leadership activities and youth group meetings, sometimes things get a little boring. This week, although very busy, I felt like climbing the walls. Not every week falls into this category, however. Two Thursdays ago I met a tiger.

Those who know me, know that I have a bit of a things for cats. Big cats, small cats, I like them all the same. Few things melt my heart like an expressive meow, make me giggle like a silly, sleepy pose, or inspire me to gush compliments like a good feline full-body stretch. As such, I could hardly believe my luck when I learned that an actual tiger had taken residence in my town.

The big sell...
... and the real deal wearing a dog collar.

That afternoon Kevin and I altered our walk home from the local high school so I could take a peak at the traveling circus setting up shop in our town’s center. Already an odd morning, our charla on values and self-esteem resulted in one girl punching another in the face. Still trying to determine where asking the kids to rank things like “getting good grades” and “getting married” went so far off the rails, Kevin generously humored me with a detour to the soccer field across the street from the elementary school.

While taking in the extravagant signage, a friend stepped out from behind a rapidly emptying semi-truck trailer. Motioning towards an advertisement, I asked her if she thought they would really have a tiger. Much to my delight, she replied, “Yes. She’s over there.” And by over there, she meant unsupervised just beyond an open gate. A six month old beauty sat all by herself in a patch of freshly cut grass, enjoying the light breeze in her fur. Someone hooked her collar into a thick chain-link lead attached to a stake pounded into the red dirt--a rusty tiger version of something you’d put a dog on--probably more for human comfort than actual security.

Important tiger alone-time.

My dream to hold a big cat in my arms before me, I stepped forward. Only common sense, already in short supply, kept me from scratching behind her giant ears. So badly I wanted to reach over, throw my arm around her giant neck, and walk her down to the beach. Tigers love water! Surely this field trip would cement our future friendship. My plan hinged on determining this cat’s tranquilo-ness.

Famous for its laid-back attitude, a relaxed way extends beyond the people of Paraguay to its animals as well. Dogs often bark without bothering to get up and enjoy napping in the middle of the street. I’ve never see a horse in my town run. But do Paraguayan tigers take the same philosophy?

Becoming fast friends.
In the end, I decided to hedge my bets on the tranquilo-ness of the tiger’s trainer (who when he finally joined the three of us, mostly just yanked on Sultan’s tail), and decided not to push my luck. I couldn’t stay away, though. Over the course of her three days in town, I visited her at least eight times. Every time I approached her, I played out the conversation with the Peace Corps Medical Office first... “Mary, does my rabies vaccination cover tiger bites?” “Mary, I briefly lost consciousness while trying to hug a tiger. Do they have the equipment to assess a concussion in Encarn or do I need to come up to Asuncion?” “Mary, I cut my leg open tripping over a tiger’s leash. My tetanus shot is up to date, right?”

I'm not sure if Sultan was more annoyed by this kid blowing in her face or introducing her as "Tigresa".

For all my devotion, though, when the time came to see my girl in the spotlight, I missed the show. In a year of record drought, the rain finally came the night we planned to take in the big top extravaganza after English class. Somehow, attending a Paraguayan circus featuring a tiger who’d spent the day having her tail pulled during a thunder and lightening storm on Friday the Thirteenth seemed like one strike too many.

Hopefully next year she’ll remember me and maybe then she’ll have a little free time for the beach.

Artist's depiction.

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