Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mandu, Our West African Cat

Portrait of a West African Cat

At the outset, I ask readers to please bear with me. This is a very long post with many photographs. It is about a very special time in my life and a poignant story about a very special cat.
When I arrived in Guinea, West Africa in February 2004, my husband had already moved into “married accommodation” which was very comfortable and well equipped.
He also owned a cat.

The year before he had rescued a feral kitten from a stream raging passed his house during a storm. When he asked Peter Connery, the Director General (Managing Director) of the mine permission to keep a cat, Peter said, on one condition, that he names the cat. He promptly christened him KathMandu; later shortened to Mandu.
Hippie Mandu

Please let me in
Mandu, picture perfect
The easy chair was meant for my houselady, Aicha, to relax on. I usually found her lying on the floor while Mandu occupied the chair!
We brought a cat-flap from South Africa and fitted it to our back door. I showed Mandu how to use it from the inside, while my husband, camera at the ready, called him from outside
Come on Meouw, my turn in the travel cage now!
My weekend office at home. I sat here and wrote letters to friends in South Africa. From here I watched flocks of Senegal parrots coming in to roost in trees in the bush beyond my garden. Mandu, not remotely interested in my correspondence or Senegal Parrots, rested at my feet
Aha, I have the ball now...
Mandu was a year old when I met him and at first, I hardly ever saw him. He spent most of his time exploring the camp, only coming in early in the morning for his breakfast. Gradually though, he realised that he now belonged to a real family and began to spend more and more time at home. Eventually the only time he went out was when we did. He followed us to the Superette, the pub where all social events took place, the swimming pool and the tennis court.

A different kind of ball boy
Mandu at the swimming pool
Mandu always came to the bar and joined in the social scene there
Meouw, who lived next door, and Mandu were the only two cats allowed on camp at the time. Sadly, Meow's owners have come back to South Africa and made no effort to bring him out.
Mandu looked through the packets I brought back from break (leave). He knew that we had gifts for him!
Chris, my husband's 2IC, always moved into our house while were out on break. Looking after Mandu in our absence was part of his job description!
Whenever I packed to go out on break, Mandu always climbed into my suitcase
The local vet, right, came to our house to prepare Mandu for his trip across Africa
Four months before my contract with the gold mine was due to end, hubby and I began to make plans to get Mandu home to South Africa. He had to be fitted with a Pet-finder Identity Micro Chip as well as have rabies injections. We bought these from the vet on my last break home and took them back with us; the injection in a mini-cooler bag on a pack of ice.

A local vet inserted the micro-chip and administered the injection. I signed up with a pet travel company in Johannesburg, South Africa who sent me, via air freight, a specially designed cage. I was informed that when the time came, a company employee would wait for Mandu to at cargo arrivals. The State vet would also be present to check that all Mandu’s documentation was in order.
Mandu and I were the only passengers on the light aircraft from the goldmine site in Guinea to Bamako, Mali
Mandu and I overnighted in the company guest house in Bamako. The next day we caught the commercial flight to South Africa
My husband’s company would not allow me on their charter with Mandu. Their logo was “We are hole diggers (earthmoving contractors) not transporters of animals!" My ex-boss kindly stepped in the breach and paid for my flight on a commercial airline. My husband paid for Mandu's ticket on this flight.
The trip went off extremely well. Mandu had to fly in the hold but when the flight crew was very considerate and realised that I was a little nervous about the safety and well-being of my cat. At a stopover in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, when certain luggage had to be removed, the Captain called me over to a window at the rear of the plane. Fromt here I could see Mandu in his cage on the conveyor belt outside the plane. Once the relevant cargo had been removed, Mandu’s cage was taken back into the hold.
I breathed a sigh of relief.

Mandu in his cage on the way home from Johannesburg to the Free State. Here he is still a little sleepy from his flight across the African Continent

As the plane touched down in Johannesburg, I phoned the travel company employee. After introducing myself (and reminding him that Mandu would soon be in cargo arrivals;), I aksed what his name was. He told me he was Gideon and assured me that he was waiting for Mandu. A short while later Gideon phoned me and said that Mandu had been cleared by the state vet and he, Gideon was about to take him to their kennels across town. As I would not see Mandu until I collected him from the kennels the next morning Gideon held his phone to Mandu’s ear so that I could speak to him!

Everything went off well and by mid-morning the next day, Angus (who came to meet me in Johannesburg) and had collected Mandu and were soon on our way home to the Free State. Mandu quite happy in his harness

Back home I had to keep Mandu locked up in the larger part of my house. He simply hated my [eight] other cats. They, in turn, were suspicious of this “new” creature they could smell on the other side the closed door. I regularly took him out into the garden, but on a leash.

Six weeks later, my husband came home on break and decided Mandu should be allowed outside without restriction. Over time he and seven of the other cats met up, sometimes they fought each other, other times they merely tolerated each other.

Later though, he and Tigger , my oldest cat, eventually became firm friends.

In the beginning I took Mandu outdoors on a leash


Mandu walked on a leash as if born to it!

That first summer that I was home, I began in earnest, to revamp my garden. Mandu thrived in the garden. He spent every moment beside me and even when I came indoors, he’d lie stretched out on the garden bench or on the lawn watching the gardener. My husband dubbed him “Minister of Parks and Gardens”. Both John and David loved him and would call out to him as they worked near him. I took this photo at the end of March 2007. I lauged because Tigger waited so patiently until Mandu had had his fill of cookies.I didn't know at the time but this is the last photograph I have of Mandu

Easter Saturday, 7th April, 2007, Mandu came indoors at 5pm for his evening snack. I had put out a different variety of cat pellets for him. As I walked past him, I asked him how he liked the new cookies. (Of course, he didn’t answer, he didn’t even look up!)

A few minutes later I saw him lying on the office windowsill taking in the last rays of sunshine.

It was the last time I saw my cat alive.

When Mandu didn’t come in for breakfast on Sunday morning, I went outside to call him. No Mandu. He had always been a free spirit, (like most cats are,) and came and went at will through my bathroom window, so I was sure he’d be back later.

As I walked back into the house, my telephone rang. It was my neighbour, Praschant. An animal lover himself and knowing that I brought Mandu thousands of kilometres across the African continent, he immediately said to me: “Jo, I have very bad news for you, Mandu is hanging in the razor wire fence near my motor gate”

Clarice sits quietly in the "Mandu Garden"

After three weeks of deep mourning for my precious Mandu, I decided to do something pro-active to shake myself out of my abject state of sorrow. Together John, David and I created a special Out of Africa garden behind my large pond where Mandu is buried.

This gave me closure on the death of our beloved cat, but I often sit quietly in the “Mandu garden” as my gardeners call it, and remember what a joy it was to have this feisty, furry lad in our lives.

Mandu's last resting place
This plaque says it all...

Rest in peace, our precious West African kitty. One day we'll meet again at Rainbow Bridge.


  1. Oh Jo, even though I know Mandu's story & also that this coming weekend is a sad one for you in that respect, I still cried when reading this blog post ! Of course I was "with you" throughout Mandu's entire journey home - on tenterhooks this end to hear when you two had touched down safely in South Africa ! I remember all the fun times you both had together, & I guess the memories are what will live on in your heart forever. I must say that some of my favourite pics of Mandu have always been the ones of him on the tennis court with the balls ! So sorry to hear that Meow has been left behind by his 'owners' & I hope that another expat family will move in to take care of him ? Sending you extra special ((HUGS)) this weekend, my friend ....

  2. Thanks Lynda, I know how you "walked" the whole way with me, from bringing Mandu home to South Africa including the times I was introducing him to my other cats, to the sad Easter Weekend when he died. Yes, the "ball boy" and other tennis court photos are quite unique. I keep pray that someone is looking after Meouw. His owners brought him from Mali to Guinea in 2001 when he was about 18 months old, so he was quite a bit older than Mandu. He is very independent and the original restaurant staff loved him, so I hope there are still people there who will care for him. Thanks for your kind hugs and thoughts always. Jo xxx

  3. Oh Jo, what a beautiful tribute to Mandu! He really won my heart and I'm not even a cat person! But he reminds me of a dog with cat personality :-) So sorry you lost him! But so happy for you that you brought him with you to South Africa. How long is it since you left West Africa?

    Big hug,

  4. Esther, you hit the nail on the head: Mandu definitely was a cat with a dog personality. He used to "sit" for his dinner. We had a quality few years together. I left West Africa in July 2006. I still yearn to go back. Now hubby is in the Sudan, I am looking forward to visiting him for a few weeks later this year. Thanks for your kind words. Hugs Jo

  5. This is a lovely tribute to a very beautiful and special boy. What a great life he had with you.

  6. Wow - what a wonderful post! I really feel as if I got to know Mandu and i was so sad to hear about his sudden end.

    Lovely tribute.

  7. A story that's heart-warming, sad, and has some smiles, too. That's a wonderful memorial garden for your little pal!

  8. Jo, this is such a lovely and moving tribute to Mandu! Thank you so much for sharing his life with us. It is so difficult to lose a pet and anyone who has can so identify with you and I'm one of those. Thank you for sharing his adventures with us. And a special, big hug to you!

  9. what an exceptional life here on earth Mandu had! and much of it thanks to you - your care and spirit

    I imagine Mandu running free in another realm and perhaps sharing stories with my sweet JR who I think of every single day. He was attached to me for 16 years and had a spirit unlike any other animal before or since - and I truly love them all

    the photos of Mandu and friends are all so lovely

    thank you for sharing

  10. such a beautiful tribute to such a wonderful pet! may mandu's soul rest in peace in pet heaven!

    Pet Pride

  11. Oh Jo, this is the first I've heard of Mandu. What a lovely cat and what a lovely tribute to your faithful companion.

  12. I came here for cemeteries and found this beautiful hommage to Mandu. So touching and heartwarming. So sad but so typical of cats. As the past owner of countless cats, I know how their curiousity (not to mention their supreme self-confidence) can get them into trouble. He was truly a handsome one and clearly had many fans.

  13. Jo, what a delightful story. Mandu (I like the name very much) was a handsome cat, ad appeared to be very taut and trim, as well.

    I have three cats, aged 11, 6 and 6. Sadly, I seem to be ageing faster than they. I hope to keep them with me until the end of their natural life.

    Thank you for contributing this post to Taphophile Tragics. I value all cemetery posts, human or otherwise. Diane from Brisbane had a post about a dog cemetery last week.

  14. Oh, Jo, it must have been SO difficult for you. I also love his name! I understand why you wanted to create the Mandu garden. When Dick's cat Igor died at the age of 20, we planted one evergreen tree and one deciduous tree above him, and surrounded the trees with stones. There is a very lifelike plastic cat between the trees to keep him company.
    I'm glad I read this post, but also wish I hadn't! I'm sure you understand what I mean.
    Love, K

  15. Hello Jo
    My name is Jennifer and I live in Wisconsin in the USA. I lived in Mamou, Guinea in 1993-1995 as a Peace Corps volunteer. My cat, Tiga, is from Guinea, now 17 years old. I read your post about your Guinean cat. I'm so sorry about his tragic demise. Your kitty looked so much like my Tiga, beautiful and stately. I wonder, was he a very loud and frequent meower like Tiga? I'd love to share a photo of Tiga with you so you could see the resemblance.
    Where in Guinea were you?

  16. a touching and beautiful and oh so sweet story of Mandu and I have tears in my eyes. touched to the heart


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