Mishi, My Flying Cat




Monica Wenzel


2019 General Nonfiction Honorable Mention 



Copyright 2019 by Monica Wenzel



Photo of Mishi in a sink in Equador.

My first professional job out of college was teaching English to high schoolers in rural Ecuador. I met many friends of all ages. One friend I didn't expect was a white and gray kitten who I took into my home and my heart. Naturally, when I returned to Minnesota, I didn't want to leave Mishi. Getting her home turned out to be an adventure or her and for me.

I looked out of the airplane window for my last looks at Quito, Ecuador with tears in my eyes. I was leaving the country that had been my home for the past year. I was leaving the friends Id made, the students Id taught English, and the days of adventure where so much was new and exciting. I shouldve been eager to see my parents, brother, friends, and then-boyfriend now-husband. All I cared about in that moment was that I was leaving my kitten Id adopted eight months prior.


As the plane took off, my stomach fell. My Mishi was down there when she shouldve been on the plane. A stab of guilt told me I shouldve been down there with her and not left her with a stranger named Mariana, even if she was going out of her way to help Mishi and me.

Id prepared for Mishi to fly home with me. I took her to a vet to get all of her shots and a letter stating that she was in good health and okay to fly. Id called the airline before I left my home in the southern part of Ecuador to make sure taking her on the plane wasnt a problem. I was told it wasnt and that I should bring her with me when I checked in. But Mishi and I had a big problem.

I got to the check-in counter with two suitcases, two carry-ons, and a cat carrier. The ticket agent said it was too hot in Miami, our layover destination, for animals to be on the tarmac and the airline wouldnt accept her.

My worst fear for Mishi was coming true. I started to panic. I was alone at the airport. I was trying to talk to people in my third language of Spanish. I had no ideas of what to do with my little kitten.

Thats when Mariana approached me and offered to help. After she got her teenaged niece on a plane headed to their home country of Argentina, she offered to take my cat to my host moms apartment just three blocks from the airport. I had stayed with Silvia and her two children while in Quito for the first month of my experience in Ecuador when my group of English-teaching volunteers received training. Thankfully, when I called Silvia, she agreed to take care of Mishi until I could get a plane ticket for her or until I came back for her.

I wasnt sure Id ever see Mishi again. Or if shed want to sit on my lap and let me pet her after I left her. I wasnt sure how much time would pass before I saw her again, if I ever did.

I doubted my decision to get on that plane without her in the cargo area. (International flights didnt allow animals to ride under the seats like carry-ons, even if theyre small enough.) I doubted my choice not to let her stay in the rural town where wed lived together in a small house. One of my friends there wouldve given her a good new home.

Shed already endured a two-hour bus ride from Jima (pronounced he-ma), my small town, to Cuenca, the big city I lived near, and a thirty-minute flight from Cuenca to Quito. She meowed loudly while I waited to pick up her carrier as she sat among the suitcases in baggage claim. I had taken her on bus rides from Jima where I taught English to high school students to Cuenca for vet visits. Shed tolerated those by mostly sleeping on my lap.

Wed been together for eight months of her ten-month life and Id met her when she was just born. My friends cat had kittens and she let me take her home because I lived by myself. I named my gray and white fluffy kitten Mishi, the word for cat used in Ecuador instead of gato due to the Incan influence still in the area. When I took her to my Ecuadorian home, I promised her that Id take her home with me, all the way home to Minnesota, and not leave her. Yet, I was abandoning her and heading for home without her.

On that airplane, I thought about our time together. We played together with a rope I found. She slept on my lap while I read. She sat on my students papers as I tried to grade them. She greeted me when I came home from school and put a smile on my face. She made my little house a home and kept me company while I lived by myself on a different continent than so many people I loved. She was my kitten and I was her human, not owner. She never had an owner.

It wasnt all snuggles and purrs. The first time she did her business in my house was right on my bed. She wasnt litter box trained when I took her home. I had to wash the blankets and sheets by hand because I had no washing machine. I also had to give her flea showers to get them off of her. I had a shower and no bathtub, so I had to hold her under the running water to get her wet, shampoo her, and hold her in the shower to rinse her off again. She howled like she never had before or since.

After I landed in Minnesota, I started working to get her here. I called Silvia back in Ecuador to coordinate the flight for Mishi. I found another airline that handles more animals and got a ticket for my cat. I never had purchased a plane ticket just for an animal before.
Days went by when Mishi couldnt fly to me because it was still too hot. After a week, I was back at the Minneapolis airport. I was anxious and excited to see her. I wondered if shed recognize me.

I heard her before I saw her, meowing loudly for everyone in the oversized luggage claim area to notice. She didnt get bounced down the conveyer belt at the regular baggage claim. As soon as she saw me, she quieted down. I like to think that she knew she was with her human again and that the long, loud, scary journey was over. She was back with me, where she belonged. Relief and joy swept over me as I held her carrier and knew that shed come home for good.

Mishi passed away in January 2017. She lived with me in four different homes during our time together, always sharing her companionship and love. She helped me gain a sense of home wherever I moved and whoever else I lived with. She taught me that life is best lived with people and animals I love, and that where I live is less important that who I share my home with. I have two other cats now, Persia and Chai. Ill have cats for the rest of my life, but none will be like Mishi, my cat who flew on airplanes.
I live in Minnesota with my husband, son, and two cats. I teach high school Spanish. I speak and have taught French as well. Besides Ecuador, I've traveled to China, France, Spain, Mexico, South Korea, England, Germany, and many corners of the United States.Photo of Mishi and Monica back home in Minnesota.




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