Friday, June 25, 2004

Talking to Parrots

Since this is a means of communication that depends on phone lines, I suppose it's only natural that my lack of a telephone for the past four months has been a major focus. But that has ended for the time being. My phone line was installed a couple of days ago and I'm finally coming up to speed as a person who has a connection to the outside world. For four months I could only check my email at friends' places or internet cafes, which was really a pain for someone who got rid of her television set because she'd rather write to friends at night than watch the tube. I was deleting all but the most important emails because I knew that I wouldn't have time to answer the others. My websites went un-updated, cobwebs grew on many of my favourite activities, like the blog.

Well, dancing for joy here. I can wake up at 3 am and check my email again. And now I can get more disciplined about posting as well. On an everyday level here, we are enjoying a strangely moderate summer. It's hot, of course, but there is a good breeze and the nights are cool enough not to need air conditioning in the country. The city is much hotter because there isn't the air flow. My parrots have settled in seriously and yesterday I discovered a pair of eggs in the nestbox of my African Grey pair. Mona and Fritz have been watching me collect the eggs from the baladi hens in Ali's cage, so they are being extremely fierce in their defense of their nest box. "Right, Lady. We've seen what you do with eggs!"

I will have to have the CITES officials out sometime in the near future so that these youngsters can have passports that will enable them to travel with their future families. Most of the parrots in Egypt are smuggled and will never have the documentation that would enable them to leave the country. All of mine would never be able to leave, but any that I breed are eligible for passports. I can't count the number of times that people have contacted me when their work posting is up trying to arrange transport for parrots that they've adopted into their family. It can be heartbreaking and I usually try to talk people out of buying parrots locally if I can. But they are entrancing companions and can have very happy lives with people if the living arrangements are good.

My first parrot was Ali, an African Grey male that my children bought for me in Alexandria. He's been with me now for about 15 years. At first he was wild and frightened of people, but we put his cage in the kitchen, where there was the most traffic. We had a bowl of treats next to the cage, grapes, nuts and so on, and whenever anyone passed the cage they would take a treat, pop it into the cage and say "Here, Ali". He calmed down gradually, realising that this particular group of humans were an unending source of goodies and went from whistling to muttering under his breath and finally talking. When he was in the muttering stage, it was so close to speech that we'd hear him and automatically say "What?" as though he would repeat it more clearly....which he didn't. When he did speak clearly, the first word he spoke was, of course, "What?" !! The next one was "Here", which he still uses as a shorthand for "Give me a goody".

Now he talks a blue streak and occasionally expresses himself extremely clearly. Lately I had to be away for a few days and a friend was feeding the birds and dogs. The birds have huge water dishes for drinking and/or bathing, and the friend had been topping them up but not changing the water. When I got back, the dishes were a bit green from algae and sunlight...not the standard of service that my pampered parrots were used to...and the friend reported that the last morning as he was feeding Ali, Ali told him "You are a bad bird." I was surprised because this isn't one of Ali's usual phrases and in fact he rarely talks to strangers. When I saw the water dishes, I understood. Another favourite Ali story occurred when my daughter was about 13 and askd what I was cooking as she walked into the kitchen after school. It was spaghetti sauce with lots of garlic, one of Ali's favorite people foods, and before I could answer this little voice spoke up with "What does it look like, stupid?" We all fell about laughing over that. Most of the time he isn't nearly so direct.

We had two babies about 7 years ago when we got Mona, another African Grey, and she moved in with Ali. They each found very loving families and were a delight to raise. But Fritz, a Grey that needed a home, moved in next door to Ali and Mona in my old house and Mona found a way from her cage into Fritz' cage. Poor Ali. Now Fritz and Mona are starting a family and I'm looking again for a mate for Ali. More animals in my zoo...oh well.