Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

COVID Diaries: A Parrot’s Journal

Riman Butien | 14-10-2020

This is me on the hand of the spiky-haired boy (the author’s brother) who is trying to train me.

Four days before COVID-19 spreads into Gaza

My new owner was a teenage boy with spiky hair and acne on his face. He put me in a handmade, green-wired cage and took me to the place where he lives. Once we entered, great noise hurt my ears. Girls are unbelievably loud! Okay, I know I am handsome, but they exaggerated.

“Mum, look!” I heard a surprised female voice say. “It’s so adorable! Look at his strong, curved red beak and beautiful green feathers!”

Then followed a low-pitched female voice. “What are you going to name him? Wait a second —is it a he or a she?”

I heard the spiky-haired boy reply. “It’s a male, of course!”

The low-pitched girl replied, “I think the name Jefara suits him.”

The boy rejected his sister’s suggestion—he said it was uncool. But then he gave me a name that I think is really uncool: Kiki.

“Kiki jump, Kiki come. Kiki go. Kiki smile.”

A plump lady who must have been the spiky-haired boy’s mother spoke up. “My son, buy him a better and bigger cage. He seems uncomfortable and scared.”

Yes, definitely! I was scared and choking. My wings were cramped and I couldn’t feel the sky. I hopped up and down the bars of my cage looking for an escape. I tapped at the wires with my beak to try to make a hole, without success. I fluttered up and down until suddenly I found a section that felt different. Like a thunderbolt in a dark night, I was hit by the realization: here’s the door!

A failed escape attempt, but it won’t be the last

I decided to try my escape in the early morning while the humans were still sleep. I pecked at the door and pushed with all my might—and that worked! Who could imagine how fragile the door was!

My heart was beating fast. I looked around and saw a broken fan head, rusty poles, boxes and piles of clutter. Those bastards! They were keeping me in the storehouse!

Suddenly a soft, pure light flashed in my eyes as if calling to me, “I am the way out!” The light was coming through a rectangular window. I flew toward it but crashed into woven plastic mesh—foiled! Then I spied a tear in the mesh near the lower corner of the window and realized that it was my chance to get out. As I was pecking at it, I heard again the low-pitched female voice. “Kiki’s not in the cage!”

The boy chased me around the storeroom until he grasped me with his two strong fists. It was like I was an immigrant, miles from the safety of shore and caught by the Coast Guard. It’s the same bitterness that I felt.

I heard the deep, loud voice of the father of the household. “If you cannot take care of the bird, my son, why did you buy him?”

My heart beat happily. Finally someone in this family knew what would cheer me up—my freedom! I started to like this father. But he vanished with these parting words: “If you want to keep him, buy him a bigger cage.”

But I didn’t ask for a luxury golden cage with seed and water dishes. I didn’t ask for a cuttle bone and a perch to stand on, in a cage.

I will never forget how those little devils made fun of me when, in another failed escape attempt, my head got stuck between the wires. It saddened me deeply when one of them said, “Kiki is getting used to it.” No, I am not getting used to it. I won’t waive my right to be free.

parrot in cage
My first days in the golden cage in the living room.

Evening of first positive COVID-19 cases in Gaza Strip

I was moved to the living room, where the family spent most of its time. They were stretched out on the sofas, scrolling through the blue screens of their smartphones. It got quiet, and I thought I might finally get some sleep, when suddenly one of them spoke up with news that had come through her phone. “A lady in El Magazy camp has tested positive!”

“Let's wait the press announcement by the health ministry at 11 p.m,” the mother said. “Please don’t give us headaches with your uncertain facts and rumors.”

After a while, I heard a trembling voice speak in soft tones. “Oh my God, Gaza strip is now a virus hot spot. A curfew is starting.”

I had never seen them panicked like this. No one was happier than me at that moment—these people will get a taste of their own medicine!

Quarantine time

drooping parrot in cage
Feeling depressed—and dreaming of escape.

I got mad that nothing changed. They acted normally–until day four. I couldn’t have imagined that I might ever sympathize with the people who imprisoned me, but I did. They looked dreadful. The temperature had risen to an unbearable 32oC (90oF). When the electricity turned on for its four-hour daily allotment, they ran around with quick footsteps charging batteries, fans, laptops, smartphones, and the electric shaver. They enjoyed  the bliss of the f fans to ease the heat, but when the electricity cut off, they cursed the Israeli occupation, the government, and everyone else with a hand in their miseries. I heard the mother shouting over and over, “Shut the damn refrigerator door so the food doesn’t spoil!"

That night it was totally dark, and I could hear the weird sounds of sleep, offff, offfffff, offfffff, coming from the boys in loose shorts and undershirts who tossed and turned on the living room floor.

For how long will they and I suffer? Here is a message from Kiki (the name I hate): “Keep your spirits up! Don’t let today’s imprisonment keep you down!”

Posted: October 13, 2020

Mentor: Catherine Baker

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