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Chez les Bewees
By Bsima

"I look at this beauty, and I wonder: How could somebody be that evil!" I don't know. She looks at me expecting an answer. But I don't know. It is a kind of beautiful. Most afternoons are muddy. Mornings are usually overly evilly hot. Evenings are monstrous-insects-infested. Other than that, it is beautiful. I guess.

When in the presence of a community as highly opinionated as bird-watchers, you can't afford to be passive. You have to have a firm opinion. A clear distinction between right and wrong. And standing on the side of right, you have to make it your mission in life to enlighten, as they put, or to annoyingly impose, as I see it, your views on everybody else.

I couldn't stand there and say that I didn't have an opinion. How selfish of me! Not having an opinion when thousands have been dying ever since the world population surpassed a thousand. I had to say something. Knowing that the quality of what I said was irrelevant, and that all the weight was given to how much I stretched my facial muscles as I spoke, revealing every single tooth indiscriminately from both rows, I didn't think too much. I just made sure I coma-ed my syllables with unambiguously visible smiles.

Ever since I was a baby. It was enough to capture the attention of my audience. They were about to witness the unveiling of an exotic tale. A narrative told by somebody who actually survived Africa. They never thought it would be possible.

Ever since I was a baby, I saw Afghani men, on television, carrying humongous didgeridoo-like instruments. Spread around the leftovers of a mountain, they were always facing the sky with their barely visible usually two pieces of eyes, dissimulated behind exaggeratedly long facial-hair-extensions. It was so much a part of the daily routine that it seemed so natural.

Aware of the irreversible damage I had just caused my audience, I zipped it. What do you mean you saw on television? They seemed to ask. You mean, there are televisions in Africa? Not wanting to abuse this already abused cliché, I shall move on.

To get back at me for ruining her ideal-Africa, one bird-watcher deconstructed my statement: "you mean, when you were still a baby, your parents let you watch violent news on television. That is simply cruel" she said matter-of-factly. I know. Actually, I don't know. It might be that such an early exposure to violence on television is responsible for every single one of my actual as well as potential psychological instabilities.

There weren't that many birds. But there were too many butterflies all over the place. I felt like I was in some Rushdian space. Deceivingly hairy, they were flying in what seemed to be an unorganized, dispatterned, trance-like dance. I don't know what the crazy butterflies were doing on bird-watchers territory, but I didn't bother to ask, for I knew that it wouldn't take long before somebody vomits all her or his encyclopedic knowledge about butterflies, when, why, where, and how they do it. As if I cared.

As we were walking, all I thought about were my boots. I can't believe I wore my favorite boots to some silly bird-watchers convention. But I was promised that they were going to be civilized this time. That there wouldn't be any insect-spraying-egg-checking-worm-smashing-nest-making activities.

It might be appropriate to pose for a sec, and explain what it is that makes a community out of these bird-watchers. Like my friend, some might think that bird-watching is a metaphor for some other activity that has nothing to do with birds, and is all about watching. However, bird-watching, as I have been using it within the context of this essay consists, but is not limited to bird watching. Here is how it goes.

Getting there is an adventure. Not really, I just thought it would be nice if it were. One just drives a long, long, long road. Trees, and trees, and more trees. Then you see a house. An old house. An old, once impressive, now decadent, house. It is owned, along with the lands surrounding it, by a woman whose husband died not long ago. She then contracted a weird skin disease that deformed her, thus justifying her isolation. It is believed that from time to time she looks out of her window. Which in itself has nothing unusual: people look outside their windows. But for some reason, when you have a weird unexplainable skin disease, performing benign movements becomes all of a sudden, creepy, very creepy.

No matter how early you get, H's green SUV would always already be there. "Once again, I'm the first one here" she would say in her unbearably loud-squirrel-kind-of-squeaky voice. When I first met H, and without putting too much thought into it, I decided that I would enjoy looking at her. Not necessarily as an exemplum, but, and I shamelessly confess, as a distraction. A very cute face, where everything is small and protectively hugged by premature fine but concentrated wrinkles. She had the same carefully styled, on-purposely messy post-coital hairdo. Strawberry-reddish straws of hair crossed her face with determination. And then just as you think that such a portrait would induce a moment of meditation, she speaks, and what most people would perceive as sexy, maybe even a turn on, lands on my ears in the form of a torturing combination of noise to which my body reacts with an unpredictable contraction of every single muscle. I say it's a shiver.

The rest of the bwees (bird-watchers) shows up one after the other. My friend's mother is the one to whom I owe my presence within the highly selective group, almost as homogeneous as an Ohio State sorority. She is a member, i.e. a regular donor, and since I expressed my interest in learning more about their activity, I was invited once, and have been invited ever since.

But boy, do they torture you before finally "accepting" you. First, I had to say my name. Actually, I didn't say it. My friend's mother introduced me as Miss B. who is from Morocco and who speaks French and Spanish. She closed her statement with such an abrupt non-contextual smile, as if to replace "exclusively". Then, I said my first name, and told them what it meant in Arabic. Arabic? Do you speak Arabic? Oh how sweet. Say something in Arabic. Ok how do you say: This place is so beautiful, and there is no place better?

Little by little, they metamorphosized me into a butt-naked monkey in a zoo. It was so blurry, I didn't know who was entertaining whom.

They warned me about how harsh it could be out there, in the bushes. I mean, the insects and all. So I felt the necessity of sharing with them one of my heroic stories, to prove that I am worthy of their group. When I was younger, and even when I wasn't that much younger anymore, I used to feel bad at the site of a dog's ear ornamented with tons and tons of ticks of different sizes, so close and tight they looked like juicy grapes ready for whatever it is that one does with juicy grapes. So my sister and I, and depending on how many other people we managed to convince, would relieve the dog by plucking the ticks one my one, and smashing them on the floor. A deep thick dark burgundy liquid came out of the tick's pocket. The dog would utter a little exhale as if it were holding it's breath. We would do it again, and again, until we got too nauseous to handle the sight of ticks, and the dog's bloody ears. We would later torture each other by bringing back the scene of tick-plucking just as we got ready to eat, which didn't prevent us from doing it again. .

"I'll lead this group, you lead the other. Here you cover all of them until 28, we'll take care of the rest. We'll meet back here in an hour or so." She had that born-leader-kinda-thing about her. I followed H. as she led us through the bushes. We were about 12 in the group. I was responsible for writing down the number of eggs, and any relevant descriptions. We reached the first wooden house. It was so tiny with a triangular roof. I was wondering if birds cared about the shape of their "house." H. stepped on a chair, lifted the roofito of the tiny house with such a delicacy, and just as expected, she oxymoronically screamed: "Four blue-bird-eggs." I wrote it down. My affective filter was so high I doubted my spelling of "blue."

She invited me to take a look. Indeed, four tiny Easter-candy-looking blue eggs. I voiced my description. It was a mistake. "I guess you don't have blue birds in Africa." I don't think so. I don't know.

H. sprayed the area around the little toy-house to prevent insects from getting to the nest. We moved to the next, and the next, and the one after. If there were no eggs, they would empty the house, put some white powder in, and some straws inside, close it, then spray around it.

So there we were, taking away from birds the only function they could possibly accomplish in their whole lifetime. Other than building a nest, laying eggs, protecting the eggs, and flying, what else could a bird do? However, in spite of its absurdity, I found myself going back to the bird-watchers get togethers. I even learned key words such as "ah, it's gorgeous… look how beautiful." It could be frog poop; all that mattered was how you described it. I got accustomed to the drama: "look at how huge is that flying dragon" or better yet "uh ohh, I can smell an alligator. Be careful, we might be watched by some sneaky 20feet long alligator."

That was last spring. I was away the whole summer. I thought they had forgotten about me. For, don't el houwariyat say, in a beautiful strong feminine voice:

Ahh haaah, sir a weddi sir sir,
Ahh haaah, el bou3d kaydir 'jjfa.

And then a phone call: "would you like to go? There is a little Fall get together. It won't be much, we'll have some coffee, we'll chat, and that's all."

Well, it wasn't all. They wanted to walk in the muddy bushes. Dressed in black, I looked like a whore in Idaho. I listened as the knowledgeable, as well as the not-so-knowledgeable expressed their views about war and terrorism. The civilized us vs. the barbaric them. I listened over and over to the same story that made an anti-hero out of a criminal. They wanted to draw the portrait of a monster, but to the naïve he came out as somebody who started out as a tall playboy, yes tall, over 6 feet they insist. Perfect for the romantic mode of emplotment they adopted for him. Then he gave it all up, to fight injustice. Injustice my ass.

As we were driving back, all I saw was flags everywhere. Flags attached to cars. Flags attached to mail boxes. Flags attached to lights. They were everywhere. I got scared. It isn't that flags scare me. It is rather the too-manyness that scared me. Too many of anything is scary.



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